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  • Norman Rockwell Museum - Illustration History - Comic Books

comic book , bound collection of comic strip s, usually in chronological sequence, typically telling a single story or a series of different stories.

See an exhibition of comics from various countries curated by librarian Liladhar Pendse at UC Berkeley's Doe Library

The first true comic books were marketed in 1933 as giveaway advertising premiums. By 1935 reprints of newspaper strips and books with original stories were selling in large quantities. During World War II comics dealing with war and crime found many readers among soldiers stationed abroad, and in the 1950s comic books were blamed for juvenile delinquency . Though the industry responded with self-censorship, some adventure strips continued to be criticized. In the 1960s comic books satirizing the cultural underworld became popular, especially among college students. By the turn of the 21st century, Japanese comic books ( manga ), with their great variation in content and effect, had achieved worldwide popularity, and comic “’zines” represented a thriving subculture. Comic books are often used to deal with serious subjects. See also graphic novel .

Illustration of muscular man on purple building wearing cape. cartoon superhero comic book costume similar to superman action hero silhouette

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Comic Books

Comic books emerged in the 1930s. At first the books reprinted humorous newspaper strips, but later they began to feature unique content. Superheroes entered the world of comic books in 1938 with the release of Action Comics No. 1 and the debut of Superman. While the medium’s success first attracted controversy for violence and mature themes, many of the characters introduced have stood the test of time to become vital parts of our national culture.

Original comic art for Captain Midnight

Originating as a heroic aviator on radio, Captain Midnight transformed into a superhero within his self-titled comic book. Using a variety of inventions, including a “glidersuit” that enabled him to fly and a “doom beam torch” flashlight, Captain Midnight fought enemies from Axis soldiers to the King of Saturn.

what is a comic books

Original comic art, Captain Midnight, 1940s

Original newspaper comic art for Batman

what is a comic books

Original newspaper comic art, Batman, 1945

Bequest of Joseph Gura Jr. (through Carl Sandberg IV)

Original comic art for Wonder Woman

The comic art shown here features Wonder Woman, a daughter of Greek gods also known as Princess Diana. Wonder Woman uses her powers (such as super strength) and invaluable objects (such as a magic lasso) to be a champion for those in need.

what is a comic books

Original comic art, Wonder Woman, 1943

Original newspaper comic art for Superman

what is a comic books

Original newspaper comic art, Superman 1943

what is a comic books

Astro City , No. 1A, 1996

what is a comic books

Here Comes Daredevil: The Man Without Fear , No. 10, 1965

what is a comic books

Icon , No. 1, 1993

what is a comic books

Birds of Prey , No. 1, 2011

what is a comic books

Captain America , No. 252, 1980

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America , No. 1A, 2017

what is a comic books

The Avengers , No. 212, 1981

Gift of Harold W. Ellis

what is a comic books

La Borinqueña , 2016

Gift of Eric Jentsch

New Mutants, No. 18, 1983

New Mutants , No. 18, 1983

what is a comic books

Power Man and Iron Fist , No. 4, 1972

what is a comic books

The Spectacular Spider-Man , No. 51, 1981

what is a comic books

Ms. Marvel , 2014

Gift of Shannon Perich

what is a comic books

Leading Comics , No. 3, 1942

Gift of Olivia V. Crisson and Phillip M.S. Crisson in honor of Peter Bozzer

what is a comic books

Wonder Woman , No. 288, 1982

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Black Panther , No. 4, 1977

what is a comic books

All-Star Comics , No. 19, 1943

Gift of Olivia V. Crisson and Phillip M. S. Crisson in honor of Peter Bozzer

what is a comic books

America’s Greatest Comics , No. 1, 1941

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Batman , No. 20, 1944

what is a comic books

Sabre, No. 5, 1982

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Comics’ Greatest World: King Tiger , No. 1, 1993

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Adventures of Superman , No. 565, 1999

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All-Star Squadron , No. 23, 1983

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X-Men , No. 1, 2013

what is a comic books

More Fun Comics , No. 83, 1942

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Miles Morales Spider Man , 2015

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New York World’s Fair Comics, 1940

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Fantastic Four , No. 233, 1981

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New X-Men: Hellions , No. 2, 2005

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Moon Girl and Devil Dinosaur , 2016

what is a comic books

Captain Marvel: Earth’s Mightiest Hero , 2012

what is a comic books

Doctor Strange , No. 34, 1979

Gift of Mr. George R. Zug

what is a comic books

Black Lightning: Year One , 2009

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Creative courses from $14.99USD

What Is a Comic Book and What Are Its Main Features?

