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A comic book or comicbook, also called comic paper or comic magazine (often shortened to simply comic or comics) is a magazine made up of "comics" —narrative artwork in the form of separate panels that represent individual scenes, often accompanied by dialog (usually in word balloons, emblematic of the comic book art form) as well as including brief descriptive prose. The first comic book appeared in the United States in 1933, reprinting the earlier newspaper comic strips, which established many of the story-telling devices used in comics. The term "comic book" arose because the first comic books reprinted humor comic strips. Despite their name, comic books are not necessarily humorous in tone; modern comic books tell stories in a variety of genres.
Since the introduction of the comic book format in 1933 with the publication of Famous Funnies, the United States has produced the most titles, with only the British comic and Japanese manga as close competitors in terms of quantity of titles.
Cultural historians divide the career of the comic book in the U.S. into several ages or historical eras:
Comic book historians continue to debate the exact boundaries of these eras, but they have come to an agreement, the terms for which originated in the fan press. Comics as a print medium have existed in America since the printing of The Adventures of Obadiah Oldbuck in 1842 in hardcover—making it the first known American prototype comic book. The introduction of Jerry Siegel and Joe Shuster's Superman in 1938 turned comic books into a major industry, and is the start of the Golden Age of comics. Historians have proposed several names for the Age before Superman, most commonly dubbing it the Platinum Age.
While the Platinum Age saw the first use of the term "comic book" (The Yellow Kid in McFadden's Flats (1897)), the first known full-color comic (The Blackberries (1901)), and the first monthly comic book (Comics Monthly (1922)), it was not until the Golden Age that the archetype of the superhero would originate.
The Silver Age of comic books is generally considered to date from the first successful revival of the dormant superhero form—the debut of Robert Kanigher and Carmine Infantino's Flash in Showcase No. 4 (September/October 1956). The Silver Age lasted through the late 1960s or early 1970s, during which time Marvel Comics revolutionized the medium with such naturalistic superheroes as Stan Lee and Jack Kirby's Fantastic Four and Stan Lee and Steve Ditko's Spider-Man.
The precise beginnings of the Bronze and Copper Ages remain less well-defined. Suggested starting points for the Bronze Age of comics include Roy Thomas and Barry Windsor-Smith's Conan No. 1 (October 1970), Denny O'Neil and Neal Adams' Green Lantern/Green Arrow No. 76 (April 1970), or Stan Lee and Gil Kane's The Amazing Spider-Man No. 96 (May 1971; the non-Comics Code issue). The start of the Copper Age (apprx. 1984-2000) has even more potential starting points, but is generally agreed to be the publication of Frank Miller's Batman: The Dark Knight Returns and Alan Moore's Watchmen by DC Comics in 1986, as well as the publication of DC's Crisis on Infinite Earths, written by Marv Wolfman with pencils by George Pérez.
A notable event in the history of the American comic book came with the psychiatrist Fredric Wertham's criticisms of the medium in his book Seduction of the Innocent (1954), which prompted the American Senate Subcommittee on Juvenile Delinquency to investigate comic books. In response to attention from the government and from the media, the U.S. comic book industry set up the Comics Code Authority in 1954 and drafted the "Comics Code" in the same year.
In the late 1960s and early 1970s a surge of creativity emerged in what became known as underground comics. Published and distributed independently of the established comics industry, most of such comics reflected the youth counterculture and drug culture of the time. Many had an uninhibited, often irreverent style; their frank depictions of nudity, sex, profanity, and politics had no parallel outside their precursors, the pornographic and even more obscure "Tijuana bibles". Underground comics were almost never sold at news stands, but rather in such youth-oriented outlets as head shops and record stores, as well as by mail order.
The rise of comic book specialty stores in the late 1970s created/paralleled a dedicated market for "independent" or "alternative comics" in the U.S. The first such comics included the anthology series Star Reach, published by comic book writer Mike Friedrich from 1974 to 1979, and Harvey Pekar's American Splendor, which continued sporadic publication into the 21st century and which Shari Springer Berman and Robert Pulcini adapted into a 2003 film. Some independent comics continued in the tradition of underground comics, though their content was generally less explicit, and others resembled the output of mainstream publishers in format and genre but were published by smaller artist-owned companies or by single artists. A few (notably RAW) were experimental attempts to bring comics closer to the status of fine art.
During the 1970s the "small press" culture grew and diversified. By the 1980s, several independent publishers, such as Pacific, Eclipse, First, Comico, and Fantagraphics had started releasing a wide range of styles and formats—from color superhero, detective, and science fiction comic books to black-and-white magazine-format stories of Latin American magical realism.
A number of small publishers in the 1990s changed the format and distribution of their comics to more closely resemble non-comics publishing. The "minicomics" form, an extremely informal version of self-publishing, arose in the 1980s and became increasingly popular among artists in the 1990s, despite reaching an even more limited audience than the small press.
