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Comics and Graphic Novels

Introduction

Sequential art is an art form that uses images deployed in sequence for graphic storytelling or to convey information. Sequential art predates contemporary comics by millennia. Some of the earliest examples are cave paintings, Egyptian hieroglyphics, and pre-Columbian American picture manuscripts, which were recurrent media of artistic expression.

Comics have played a huge part not only in the history of the United States, but really all of human history. For example, the earliest political cartoon in America helped communicate the colonies wish for independence in a way that incited a revolution. Another example of just how much comics have impacted our history is the Martin Luther King and the Montgomery Story comic, which is a 16-page comic book about Martin Luther King, Jr., Rosa Parks, and the Montgomery Bus Boycott published in 1957 by the Fellowship of Reconciliation (one of the oldest known interfaith peace organizations). It advocates the principles of nonviolence and provides a primer on nonviolent resistance. 


Examples  

Seminal Works

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American Comic Book History


Timeline of Events and Key Themes

  • June 1938: Action Comics #1- Superman
  • Originated the archetype of the superhero
  • WWII
    • Patriotic heroes
    • War propaganda and racist portrayals of Japanese characters
    • Cheap and disposable escapist entertainment that could be read and then discarded by the troops
  • Late 1940s, the popularity of superhero comics waned
    • Comic publishers diversified into genres such as war, Westerns, science fiction, romance, crime, and horror
      • superhero titles were cancelled or converted to other genres
  • 1953 United States Senate Subcommittee on Juvenile Delinquency
    • Alleged links between comic books and juvenile delinquency
    • Comics Code Authority Established to enact self-censorship
  • 1950s
    • readership of comics was split 55% female and 45% male
    • It was only when superhero comics were thrust into the mainstream that women lost their footing in comic history, many turning to underground comics to express their artistic inclinations.


Timeline of Events and Key Themes

  • Silver Age (1960s- Early 1970s)
    • Began with publication of Showcase #4 (1956)- The Flash
    • Goofy, lighthearted and fantastic plots, Black and White Morality, and a general absence of mature themes
    • Period of artistic advancement and commercial success in mainstream American comic books
      • predominantly those in the superhero genre
    • Revival of superhero genre following controversy
      • DC comics 1955-1960
    • Marvel comics revolutionized the medium
      •  Sophisticated stories and characterization
        • time period of social upheaval and the rise of a youth counterculture
      • Fantastic Four, Spider-man, X-men, Hulk
    • Adaptation to TV
      • January 1966, a live-action Batman (Adam West) television show debuted to high ratings


Timeline of Events and Key Themes

  • Bronze Age (Early 1970s-mid-1980s)
    • Social revolution fervor and post-Vietnam post-Watergate disillusionment 
    • Return of darker plot elements and more socially relevant storylines featuring real world issues
      • Racism, drug use, alcoholism, urban poverty, environmental pollution
        • Green Lantern, Green Arrow , X-men
    •  The Comics Code gradually loosened, letting morally ambiguous stories appear more often
      • Swamp Thing, Ghost Rider, Tomb of Dracula
    • Minority Superheroes & Female Leads
      • Luke Cage, Storm, Blade and Monica Rambeau, John Stewart, Bronze Tiger, Black Lightning, Vixen, and Cyborg
      • Invisible Woman, Hawkwoman, Dark Phoenix Saga, Gwen Stacey


Timeline of Events and Key Themes

  • Dark Age (Late 1980s- 2000)
    •  Deconstruction of The Silver Age of Comic Books
      • deliberate opposition
    • Darker and edgier period featuring an increased focus on sex, violence and dark, gritty portrayals of the characters involved
    • Creative Disputes resulted in new studios
      •  Dark Horse Comics (founded in 1986)
        • Hellboy, Sincity
      • Valiant Comics (founded in 1989)
      • Image Comics
        • Age's most influential content
        • Creator owned
    • The portrayal of women
      • plunged to ever more absurd depths, at times bordering on outright misogyny 
      • sub-genre of "Bad Girls" comics


Timeline of Events and Key Themes

  • Present Day (2000- Present)
    • Decline of the comic book as a regularly published periodical
    • Rise of the graphic novel as respectable reading material
    • Non-superhero comics are becoming more mainstream
      • Logicomix (which is about Bertrand Russel and the foundations of math) and Pride of Baghdad (which is about lions who escape from the zoo during the Iraq War)
      • Result of Japanese popular culture imports
    • Diversity and broadening demographics
      • Hawkeye, Ms. Marvel (2014), Ultimate Spiderman, The Unbeatable Squirrel Girl, Gotham Academy, Saga, Thor
    • Digital Comics & Trade Paperback
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Notable Authors

Stan Lee

Frank Miller

Jack Kirby

Alan Moore

WIll Eisner

Steve Ditko

Mark Millar

John Byrne

Grant Morrison

Brian Michael Bendis

Neil Gaiman

Todd McFarlane

Brief History

Periodization Schemes in American Comic History

The development of the modern American comic book happened in stages. American historians generally divide 20th-century American comics history chronologically into ages:

Note: Not all scholars and fans apply this same periodization scheme. Furthermore, the dates selected may vary depending on the authors (there are at least four dates to mark the end of the Bronze Age). This is intended to be a basic guideline for cultural and social shifts in the production and consumption of comics. In this guide, the Modern Age is broken up into the Dark Age, and Present Day, in order to highlight important collections and themes.

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