We look at the features and uses of this popular narrative format made up of pictures and words

If you want to tell a story, you can be really experimental using a comic format. You can write humor, social commentary, or fantasy, and even tell secrets. You can fit all sorts of genres and ideas into a comic if you know how to exploit it.

To evaluate all these possibilities, it is important to understand what exactly is a comic , and what are the main elements it consists of. Once we know this, we can start to structure and organize our messages on the strips.

Illustrator and artist Sol Díaz Castillo ( @soldiazcastillo ) is an expert and explains some of the essential technical notions.

Learn to express your ideas with comic strips.

What is a comic?

Technically, a comic is a text expressed through illustrations on strips or frames. Some or all strips can contain text of various lengths. This simple definition explains why this is considered such a versatile format: the creative use we can make of the cartoons, illustrations, words, and other elements we'll talk about later, demonstrate that the possibilities are almost endless.

Comic art, just like cinema, is considered sequential art , as it aims to tell stories in a sequence. This art is not new: sequential art made its first appearance in cave paintings, in Egyptian hieroglyphics, and in the pottery of Ancient Greece. During more recent times comics were considered children's literature. From the Sixties onwards, they also became a form of expression aimed at adult audiences dealing in more serious themes.

the classic comic format is made up of four strips, illustrations and text.

What are the most popular formats of comics?

Bearing in mind that a comic does not fulfill only a standard format, Sol explains that there are three more popular formats for a comic:

- Those consisting of images alone, and tell stories through graphic elements, without the need for words. - Those who consist of images and words . The most classic format presents four separate images, I.e strips, in which characters either interact in dialog, or there is a text that explains what is being shown. - The graphic novel . This is the longest comic format. You can create a much larger universe. with it. The strips, for example, have different sizes depending on what you want to represent. The graphics are more developed and the narration moves at a different pace. Sol explains that this type of format is similar to that of a movie script.

Quino's 'Mafalda' is a classic comic mixing humor and politics.

What are the themes of a comic?

Although it is highly impossible to reduce to a single list all the themes a comic can deal with, Sol explains that some frequent and consistent variables appear in a comic.

Fantasy These comics explore fictional universes and talk about beings beyond humans and push the limits of reality. The reading can be chaotic. These themes fit well within the graphic novel genre because it needs to develop slowly.

Reality These comics are based on real facts and aim to critique, revise, or contextualize. They reflect the opinion and questioning of the author and, in time, can become a valuable testament to understand social contexts. They are also best developed as graphic novels.

Autobiography When this theme is developed, there is a lot of text, and personal writing included. As a matter of fact, Sol explains, often there are no strips or speech bubbles, and the text surrounds the illustrations.

Humor In these stories, told in strips from start to finish, themes are explored through funny situations. Humor fits shorter formats, as it requires quick comprehension to get to the punchline. Politics This theme can be developed in a dense narrative style but works really well in short format and mixed with humor. In addition, it creates a connection with the reader.

In 'Peanuts' we find a fantasy world in which one of the protagonists is Snoopy, a dog.

The main elements of a comic

In addition to the strips, the illustrations, and the texts, all comics, as a genre, share certain elements that must be taken into account by the author:

- The plane: the profile of the character or the setting. - The angle: where is the 'camera' positioned, i.e., what are we showing, what can be seen. - The representation of the moment or passing of time: these elements give us details about the time of day, the date, the seasons in which what we see takes place. - Representation of movement: ways that express the dynamism of bodies or objects - Speech bubbles: they express what the characters say or think. - Onomatopoeia: the verbal representation of a noise or sound. - Symbols: a lightbulb can represent an idea, or a 'zzz' representing the act of sleeping, are part of this language.

An escape represented as onomatopoeia.

What is a webcomic?

According to Sol, a webcomic has all the features of a comic but is not so linear. This means that it is not generated at any particular moment and has no objective apart from commenting reality. Webcomics are shared on social media, either on Instagram or Twitter, and consist of four to five strips. They are similar to comics published daily where nothing, in particular, happens to the character but accompanies the life of people as if they really existed somewhere.

Webcomics are specifically created for social media.

What skills do I need to create a comic?