In 1964, Richard Kyle coined the term "graphic novel" to distinguish newly translated European works from genre-driven subject matter common in American comics. Precursors of the form existed by the 1920s, which saw a revival of the medieval woodcut tradition by Belgian Frans Masereel, American Lynd Ward and others. In 1950, St. John Publications produced the digest-sized, adult-oriented "picture novel" It Rhymes with Lust, a 128-page digest by pseudonymous writer "Drake Waller" (Arnold Drake and Leslie Waller), penciler Matt Baker and inker Ray Osrin, touted as "an original full-length novel" on its cover. In 1971, writer-artist Gil Kane and collaborators devised the paperback "comics novel" Blackmark. Will Eisner popularized the term "graphic novel" when he used it on the cover of the paperback edition of his work A Contract with God, and Other Tenement Stories in 1978.
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Some rare comic books include copies of the unreleased Motion Picture Funnies Weekly No. 1 from 1939. Eight copies, plus one without a cover, emerged in the estate of the deceased publisher in 1974. The "Pay Copy" of this book sold for $43,125 in a 2005 Heritage auction.
The most valuable American comics have combined rarity and quality with the first appearances of popular and enduring characters. Four comic books to have sold for over $1 million USD as of December 2010, including two examples of Action Comics No. 1, the first appearance of Superman, both sold privately through online dealer ComicConnect.com in 2010, and Detective Comics No. 27, the first appearance of Batman, via public auction.
Misprints, promotional comic-dealer incentive printings, and similar issues with extremely low distribution also generally have scarcity value. The rarest modern comic books include the original press run of The League of Extraordinary Gentlemen No. 5, which DC executive Paul Levitz recalled and pulped due to the appearance of a vintage Victorian era advertisement for "Marvel Douche", which the publisher considered offensive; only 100 copies exist, most of which have been CGC graded. (See Recalled comics for more pulped, recalled, and erroneous comics.)
In 2000, a company named CGC began to "slab" comics, encasing them in a thick plastic and giving them a numeric grade.
France and Belgium have a long tradition in comics and comic books, called BDs (an abbreviation of bande dessinées) in French and strips in Dutch. Belgian comic books originally written in Dutch show the influence of the Francophone "Franco-Belgian" comics, but have their own distinct style.
The name la bande dessinée derives from the original description of the art form as drawn strips (the phrase literally translates as "the drawn strip"), analogous to the sequence of images in a film strip. As in its English equivalent, the word "bande" can be applied to both film and comics. Significantly, the French-language term contains no indication of subject-matter, unlike the American terms "comics" and "funnies", which imply an art form not to be taken seriously. The distinction of comics as le neuvième art (literally, "the ninth art") is prevalent in French scholarship on the form, as is the concept of comics criticism and scholarship itself. Relative to the respective size of their populations, the innumerable authors in France and Belgium publish a high volume of comic books. In North America, the more serious Franco-Belgian comics are often seen as equivalent to graphic novels, but whether they are long or short, bound or in magazine format, in Europe there is no need for a more sophisticated term, as the art's name does not itself imply something frivolous.
In France, authors control the publication of most comics. The author works within a self-appointed time-frame, and it is common for readers to wait six months or as long as two years between installments. Most books first appear in print as a hardcover book, typically with 48, 56, or 64 pages.
Originally the same size as a usual comic book in the U.S. (although lacking the glossy cover), the British comic has adopted a magazine size, with The Beano and The Dandy the last to adopt this size (in the 1980s). Although the British generally speak of "a comic" or of "a comic magazine", and they also historically spoke of "a comic paper". Some comics, such as Judge Dredd and other 2000 AD titles, have been published in a tabloid form.
Although Ally Sloper's Half Holiday (1884), the first comic published in Britain, was aimed at an adult market, publishers quickly targeted a younger market, which has led to most publications being for children and created an association in the public's mind of comics as somewhat juvenile.
Popular titles within the UK have included The Beano, The Dandy, The Eagle, 2000 AD, and Viz. Underground comics and "small press" titles have also been published within the UK, notably Oz and Escape Magazine.
The content of Action, another title aimed at children and launched in the mid-1970s, became the subject of discussion in the House of Commons. Although on a smaller scale than similar investigations in the U.S., such concerns led to a moderation of content published within British comics. Such moderation never became formalized to the extent of promulgating a code, nor did it last long.
The UK has also established a healthy market in the reprinting and repackaging of material, notably material originating in the U.S. The lack of reliable supplies of American comic books led to a variety of black-and-white reprints, including Marvel's monster comics of the 1950s, Fawcett's Captain Marvel, and other characters such as Sheena, Mandrake the Magician, and the Phantom. Several reprint companies were involved in repackaging American material for the British market, notably the importer and distributor Thorpe & Porter.
Marvel Comics established a UK office in 1972. DC Comics and Dark Horse Comics also opened offices in the 1990s. The repackaging of European material has occurred less frequently, although the Tintin and Asterix serials have been successfully translated and repackaged in softcover books.
At Christmas time, publishers repackage and commission material for comic annuals, printed and bound as hardcover A4-size books; Rupert supplies a famous example of the British comic annual. DC Thomson also repackages The Broons and Oor Wullie strips in softcover A4-size books for the holiday season.
