American comic book  

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Our Gods Wear Spandex (2007) by Christopher Knowles

This page American comic book is part of the comics series. Illustration: Little Nemo sitting upright in bed
This page American comic book is part of the comics series.
Illustration: Little Nemo sitting upright in bed

Related e



Kunstformen der Natur (1904) by Ernst Haeckel
Kunstformen der Natur (1904) by Ernst Haeckel

An American comic book is a small magazine originating in the United States containing a narrative in the comics form. The standard dimensions are 6 ⅝" × 10 ¼".

Since the invention of the comic book format in the 1930s, the United States has been the leading producer with only the British comic books (during the inter-war period and up until the 1970s) and the Japanese manga as close competitors in terms of quantity.

Comic book sales declined with the spread of television and mass market paperback books after World War II, but regained popularity in the late 1950s and the 1960s as comic books' audience expanded to include college students who favored the naturalistic, "superheroes in the real world" trend initiated by Stan Lee at Marvel Comics. The 1960s also saw the advent of the underground comics. Later, the influence of Japanese manga and the recognition of the comic medium among academics, literary critics and art museums helped solidify comics as a serious artform with established traditions, stylistic conventions, and artistic evolution.

American comic books have become closely associated with the superhero tradition.



Since the introduction of the comic book format in 1934 with the publication of Famous Funnies, the United States has been the leading producer, with only the British comic and Japanese manga as close competitors in terms of quantity of titles. The majority of all comic books in the U.S. are marketed to young adult readers, though they also produce titles for young children as well as adult audiences.

Cultural historians divide the career of the comic book in the U.S. into several ages or historical eras: the Golden Age, the Silver Age, the Bronze Age, and the Modern Age. The exact boundaries of these eras, the terms for which originated in the fandom press, is a debatable point among comic book historians.

The Golden Age is generally thought as lasting from the introduction of Jerry Siegel and Joe Shuster's Superman in 1938 until the late 1940s or early 1950s. During this time, comic books enjoyed considerable popularity; the archetype of the superhero was invented and defined, and many of the most popular superheroes were created. While comics as an art form could theoretically extend as far back in history as sequential cave paintings, comic books are dependent on printing, and the starting point for them in book form is generally considered to be the tabloid-sized The Funnies begun in 1929, or the smaller-sized Funnies on Parade begun in 1933. Both of these were simply reprints of newspaper strips.

The Silver Age of Comic Books is generally considered to date from the first successful revival of the dormant superhero form — the debut of Robert Kanigher and Carmine Infantino's Flash in Showcase #4 (September-October 1956) — and lasts through the early 1970s, during which time Marvel Comics revolutionized the medium with such naturalistic superheroes as Stan Lee and Jack Kirby's Fantastic Four and Stan Lee and Steve Ditko's Spider-Man. There is less agreement on the beginnings of the Bronze and Modern ages. Some suggest that the Bronze Age is still taking place. Starting points that have been suggested for the Bronze Age of comics are Roy Thomas and Barry Windsor-Smith's Conan #1 (October 1970), Denny O'Neil and Neal Adams' Green Lantern/Green Arrow #76 (April 1970) or Stan Lee and Gil Kane's Amazing Spider-Man #96 (May 1971) (the non-Comics Code issue). The start of the Modern Age (occasionally referred to as the Iron Age) has even more potential starting points, but is generally agreed to be the publication of Frank Miller's Batman: The Dark Knight Returns graphic novel and Alan Moore's Watchmen by DC Comics in 1986, as well as the publication of DC's Crisis on Infinite Earths, with Marv Wolfman as writer and George Pérez on the pencils.

Comics published after World War II in 1945 are sometimes referred to as being from the Atomic Age (referring to the dropping of the atomic bomb), while titles published after November 1961 are sometimes referred to as being from the Marvel Age (referring to the advent of Marvel Comics). However, these eras are referred to far less frequently than the aforementioned designations.

Notable events in the history of the American comic book include the psychiatrist Fredric Wertham's criticisms of the medium in his book Seduction of the Innocent, which prompted the Senate Subcommittee on Juvenile Delinquency to investigate comic books. In response to this attention from both the government and the media, the US comic book industry created the Comics Code Authority in 1954 and drafted the Comics Code.

Underground comics

In the late 1960s and early 1970s, there was a surge of creativity evidenced in what came to be called underground comics. These comics were published and distributed independently of the established comics industry, and most titles reflected the youth counter-culture and drug culture of the time. Many were notable for their uninhibited, often irreverent style; the frankness of their depictions of nudity, sex, profanity, and politics had not been seen in comics outside of their precursors, the pornographic and even more obscure "Tijuana bibles." Underground comics were almost never sold at news stands, but rather in such youth-oriented outlets as head shops and record stores, as well as by mail order.