To create a comic you need basic drawing skills, for illustrating, as well as observation skills and creativity. Also, obviously, you need basic technical tools, for example, a working method that allows you to be able to transfer your inspiration into real strips. Some experts recommend you also have good general knowledge and are interested in different fields. The bigger the inner universe of a creator, the more interesting what they can tell. In any case, the ability to tell stories is innate in humans, and you can make the most of it by acquiring the tools that work for you.

Tips for publishing your fist comic

The first thing to consider is that the 'independent comic' label covers several genres and ways to conceive this medium, as many as there are comic strip creators. Each publisher will follow a distinctive line to match the (multiple) personalities of the creators. Of course, there are also smaller and bigger publishers: perhaps aiming to the top might be just a way to start out. In order to be published, you need talent, a definite style, and a whole lot of perseverance. Most of all, you need to know what the publishers are looking for.

Would you like to learn to create your own comic strips based on your own personal experiences? Sign up to the course Creating an Autobiographical Webcomic , in which Sol Díaz Castillo will teach you all you need to begin, starting with five stories and four strips.

English version by @acesarato .

You may also like:

- The 6 Most Expensive Comics in the World - History of Comics: a tale of thousands of years - 10 Great Manga Artists and Their Work

Sérgio Felizardo

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Comics: Comic Books

Cover art for “Batgirl,” Vol. 4 #1, November 2011


The precursor to comic books, cartoons have been popular in England and America since the early 1800s, originating as satirical and political cartoons printed in newspapers and periodicals. The most influential cartoonist of this period, Thomas Nast played a large role in bringing down “Boss” Tweed’s corrupt political machine in 1870s New York through a series of cartoons heavily critical of Tweed. Through a natural evolution, cartoons developed into comic books, first through publications containing compilations of cartoon re-prints, then as books with original cartoon artwork, before reaching critical mass through the creation of superheroes in 1938. 

Platinum Age

Published in 1897, The Yellow Kid in McFadden’s Flats is considered to be the first comic book, insomuch that it bore the phrase “comic book” on its back cover. Although images of caricatures with related wording have existed since the Middle Ages, comics gained popularity through publication in the British humor magazine, Punch , where a number of Golden Age illustrators honed their craft. Richard F. Outcault’s The Yellow Kid became so popular that in 1896 it was drawn in two different newspapers by two different artists at the same time—William Randolph Hearst’s  New York Journal American  by Yellow Kid creator Outcault, and Joseph Pulitzer’s New York World by artist George Luks—driving up sales of both newspapers. The use of sequential panels and word balloons in the comic strip had a tremendous influence on the future of cartoons and the comic book industry. Far from the full-color glossy comic books of today, The Yellow Kid in McFadden’s Flats featured black and white reprints of popular newspaper comic strips. Subsequent comic strip compilation books included reprints of The Katzenjammer Kids , Happy Hooligan , Buster Brown , and Mutt & Jeff .

The first monthly comic book, aptly titled Comics Monthly , began publication in 1922, though it also featured reprints of daily newspaper comic strips. In 1933, Funnies On Parade became the first color comic book printed in the now standard size of 6 5/8 x 10 1/4 inches.  

In February 1935, DC Comics’ precursor, National Allied Publications, published New Fun #1—the company’s first comic book and the first ever comic book consisting of completely original material. Jerry Siegel and Joe Shuster , soon to be known for creating Superman, began working on New Fun in October 1935. In the March 1937 edition of Detective Comics #1, Siegel and Shuster introduced their character Slam Bradley, the forebear of Superman.

The Golden Age of Comic Books began in June 1938 with the debut of Superman in Action Comics #1. Batman premiered less than a year later in Detective Comics #27.

In October 1939, Marvel Comics’ predecessor, Timely Publications, released Marvel Comics #1 which included the Human Torch, Angel, and Prince Namor the Sub-Mariner. Along with Fawcett Comics’ superhero Captain Marvel, DC Comics’ Flash and Green Lantern debuted in 1940. Marvel’s Captain America and DC’s Wonder Woman were first published the following year.

The period from 1938 through the mid-1940s represents the peak of comic book popularity. Whereas current monthly sales of popular comic book titles hover around 100,000 copies, in the early 1940s Superman, Batman and Captain Marvel titles each regularly sold in the range of 1.5 million copies per month.

During the return to normalcy in post-war America, superhero comic books sales plummeted and many titles ceased publication. Through the mid-1950s, the void was filled by comic books containing more serious themes such as crime, romance, Western, and horror. However, through this period comic books based on the Superman, Batman, and Wonder Woman characters retained a modest audience.

