Comics, Manga, and Graphic Novels: A History of Graphic Narratives

Comics, Manga, and Graphic Novels: A History of Graphic Narratives

Comics, Manga, and Graphic Novels: A History of Graphic Narratives

Comics, Manga, and Graphic Novels: A History of Graphic Narratives


Graphic narrative art is a fascinating phenomenon that emerged centuries ago with the expansion of literacy and the publication industry. The earliest example of a repeating comic character dates back to the late 1700s. By following the growth of print technology in Europe and Asia, it is possible to understand how and why artists across cultures developed different strategies for telling stories with pictures.

This book is much more than a history of graphic narrative across the globe. It examines broader conceptual developments that preceded the origins of comics and graphic novels; how those ideas have evolved over the last century and a half; how literacy, print technology, and developments in narrative art are interrelated; and the way graphic narratives communicate culturally significant stories. The work of artists such as William Hogarth, J. J. Grandville, Willhem Busch, Frans Masereel, Max Ernst, Saul Steinberg, Henry Darger, and Larry Gonick are discussed or depicted.


‘‘The future of comics is in the past.’’

Art Spiegelman

Stories in Pictures

In John Furnival’s Semiotic Folk Poem (1966), a field of 25 squares forms an abstract arrangement of circles and triangles that when read correctly suggests the amorous liaison between a boy and a girl. On one level, a viewer needs to understand the ‘‘lexical key’’ at the bottom of the picture, which identifies the elements of the composition as a ‘‘laddie,’’ ‘‘lassie,’’ and ‘‘rye.’’ The words suggest other stories and songs that require more information to fully appreciate, but they are evocative enough that one does not need to know the Robert Burns poem turned into a folk song ‘‘Coming Through the Rye’’ to grasp the meaning behind the interplay of the shapes. Though the whole story is visible, the viewer also needs to see how the shapes can be understood over time and order the images into a logical sequence from top to bottom. Finally, the viewer needs to see how the unfolding actions in the pictures are causally linked images, that one image represents a moment in time that leads to another moment in an unfolding chain of events.

Over the centuries, artists have found many creative ways to tell stories with pictures, but often the pictures remain coded, relying on conventions and symbols that could be understood only by the original audience long since gone. Before the advent of writing pictures of forgotten stories scratched on cave walls do not easily yield up their mysteries. Seeing a figure throw a spear at an animal, we may deduce the figure is hunting, but we . . .

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