Anatomy of Comics

By Gaurav Gujar

As the classic saying goes, “Keep the child in you alive, forever.” Initially, we may well have the idea that comics are for children yet these little paper magazines are a form of art loved and appreciated by all ages for more than a century now. The first officially published comic strip was by Rodolphe Tӧffer in 1835; and who would have thought then, that today the comics industry would be a multi-billion-dollar business with collectables and classic superheroes? Whether you like superheroes, a slice of life, humour, non-fiction, science fiction, fantasy or horror there is something for everyone. After all, this topic has far more depth than we may ordinarily think. Find out more in Anatomy of Comics Here.

“Today, comics are one of the very few forms of mass communication in which individual vices still have a chance to be heard”

Scott McCloud

Interestingly, what started as small strips and even a single square in newspapers about current affairs or the socialite circles of the city, would shift to become political satire raising awareness for everyday people, helping them to understand the harsh realities, often done with a tinge of humour. Today comics are so much more than just a stripe in a newspaper they are books, big-budget movies, theme parks and much more.

Creating a whole new universe of characters and avatars unseen before, with ideas of angels and demons, superheroes, daily life struggles, unattained scientific inventions, reality, and symbolism linked with cosmic consciousness; has paved the path for creative writings and freedom of speech via this medium of art.

Today, the art of comics is a subject of academia but this wasn’t the case at its inception. Comics as an industry and an art form had their crests and troughs, with time and the evolution of people’s mindsets and with the acceptance of the way comics were evolving. And comics have seen tough times in their early days, for example:-

The year was 1948, Mary’s catholic school in West Virginia held a mock trial where comic books were found guilty of

“leading young people astray and building up false conceptions in minds of the youth”;

Six feet high pile of hundreds of comic books and more than 600 children around it, supporting the act photographed with piles of burning comics which portrayed the society’s effort and message regarding ‘purging children’s souls from the foul influence of comics’.

1954, A well-reputed psychiatrist, Fredric Wertham made a statement,

“I think Hitler was a beginner compared to the comic-book industry. They get the children much younger.”

So, what actually changed over the year? What made people accept this vast medium, one that is now considered an art form? Incidentally, there is a book published recently that gives us countless insights about the art, its extensive potential and its evolution. A new book may just bring some interesting insights to the genre.

‘Anatomy of Comics – Famous originals of narrative art’ written by Damien Macdonald, and published by Fammarion (2022) is a book that highlights the understanding and nuances and comics’ course toward becoming a multi-billion-dollar market and an art form.

The book essentially talks in form of five epochs named: Tongue in cheek, Third ear, The mind’s eye, Ink & paper sex and Skeleton key; each representing and explaining the various challenges faced and the triumph of the great creators of comics over the years.

Tongue in cheek

The first chapter is exactly like the phrase itself; it was the birth of the medium, today known as comics and because it wasn’t a known entity, there were no rules to abide by. Everyone had their own take, style and perception regarding topics, subjects and genre. The book helps us to discover some iconic names from industries.

Richard Felton Outcault – the creator of popular ‘The Yellow Kid’ cartoon strips (1895-1898) was famous for his comic writings, but did any of us know that he assisted the great inventor of the light bulb – Thomas Edison? Richard not only did Edison’s mechanical drawings but also helped him with his installations. Richard was also the first comic to feature colours in print media. Many believe, it is his multi-faceted traits that helped him and his peers to write some of the best comics with their creative thinking and imagination.

June Mills a.k.a. Tarpè Mills, who wrote and drew the first-ever female superhero, was accepted widely as a victim of societal policing and patriarchy. She had her heroin ‘Miss Fury’ censored by 37 newspapers in 1947 under the pretext of risqué behaviour. The comics’ code authority ‘influenced’ Mills about women’s representation in comics ‘requesting’ that they be more conservative and that male characters became decisive protagonists.

