History of Comics

Marvel Comic Book
The history of comics is a bit convoluted. The word comes from the Greek, komikos, which means “pertaining to comedy,” and the earliest comic strips were humorous, but the term has little in common with today's, often grim and gritty, comic books. “Sequential art” is the term most often applied to modern-day comics, and the history of sequential art stretches back to the cavemen! However, the history of today's comic books begins a lot closer to present-time.

Modern-day historians have retroactively termed some 19th-Century books “graphic novels,” but the first real comic was The Yellow Kid, which debuted in The World, a New York-based newspaper, in 1895. Originally referred to as “the funnies,” the term, “comics,” caught-on in the early 1900s.

While the earliest comic books were reprints of popular strips, by the 1940s and '50s, every literary genre was represented. The most popular were Romance, Western, Detective, and Horror comic books – the latter of which were largely published by EC Comics. These comics were so effective that they came under fire for “corrupting youth” and the comic book industry created the Comics Code in response. Some cite this self-imposed sanitation as the catalyst for the rising popularity of superheroes, as they had been around since the 1930s, but were not big-sellers before then.

Marvel Comic Apache Kid
In the 1960s, Stan Lee and Jack Kirby created superheroes many related to, and Marvel Comics was founded. A decade later, fans coalesced, looking to buy older issues and meet other comics fans, and the comic book convention was born.

In the 1980s, comics became more literary. Whether or not they existed before, graphic novels became a popular format and titles such as The Dark Knight Returns and Watchmen established sequential art as a legitimate storytelling form. Today, comics are widely-accepted, and many of the highest-grossing films of the last decade were based o­n them.