The underground comics movement is often considered to have started with Zap Comix #1 (1968) by cartoonist Robert Crumb, a former greeting-card artist from Cleveland who had moved to San Francisco. Crumb later created the characters Fritz the Cat and Mr. Natural, and published Gilbert Shelton's The Fabulous Furry Freak Brothers.

Alternative comics

The rise of comic book speciality stores in the late 1970s created a dedicated market for "independent" or "alternative comics" in the United States. Two of the first were the anthology series Star Reach, published by comic book writer Mike Friedrich from 1974 to 1979, and Harvey Pekar's American Splendor, which continued sporadic publication into the 21st century and was adapted into a film in 2005. Some independent comics continued in the tradition of underground comics, though their content was generally less explicit, and others resembled the output of mainstream publishers in format and genre but were published by smaller artist-owned companies or by single artists. A few (notably RAW) were experimental attempts to bring comics closer to the status of fine art.

During the 1970s the "small press" culture grew and diversified. By the 1980s, several such independent publishers as Pacific, Eclipse, First, Comico and Fantagraphics were releasing a wide range of styles and formats from color superhero, detective and science fiction comic books to black-and-white magazine-format stories of Latin American magical realism.

A number of small publishers in the 1990s changed the format and distribution of their comics to more closely resemble non-comics publishing. The "minicomics" form, an extremely informal version of self-publishing, arose in the 1980s and became increasingly popular among artists in the 1990s, despite reaching an even more limited audience than the small press.

Small publishers regularly releasing titles today include Avatar Comics, Hyperwerks, Raytoons, and Terminal Press, buoyed by such advances in printing technology as digital print on demand.

Graphic novels

The term "graphic novel" was first coined by Richard Kyle in 1964, mainly as an attempt to distinguish the newly translated works from Europe which were then being published from what Kyle perceived as the more juvenile subject matter that was so common in the United States.

The term was popularized when Will Eisner used it on the cover of the paperback edition of his work A Contract with God, and Other Tenement Stories in 1978. This was a more thematically mature work than many had come to expect from the comics medium, and the critical and commercial success of A Contract with God helped to bring the term in common usage.

Warren Ellis, in his Come in Alone columns at, suggested that the term "graphic novel" should include collected editions of serialized storylines. To differentiate these from original comic book publications, he proposed the term "original graphic novel." These terms are still used as first suggested, although "original graphic novel" is not a popular term, particularly because so few are produced. Collected editions are more popularly known by the publishing industry term "trade paperback."

Rarest American comic books

The rarest comic books in existence include copies of the unreleased Motion Picture Funnies Weekly #1 from 1939. Eight copies, plus one without a cover, were discovered in the estate of the deceased publisher in 1974.

Before Fawcett Comics introduced Captain Marvel in Whiz Comics #2, there was an earlier ashcan edition featuring virtually the same story, with the notable exception that "Captain Marvel" was named "Captain Thunder." This issue was never distributed.

In June 1978, DC Comics cancelled several of its titles. For copyright purposes, the unpublished original art for these titles was photocopied, bound, and published as Cancelled Comics Cavalcade #1-2. Only 35 copies were made.

Misprints, promotional comic-dealer incentive printings, and similar issues with extremely low distribution are usually the most scarce. The rarest modern comic books include the original press run of The League of Extraordinary Gentlemen #5, ordered by DC executive Paul Levitz to be recalled and pulped over the appearance of a vintage Victorian era advertisement for "Marvel Douche," which the publisher considered offensive; only 100-200 copies are thought to exist, many of which have been CGC graded. (See Recalled comics for more pulped, recalled and erroneous comics).

Comic Book Cover Trick

Some publishers have been known to take an image out of context, and place it on the cover in an attempt to mislead potential buyers into believing that the hero is performing an evil deed. The unwitting purchaser then realizes upon reading the entire story, the dishonest scene depicted is fully explained inside the comic and reveals that the hero was, in fact, committing yet another heroic activity.

Geoff of Somacow gives an example of this during episode #333. He states that if a cover showed Batman poking a puppy with a stick on the cover, fans would be compelled to purchase the comic in order to discover what possible events could have led to such a nefarious act. Once the reader reaches the point in the story which is shown on the cover, they determine that it is actually The_Joker inside a puppy suit and Batman is simply trying to defeat him as usual.

The practice has been coined by the internet radio personality as "Batman Poking A Puppy With A Stick" Syndrome.

See also

Comic Book Legal Defense Fund, Horror comics in the United States, 1947–1954

Unless indicated otherwise, the text in this article is either based on Wikipedia article "American comic book" or another language Wikipedia page thereof used under the terms of the GNU Free Documentation License; or on original research by Jahsonic and friends. See Art and Popular Culture's copyright notice.

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