AskDefine | Define comics

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comics See comic strip

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From Ancient Greek κωμικός (komikos) "funny, comedian, related to comedy".


  1. plural form of comic, (Noun, 2)
  2. an artistic medium consisting of juxtaposed pictorial and other images in deliberate sequence, intended to convey information and/or to produce an aesthetic response in the viewer (also, comix)
  3. a collection of comic strips
  4. (U.S.A.) the page of a newspaper especially devoted to comic strips


See also

Extensive Definition

Comics (via Latin, from the Greek "", kōmikos, of or pertaining to "comedy", from kōmos "revel".) is a graphic medium in which images are utilised in order to convey a sequential narrative. It is the sequential nature of the pictures, and the predominance of pictures over words, that distinguish comics from picture books, though there is some overlap between the two genres. Most comics combine words with images, often indicating speech in the form of word balloons, but wordless comics, such as The Little King, are not uncommon. Words other than dialog, captions for example, usually expand upon the pictures, but sometimes act in counterpoint. Comics as an art form established itself in the late 19th and early 20th century, alongside the similar forms of film and animation. The three forms share certain conventions, most noticeably the mixing of words and pictures, and all three owe parts of their conventions to the technological leaps made through the industrial revolution. Although the comics form was established and popularised in the pages of newspapers and magazines in the late 1890s, narrative illustration has existed for many centuries.
Rome's Trajan's Column, dedicated in 113 AD, is one of the earliest surviving examples of a narrative told through the use of sequential pictures, while Egyptian heiroglyphics, Greek friezes, mediaeval tapestries such as the Bayeaux Tapestry and illustrated manuscripts also demonstrate the use of images and words combined to convey a narrative. However, these works lack the ability to travel to the reader; it needed the invention of modern printing techniques to allow the form to capture a wide audience and become a mass medium.

The 15th–18th centuries and printing advances

The invention of the printing press, allowing movable type, established a separation between images and words, the two requiring different methods in order to be reproduced. Early printed material concentrated on religious subjects, but through the 17th and 18th centuries they began to tackle aspects of political and social life, and also started to satirise and caricature. It was also during this period that the speech bubble was developed as a means of attributing dialogue.
William Hogarth is often identified in histories of the comics form. His work, A Rake's Progress, was composed of a number of canvases, each reproduced as a print, and the eight prints together created a narrative. As printing techniques developed, due to the technological advances of the industrial revolution, magazines and newspapers were established. These publications utilised illustrations as a means of commenting on political and social issues, such illustrations becoming known as cartoons in the 1840s. Soon, artists were experimenting with establishing a sequence of images to create a narrative.
While surviving works of these periods such as Francis Barlow's A True Narrative of the Horrid Hellish Popish Plot (c.1682) as well as The Punishments of Lemuel Gulliver and A Rake's Progress by William Hogarth, (1726) can be seen to establish a narrative over a number of images, it wasn't until the 19th century that the elements of such works began to crystallise into the comic strip.
The speech balloon also evolved during this period, from the medieval origins of the phylacter, a label, usually in the form of a scroll, which identified a character either through naming them or using a short text to explain their purpose. Artists such as George Cruikshank helped codify such phylacters as balloons rather than as scrolls, although at this time they were still referred to as labels. Although they were now used to represent dialogue, this dialogue was still used for identification purposes rather than to create a dialogue within the work, and artists soon discarded them in favour of running dialogue underneath the panels. The speech balloons weren't reintroduced to the form until Richard F. Outcault utilised them as a means of establishing dialogue within his works.

