The history of comic strips
The comic strip is a pictorial representation, laid out in a sequence of boxes across a page, typically telling an amusing story. Elements of this form can be found from many historical periods and types of artistry. The use of illustrations to depict a story dates back to prehistoric times, when cavemen used colourful images and patterns on their cave walls.
Similarly, Egyptians used hieroglyphics – a series of symbols and drawings – to tell a story. The Bayeux Tapestry, dating from the Middle Ages, depicts the events leading to the Battle of Hastings in pictorial form. Many believe that these examples are the pre-cursors to the comic strip as we know it today.
Early comic strips
In the 1800s, newspapers began to publish hand drawn illustrations, which commonly depicted tales of well know people; often in a humorous or unflattering situation.
The earliest newspaper comic strip was published in the late 19th Century, when Richard Felton Outcault introduced, “The Yellow Kid”. This found its home within the popular Sunday Supplement, and was quickly followed by many other comic strips.
By the early 1900s, comic strips were proving to be so popular that many newspapers began to publish them as separate editions, with small books containing past comic strips available to buy. For most of the 20th Century, there were in excess of 200 comic strips in circulation in America every day. Many of these comic strips focused on political or social commentary, often mirroring events which were happening in society at that time.
American comic strips were very popular within Europe, and they somewhat hindered the development of home grown cartoons. It was not until much later on that European comic strips began to emerge. Famous examples include “Tintin”, which appeared from Belgium, “Asterix”, from France, and “Andy Capp”, from Britain.
Comic strips have continued to evolve. In the 1960s, the underground movement came to prevalence. These ‘underground’ comic strips were aimed primarily at an adult audience, and the humour became more controversial, touching on subjects such as politics, sex and violence.
The comic strip experienced a resurgence in the 1980s. More recently, the revival of super heroes has gained a new readership for the comic strip genre. “Graphic novels” are now popular within the US and there is a considerable audience within Japan, who enjoy book length fiction in the comic strip form. Comic strips remain as popular today, with the industry now worth billions of dollars, and fast extending to other areas, such as movies, television, and toys.