History Of Comics Essay, Research Paper
Comics: In the Beginning
The modern comic, as we know it, began in Joseph Pulitzer’s New York World on February 17,1895. The comic, drawn by Richard F. Outcault, was based on the life of Mickey Dugan, an Irish immigrant child in the city. Although the strip had no name, people have dubbed it the “Yellow Kid” because the nightshirt worn by Mickey Dugan was the projection for an experiment in yellow ink by the newspaper. Eventually the comic came to be known as “Hogan’s Alley.” Soon comics were recognized for the selling potential and were published in newspapers all over the world.
After the success of the World, a competitor, William Randolph Herst of the New York Journal, hired Outcault to draw Hogan’s Alley for Hearst’s Journal. The World continued publication of the strip using a new artist, and both papers were featuring the “Yellow kid.” This led to people referring to the two papers as the yellow papers. And as the battle between the press lords became more intense, people began calling it yellow journalism which now has come to mean overly sensational journalism.
Although Outcault won the battle over the rights of “Yellow kid,” the mass marketing began. The cartoon was everywhere. Products were being produced, even cigars, bearing the “yellow kid.”
Soon the comic revolution began, and strips were published all over. Of these comics, “Katzenjammer Kids” drawn by Rudolph Dirks in 1897, was one of the most popular and first to regularly use voice balloons for dialogue. Outcault also continued drawing, and began a strip called “Buster Brown” which was to be a tie between the comic strip and the comic book. The mass marketing continued, and “Buster Brown” had his own line of shoes (McHam).
Until 1907, comic strips ran only on Sundays. In 1907, the first daily strip appeared. “Mutt and Jeff” by Bud Fisher, began being published daily in the San Franciso Chronicle. Following that was “Bringing up Father,” in 1912, and soon many others including: “Barney Google”; “Thimble Theater” forerunner to “Popeye”; “Moon Mullins” “Orphan Annie” and “Andy Gump” which was the first comic to tell a continuing story.
Hearst pushed comics in all of his newspapers and began King Features, a syndication service, to deliver comics to his and other papers. King Features continues syndicating today along with company’s such as Universal Press Syndicate in Kansas City, Kansas. Today, a popular comic can run in more than 1,200 newspapers daily.
By the Time Buck Rogers started in the 1920’s, the comic strip was fully developed. At this time, some of the most popular comics to be were drawn, and continue to this day. “Blondie” started in the 20’s is now one of the longest running comic strips. Other comics of that time include: “Dick Tracy”; “Joe Palooka” and “Lil’Abner” which was retired in 1977. These comics led into others continuing today, such as “Peanuts” in 1950, and Gary Trudeau’s “Doonesbury” of 1970.
The Comic Book
Soon after the turn of the century, comic strips were collected into book form. Comic books were then used for promotion, such as “Buster Brown” Shoes, and breakfast cereals. Comic magazines soon followed, the first to be the Famous Funnies in 1934, and by the late 30’s comic books were being produced independently of newspaper strips.
Action Comics began in 1938, in which Superman was the main attraction, and was in his first appearance. Detective Comics (DC Comics) started a chain reaction in 1938 by devoting each issue to a certain comic or subject, which continues into the modern day comic books.
Comic books spread like wildfire, and estimation show that they outsold all magazines combined during World War II.
A nation survey conducted by Fawcett Publications in 1943 showed outstanding results. The survey showed 95 percent of all males and 91 percent of all females between 6 and 11 read comic books regularly. They were read by 87 percent of all males and 80 percent of all females from ages 12-17, and by 41 percent of all males and 28 percent of all females ages 18-30 (McHam).
Soon comic books attracted national advertising. In the top years of comic book marketing, in the 1950’s, the industries income was estimated at $150 million, and combined circulation achieved 90 million.
The criticism of these comic also reached a height at about the same time. Much as the television censorship of today, comics then were considered a bad influence on children. Parents and educators were concerned about the content. This issue was taken so far, that the Canadian Parliament outlawed crime in comics in 1949! Individual cities also passed ordinances against the crime and violence in these book. They also tried to curb the sales of these books to minors.
Although the technological advances in press had allowed these comics to become popular, technology also put an end to an era. Television of the 50’s and 60’s attracted the attention of youth all over, and the comic book circulation began to decline. Although circulation has risen again, comic books would never gain the publicity they once controlled.
Thomas Nast became the first editoral cartoonist. In 25 years of working for Harper’s Weekly more than 3,000 drawing of Nast’s were published.
