The Online Encyclopedia and Dictionary







This article is about the medium and art form of comics. For the entertainers known as comics, see comedians. For the Canadian television series, see Comics (TV series) .

Comics (sometimes spelled comix, also called sequential art) is an art form that features a series of static images in fixed sequence, usually to tell a story. Typically, comics are printed on paper, and text is often incorporated into the images. The most common formats are newspaper strips, magazine-format comic books, and larger bound volumes called graphic novels.

Manga is the Japanese term for comics, and French comics are known as Bande Dessinée or "B.D." (literally, "strip drawings"). In the UK, the term comics most often refers to domestic comic books, whilst comic books implies that they come from the U.S.



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. Will Eisner called comics "sequential art" in his book on the craft and techniques of the medium. In Understanding Comics Scott McCloud defined comics as "juxtaposed pictorial and other images in deliberate sequence, intended to convey information and/or to produce an aesthetic response in the viewer"; this definition excludes single-panel illustrations such as The Far Side, The Family Circus, and political cartoons from the category, instead classifying those as cartoons. By contrast, the Comics Journal's "100 Best Comics of the 20th Century" included the works of several single panel cartoonists and a caricaturist.

Fumetti, (sometimes called fotonovelas), are comics using photographs instead of illustrations, with speech balloons added. By some definitions (including McCloud's, above) the definition of comics extends to digital media such as web comics and sprite comics.

Most agree that animation, which creates the optical illusion of movement within a static physical frame, is a separate form. With comics, readers connect a series of static images at their own individual pace, usually with each in its own frame. Some digital-media works combine the techniques of comics and animation as a hybrid form.


When and where comics originated is another matter of debate, largely dependent on its definition. Scott McCloud observes precedents in Egyptian hieroglyphics, European stained glass windows, pre-Columbian Central American manuscripts, and the Bayeux Tapestry. Others say modern comics began in the 1820s with Rodolphe Töpffer.

Satirical cartoons in newspapers were popular in much of the 19th century. R.F. Outcault's Hogan's Alley, (1895), is widely recognized as the first ongoing newspaper strip to feature regular characters. Its success in promoting newspaper sales prompted the creation of other strips, and marks the beginning of comics as an ongoing popular art form as it is still known in the 21st century.

The term comics itself derives from early newspaper strips, which featured a variety of genres, but were largely gag humor, hence the adjective comic. Collections of strips in the 1930s led to the name comic book. Alternatively, newspaper strips were called funnies and the collections funny books, though the latter term has faded from use. The modern double usage of the term comic, as an adjective describing a genre, and a noun designating an entire medium, has been criticised as confusing and misleading. In the 1960s and 1970s, underground cartoonists used the spelling comix to distinguish their work from mainstream newspaper strips and juvenile comic books; ironically, although their work was written for an adult audience, it was usually comedic in nature as well, so the "comic" label still fit. The term graphic novel was coined in the late 1970s to distance the material from this confusion.

While the medium is not intrinsically limited to any particular subject or style, some genres have predominated. For older readers there have been journalistic, historical, educational, Censored page, autobiographical, non-narrative, and propagandistic comics. But most comics have been marketed to the young, who prefer anthropomorphic funny animals, humor, science fiction, horror, crime, romance, and superheroes. Since the 1960s, humor comic strips and superhero comic books have been the most popular genres.

Underground comics have gradually developed into an artistically ambitious international movement. Usually published outside the "mainstream" comic book industry, these have been dubbed "independent" or "alternative" comics.


Most images in printed comics are produced using graphite and/or non-photo blue pencil, then inked using either a pen or brush. Colors or shades of gray are sometimes added, usually using digital tools. Lettering is often done digitally, but some still use pen and ink. However, the use of other illustrative media is not uncommon, including paint (either by itself or as a coloring technique), pencil alone, digital drawing tools, digitally-rendered images, and photographs. In theory, any non-sculptural visual arts medium could be used.

Related articles

Comic Formats

Regional categories

Comic Genres

  • Caricature comics
  • Children's comics
  • Educational comics
  • Censored page
  • Editorial comics
    • Political
    • Satirical
    • Social
  • Narrative comics
    • Action (see also Superhero)
    • Anthromorphic funny animals
    • Autobiographical
    • Crime/Detective
    • Historical/War
    • Horror
    • Illustrated Classics
    • Romance
    • Superhero
    • Science Fiction
  • Non Sequitur comics
  • Wordless/"Silent" comics

Comic book awards



External links

  • The Big Comic Book DataBase an online searchable database of comic book and creator information.
  • The Grand Comics Database
  • The Senate Subcommittee on Juvenile Delinquency
  • Bronze Age 1970s Comic Book Cover Showcase
  • Don Markstein's Toonopedia
  • The Cartoon Art Museum of San Francisco exhibits a wide variety of comic artwork to the public, with historical and artistic commentary and analysis
  • Andy's early comics archive Interesting history of early comics, with many image examples

Last updated: 02-08-2005 16:39:31
Last updated: 05-03-2005 09:00:33