WHAT? ME WORRY?

The history of comic books from the Dawn of Mankind to 1956

It is believed that comic books are derived from writings and art that date well into prehistory. Since cavemen began drawing pictures of hunts on cave walls, we've had the equivalent of comics. Another example would be egyptian hieroglyphics which were pictoral depictions of events and stories. In fact storytelling as a whole is as ancient as Mankind.

Generally historians agree that although there were works prior to this, the first true comic book was Richard Fenton Outcalt's The Yellow Kid, in 1896. This was the first example of the word balloon in comic book publications. (There were tapestries back in the Dark Ages that included words hovering over people's heads, but they didn't have actual word balloons with tails pointing to the characters, and they were tapestries, not comic books. So they don't count.) For the first thirty-five years or so, comic books were essentially humor-oriented, which is why we still call them comic books even to this day. It was during this time period that such creations as Popeye, Mutt and Jeff, and Krazy Kat were first depicted. The stories usually focused on children or domesticated animals, and were simple in order to appeal to the entire family. However, such simplified concepts and tales tended to only appeal to younger children, and past the novelty appeal, most young people and adults turned away.

Though even in modern times there are still humorous and child-oriented comic books, around the 1930s the medium began to expand and grow. When the stock market crashed in 1929, companies that specialized in publishing and selling comic books had to adapt to the changing economy and social lifestyles, and appeal to even wider audiences in order to survive. So instead of keeping to simplified themes and concepts, writers and artists began to construct more detailed and believable adventures through the use of pictures. Hal Foster was the first to adapt E. R. Borroughs' novel Tarzan to the comic medium. This story about an adult raised by wild creatures from infancy was one of the many adventures which helped bring comic books into what historians and collectors now call the golden age. Other works included Chester Gould's Dick Tracy and Alex Raymond's Flash Gordon. While Tarzan was an example of an adaptation, Flash Gordon and Dick Tracy were some of the first truly original concepts and storylines designed specifically for the comic book medium, and later they went on to be used in motion pictures. Dick Tracy was inspired by contemporary news reports of the time about Chicago mob activity and police detective stories. Flash Gordon was inspired by science fiction. Surely the originally pre-assumed limitations of the medium were being broken and re-explored. And there were still other creations that appeared at this time, including Prince Valiant, Jim of the Jungle and Mandrake the Magician. Some of these characters and storylines are still re-adapted in modern times into other venues of entertainment.

But still, even with all these changes we were still in the Pre-Golden Age. These new concepts ushered in an opportunity for an entirely new story concept which had not previously been fully explored: the superhero. In 1938, Ace Comics #11 was published which introduced : Lee Falk's The Phantom. This historically marks the end of the Pre-Golden Age. Soon afterwards in June of that same year, Action Comics #1 was published, in which Jerry Seigel and Joe Shuster's Superman first appeared to overwhelming public success, thus introducing the Golden Age. Less than one year later, the comparatively darker Batman by Bob Kane came on the scene, and an upsurge of superhero tales proliferated the newsstands of America and other parts of the world. C.C. Beck's Captain Marvel thrilled children of all ages at this time. Will Eisner's The Spirit was ahead of its time, featuring a character who wore a suit and had a sense of humor, existing in a grittier and more realistic world than the stylized representations in other comics.

Other characters such as Wonder Woman (the first successful female super hero), Plastic Man, Doctor Mid-nite, Phantom Lady, Hawkman, Green Lantern, The Flash, The Spectre, The Shadow, The Sandman, Green Hornet, The Lone Ranger, The Shining Knight, Daredevil, The Human Bomb, Submariner, Hourman, The Shield, The Human Torch, Doctor Fate, Johnny Thunder, Johnny Quick, Liberty Belle, Miracleman, Green Arrow, Aquaman and many more literally burst onto the pop culture scene. Eventually many of these characters banded together to form the first superhero team that crossed over between different superhero titles: The Justice Society of America. These were the days of DC Comics, Fawcett Comics, Quality Comics (whose characters are now largely owned by DC), Timely Comics and many other publishing companies no longer with us. Marvel Comics Group wouldn't come until later, although many characters now owned by Marvel originally came from Timely.

Comic books enjoyed an amazing level of popularity in these days, and as World War II became a daily part of so many people's lives, the superhero genre felt a massive boom. The first issue of Captain America had him fighting Adolf Hitler himself! People were thrilled to read stories of super powered human beings quashing the efforts of the Axis Powers. During the early 1940s well over four hundred costumed vigilantes were depicted in many pulp comic publications. Most were repeating themes and elements from Superman like alter-ego, super powers, and crime fighting.