Many symbols still used today came from Nast, including the Democratic donkey, the Republican elephant and many renditions of Uncle Sam and Santa Clause.
During the Civil War, Nast worked as a recruiting sargent, and plubished several famous pictures for the Union. Presidemt Aberaham Lincoln called Nast “Our best recuiting sargent.”(McHam)
Nast became publicly famous for his attacks on the Tammany Hall ring after the Civil War. Nast also exposed the Tweed ring, whose boss William Marcy Tweed was sopposed to have said to the Harper brothers “I don’t care a straw for your newspaper. My constitutants can’t read, but they can’t help seeing those damned pictures.” Tweed tried to bribe Nast to stop the attacks, but Nast’s drawings brought the Harper’s circulation to an altime high.
Nast was a reformer, and now almost all cartoons follow in that style. Some of the more popular editorial cartoonists today are: Bill Mauldin of the Chicago Sun Times; Herb Block of the Washington Post; and Pat Oliphant of the Los Angeles Times.
Most editoral cartoons now are syndicated, and larger papers have their own artists.
From the start of comics before the turn of the century to the height in the 1950’s comics have undergone many changes. The comic page is still an important part of everyday life, and modern comics show this. We all have our favorite comic strips, and we can’t resist ripping the comics out of the paper to read them first.
Uses of the Comic
Although the comic began as a way for newspapers to increase circulation, it has developed and spread to cover many more purposes. Some of these purposes even came about before the invention of the modern comic, and continue today. An example of the is the Editorial cartoon.
The first editorial cartoonist was Thomas Nast. Nast was born in Germany in 1840, and soon after moved to the United States. Nast got a job with the newspaper Harper’s Weekly, and worked there for 25 years. While Nast worked for Harper’s, more than 3,000 of his drawings were published.
A rendition of Boss tweed by Nast.
Of the most popular of Nast’s drawings, were the donkey and elephant for the symbols of the Democratic and Republican parties. He also drew Santa Clause and Uncle Sam, but neither were originated by him.
During the Civil War Nast was a recruiting sergeant for the Union Army, and gained national fame when Abraham Lincoln addressed him as “our best”(Mcham).
After the Civil War, Nast went back to work for Harper’s and began attacking the Tammany Hall ring in New York City. Nast represented Tammany by a tiger, and drew humorus cartoons of William Marcy Tweed and the Tweed Ring. The tweed Ring tried to bribe Nast to stop drawing, and then tried to pressure Harper’s from publishing his cartoons, but neither Nast nor Harper’s stopped .
Today most all newspapers carry syndicated collumns and cartoons by editorialists, and sometimes have their own cartoonist.
Comics have also been used for Propaganda. During both the first and second World Wars, cartoonists were pumping out war bond posters and recruiting posters by the ton. Propaganda leaflets were also dropped from airplanes over the enemy territory. These leaflets had pictures depicting a victorious United States, and often contained “tickets of admission” for enemy soldiers to surrender and cross the US borders.
In the Second World War, even such characters as Donald Duck and Mickey Mouse were featured in cartoons advertising war bonds, recruiting new soldiers, and even showing Mickey or Donald fighting Germans themselves. The
A poster published by the US government during World War II
The same techniques were also being used on the other sides with pictures of amazing technology that would single-handedly win the war. In fact, the German government did so well with their propaganda , that the German people put faith behind these drawings and even believed, in the last days of the war, that the new “wonder weapons” were waiting to be shipped to the front right then.
In the same respects as the World War II propoganda, R Crumb is considered, by some, a propagandist of the 60’s. Through out his “Keep On Truckin,” “Felix The Cat”, and many other cartoons Crumb captured the thoughts and feelings of many teens in the 60’s.
Today, comics are used to reach kids about topics like drugs, violence, gangs, etc. Some comic characters even rank among movie stars because of the now far reaching grip of television and movies. Some comics, like “Mad dog McGruff” are drawn for the sole purpose of government and private organizations campaigns to fight drugs. Even Garfield The Cat has been featured in several short television commercials promoting education.
Comics serve for more than just entertainment, but they still make us laugh.
Most people can name a favorite comic before you finish the question, but not very many of them can name the artist. In their own way, comic artists have contributed much to modern art.
Charles Shulz (Peanuts)
Charles M. Shulz was born in St. Paul Minnesota on November 26, 1922(Mcham). Comic strips appealed to Shulz at an early age, and he aspired to become a cartoonist soon after. Shulz loved comics so much, his parents subscribed to four different newspapers. Eventually he was nicknamed “Sparky” after Barney Google’s horse “Sparkplug”(shulz). Shulz’s love of comics came from his family. Although the family did not have any artists until Charles came along, they still paid close attention to the arts.