In 1954, psychiatrist Fredric Wertham wrote in his bestselling book Seduction of the Innocent that comic books of all types were corrupting the youth of America. Wertham posited that Superman represented fascist ideals, Batman and Robin promoted a homosexual lifestyle, and Wonder Woman was a lesbian with a bondage fixation. Members of Congress were so alarmed that they called Wertham to testify before the Senate Subcommittee on Juvenile Delinquency.

Sensing public backlash, that same year comic book publishers created the Comics Code Authority in order to self-regulate their industry, much as the Motion Picture Association of America was formed to prevent government involvement in film production. The Code set a number of requirements for comic books:

“In every instance good shall triumph over evil…”

 “If crime is depicted it shall be as a sordid and unpleasant activity.”

“Females shall be drawn realistically without exaggeration of any physical qualities.”

 “…vampires and vampirism, ghouls, cannibalism and werewolfism are prohibited.”

Subsequently cancelling many horror, crime, and romance titles which violated the Code, comic book companies began publishing comic books featuring superheroes from the Golden Age. They revamped existing superheroes and created new superhero characters. The return of Flash, albeit an updated version of Flash, in Showcase #4 (October 1956) marks the beginning of the Silver Age, when superhero comic books saw a renewed commercial success.

The late 1950s through the 1960s saw a change from dark and supernatural comic book themes to the other end of the spectrum with books containing silly plots and a high degree of camp. Such plots involved Superbaby and “The Super-Monkey from Krypton” in Superboy #76 (October 1959) and Batman and Robin teaming up with comedian Jerry Lewis to fight the Joker in Jerry Lewis #97 (December 1966).

Heralding the outrageousness of the Batman television series in the mid-1960s, Batman comic books introduced ridiculous characters such as Batbaby, Bat-Ape, Bat-Mite, and Ace the Bat Hound. Also during this time, taking the place of serious villains to battle Superman, numerous forms of kryptonite were brought forth—gold, blue, Jewel, red-green, Magno, red-gold kryptonite and Kryptonite Plus.

The Bronze Age signaled a more realistic style within comic books as a younger generation of artists, including Neal Adams , John Byrne , George Perez , Frank Miller , and others, replaced aging artists who had helped to create the superhero comic books of the 1930s and 1940s.   

The beginning of the Bronze Age of comic books is marked by the shocking murder of Peter Parker’s girlfriend Gwen Stacy at the hands of the Green Goblin in Amazing Spider-Man #121-122 (June-July 1973). In a genre where heroes are relied upon to surmount almost any challenge, it was revolutionary to illustrate the brutal murder of an innocent character alongside the ultimate failure of her anticipated savior.

In 1971, the Comics Code Authority relaxed some standards, going so far as to state, “Vampires, ghouls, and werewolves shall be permitted to be used when handled in the classic tradition …” 

This more lenient attitude allowed for the return of the horror comic genre, including titles such as The Tomb of Dracula in 1972 and Ghost Rider and Tales of the Zombie in 1973.  Additional supernatural characters Man-Bat, Swamp Thing, and Blade were introduced in the early 1970s.

In addition, socially conscious stories became more numerous in the 1970s, most famously during the collaborative adventures of Green Lantern and Green Arrow as they fought against racism, pollution, and social injustice. Green Arrow also confronted his sidekick Speedy’s heroin addiction while Iron Man came to terms with his alcoholism.

Understanding that a vast majority of their superheroes were Caucasian men, DC and Marvel introduced a slew of minority superheroes such as Storm, Black Lightning, Blade, and the Green Lantern John Stewart.

Kicking off the Dark Age of comic books was the publication of the monumental series Crisis on Infinite Earths . To commemorate DC Comics’ 50th anniversary, DC published Crisis on Infinite Earths as a 12-issue comic book event. In this series, DC planned to clear up decades of plot inconsistencies, as well as bring together conflicting characters from the Golden Age and the Silver Age. The idea was to have multiple alternate realities brought together to make one consistent reality, as in reconciling how Green Lantern Alan Scott from the 1940s can exist in the same reality as Green Lantern Hal Jordan of the 1960s. To wit, the Justice Society of the 1940s (with their Green Lantern) could exist at the same time as the Justice League of the 1960s (with a different Green Lantern). To solve some of the inconsistencies, certain major characters were killed off and characters long out of play were brought back with new storylines. Ultimately Crisis on Infinite Earths was a major success for DC Comics.

