A Short History of The World (Comics, Comic Strips, Comic Books)

I think I’ve gone too far this time, dear readers. I decided to write about a topic which is far more complex and grand then I could possibly fit into the space of these 1000 words or less. And I also feel that I’m too close to it really give you an objectively focused and emotionally restrained tone.

Now to be clear that does not mean I haven’t given 110% effort here, but this is something which is close to my heart and heavily influenced my childhood decision to pursue art. Rhyme not intentional, but convenient.

I’ve written topics before which have used this model of art making in their framework, but it’s a little bit real for me friends and how this medium is starting to show up everywhere. Hell, It’s a little too surreal.




Comics were originally thought to be a form of escapism for youth and definitely not something that could become entrenched in popular culture. Yet here we are.

History of Comics

Twenty years ago, there was almost no interest in the academic community to look at comics, but colleges and universities are now making real efforts to work with people in the industry and to study the impact the medium has had on culture. With a format that asks us to consider both text and visual information simultaneously, comics are literally sequential art. They use panels to help with pacing, while speech balloons and captions help with dialogue, private thoughts, character background, and even sound effects.

And the history of comics has been varied in different cultures as well. For instance, in Europe, Japan, and the United States, comics got their start in newspaper publications and books as secondary entertainment, in what eventually was known as a strip.

But now we have an assortment of formats to choose from. Gag cartoons and political cartoons are often single panel pieces, followed in length by the comic strip. Comic books, also known as comics, are multi-page books that are bound with staples. Collected editions of comics can come in trade paper backs, in both softcover and hardcover, and graphic novels are self-contained stories that were published in a limited run or as a one-shot. Lastly, web comics. Web comics are stories that exist first on the internet, and have no size or page limitations. Some web comic artists even incorporate animation and sound into their work.

And of course when you travel overseas… you can see Japanese manga, European bandes dessinees and fumetti or Korean and Chinese manhwa and manhua. It’s a lot to wrap your head around.

Comics Terminology

Which reminds me, did you know that there is a whole language of terms for comics? The layout is made up of panels, and the panels contain spaces which are culled the gutter. Rows of panels can also be called a tier, while an image that takes up half the page or more is called a splash page. A splash page is usually set up to emphasize a story point and gain attention, while an image that takes up two pages is called a spread.

As already mentioned, the speech bubble is used to contain character dialogue and even it’s shape let’s the reader know whether thoughts are said aloud or internally AND can even be used to indicate tone. Captions on the other hand are separated from the rest of the page and often give narration or information about the story. Sound effects are demonstrated with words that sit in the panel, and are colourful for effect.

When we consider the concepts used to engage with the reader, we cannot forget that it is the reader’s responsibility to perform closure and combine all of the panels together in their head, which means that it is the responsibility of the comic creators to capture key moments in the story, also known as encapsulation.

Roles & Responsibilities

Comic creators can have a few roles, specializing in specific aspects of creation or depending on the scale of the production, they may take on everything. For instance, they could be a writer, who handles plot, dialogue, and pacing. Or they could be an artist/cartoonist, which can be further subdivided into roles of pencilling, inking, and colouring. Lastly, the letterer fills in the blanks for speech bubbles and sound effects.

Defining Comics

Much like film and it’s big sister, literature, the definition of comics is not perfectly linear. It is an ever-expanding form, and with the variations across culture and over history, we’ve not quite nailed down what comics should look like. I would say this though, it’s an important crossover medium, that allows the reader to explore a relationship with traditional mediums of both literature and visual art, and I personally believe that we can all gain a stronger appreciation of both forms by spending time with comics. If films serve as our global cultures version of the campfire story, then the comic is a cave painting set in isolation and used for reflection. It’s not something which is only for children, there are lots of great books adults should read – I’ve got a convenient list for your reference.

I’m definitely going to come back to comics from time to time, as I think this medium is rich and full of opportunity, after all, the cave paintings are starting to move over to the campfire, so why not spend some time in reflection, friends? It’s just a theory, but I bet you’ll get something from it.


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