a Museum for Comics?
"I DRAW ... THEREFORE I AM"
The origins of comics and sequential art can be traced back
through thousands of years of cultural history. Graphic narrative
as a means of pictorial communication began in Paleolithic times,
probably before distinct human language skills were developed.
Cave art, body decoration and design on functional objects represent
some of the earliest visual expressions of human thought and
Our journey at Words and Pictures begins in these ancient times,
when simple drawings adorned the walls of caves. These images often depicted subjects
such as bison and antelope, whose creations may have been part
of a ritual to insure a successful hunt. Hand print images,
a sort of individual "signature", were also common
and speak to us in a very immediate way.
In later cultures, as those in Mesopotamia and Egypt, we see
"words" associated with images which began to evolve
into written language systems. These early "picture sequences"
recorded early history, the first laws, codes of behavior and
movements of the solar system.
As societies became more "civilized", new forms of
graphic narrative continued to evolve. With the advent of printing
in the 1400s, mass-produced words and images were soon a part
of everyone's lives. When we study the history of art, we see
countless examples of this form of expression. Within this context
we can see contemporary graphic narrative as a natural extension.
As you visit the various Museum directories, it is our hope
that you see modern graphics, illustrations and sequential art
as part of the great tapestry of fine art throughout the ages.
Enjoy your journey and revisit often!
A Short History of American
© Steven Weiner
"100 Graphic Novels for Public Libraries"
Kitchen Sink Press, 1996
American comics began in 1895,
with the publication of the first cartoon in a newspaper strip,
The Yellow Kid. The comic strip form caught the attention
of the public, and as a result, the comic strip became very
popular in the early part of the century. Sunday and daily comic
strips continue to be featured in almost every newspaper in
the United States.
Comic books didn't become popular until the 1930s,
and were initially reprints of newspaper strips. However, as
pulp fiction faded in popularity, publishers of popular material
turned with increasing frequency to stories told in comic book
format to replace the pulp genre. For many people who observe
the field peripherally, the 1930s remain the defining moment
of comic book history: many of the superheros who enjoy popularity
today were created during the years just prior to World War
As a genre, comic books mirrored popular culture. Comic books
of the early 1940s
had a distinctly patriotic flavor, while those of the early
1950s had a conservative tone. Coexisting with the conservative
element was a radical strain - the EC horror, crime, and science
fiction comics. The 1950s
were also the period when the comic book field came under attack
as deleterious to the morals of American youth. Dr. Fredric
Wertham's book, Seduction of the Innocent, indicted the
comic book industry and blamed juvenile delinquency on the effect
of comic books. Worried, comic book publishers created and enforced
the "Comics Code," guidelines for acceptable and unacceptable
content. The most popular comics of the 1950s were love comics,
western comic books, and MAD magazine.
Superhero comics made a return in the 1960s.
As America had become a more introspective society, the new
superheros were imbued with phobias and challenges. The 1960s
also witnessed the emergence of underground comics, comics expressing
discontent with the accepted core of American society. Superhero
comics were sold on drugstore racks; underground comics were
sold in head shops. This marketing practice was unique in the
comic book field; prior to the sale of underground comics, comic
book publishers had attempted to sell to the largest possible
audience, but the underground comics proved that one could be
successful by appealing to readers with political or aesthetic
ideals similar to those of the comic books' creators.
In the early 1970s,
the "comic book convention" was initiated, where dealers
sold rare and valuable comic books at collectors prices. Out
of this atmosphere, the comic book specialty shop was born.
The underground and conventional comic book venues found common
ground in the specialty shop, perhaps because both strains existed
outside the accepted popular culture. As a concept, the comic
shop thrived, partly because the forum allowed publishers direct
contact with their readers, and as a result, many publishers
experimented with different kinds of books, directed at different
segments of the comic book store patronage.
Other factors were important as well. Comic book creators in
the United States were utilizing cartooning methods developed
by Japanese and European artists and writers, bringing new sophistication
into American comics. Underground comics moved closed to the
mainstream comics culture, but used accepted comic book characters
to examine beliefs and attitudes previously left unexplored
by more conventional comic book creators.
In the 1980s, superheros
became societal outcasts, burdened with complex personalities
and problems. Artwork became more expressive and story lines
increasingly demanding. Non-superhero comic books also grew
more intricate and literate than they had been previously.
The sophistication of the American comic book/graphic novel
field may be the most underrated literacy movement in recent
United States history. The graphic novel, a sophisticated book
length story generally contained in one volume, was created
in 1978 by Will Eisner. The form grew so popular that by the
end of the next decade, many publishers no longer produced periodicals,
but instead concentrated their efforts solely on graphic novels.
It is within the graphic novel format that one encounters much
of the most experimental and exciting work being done in the
comics medium today.
(END of excerpt)
It is at this point that the Words & Pictures Virtual Museum
picks up the challenge of introducing you to the next century
of comics around the globe. Through this directory we'll provide
links to varied looks at the history of comics and their contribution
to global popular culture. Our Spotlight Exhibits will focus
on where the medium is moving in the 21st century
and the innovative talents who'll take us there.