Though there were hundreds of characters created to take advantage of the popularity, only a fraction survived through the comparative drop in popularity that occurred after World War Two. As we entered the Cold War, some people just had trouble believing superhero vigilantism as a realistic idea, and could not suspend disbelief enough to appreciate the genre. It was believed the genre had been a phase, and just like some people said about rock and roll, they figured it wouldn't last. The Golden Age was over.

1945 marked the beginning of the Post Golden Age. Attempts were made to break into new genres of storytelling with the comic book medium. In July 1947 Jack Kirby and Joe Simon created the first romance comic, My Date Comics. Though it was short lived, others based on the concept had better success. Western comics began to thrive in the late 1940s to 1950s, as did crime comics which featured detectives and non-superhero types fighting crime. Violence and sex in comic books went up in these stories, and this began to turn the tide of public opinion against the medium. The idea of comic books being for adults only did not interest the vast majority. Fox Features Syndicate began to look like the Jerry Springer of the comic book industry, publishing such titles as Murder Incorporated, Crimes by Women and others. And other companies followed suit. Sex and violence sells, but it also tends to cause more conservative thinking people to cry foul. A man named Dr. Frederick Wertham accused comic books of causing the delinquency of America's youth. Sounds like a familiar theme, eh? In 1954 he would publish The Seduction of the innocent, a book that detailed his now dated and outlandish opinions, but in the early fifties he was adding fuel to the fire of conservative disapproval.

In the fall of 1948 American Comics Group published the first horror comic series, titled Adventures into the Unknown. This genre would also find nominal to above average success in the decades to come. Humor titles began to regain a resemblance of popularity, which to one degree or another they still share to this day. While other genres had a rocky history, the literally humorous comic book has always been a mainstay. Companies like Disney's Mickey Mouse and Donald Duck made their way to the comic book pages. Harvey Comics found popularity in this time period with Sad Sack first in the army and then as a civilian as well as many more humorous characters. Archie Comics with Jughead and that gang made their first appearances in comic books at roughly this time. Also, the Marvel Comics Group was publishing humor comics at this time with relative success. They also had bought out Timely Comics by now, and were bringing some superheroes from that publishing house under their roof, with the assistance of Stan Lee and Jack Kirby. Stan Lee would have some of his own ideas, which we'll get to in a bit. The superhero genre continued to decline. Only a handful of titles withstood the years of McCarthyism; Superman, Batman and Wonder Woman being the most predominant.

By 1950 the public relations campaign against comic book violence and depravity reached a fever pitch, thanks to that annoying doctor, eventually bringing it to the attention of a United States Senate Committee. Laws were passed banning the sale of comics. Parents and teachers refused to allow them in schools and homes. For all intents and purposes comic books had become contraband. So much for a free country. Of course, this only made kids want to read them that much more. Comic books continued getting darker, and the horror genre began to thrive. By 1953, adaptations of Ray Bradbury's science fiction short stories found their way onto the comic books, along with other similar scifi fare. Interestingly enough, Bradbury's permission was not given for these stories, and it wasn't until he threatened legal action did they offer to pay him proper royalties. Still, this helped vault Bradbury's popularity and that of many science fiction authors, thought at this time to be contributing to the delinquency of minors both in comics and other pulp fiction.

Good old Dr. Frederick Wertham's book was out by now, and with it he began a series of tours across the country, with panel discussions and public speaking engagements. He practically single-handedly tore the comic book industry a new orifice, but he had a lot of public opinion on his side at this time. It was a dark time for the rebellion. He equated comic books to drugs, pornography and other vices. His driving point was that comic books introduced sexual, violent and/or sadistic thoughts into young minds who would not have contemplated them alone otherwise, leading them to a life of criminal acts and anti-social behavior. Instead of encouraging young people to read, he believed comic books brought about learning disorders.

And get this: Dr. Frederick Wertham was the first man to publically accuse Batman and Robin of being homosexuals.

By the spring of 1954 the United States Senate Subcommittee to Investigate Juvenile Delinquency in the United States listened to Dr. Wertham (the worm) who accused the comic industry of causing more damage and harm to America than Hitler. Because of his venom and hate against the medium, the public and the government demanded censorship on comic books. This led to something called TheComics Code Authority. Because of the Senate's findings, the comic book companies had no choice but to band together and attempt self-regulation. The only other alternative was to be shut down completely. They formed The Comic Magazine Association of America Incorporated on October 26, 1954. The Standards of the Comics Code Authority was all-encompassing and basically told creativity and free thought to take a hike. This wasn't enough for the followers of Wertham, who wanted the smut taken off the shelves completely. Fans of comic books were angry and incensed, because it meant the end of many of their favorite comic books. The crime, horror, and romance genres simply couldn't survive under the new requirements. What's a romance story worth if you can't show them kissing? Westerns became pointless. What's a western worth if they have to cut out over half of the gunfights? Comic books which could withstand the scrutiny were given a little graphic on the cover which marked a seal of approval. Many publishing houses couldn't withstand the strain and the drop in popularity. Many went into bankrupcy and folded. Others just closed up shop. The comic book industry was not alone in this. Movies, radio, music bands and artists as well as television recieved similar attacks from the fundamentalist far right political machine. And yeah, this still goes on today, though to a bit less of a degree.