On 19 March 2012, the British postal service, the Royal Mail, released a set of stamps depicting British comic-book characters and series. The collection featured The Beano, The Dandy, Eagle, The Topper, Roy of the Rovers, Bunty, Buster, Valiant, Twinkle and 2000 AD.
In Italy, comics (known in Italian as fumetti) made their debut as humor strips at the end of the 19th century, and later evolved into adventure stories. After World War II, however, artists like Hugo Pratt and Guido Crepax exposed Italian comics to an international audience. Popular comic books such as Diabolik or the Bonelli line—namely Tex Willer or Dylan Dog—remain best-sellers.
Mainstream comics are usually published on a monthly basis, in a black-and-white digest size format, with approximately 100 to 132 pages. Collections of classic material for the most famous characters, usually with more than 200 pages, are also common. Author comics are published in the French BD format, with an example being Pratt's Corto Maltese.
Italian cartoonists show the influence of comics from other countries, including France, Belgium, Spain, and Argentina. Italy is also famous for being one of the foremost producers of Walt Disney comic stories outside the U.S. Donald Duck's superhero alter ego, Paperinik, known in English as Superduck, was created in Italy.
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The first comic books in Japan appeared during the 18th century in the form of woodblock-printed booklets containing short stories drawn from folk tales, legends, and historical accounts, told in a simple visual-verbal idiom. Known as "red books" (赤本 akahon ), "black books" (黒本 kurobon ), and "blue books" (青本 aohon ), these were written primarily for less literate readers. However, with the publication in 1775 of Koikawa Harumachi's comic book Master Flashgold's Splendiferous Dream (金々先生栄花の夢 Kinkin sensei eiga no yume ), an adult form of comic book originated, which required greater literacy and cultural sophistication. This was known as the kibyōshi (黄表紙?, lit. yellow cover). Published in thousands of copies, the kibyōshi may have been the earliest fully realized comic book for adults in world literary history. Approximately 2,000 titles remain extant.
Modern comic books in Japan developed from a mixture of these earlier comic books and of woodblock prints ukiyo-e (浮世絵) with Western styles of drawing. They took their current form shortly after World War II. They are usually published in black-and-white, except for the covers, which are usually printed in four colors, although occasionally, the first few pages may also be printed in full color. The term manga means "random (or whimsical) pictures", and first came into common usage in the late 18th century with the publication of such works as Santō Kyōden's picturebook Shiji no yukikai (四時交加) (1798) and Aikawa Minwa's Comic Sketches of a Hundred Women (1798).
Western artists were brought over to teach their students such concepts as line, form, and color; things which had not been regarded as conceptually important in ukiyo-e, as the idea behind the picture was of paramount importance. Manga at this time was referred to as Ponchi-e (Punch-picture) and, like its British counterpart Punch magazine, mainly depicted humor and political satire in short one- or four-picture format.
Dr. Osamu Tezuka (1928–1989) further developed this form. Seeing an animated war propaganda film titled Momotaro's Divine Sea Warriors (桃太郎 海の神兵 Momotarō Umi no Shinpei ) inspired Tezuka to become a comic artist. He introduced episodic storytelling and character development in comic format, in which each story is part of larger story arc. The only text in Tezuka's comics was the characters' dialogue and this further lent his comics a cinematic quality. Inspired by the work of Walt Disney, Tezuka also adopted a style of drawing facial features in which a character's eyes, nose, and mouth are drawn in an extremely exaggerated manner. This style created immediately recognizable expressions using very few lines, and the simplicity of this style allowed Tezuka to be prolific. Tezuka's work generated new interest in the ukiyo-e tradition, in which the image is a representation of an idea, rather than a depiction of reality.
Though a close equivalent to the American comic book, manga has historically held a more important place in Japanese culture than comics have in American culture. Japanese society shows a wide respect for manga, both as an art form and as a form of popular literature. Many manga become television shows or short films. As with its American counterpart, some manga has been criticized for its sexuality and violence, although in the absence of official or even industry restrictions on content, artists have freely created manga for every age group and for every topic.
Manga magazines—also known as "anthologies"—often run several series concurrently, with approximately 20 to 40 pages allocated to each series per issue. These magazines range from 200 to more than 850 pages each. Manga magazines also contain one-shot comics and a variety of four-panel yonkoma (equivalent to comic strips). Manga series may continue for many years if they are successful, with stories often collected and reprinted in book-sized volumes called tankōbon (単行本?, lit. stand-alone book), the equivalent of the American trade paperbacks. These volumes use higher-quality paper and are useful to readers who want to be brought up to date with a series, or to readers who find the cost of the weekly or monthly publications to be prohibitive. Deluxe versions are printed as commemorative or collectible editions. Conversely, old manga titles are also reprinted using lower-quality paper and sold for 120 ¥ (approximately $1 USD) each.
Doujinshi (同人誌?, lit. fan magazine), fan-made Japanese comics operate in a far larger market in Japan than the American "underground comics" market; the largest doujinshi fair, Comic Market, attracts 500,000 visitors twice a year.