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What is "Comics"? – Part 1 of a tutorial on creating comics by Zorikh Lequidre Tutorial
What is "Comics?"
Definition and Early History
The First Modern Comics
The Big Jump
Suggested Reading

What is "Comics"? – Part 1

By Zorikh Lequidre

So, you’re reading a tutorial on creating comics. Congratulations! You must be interested in one of the oldest and most popular forms of visual arts in the world.

What? – Comics? – Old? – The medium of Superman and the X-Men, old? Yes!

First, let us examine, what is "comics"? Is it brightly colored kiddie books, with shallow plots and one-dimensional characters? Well, some are. However, I believe—and, if you are reading this, I hope you believe—that "comics" (sometimes referred to as sequential art or graphic storytelling) is a broad, flexible, and powerful artistic medium. It is capable of effectively transmitting information and communicating messages, limited only by the imagination of the artist.

In this series of tutorials, I will attempt to aide the beginning creator in understanding the complete process of creating a comic, while also giving those with some experience some good tips. I will endeavor to help those who are completely unfamiliar with it, to learn to respect this fascinating medium. Future tutorials will start with the broadest concepts (definitions, history), move on to the process in its biggest steps, then get down to the details of the skills necessary to successfully work with this medium.

Definition and Early History
Let’s start by defining "comics". Scott McCloud, in Understanding Comics, defines comics as "juxtaposed pictorial and other images in deliberate sequence, intended to convey information and/or to produce an aesthetic response in the viewer." In other words, if an artist creates two or more images and places them in such away that you are supposed to look at them in a certain order to get the point, that’s comics. To narrow it down to a definition more useful (and simpler) to us, it is a series of pictures that tell stories or make a point. Note that this definition allows for words to be part of the image or not, as the artist sees fit.

Some of the earliest man-made images known, prehistoric cave paintings, may fit that definition. The earliest written languages started out as pictorial representations of things and events. Egyptian painting, Greek vases, Roman relief, a Mayan manuscript, all have shown sequential images telling a story. The Bayeux Tapestry is particularly recognizable as a comic. It even uses text and illustrations together. The advent of printing created a mass audience and the beginning of mass literacy. Comics, telling the lives of saints, or the sins of man, were popular topics.

The First Modern Comics
Today’s comics are more directly descended from political cartoons in broadsides and newspapers from the 18th century. Though in the strictest sense, many of these cartoons are not "comics" (they were usually just one image, not a sequence), they did establish much of the language of comics today, most especially the use of words and images together. We will examine that specific language in other tutorials.

Throughout the 19th century, the art of the political cartoon was brought to fantastic heights. Even by the end of the century, photographs had not completely taken over the illustrative duties, so illustrators were in high demand. A high standard of draftsmanship had developed. More sensational illustrations and cartoons served a sensation-seeking audience. In this environment, the first "comic strip," which became known as Yellow Kid, appeared in the New York World, February 16, 1896. The New York American collected these strips into the first book of comics in 1897. For the next thirty years or so, comics were usually found in the newspapers, with collected books and occasional attempts at original-material books showing up in various formats and places. The term "comic book" was first applied to a collection of newspaper reprints called Comic Book, published in 1917.

The Big Jump
In 1933, the first modern American comic book was published, Funnies on Parade. This was full-color, and about half the size of a tabloid newspaper. It was given away as a premium. Then Max C. Gaines (father of William C. Gaines of EC comics and Mad Magazine fame) got the idea of putting 10-cent stickers on a stack of comics and leaving them at a newsstand. They sold out over the weekend. The following year, Major Malcolm Wheeler-Nicholson started publishing New Fun Comics, a book of all original material, with advertisements. His comic company went on to become DC Comics.

In 1938, the single most defining event in American comics occurred. Jerry Siegel and Joe Shuster, after working for several years on the concept, finally saw the publication of what would be their most successful creation, and possibly the greatest icon of the western world: Superman. The popularity of this character gave comic sales a rocket boost and established the super-hero as the dominant genre in comics for most of its history.

Continued on Pg. 2: Comics Today

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Suggested Reading:

Cerebus Guide to Self Publishing, Dave Sim; Format: Paperback, 96pp.; ISSN 0712-7774; Publisher: Dave Sim.; Pub Date: 1997

Comics & Sequential Art cover

Will Eisner; Format: Hardcover ISBN: 0-9614728-0-4 and Paperback, ISBN: 0-9614728-0-2; 154pp; Publisher: Poorhouse Press; Pub. Date: 1985

The Comic Book in America: An Illustrated History, New Updated Edition , Mike Benton; Format: Paperback, 207pp.; ISBN: 0-87833-835-7; Publisher: Taylor Publishing Co.; Pub. Date: 1993

Graphic Storytelling cover

Will Eisner; Format: Hardcover ISBN: 0-9614728-3-9; Paperback, ISBN: 0-9614728-2-0; 164pp; Publisher: Poorhouse Press; Pub. Date: 1995

Over 50 Years of American Comic Books

Ron Goulart; Format: Hardcover, 320pp.; ISBN: 0-88176-396-9; Publisher: Publications International, Ltd.; Pub. Date: 1991

Understanding Art cover

Lois Fichner-Rathus; Format: Paperback, 520pp.; ISBN: 0-13-932203-5; Publisher: Prentice-Hall, Inc.; Pub Date: 1992

Understanding Comics: The Invisible Art cover

Scott McCloud; Format: Hardcover, ISBN: 8-87816-244-3 and Paperback, ISBN: 0-87816-243-7; 215pp.; Publisher: Kitchen Sink Press Inc.; Pub. Date: 1993

Suggested Viewing:

Comic Book Confidential DVD


Comic Book Collector VHS

Click here for a thorough list of books and videos for comics creators.

Use theze links to find more resources on

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Forward to:
Pg.2: Comics Today
Pg.3: Terms of the Trade
The Process of Creating a Comic
Writing: Story and Plot
Writing: Script
Sample Script
Penciling: Tools: Short Answers
Penciling: Tools: Furniture and Paper
Penciling: Tools: Pencils and Erasers
Penciling: Tools: Straightedges and More
Penciling: Creating Characters
Penciling: Character Sheets
Penciling: Costumes
Penciling: Locations
Penciling: Props and Vehicles

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