The 19th century: a form established

In the United States, when a publisher collects previously serialised stories, such a collection is commonly referred to as either a trade paperback or as a graphic novel. These are books, typically squarebound and published with a card cover, containing no adverts. They generally collect a single story, which has been broken into a number of chapters previously serialised in comic books, with the issues collectively known as a story arc. Such trade paperbacks can contain anywhere from four issues (for example, there is Kingdom Come by Mark Waid and Alex Ross) to as many as twenty (The Death of Superman). In continental Europe, especially Belgium and France, such collections are usually somewhat larger in size and published with a hardback cover, a format established by the Tintin series in the 1930s. These are referred to as comic albums, a term which in the United States refers to anthology books. The United Kingdom has no great tradition of such collections, although during the 1980s Titan publishing launched a line collecting stories previously published in 2000 AD.
The graphic novel format is similar to typical book publishing, with works being published in both hardback and paperback editions. The term has proved a difficult one to fully define, and refers not only to fiction but also factual works, and is also used to describe collections of previously serialised works as well as original material. Some publishers will distinguish between such material, using the term "original graphic novel" for work commissioned especially for the form.
Newspaper strips also get collected, both in Europe and in the United States, and these are sometimes also referred to as graphic novels. In the UK it is traditional for the children's comics market to release comic annuals, which are hardback books containing strips, as well as text stories and puzzles and games. In the United States, the comic annual was a summer publication, typically an extended comic book, with storylines often linked across a publisher's line of comics.
Webcomics, also known as online comics and web comics, are comics that are available on the Internet. Many webcomics are exclusively published online, while some are published in print but maintain a web archive for either commercial or artistic reasons. With the Internet's easy access to an audience, webcomics run the gamut from traditional comic strips to graphic novels and beyond.
Webcomics are similar to self-published print comics in that almost anyone can create their own webcomic and publish it on the Web. Currently, there are thousands of webcomics available online, with some achieving popular, critical, or commercial success. The Perry Bible Fellowship is syndicated in print, while Brian Fies' Mom's Cancer won the inaugural Eisner Award for digital comics in 2005 and was subsequently collected and published in hardback.
The comics form can also be utilized to convey information in mixed media. For example, strips designed for educative or informative purposes, notably the instructions upon an airplane's safety card. These strips are generally referred to as instructional comics. The comics form is also utilized in the film and animation industry, through storyboarding. Storyboards are illustrations displayed in sequence for the purpose of visualizing an animated or live-action film. A storyboard is essentially a large comic of the film or some section of the film produced beforehand to help the directors and cinematographers visualize the scenes and find potential problems before they occur. Often storyboards include arrows or instructions that indicate movement.
Like many other media, comics can also be self-published. One typical format for self-publishers and aspiring professionals is the minicomic, typically small, often photocopied and stapled or with a handmade binding. These are a common inexpensive way for those who want to make their own comics on a very small budget, with mostly informal means of distribution. A number of cartoonists have started this way and gone on to more traditional types of publishing, while other more established artists continue to produce minicomics on the side.

Artistic medium

Defining comics

Note: Although it takes the form of a plural noun, the common usage when referring to comics as a medium is to treat it as singular.
Scholars disagree on the definition of comics; some claim its printed format is crucial, some emphasize the interdependence of image and text, and others its sequential nature. The term as a reference to the medium has also been disputed.
Comics artists will generally sketch a drawing in pencil before going over the drawing again in ink, using either a dip pen or a brush. Artists will also make use of a lightbox when creating the final image in ink. Some artists, Brian Bolland being a notable example, are now using digital means to create artwork, with the published work being the first physical appearance of the artwork.
By many definitions (including McCloud's, above) the definition of comics extends to digital media such as webcomics and the mobile comic.
The nature of the comics work being created determines the number of people who work upon its creation, with successful comic strips and comic books being produced through a studio system, in which an artist will assemble a team of assistants to help in the creation of the work. However, works from independent companies, self-publishers or those of a more personal nature can be produced by as little as one creator.
Within the comic book industry of the United States, the studio system has come to be the main method of creation. Through its use by the industry, the roles have become heavily codified, and the managing of the studio has become the company's responsibility, with an editor discharging the management duties. The editor will assemble a number of creators and oversee the work to publication.
Any number of people can assist in the creation of a comic book in this way, from a plotter, a breakdown artist, a penciller, an inker, a scripter, a letterer, and a colorist, with some roles being performed by the same person.
In contrast, a comic strip tends to be the work of a sole creator, usually termed a cartoonist. However, it is not unusual for a cartoonist to employ the studio method, particularly when a strip become successful. Mort Walker is one such creator who employed a studio, while Bill Watterson was one such cartoonist who eschewed the studio method, preferring to create the strip himself. Gag, political and editorial cartoonists tend to work alone as well, although again it is not unheard of for a cartoonist to use assistants.


An artist will use a variety of pencils, paper, typically Bristol board, and a waterproof ink. When inking, an artist may choose to use a variety of brushes, dip pens, a fountain pen or a variety of technical pens or markers. Mechanical tints can be employed to add grey tone to an image. An artist might also choose to create his work in paints; either acrylics; gouache; poster paints; or watercolors. Color can also be achieved through crayons, pastels or colored pencils.
Eraser, rulers, templates, set squares and a T-square assist in creating lines and shapes. A drawing board gives a good angled surface to work from, with lamps supplying necessary lighting. A light box allows an artist to trace his pencil work when inking, allowing for a looser finish. Knives and scalpels will fill a variety of tasks, including cutting board or scraping mistakes. A cutting mat will assist when cutting paper. Process white is a thick opaque white handy for covering mistakes, while adhesives and tapes are helpful in composition where an image may need to be assembled from different sources.

