By the definition of comics the class has been working with, comics have existed as long as the concept of drawn pictures. Cave paintings depicting the stages of a hunt, lead to Paintings in Egypt explaining how to grow wheat, which lead to painting series in the 16th century. William Hogarth told the story of a married couples impurities through his most famous work “Marriage a la Mode” in which he used icons from the time period to indicate discretions in their marriage, greed and even syphilis.
In our minds the icon of a comic book is not the Hogarth painting or a series of hieroglyphics but a thin magazine filled with colored boxes. This comes from the printing style during the time they became popular. Pulp magazines feel like the mother f comic books; they were less high tech in format (mostly writing with fewer pictures) but they were reproduced in mass, and told fantastic stories. It is their financial success and immersion into Americans’ everyday lives that even created a potential market for the original funnies compilations.
In its separate from the newspaper form, comics have been changing from their fist publication in 1930’s up till present day, by slowly becoming a more serious art form, bringing along with it the responsibilities and freedoms. Comics started as an escape for middle class white Americans (no longer separated by immigration and the Mayflower) into comedy, and as hero figures like detectives emerged into a common mind frame of values. The American way was once moving across the country for land, but now with industrialization and the development of cities, people were moving closer together and away from obvious frontier values. Comics provided an escape into the American way of life. Unfortunately the comic books childish implications would hold it back from more mature subject matter until the later part of the century.
With the development of super heroes, the persistent of American values in the comic stories became the prevailing force in most stories. During any war a need for patriotism is clear and the American lineage of these super beings was a symbol for a clear victory. Super man could have landed anywhere, but he landed here and we took care of him until he could take care of us. The idea of the American way of life in the 50’s and 60’s featured a picturesque suburban life with mom, dad and a kid lying on the carpet reading (a comic book). I like to think that as those kids grew up they helped usher in the potential for comic books to grow up so they wouldn’t have to lose their beloved hero’s and the stimulating medium.
Of course Comics today are less overtly American as they depict personal messages from their authors about race, gender, politics, and values. They are about social change and the angst of youth, the subtle nuances of which were uncommon in previous comics. They show heroes during segregation and homosexual cowboys while iconic heroes themselves become minorities, and question their system of values, despite its Americanism. Comics as art is in its first wave of individualism, it’s kind of a great time to be into them.