Shulz’s cartooning began during school. Academically he did very well, and he even skipped a grade. He spent his time doodling on note books and even producing a few cartoons, although he did nothing with his talent until his senior year. Before he graduated high school, Shulz submitted several cartoons to the school annual paper. Shulz received his first rejection when his cartoons were not published in the annual paper.
After high school, Shulz enrolled in a correspondence course in cartooning, at what is now the Art Instruction Schools Inc., in Minneapolis (Inge). Although the school was only a few miles from his house, he turned in all of his work by mail. Ironically, his instructor , Frank Wing, gave Shulz a c-plus in the drawing of children (Inge).
Shulz’s cartooning career was interrupted when he was drafted into the military in 1943. Just before he had shipped abroad, his mother had die after a long fight with cancer. Shulz was sent to Europe, became an infantryman, staff sergeant, and leader of a machine gun squad, but he saw little combat (Mcham). Other than some sketches of camp life, he did little drawing, but by V-J day, he was home again ready to pick up back where he left off.
Shulz was soon hired by the Art Instruction in Minneapolis, correcting students correspondence. He then
broke into the nation market, having 15 drawings published in the Saturday Evening Post over a 2 year period. Eventually Shulz made it big, or so he thought, after submitting a comic strip to the St. Paul Pioneer Press. His comic, called “Lil’ Folks” was published weekly almost up until “Peanuts”.
In 1950, Shulz signed with United Feature Syndicate and “Peanuts”, named by the syndicate, was published in seven newspapers nation-wide. Now, 40 years later, Shulz’s cartoons is viewed in more than 2,600 around the world.
Unlike many other cartoonists, Shulz produces “Peanuts” by himself without the help of an art staff. Aside from the comic strip, he has written and produced “Peanuts” television specials, and animated half hour cartoons.
JIM DAVIS (GARFIELD)
Jim Davis was born on July 28, 1945 in Marion, Indiana. Davis grew up on a farm with his father, mother, his brother Dave, and 25 cats. At a young age, Davis was forced, by asthma, to stay inside. With nothing else to do during the days, he began drawing. With encouragement from his mother, Davis added words to his art, and began writing comics.
After graduating from Ball State University in Indiana, Davis went to work at an advertising agency. There he joined “Tumbleweeds” creator Tom Ryan as cartoon assistant. On his leisure time, Davis drew a comic strip called “Gnorm Gnat”. The strip was published in an Indiana newspaper, but when he tried to sell it to a syndicate, he was rejected. Soon after this rejection, Davis drew a large foot falling out of the sky and ending Gnorm Gnat’s comic career.
Davis noticed the large amount of dog characters in comics, but there were few cats. With his experience of 25 farm cats, and his background in art, he produced “Garfield.” On June 19, 1978 his comic was syndicated to 41 newspapers across the nation. Ironically, Davis doesn’t own a cat, because his wife is allergic to them.
In 1981, Davis founded Paws Inc. to control all of his “Garfield” business. And since then, the comic has appeared in over 2,500 newspaper around the world.
Bill Amend (Fox Trot)
Bill Amend was born in 1962 in Northampton Mass. He began drawing cartoons while he was still in grade school. At 12, his family moved To Sanfrancisco, and Amend spent jr. and high school there. While in high school, he submitted many of his cartoons to various school publications, many times getting them published. But most of his cartoons, the school would not allow to be published. One of these featured, as the punchline, a puppy being thrown into a pit of hungry lions. The school counselor took a special interest in him after that.
Amend attended Amhurst College where he majored in physics. After graduating college, he decided to pursue cartooning. He held a few small jobs in animation, and even a job with Industrial Light and Magic, until he erased a lead animator’s work. After many rejections, Amend submitted “Fox Trot” to Universal Press Syndicate, were it debuted on April 10, 1988.
These are only a few of the cartoonists that have added to the great art and new names pop up every day. Cartoonists may not be Picasos, but Picaso couldn’t make us laugh (not as much as comics).
The Modern Comic
Today, most people think of the comic only as “Garfield” or “Foxtrot” in the morning comic section of the paper, but the world of modern comics encompasses more than it did fifty years ago. Although the comic strip may still be the “backbone” of the comic/cartoon industry, it is quickly turning into a minor detail. Newer versions of the comic strip appear all over in television, advertisements/merchandise, written publications, and the internet.
