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Carl Barks, Donald Duck comics artist

Carl Barks,
Donald Duck comics artist


Comics is a medium used to express narratives or other ideas through images, usually combined with text. It typically takes the form of a sequence of panels of images. Textual devices such as speech balloons, captions, and onomatopoeia can indicate dialogue, narration, sound effects, or other information. The size and arrangement of panels contribute to narrative pacing. Cartooning and other forms of illustration are the most common image-making means in comics; fumetti is a form which uses photographic images. Common forms include comic strips, editorial and gag cartoons, and comic books. Since the late 20th century, bound volumes such as graphic novels, comic albums, and tankōbon have become increasingly common, while online webcomics have proliferated in the 21st century.

The history of comics has followed different paths in different cultures. Scholars have posited a pre-history as far back as the Lascaux cave paintings in France. By the mid-20th century, comics flourished, particularly in the United States, western Europe (especially France and Belgium), and Japan. The history of European comics is often traced to Rodolphe Töpffer's cartoon strips of the 1830s, but the medium truly became popular in the 1930s following the success of strips and books such as The Adventures of Tintin. American comics emerged as a mass medium in the early 20th century with the advent of newspaper comic strips; magazine-style comic books followed in the 1930s, in which the superhero genre became prominent after Superman appeared in 1938. Histories of Japanese comics and cartooning (manga) propose origins as early as the 12th century. Modern comic strips emerged in Japan in the early 20th century, and the output of comics magazines and books rapidly expanded in the post-World War II era (1945–) with the popularity of cartoonists such as Osamu Tezuka (Astro Boy, et al.). Comics has had a lowbrow reputation for much of its history, but towards the end of the 20th century began to find greater acceptance with the public and academics.

The term comics is used as a singular noun when it refers to the medium itself (e.g. "Comics is a visual art form"), but becomes plural when referring to works collectively (e.g. "Comics are popular reading material"). Though the term derives from the humorous (comic) work that predominated in early American newspaper comic strips, it has become standard for non-humorous works too. The alternate spelling comix – coined by the underground comix movement – is sometimes used to address these ambiguities. In English, it is common to refer to the comics of different cultures by the terms used in their original languages, such as manga for Japanese comics, or bandes dessinées/B.D. for French-language comics.

There is no consensus among theorists and historians on a definition of comics; some emphasize the combination of images and text, some sequentiality or other image relations, and others historical aspects, such as mass reproduction or the use of recurring characters. Increasing cross-pollination of concepts from different comics cultures and eras has only made definition more difficult. Read more...

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A giant man from Dream of the Rarebit Fiend romps through New York City (7 January 1905).

Dream of the Rarebit Fiend was a newspaper comic strip by American cartoonist Winsor McCay which began 10 September 1904. As in McCay's signature strip, Little Nemo, the strip was made up of bizarre dreams. It was McCay's second successful strip, after Little Sammy Sneeze secured him a position on the cartoon staff of the New York Herald. Rarebit Fiend was printed in the Evening Telegram, a newspaper published by the Herald. For contractual reasons, McCay signed the strip with the pen name "Silas". The strip had no continuity or recurring characters. Instead, it had a recurring theme: a character would have a nightmare or other bizarre dream, usually after eating a Welsh rarebit (a cheese-on-toast dish). Rarebit Fiend was the inspiration for a number of films, including Edwin S. Porter's live-action Dream of a Rarebit Fiend in 1906, and four pioneering animated films by McCay himself: How a Mosquito Operates in 1912, and 1921's Bug Vaudeville, The Pet and The Flying House. The strip is said to have anticipated a number of recurring ideas in popular culture, such as giant characters damaging cities (as later popularized by King Kong and Godzilla).

Selected picture

Saturday Morning Breakfast Cereal panel
Credit: Comic: Zach Weiner

A panel from Saturday Morning Breakfast Cereal, a webcomic by Zach Weiner first published in its current iteration in 2002. This daily comic features no recurring characters or storylines, and has no set format; some strips may be a single panel, while others may go on for ten panels or more. Recurring themes include atheism, God, superheroes, romance, dating, science, research, parenting and the meaning of life.

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Stan Lee in 2007
In the early days, I was writing scripts for virtually all the books, and it was very hard to keep all the artists busy; poor little frail me, doing story after story. So I'd be writing a story for Kirby, and Steve Ditko would walk in and say, 'Hey, I need some work now.' And I'd say, 'I can't give it to you now, Steve, I'm finishing Kirby's.' But we couldn't afford to keep Steve waiting, because time is money, so I'd have to say, 'Look Steve, I can't write a script for you now, but here's the plot for the next Spider-Man. Go home and draw anything you want, as long as it's something like this, and I'll put the copy in later.' So I was able to finish Jack's story. Steve in the meantime was drawing another story.....Okay, it started out as a lazy's man's device...but we realized this was absolutely the best way to do a comic.....Don't have the writer say, 'Panel one will be a long shot of Spider-Man walking down the street.' The artist may see it differently; maybe he feels it should be a shot of Spider-Man swinging on his web, or climbing upside-down on the ceiling or something.
Stan Lee, 1975

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