The Development of Comics: What is a Comic?

When was the first comic formed? The first problem in answering this question is the lack of any concrete definition for what a comic really is, which results in countless debate, and no definitive answer to be agreed upon. Modern comics contain similarities to each other by telling a story with pictures or drawings that signify human relationships, actions, and ideas. Most comic strips published today contain words, either providing explanations or used as dialogue, but these components are not always necessary. The structure, formation, and development of the comic is constantly evolving as new techniques are explored, and previous boundaries are broken, such as the standard, solid-lined panel structure, which demonstrates that there is no concrete structure which is necessary to follow, or which we can use to define the medium. If we consider images in sequence telling a story the basic idea of what composes the modern comic, could we not consider Egyptian hieroglyphics, or cave paintings as being the foundation for the development of this art form?

This image contains a striking similarity to todays comic book structure.

This image contains a striking similarity to todays comic book structures.

There are many theories suggesting that cave painting began as a form of communication, revealing and preserving stories through the representation of images and symbols. With images of hunters, family structures, and symbols of human experience or emotion, cave paintings can be read in a similar manner to comics, structured as a story with a sequence of multiple images.

The desire for communication continues to evolve art throughout history, with the development of the written language, printing techniques, and new methods of preserving artistic representations, art forms are always changing. One of the major differences to occur during the industrial revolution, which may play a major role in how we have come to define comics, is the mass-production of artistic materials and information, created and motivated by capital.

Jean-Paul Gabilliet explores the publishing history of the comic book in Of Comics and Men: A Cultural History of American Comic Books. The growth of urban working classes in both Europe and the US resulted in an increased market for publications, such as newspapers and magazines, which both began to contain illustrations. The increasing popularity of newspaper cartoons resulted in “the progressive emergence of an informal corporation of illustrators,” which attempts to profit from the idea with new publication methods separate of newspapers. The alterations undergone through these new marketing techniques resulted in the development of the modern comic book we know today, but this in no way could have occurred without the artistic techniques passed down throughout history. Should historical art forms, such as the Egyptian hieroglyphics, which closely resemble, and have undoubtedly influenced art forms of the modern comic book, be exempt from this definition?

Jay Gervais



Works Cited:

Jean-Paul Gabilliet. Of Comics and Men: A Cultural History of American Comic Books.  University Press of Mississippi, 2010. Print.

2011. The British Library Board. IMA: Ancient Egyptian Hieroglyphics. Web. 19 Feb. 2013.

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