Satires give rise to comic
strips and cartoon books
Comics were once reserved for the privileged and the elite. They were not the humourous or action type, but narratives in sequential pictures, such as Rome’s Trajan’s Column in 113 AD, written and drawn for private circulation.
Egyptian hieroglyphs, Greek friezes and medieval tapestries also combined sequential images and words to tell stories. The works were however not disseminated to readers until the invention of modern printing techniques which brought comics to wide audiences, and comics became mass medium.
In 1754, US President Benjamin Franklin created the first editorial cartoon in US newspapers with an illustration of a snake that had a severed head. It carried the words, “Join, or Die”, a slogan intended to promote unity.
Comics were conceived as an art form only after satirical works appeared in the early 19th century when newspapers and magazines used illustrations to comment on political and social issues. One of the political satirists and social critics was William Hogarth who poked fun at politics and customs in the early 18th century. He used the sequential format with prints to create narratives.
Considered as low art at one time, comics became known as cartoons in the 1840s. However, comics were not appreciated until satirical works of artists like Rudolph Töpffer of Sweden, Wilhelm Bush of Germany and Angelo Agostini of Brazil came into the spotlight. Rudolph created a comic strip in 1827 before progressing to publish seven graphic novels in 1837. The Adventures of Obadiah Oldbuck was his first comic book published in the US in 1842.
Poet-artist Wilhelm drew caricatures in a newspaper and his comic, Max und Moritz, won a large following in 1865. Angelo was the first Brazilian comics artist; he drew 35 comic episodes from 1869.
It was only in 1845 when satirical drawings which regularly appeared in newspapers and magazines gained the name of cartoon. Around this period, Punch referred its “humourous pencilings” as cartoons, which henceforth became common usage.
The first to apply speech balloons to comics was American artist Richard Outcault in Yellow Kid in 1895. For some time, the speech balloons fell from favour when the dialogue was placed under the cartoon panels. Nevertheless, comics gained new ground when the first cartoon strip written by a woman, Brenda Starr, was published in Chicago in July 1940.
In the late 19th century, the Chinese form of comics, manhua, made its debut. The introduction of lithographic printing methods further promoted Chinese satirical drawings in newspapers and periodicals. By the 1920s, palm-sized picture books were popular.
For young adults
The first comic strip to feature a recurring fictional character was Ally Sloper’s Half Holiday, created by British writer-artist Charles Henry Ross. Ally was a lazy, red-nosed schemer who always tried to avoid his landlord, and the half holiday referred to the lunchtime given to British workers on a Saturday.
In the UK, Funny Folks in 1874 became the first comic strip to meet the definition of cartoon. It appeared as a supplement to Budget. The cartoon’s popularity led to the publication as a weekly newspaper, and other comic strips later followed the weekly trend.
Comic publishing exploded in late 1890. Alfred Harmsworth’s Comic Cuts, which was meant for young adults, cost just half a penny. Comic books for children like Puck and Rainbow were published in the early years of the 20th century.
The 1930s was the golden of comics in the UK. A large number of comic strips and books were released, and the titles included The Beano, Tiny Tots, The Dandy and Crackers. Rival comics such as Radio Fun and Knockout followed.
In the US, newspaper comic strips expanded the subject matter to include action, adventure and mystery. By 1930, publishers accepted original material and Superman was launched.
The markets in Belgium and France were flooded with comic albums – collections in a larger size and with hardback covers. In the UK, comic annuals were released for the children’s comics market.
The 1950s was the silver age when more sophisticated types of comics made their appearance, and they were printed on better quality paper. Denis Gifford, the creator of The Dandy, published Flip Flop and Historian is Immeasurable, and he wrote 50 books on British comics. In his collection were more than 20,000 comics!
Comics were called manga in Japan where demand was huge. Japanese cartoonists developed new genres after the Second World War, and they encompassed juvenile fantasy, romance and adult fancies. Some of the stories were later adapted for animated films.
In the 1960s and 1970s, underground cartoonists published commix to distinguish their works from mainstream newspaper comic strips and juvenile comic books. Comic strips were later gathered into cheap booklets and reprint comic books. Graphic novels attracted readers in the late 1970s.
Today, cartoonists and illustrators created cartoons using computer graphics, tablets and scanners and replacing pen-in-ink drawings. In 1998, football cartoon creator Pete Nash displayed fully digitalized artwork on his Striker strip.
Malaysia’s most renowned cartoonist is Mohamad Nor Khalid, better known as Lat. He revelled in portraying Malaysian life and characters. His first comic book was Kampung Boy published in 1979 and released in the US. Another book, Town Boy printed in late 2007 was also released in the US.
When Lat was nine years old, he showed his talent for creating cartoons and illustrations. At the age of 13, he conceived Tiga Sekawan , which is about three friends pursuing robbers. He was paid M$25!