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Understanding Comics

Understanding comics is easier said than done. Before reading the first 60 pages of Understanding Comics, and the first 30 of Comic Book Nation if someone had asked me what a comic was, I would probably hesitantly reply with something like “boxes with pictures and words in them.” Needless to say the level of variety and intricacy put into graphic novels astounded me. However, in order to truly understand comics you must understand several aspects of the art. Firstly, in order to understand comics, you must know what a comic is. Scott McCloud would tell you a comic consists of: “juxtaposed pictorial and other images in deliberate sequence intended to convey information and/ or to produce an aesthetic response in the viewer.” Which loosely translates to a series of juxtaposed images in sequence used to tell a story or generate a reaction from a reader. This definition is purposely broad in order to encompass any genre or style of comic anywhere from Superman to Dilbert. This looseness in definition is also what has lead to the progression of comics over the past century. The name comic was taken from its origin in humor. Titles like The Funnies were some of the first on the scene of American comic culture. These were more basic comics written by freelance artists for publishing companies. However comics quickly progressed to more serious genres with titles like Detective Comics, which even gave birth to the DC comics name. From this change also came Siegel and Shuster’s Superman, which would forever change comics. Another important aspect to understand a comic is to know who the target audience is for the comic. If the comic is written for younger children, it’s likely to be a lot different than one written for adolescents. In a comic aimed for a slightly older audience, not only would the pictures and vocabulary be much less basic, but it’s possible that the story is less a story and would have much more historic context. What you thought was just a drawing of a guy saving the world could have much deeper significance, and likely relates to common problems of the time. Superman is a perfect example of an American comic. Since June 1938 Superman has greatly evolved to suit the era. During his beginning in the depression, Superman fought for good against themes such as foreign American tyranny in Central America, scams on Wall Street, and corrupted politicians. Comics were a cultural phenomenon, but also a rallying force during tough times in America. Major themes in comics like Batman and Superman were vendetta and justice. Americans at the time could relate to the comics because they were frustrated with many aspects of their life. People felt they got screwed over during the depression and almost hoped Batman or Superman would rescue them. The theme of justice was also one Americans favored because in comics, everything was fair. In the end the villain was defeated, the people prospered, and the town was safe for another day.

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