Computer generated comics

With the growth of computer processing power and ownership, there are now an increasing number of examples of comic books or strips where the art is made by using computers, either mixing it with hand drawings or replacing hand drawing completely. Dave McKean is one artist who combines both paper and the digital methods of composition for comics, while in 1998 Pete Nash pioneered the use of fully digitised 3D artwork on his Striker comic strip for The Sun. Computers are also now widely used for both lettering and coloring.

Comics in Higher Education

A growing number of universities around the world are recognizing the academic legitimacy of comics studies, leading to the presence of comics courses being offered at the college level. See "Links" and "Syllabi" at for lists of available courses.



  • Arnold, Andrew (Apr. 05, 2001). "Does X Mark the Spot?". Time. Accessed May 30, 2005.
  • Fiore. R (2005).
  • Understanding Comics: The Invisible Art
  • The Penguin Book Of Comics
  • Adult Comics An Introduction
  • Santos, Derek (1998)
  • The Language of Comics: Word and Image
  • Williams, Jeff COMICS: A TOOL OF SUBVERSION? Journal of Criminal Justice and Popular Culture, 2(6) (1994) 129-146

Further reading

  • David Carrier, The Aesthetics of Comics, Penn State Press, 2002 ISBN 0-271-02188-8
  • Will Eisner Comics and Sequential Art Poorhouse Press 1985 ISBN 0-9614728-0-4
  • Will Eisner Graphic Storytelling Poorhouse Press 1995 ISBN 0-9614728-3-9
  • Maurice Horn ed. The World Encyclopedia of Comics Avon 1977 ISBN 0877543232
  • Scott McCloud Understanding Comics - the Invisible Art HarperCollins 1994 ISBN 0-613-02782-5
  • Roger Sabin Comics, Comix and Graphic Novels: a History of Comic Art Phaidon 1996 ISBN 0714839930
  • Coulton Waugh The Comics The Macmillan Company 1947 ISBN 0878054995
  • ed. Gary Groth & R. Fiore The New Comics Berkley Books 1988 ISBN 0425113663

External links

comics in Afrikaans: Strokiesverhaal
comics in Tosk Albanian: Comic
comics in Arabic: قصص مصورة
comics in Aragonese: Cómic
comics in Asturian: Cómic
comics in Min Nan: Ang-á-oē
comics in Bulgarian: Комикс
comics in Catalan: Còmic
comics in Czech: Komiks
comics in Danish: Tegneserie
comics in German: Comic
comics in Estonian: Koomiks
comics in Modern Greek (1453-): Κόμικς
comics in Spanish: Historieta
comics in Esperanto: Bildliteraturo
comics in Basque: Komiki
comics in French: Bande dessinée
comics in Western Frisian: Tekenteltsje
comics in Friulian: Fumut
comics in Scottish Gaelic: Pàipear-èibhinn
comics in Galician: Banda Deseñada
comics in Korean: 만화
comics in Hindi: कॉमिक्स
comics in Croatian: Strip
comics in Indonesian: Komik
comics in Interlingua (International Auxiliary Language Association): Historietta
comics in Icelandic: Teiknimyndasaga
comics in Italian: Fumetto
comics in Hebrew: קומיקס
comics in Georgian: კომიქსი
comics in Latin: Liber nubeculatus
comics in Lithuanian: Komiksas
comics in Hungarian: Képregény
comics in Macedonian: Стрип
comics in Malayalam: ചിത്രകഥ
comics in Malay (macrolanguage): Komik
comics in Mongolian: Комикс
comics in Dutch: Stripverhaal
comics in Japanese: 漫画
comics in Norwegian: Tegneserie
comics in Norwegian Nynorsk: Teikneserie
comics in Narom: Sornette en portraits
comics in Occitan (post 1500): Benda dessenhada
comics in Uzbek: Komiks
comics in Low German: Comic
comics in Polish: Komiks
comics in Portuguese: Banda desenhada
comics in Romanian: Bandă desenată
comics in Russian: Комикс
comics in Sardinian: Fumettu
comics in Scots: Comic
comics in Albanian: Stripi
comics in Simple English: Comics
comics in Slovak: Komiks
comics in Slovenian: Strip
comics in Finnish: Sarjakuva
comics in Swedish: Tecknad serie
comics in Tagalog: Komiks
comics in Tamil: வரைகதை
comics in Thai: การ์ตูนช่อง
comics in Vietnamese: Comic
comics in Turkish: Çizgi roman
comics in Buginese: ᨀᨚᨆᨗᨀᨛ
comics in Ukrainian: Комікс
comics in Waray (Philippines): Komix
comics in Yiddish: קאמיקס
comics in Chinese: 漫画
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