FFI’s Graphic History of Graphic Novels

You know you love them. Sure…you may act like you don’t. You probably have an entire collection of them tucked away in a remote corner of your house somewhere. Comic books have entertained the minds of the young and old alike for generations. They have been an invaluable asset to our imagination and our passageway into the fantastic. Conversely, many of us take comics for granted, not seeing the vast amount of time, effort, and endless talent that is poured into the history of each and every story.

Telling tales with pictures existed long before language and prose. Evidence of prehistoric Stan Lees is sketched all over ancient cave walls around the world. Even tapestries of the Middle Ages were designed to tell intricate stories and serve as history lessons for future generations.

These things have led society to present day comics and graphic novels.

So, what is the difference between a comic book and a graphic novel? Simply, it is length of the overall work that separates one form from the other. Both mediums are presented in the familiar sequential art design, combining text, panels, and images. However, a comic book is around twenty – thirty pages where a graphic novel can span hundreds of pages. I compare the two to television broadcasts versus theatrical motion pictures. An episode of RAISING HOPE will run about twenty minutes, whereas the movie HOPE FLOATS runs nearly two hours.

Though there have been some slight debate, the first recognized comic/graphic novel that debuted in the United States is considered to be The Adventures of Obadiah Oldbuck published in 1842. As historians examined the evolution of comics in the U.S., they established several historical phases, or ages:

Proto-comic books and the Platinum Age

The earliest of comics, these were assortments of comic strips that were gathered and compiled into hardcover collections. The Yellow Kid in McFadden’s Flats (G. W. Dillingham Company, 1897), and The Funnies and Funnies on Parade (Dell Publishing/George T. Delacorte Jr., 1929) are proto-comic books that came to life in the Platinum Age.

Golden Age

Ah…the birth of the superhero. Action Comics #1 emerged in June 1938 and with it came the birth of the dude known to all as Superman. This started it all, even down to the superhero tights. Action became the print with the second-largest number of issues trailing Dell Comics’ Four Color. World War II delivered mass-market appeal for superhero comics, which not only provided cost-effective entertainment, but gave citizens a sense of invulnerability and power at a time where many were afraid. This era spawned heroes such as Captain Marvel and Captain America. After the war, the need for the superhero declined dramatically making room for more comical plots, like those in Archie Comics and Walt Disney. With the exception of whom I refer to as the “big three” (Superman, Wonder Woman, and Batman), superheroes were mostly extinct by 1952.

Silver Age

BUT—you can’t keep a good hero down and the mid-50’s into the early 60’s saw a reprieve for the wonderful superhero. The two publishing titans—Marvel and DC—hatched a plethora of incredibles: Flash, Green Lantern, Hawkman, Fantastic Four, and who could ever forget Spiderman (Amazing Fantasy#15 – 1962)? Radioactive accidents were everywhere!

Bronze Age

A more mature comic began to show its face during the 70’s through the mid-80’s. Social issues were the hot topics and comics weren’t going to turn a blind eye to our collective challenges. It’s said there is no distinct line that heralded the beginning of the Bronze Age but rather a soup of occurrences that brought about its existence. The onset of the Bronze Age overlapped with multiple career changes in the comics industry of the time ranging from promotions to departures to all-out beheadings. This allowed a newer, younger group into the mix. Additionally, marketing changes erupted, moving comics away from the cheaper newsstands to the newer specialty/comic book stores, which I still believe are some of the coolest places on earth.

Copper Age/Modern Age – Then and Today

Change is exciting! Since the late 80’s, comics and graphic novels have evolved into a species adored by many. It is now a lifestyle that is fed by the coolness of knowing what The Watchmen is about, or knowing why Scott Pilgrim is fighting the world. We’ve seen an ample rise in the independent publisher who has and will continue to deliver the freshest in entertainment. Superheroes are all over the movies today and the stories of graphic novels and comics dominate the box office. Massive events like WonderCon and Comi-Con are the places to be, not only for us “nerds” who rule the world, but the celebrities who want to be cool enough to be invited with us. Consoles like Playstation 3/4, Xbox 360/One, and Wii have granted even deeper wishes providing all of the role playing adventure we can tolerate. We’ve seen the rise of the conflicted anti-hero, like The Dark Knight, who has challenged the blissful humanitarian heroes of the past.

And it continues to change; it continues to grow.

Yes, the world of comics, video games, action figures, and collectibles is no longer for the goofy guy living in his parent’s basement. It is a domain where those who don’t get it…don’t get it. In the immortal words of Sheldon Cooper…

Sheldon Cooper: [Holding the latest issue of The Flash] Hello, Fastest Man Alive. Wanna see me read your entire comic book? [Flips quickly through comic] Wanna see it again??

References and Reads


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