The television is one of the biggest sources for today’s comics and cartoons. TV provides us with animated cartoons for all ages. Although television projects towards many diverse audiences, the basic motive of entertainment is still behind most all comic broadcasts.
Television is also taking a big bite out of the newspaper’s circulation. People, now more than ever before, don’t receive a daily newspaper, and sometimes not even a weekly paper because channels like CNN and the local news offer all they need. The comic page is also then not recieved, so people go back to the television for some no-brainer comics. Whole channels on cable are dedicated to cartoons, and others like Comedy Central, are dedicating more than half of their air time for cartoons.
Animated films are also very popular. Disney produced the first full length animated film in the late 30s, taking more than two years to create “Snow White”. Today, the time required to design an animated movie has been greatly reduced due to technological advances like computers. A drawing is scanned onto a computer then the picture can be manipulated instead of drawing each frame by hand. The old way of producing a cartoon was very difficult and timeconsuming, considering that thirty hand-drawn frames would be one second of the movie.
The quantity of cartoons dissipates as the audience age increases, the youngest viewers watching the most. Before school and on Saturday mornings children rise to flip on the tube and watch shows like “The Mighty Ducks”, “Sailor Moon”, and “The Mask”
The few animated shows for the older audiences are mostly directed toward teenagers and young adults. Matt Groening created “The Simpsons”, which started out as a sketch on the “Tracey Ullman Show”. It was given a slot on the Fox network, and was extremely successful. The show is now proceeding into its 8th year and is still gaining popularity. “Bevis and Butthead” is also a cartoon aimed at teenagers. The show, created by Mike Judge, is about two high schoolers, music, and their experiences.
These cartoons are also heavily merchandised. Very seldom is there a record store that does not sell “Bevis and Butthead” T-shirts or posters. One of the events that has helped the “Simpsons” was the banning of their shirts in school. These were considered to be bad influences on children.
Fast food franchises also use televised cartoons to sell products, most directed toward young children. “McDonald’s” makes small plastic figurines of the latest popular cartoon, and includes them as incentives in things like “Happy Meals”. Other stores offer items like watches or clothing with a cartoon on them for buying a specific item.
Cartoonists also design comics specifically for certain advertisements, books, and things like music album covers. R Crumb, one of the leading underground cartoonists of the 60s, designed album covers for Janis Joplin, Big Brother, and the Holding Company.
Crumb drew popular underground cartoons such as the Keep on Truckin’ guys and “Fritz the Cat”. The latter was made into a animated film with the same name. Crumb hated the film so much that he drew a final Fritz comic book and killed off the cat with an ice pick.
Popular comic strips today continue the original traditions and even started a new category. Jules Feiffer made a combination of the comic strip and the political cartoon which was first published in the Village Voice in New York City in the 1950s. This style has somewhat continued into other comics such as Gary Trudeau’s “Doonsbury”, Gary Larson’s “Far Side” (which was retired in 1994), Cathy Guisewite’s “Cathy”, and Matt Groening’s “Life in Hell”. Another popular comic using this style was “Bloom County” wich was retired in 1989, but the author, Berke Brethed, has brought the characters back in his new strip “Outland”.
Comic books have also progressed into the 90s state of mind and have become very violent but have also moved mostly beyond the more realistic ideas into more science-fiction directed topics. Popular story lines in today’s comic books include space samurai, alien attacks on earth, and disposable assin droids. The comic book’s popularity is dimishing though, due to their high prices, television, and kid’s lack of motivation to read.
The internet is also a large source for comics. Not only can the published comic strips be posted, but amature artists can post their artwork on webpages, wich is usually soon spread across the web as others use this art in the production of their own page.
The modern comic has become very diverse and will become much more so in the near future. Comic strips and books are not the only form, but are in compition with television and the internet. The comic has changed much since its creation, and will comtinue to do so probably untill till the end of man.
McHam, David, “Mass Media and the American Experience: A Cultureal History of Our Time” Southren Methodist Universty 1995
Goulart, Ron “The funnies” Adams Media Corporation Holbrook, MA 1995
Goulart, Ron “Encyclopedia of American Comics” Promised Land Productions
1990 p5, 40, 48, 61, 102, 112,113, 139
Inge, Thomas M., “Comics As Culture” University Press of Mississippi, Jackson and London 1990
Shulz, Charles “Good Grief: the lif of Charles Shulz” United Feature Syndicate, 1996
Pharaon, James “James Pharaon’s Superman homepage” http://www.shsu.edu/~stdsjp/superman.html, Sarycuse University Library
“The Yellow Kid” http://web.syr.edu/~speccoll/yellow.htm