From the mid-1980s through the early 1990s, anti-heroes were popular. Dark, pessimistic stories reigned, as in Alan Moore’s Watchmen , where a world looks down on once mighty superheroes or in Frank Miller’s Batman: The Dark Knight Returns where a 55-year-old Batman has retired from crime-fighting, leaving criminals to terrorize Gotham City.  Readers witnessed Superman dying, Batman becoming critically injured, and Green Lantern Hal Jordan slaughtering his fellow Green Lanterns.

The Dark Age also saw the publication of the Pulitzer Prize-winning Maus , Art Spiegelman ’s moving, autobiographical tale of a Jewish family in Poland living through the reign of Nazi Germany.

This period ends with a massive sales slump and industry downsizing caused by a speculator’s market where excess merchandise, too many collector’s editions, and too many series were produced in an inflated market. The sales slump contributed to the bankruptcy of Marvel Comics in 1996.


The publication of Alex Ross ’s Kingdom Come in 1996, which harkened back to the optimism and strength of Silver Age superheroes, marks the beginning of the Modern Age. During this period, comic book publishers attempted to rectify their mistakes by creating a leaner business plan and putting more effort into a fewer number of projects. Following the dismal failure of the motion picture Batman and Robin (1997), superhero films were put on ice for retooling. In 2000, the modest success of The X-Men helped put the popularity of the superhero movie back on track.

Over eighty years since the debut of Superman, the comic book industry has remained relevant through the early adoption of digital comics, successful saturation into the film and television markets, and maintaining a strong connection to their fan-base.

Jesse Kowalski, Curator of Exhibitions, Norman Rockwell Museum

Image Gallery

Cover art for “Batgirl,” Vol. 4 #1, November 2011

Related Artists

Bob Eggleton

Related Time Periods

Early 19th Century

Comic Books

Chudnow collection at the cedarburg history museum, the codes of comic books, palace of versailles, more mediums, 10,350 items, 51,386 items, 162,222 items, acrylic paint, 8,766 items, 48,790 items, acrylic resin.


Comics, Graphic Novels, and Manga

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Welcome to the world of Comics, Graphic Novels, and Manga! This Libguide contains information of each of these graphic forms, give suggested readers, and provide reference material to get your research started. 

There is a debate over whether or not graphic novels/comics/manga are real books and "count as reading." Hopefully after reviewing this guide you will be able to see the benefits in how illustrated works can convey just as much meaning and emotion as text-only books. 

Before you start here are a few pointers:

Informational Books

Below are some go to reference guides about comics, graphic novels and manga. 

Cover Art


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  3. Kev F comic art: My Top 10 Influential Comicbooks

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  2. List of Comic Book Characters and their rankings ! #comics #comicbook #marvel #dccomics #manga

  3. 5 Years on Youtube

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  1. Comic book

    A comic book, also called comicbook, comic magazine or simply comic, is a publication that consists of comics art in the form of sequential juxtaposed

  2. Comic book

    Comic books are books with comics, with pictures that make a story. ... Comics were started in the 1800s, a century which saw the development of modern colour

  3. Comic book

    comic book, bound collection of comic strips, usually in chronological sequence, typically telling a single story or a series of different stories.

  4. Comic Books

    Comic books emerged in the 1930s. At first the books reprinted humorous newspaper strips, but later they began to feature unique content.

  5. What Is a Comic Book and What Are Its Main Features?

    Technically, a comic is a text expressed through illustrations on strips or frames. Some or all strips can contain text of various lengths.

  6. Comic Books

    Through a natural evolution, cartoons developed into comic books, first through publications containing compilations of cartoon re-prints, then as books with

  7. Comic book

    A comic book, also called comicbook, comic magazine or simply comic, is a publication that consists of comics art in the form of sequential juxtaposed

  8. Comics, Graphic Novels, and Manga

    The Encyclopedia Britannica defines comics books as a "bound collection of comic strips, usually in chronological sequence, typically telling a

  9. Comic book definition and meaning

    A comic book is a magazine that contains stories told in pictures. [mainly US] ...comic book heroes such as Spider Man.

  10. Intro To Comics: What Are Comic Books? || Comics Classroom

    Are you getting into comics? It can be a challenge, but with Intro to Comics we can start with the basics like: What are comic books?