Elzie Crisler Segar’s ‘Popeye’ cartoon who ate spinach and suddenly achieved strength like no other, boosted spinach sales in the USA by almost 35%. Although it turned out the figures of its nutritional values were not correct this cartoon character stood the test of time

Stan Lee and Jack Kirby – The duo known for creating characters like Captain America are responsible for one of the biggest comic universes, today known as Marvel comics. These utterly changed the standards and platform of the comic like never before. Their imagination and writings made it into many a blockbuster.

Third ear

This next chapter introduces onomatopoeia and its significance to comics. ‘Onomatopoeia’ is defined as the formation of a word from a sound associated with its name (sizzle, whizz). It all makes so much more sense when ‘sound words’ in print form appropriate sounds of words like flash, explosion, in cartoons help create pure magic for the audience. When we see a picture of an explosion and read ‘booooom!’ our mind does process it better and the gravity of the writings gets stronger.

The mind’s eye

Is a tricky chapter to acknowledge as it summarizes and points out the society’s perspective circling around the negative impact of comics.

For instance, there were many brands that used comics and political satirists to give out disguised messages which often did manipulate mass thinking and influenced the majority. And many times, this kind of humour wasn’t well-received by society under the pretext of being biased towards a political figure/party or manipulating mass thoughts for hidden propaganda.

Ink & Paper sex

The fourth chapter talks about censorship when dealing with explicit content in comics; the characters, their costumes, the stories becoming more risqué and sexual in nature; the physical intimacy with graphical representations. Every art form should have its freedom of expression, and imagination and should have no boundaries. However, this kind of graphic content and storylines did raise some eyebrows as the majority of readers wanted comic books to be appropriate for all ages and such a medium of entertainment shouldn’t thread along the ‘erotica’ genre.

“The comics are where all the crazy subconscious stuff comes out”

Robert Crumb

This chapter also gives some crucial insights about the time when ‘X’ was added to comics, ‘X’ represented adult comedy, specific age suitability, and explicit sexual content. This then made a whole new segment of ‘ComiX’ offered to audiences.

Yes, sometimes graphically the plot did cross lines but again the moral lines get really blurry with different cultures and races depending on life choices and experiences, conservative nature of families and culture obviously were offended by the such visual expression on paper in this comic medium.

Still, authors like John Buscema,’s silver surfer (1968), Guido Crepax’s Histoire d’O (1970), known as ‘godfather of fantasy art’ – Frank Frazetta‘s women of the ages (1977) were widely accepted and appreciated by large numbers.

Skeleton Key

The last chapter in the book teaches us the way that content was being conceived and perceived: Subtle yet not. Whether it was playing the drawings with religious motifs or pictorial images that poked fun at institutions, symbolism – words, pictures, locations or even abstract ideas representing the meaning beyond the words written; played a major role in the comics world. Writers also started using poetic prophetic writings with dream-like drawings which intended readers to look beyond the writings and scriptures and relate the stories from their own perspective with the drawings and graphics.

For instance, when you see the angel’s perspective, metaverse plots, superhuman beings or maybe the concept of heaven and hell in this print form many individuals were able to read and feel between the lines just the way the author intended to using symbolism and graphics in a peculiar way.

‘Anatomy of Comics – Famous originals of narrative art’ takes you through the journey of Comics and the way today it has turned into a ginormous industry across the world, one loved and appreciated by billions. Also, it helps the reader to understand and acknowledge the comics as an art form and how strong the medium is for mass communication not just in our current world but for centuries in the past and hopefully and centuries in the future.

With wars, injustice, troubles and sufferings all around, all the pioneers of comics gave readers hope and a break from reality, at times, to enjoy and savour the moments of life, putting a smile on millions of faces.

“Anatomy of Comics – Famous originals of narrative art’ written by Damien Macdonald, and published by Flammarion (2022) Check out the details of the book here.

If you enjoyed reading ‘Anatomy of comics’ you may definitely enjoy ‘The scent I fell into‘.

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