Censorship. Gotta love it.

Ironically, with all the other genres zapped, the two predominant genres left which could withstand the new pressures brought on by the code were kiddie humor comics (of course) and -- superheroes. However, as is evident in studying the superheroes in the 1950s, the new restrictions created stories that were bland and flat. Batman was cleaned up and turned into a bit more comical of a character, with not only Robin but Batgirl, Batmite, and more concentration on the gadgets and traps: less on character interaction or drama. Superman just went completely out in left field, with Supergirl, Jimmy Olsen, Krypto the Superdog, Bizarro world, the invention of things like super ventriloquism, and a host of multi-colored kryptonite that did a host of crazy absurd things. It looked like the bad guys won. The superhero was down for the count.

Meanwhile, Entertainment Comics aka EC Comics was also feeling the squeeze. By the end of 1955 only one comic book series had not been rejected by the Comics Code Authority. It was originally called Tales Calculated to Drive You Mad. And it too was under the chopping block. EC was facing extinction, until they discovered a convenient loophole in the entire Comics Code Authority thing. They redesigned the printing of their final publication, renamed it Mad Magazine and since they were no longer calling it a comic book, it simply didn't fall under Comics Code Authority any longer. So they could pretty much say and do whatever the hell they wanted. Mad Magazine then proceeded to assault every possible concievable aspect of 20th century pop culture with a venomous vengeance greater than a thousand scorpions clinging to the backs of a thousand laughing hyenas, and it still continues to do so today.

In December of 1955, DC published the first adventures of J'onn J'onzz the Martian Manhunter the first new superhero since the end of the golden age. This marked the end of the post-golden age, and with the introduction of Barry Allen as The Flash in 1956, the world was about to become witness to the dawn of the silver age of comic books.

And that brings us to the late fifties. Still a lot of crap to cover. Maybe I'll finish this damn thing someday. A bunch of other stuff happened. Comic books came and went. Superheroes beat up on stuff. Baby Huey coughed up on Richie Rich and pooped in his diaper, and all is right in the world.

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Comic Book Production

Typically a comic book is produced by many creators. This is an attempt to outline the process of comic book creation, explaining each of the creators credited in today’s typical comic and what they do.

The Writer

The process of production begins with a story idea. This idea is known as the plot for the story. Plotting is the first phase of comic book writing. The next step in the writing process is the scripting phase. There are two major forms of comics scripting. The first has become known as the Marvel Method as it was used by Stan Lee and Jack Kirby during Marvel ComicsSilver Age. This form has the plot being given to the penciller (see below) who then draws pages based on the plot and returns them to the writer. The writer then writes dialogue and captions based on the images on the page. The second method of scripting is known as the DC method as it was the favored method of DC Comics throughout the Silver Age of Comics. This method has the writer write up all of the dialogue, scene description and captions before the penciller begins work on a page. The penciller then follows the prepared script when producing pages.

The Penciller (with Breakdowns and Layouts)

Whichever method is chosen for scripting, the next person involved with the creation process is the penciller. The penciller is responsible for breaking the story down into a series of sequential images called panels. The penciller will here loosely place objects, figures, etc. This portion of the creation phase is called the layout or breakdown phase. The penciller may here continue to draw in the complete figures or leave them for the next phase of creation.

Finishes

If the penciller has not chosen to finish the complete drawing of the page the next person involved in the process is known as the finisher. This person will finish the drawing of the pages as well as perform the duties of the inker (see below).

The Letterer

After the penciling has been finished the next person to work on the comic page was traditionally the letterer. The letterer is responsible for adding the dialogue, captions and sound effects directly onto the page. Letterers used to work exclusively by hand, but with the advent of computers this stage has become almost completely computer-generated, allowing for the letterer to work on a page after the inker has already finished with the page.

The Inker

The inker is the person who adds ink to the pages, either with a brush, quill or felt-tipped pen, darkening them up for printing. Typically the inker will add shadows to panels and make lines more expressive. They may also modify the penciller's work if need be.

The Colorist

When the inking and lettering are finished the pages (if they are to be printed in color) will next go to the colorist. This is the person responsible for determining which colors will be seen in the final printing of the pages. The colorist makes a color guide, traditionally using ink or paint, but today most often using computers. This guide will be used by the printer when the comic book goes to press.

The Editor

The overall production of the comic book is supervised by the editor who is responsible for assigning the pages to their respective creators, as well as checking for spelling and continuity errors in both the script and art.

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