Although often dismissed as unsophisticated, the roots of Comic Art can be found in the most austere of beginnings—from the hieroglyphs of Ancient Egypt to the frescoes of the Vatican. These early forms of Narrative Art told a story through an image or a series of images, much like the comics of today.
Modern Comic Art first reached the masses through newspapers. Innovative artists paired illustrations with captions that displayed a continuous narrative and sometimes featured the use of speech balloons, satire and caricature.
Many classic strips are still widely circulated today, boasting beloved characters that have withstood the test of time. Harold Gray’s Little Orphan Annie and Chic Young’s Blondie have entertained multiple generations of readers, and the characters featured in Charles Schulz’s Peanuts are recognized and beloved around the world.
The advent of comic books brought publishing giants Marvel and DC on the scene with superheroes like Spider-Man, Superman and Batman, and a thriving subculture of devoted fans was born. Over the past century, artists have experimented with narrative, format and content, producing works that have run the gamut from earnest religious directives to searing social and political commentary. The graphic novel format, popularized by pioneer Will Eisner beginning in the 1970s, has seen an explosion in popularity in recent years, providing a range of content for every kind of reader.
Comic Art has stepped from the fringes of pop culture to take its place as one of the great American art forms. Educators have embraced Comic Art, recognizing the value of engaging students with material that makes reading fun.
In 1924, Gilbert Seldes wrote, “Of all the lively arts the Comic Strip is the most despised, and with the exception of the movies, it is the most popular.” No longer despised but always popular, this liveliest of arts will continue to thrive as it unites and inspires readers with its sometimes silly, sometimes thrilling, and often irreverent art that never fails to tell a compelling story.