COMIC HISTORY

For the entertainers known as "comics", see Comedian. For the magazine format usually containing longer self-contained stories, see Comic book. "Sequential Art" redirects here. For the webcomic, see Sequential Art (webcomic).


Little Sammy Sneeze (1904–06) by Winsor McCay

Comics (via Latin, from the Greek "Κωμικός", 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; the term, derived from massive early use to convey comic themes, came to be applied to all uses of this medium including those which are far from comic. 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 media. 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 dialogue, captions for example, usually expand upon the pictures, but sometimes act in counterpoint.

Early precursors of comics include Trajan's Column and the work of William Hogarth. By 19th century, the medium as we know it today, began to take form among European and American artists. Comics as a real mass medium started to emerge in the United States in the early 20th century, with the newspaper comic strip, where its form began to be standardized (image-driven, speech balloons etc). The combination of words and pictures proved popular, and quickly spread throughout the world. Comic strips were soon gathered into cheap booklets, comic books, and original comic books soon followed. Today, comics are found in newspapers, magazines, comic books, graphic novels, and on the web.

Although historically the form dealt with humorous subject matter, its scope has expanded to encompass the full range of literary genres. Also see: Comic strip and cartoon. Comics are typically seen as a low art, although there are a few exceptions, such as Krazy Kat and Barnaby.

In the late 20th and early 21st century there has been a movement to rehabilitate the medium. Critical discussions of the form appeared as early as the 1920s, but serious studies were rare until the late 20th century.

Although practitioners can eschew any formal constraints, they often use particular forms and conventions to convey narration and speech, or to evoke emotional or sensuous responses. Devices such as speech balloons and boxes are used to indicate dialogue and impart establishing information, while panels, layout, gutters and zip ribbons can help indicate the flow of the story. Comics use of text, ambiguity, symbolism, design, iconography, literary technique, mixed media and stylistic elements of art help build a subtext of meanings. Different conventions were developed around the globe, from the manhua of China to the manga of Japan, the comic books of the United States, and the anthology comic magazines in Europe.

The 1920s and 1930s saw further booms within the industry. In China a market was established for palm-sized picture books like Lianhuanhua, while the market for comic anthologies in Britain had turned to targeting children through juvenile humour, with The Dandy and The Beano launched. In Belgium, Hergé created the Tintin newspaper strip for a comic supplement; this was successfully collected in a bound album and created a market for further such works. The same period in the United States had seen newspaper strips expand their subject matter beyond humour, with action, adventure and mystery strips launched. The collection of such material also began, with The Funnies, a reprint collection of newspaper strips, published in tabloid size in 1929.

A market for such comic books soon followed, and by 1938 publishers were printing original material in the format. It was at this point that Action Comics#1 launched, with Superman as the cover feature. The popularity of the character swiftly enshrined the superhero as the defining genre of American comics, and although the genre fell out of favour in the 1950s, the 1960s saw it re-establish its domination of the form until the late 20th century.

In Japan, a country with a long tradition for illustration and whose writing system evolved from pictures, comics were hugely popular. Referred to as manga, the Japanese form was established after World War II by Osamu Tezuka, who expanded the page count of a work to number in the hundreds, and who developed a filmic style, heavily influenced by the Disney animations of the time. The Japanese market expanded its range to cover works in many genres, from juvenile fantasy through romance to adult fantasies. Japanese manga is typically published in large anthologies, containing several hundred pages, and the stories told have long been used as sources for adaptation into animated film. In Japan such films are referred to as anime, and many creators will work in both forms simultaneously, leading to an intrinsic linking of the two forms.

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