The story of comics is also the story of sequential art. This is a form of story telling with pictures and it can be dated back to the 15th century and the creation printing press. Or as far back Egyptian hieroglyphics, European stain glass windows and Japanese emaki. All of these are designed to tell a story in a specific way, with art.
The first comic books where not as you might think, some of the first where newspaper comic strips. And one day they where compiled into what we have here, the modern comic book. Over time the quality of the paper and size of the book has changed. Now, the standard book is about 22 pages of story and art, it is also much smaller in size compared to the older books.
The stories have changed as well, where as at first most of the newspaper strips where just political satire, a spoof or a joke, now we have good quality stories that can span decades. These start around the year 1910 give or take a decade or two and can be called the Platinum age. Stories at this time focused on old novels made into comic book form and original crime dramas, some of which where also radio programs.
This last till about the 1940s, witch can be called the Golden Age. Now, masked heroes can date back farther than the Golden Age but the Superhero is the beginning of the Golden Age. The first one can be considered Superman. He was created in 1939 and soon after Batman is created, following a host of other superheroes that have a wide verity in look and appearance and most notably powers, have been ushered in this Golden Age.
An “age” in comics is used to determine historical eras. Some say they last about 20 years or so. These eras are usually used to note a shift in the way books are being done, such as the way stories are told or a decline or revival of the genre it self. One such instance is the start of the Silver Age.
During the late 50s to early 60s there was a decline in the sales of books. This is mostly due to one mans crusade. Psychiatrist Frederic Wertham believes comics where responsible for criminal acts committed by juveniles. He wrote a book called Seduction of the Innocent and this saw to government investigation of comic books. In 1954 the Comics Code Authority was created. It was a guide for the industry to follow that dictated the content of the book. Ultimately it was a form of censorship and the shock from that is still being felt today.
During the Silver Age came the revival of the comic book and the Superhero beginning with the Flash of 1944 meeting the Flash of 1956. At this time DC comics created New Characters based on old ones with a new look and a new Origin. Around the same time in the mid 60s Marvel created its own Group of Superheroes and this is said to have revolutionized the medium as far as the more naturalistic superheroes. An example of this is Spiderman. An average kid that has to deal with school, girls and pimples on top of being a superhero, as well as the Fantastic four, Marvels first family of Superheroes.
The X-men hold a particular presence in the comic book world. The stories they tell almost mimic the culture of the day. At that time it revolved around humanities hate for the mutants. This can be seen as the hate against black, gays, and those that where simply different. This is still a common theme in the book.
During the height of comics in the ’60s and ’70s if someone missed an issue of their favorite book it was likely they would never get it. After a comic came out it would not be reprinted or reproduced. Later, just like how newspaper strips where reproduced as comic books, comic books them selves where starting to be reprinted in what we call a trade paper back. A trade paperback is sometimes called a Graphic Novel and vice versa. This is because the term itself has yet to find its proper place. There is also a term called Prestige Format. This is normal a comic of regular or about double the length in story bound with a more durable material. This can also be called a Graphic Novel.
The term graphic novel was first coined by Richard Kyle in 1964, mainly as an attempt to distinguish the newly translated works from Europe which were then being published from what Kyle saw as the more juvenile publications common in the United States. The term became popular with the Book A Contract with God, and Other Tenement Stories by Will Eisner(1978). This book in fact was a collection of individual stories of the same name, these stories where more mature in nature, and help to establish the term Graphic Novel. The term itself cannot be strictly defined as it can reference a collection of comic works, also called a Trade Paperback, and works in similar shape and size as a regular comic book but containing more mature works.
Comics them selves have a long history of being put into book form as early as 1873 in the United Kingdom and later the United States. Most of these books can not be considered Graphic Novels even by today’s standers but it shows an early acceptance of collected works. Over time American comic creators got more adventurous with this format creating original works 40 pages or more and collocating previously released works. As you can see the term Graphic Novel has a versatile usage. It can even be used to describe the Japanese manga witch it growing here in the states. Personally I like to use it for original works of a more mature nature. These can even be an original series of a mature nature that has been collected. Either way, comics and Graphic Novels have a long and rooted history and I am glad to enlighten or bring you in to the comic world.