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See You in the Funny Pages

Updated on September 2, 2015

Comics have been around ever since Ork drew a mustache on his cave dwelling friend Ug’s caricature sketched on a cave wall. However, Ug was not amused and the world would have to wait until the early 1800s when civilization had matured sufficiently to appreciate their value.

The design of modern day comics perhaps can be traced back to the two characters mentioned above, but more likely to the medieval broadsheet, a narrative strip carved into wood. These were often cartoonish narratives and caricatures of public figures. With the advent of the printing press these broadsheets were fashioned into collections and became the accepted layout for modern magazines, newspapers and the comic book.

The first comic strip is considered by many to have been created by Swiss artist Rudolphe Töpffer in 1827. Töpffer was a teacher, painter, author and caricature artist. He is also credited with publishing the earliest known comic book in 1837. It was called The Adventures of Obadiah Oldbuck and was originally published in several languages. It also became the first comic book published in the United States in 1842. Most of Töpffer’s work is considered satirical views on 19th century society.

Some tend to give credit for the first comic strip to Richard Outcault since he was the first to use balloons containing script in 1895. About that time he created the comic strip Yellow Kid. The Yellow Kid first appeared in Truth Magazine, June 2nd 1894 in a strip called Hogan’s Alley.

His name was actually Mickey Dugan, a bald headed, toothless imp attired in a yellow frock. He became popularly known as Yellow Kid when Outcault’s strip switched from black and white to color. The change was an experiment to see how well it would be received by the public.This was followed by Rudolph Dirk's Katzenjammer Kids in December 1897 which also saw the introduction of continuous story telling blocks instead of a single one.

Their success fueled a parade of others such as Buster Brown, Foxy Grandpa, Krazy Kat, Popeye and Mutt and Jeff. Most strips in the early 20th century were purposefully humorous and became known as “the comics” or “the funnies.”

To be technically correct, comic strips have been around at least as long as newspapers, which began printing in the early 1600's. Before that, there were cartoon drawings on stone tablets, wood and papyrus. So, no one can say with certainty when the first comic strip appeared. Historians tell us ancient Chinese and Egyptian cultures used sketches to tell stories as early as 800 B.C. Many of these early drawings had political overtones, either as satire or blatant outright attacks on an individual’s character or even entire cultures.

Prior to the 20th century few bothered to keep records of comic strips. Therefore, much of its statistical history is based on hearsay, circumstantial evidence or supposition. But it is known the term comic strip was adopted in the United States around that time…so called because of their format.

Initially, comic strips were a gimmick to attract more readers to newspapers and included only in Sunday editions. But eventually they became daily fare. Although comic strips are still a staple of modern newspapers as well as other publications, many spun off into comic book form and animated cartoons. And up until 1919, when the comic strip Gasoline Alley made its debut, characters never aged. But now some do.

At the time these strips were generally referred to as “the funnies,” which gave rise to the phrase, “See you in the funny papers.” But later the term comics came into use because of their comedic nature. Early American comic books were usually just a collection of reprinted newspaper comic strips.

As time went on comics expanded their genre to include action heroes and a host of othercharacters. Many super hero personalities of more modern comics are actually based on ancient Greek mythological gods and superheroes. For example, the Flash strangely resembles the Greek god Hermes with his winged helmet and boots. In the Old Testament, Samson’s weakness of getting his locks shorn is vaguely reminiscent of Superman and his vulnerability to kryptonite. It’s interesting to note the character of Superman was at first rejected by publishers in 1938.

Since the 1960s, there have been two comic book giants dominating the industry…Marvel and Detective Comics (DC). But, both have undergone name changes before arriving at their current titles. Marvel was known as Timely Comics between 1939 to about 1950 and as Atlas Comics for the better part of the 1950s. For almost 50 years DC was known as National Periodical Publication.

Comic books can be said to have evolved from the pulp magazine. They were called that because they were printed on the cheapest paper possible. Comic buffs usually classify publications into these categories:

· Golden Age 1938-1956

· Silver 1956-1971

· Bronze 1971-1980

· Iron 1980-1987 Modern 1987-present

See you in the funny papers.


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    • JY3502 profile image

      John Young 6 years ago from Florence, South Carolina

      If I didn't make them interesting no one would read them. I might as well join Ork and Ug doodling on the cave wall. :-)

    • Paradise7 profile image

      Paradise7 6 years ago from Upstate New York

      You're always interesting on a variety of topics. Thanks for yet another great read.