Comics have entertained and inspired Americans for almost two centuries, shaping our culture in ways unimaginable. Since the 1800s, they have come a long way, extending their influence from a handful to the masses across various ages. How have comics evolved over the years, and what impact have they had on popular culture? Let’s explore.
The Evolution of Comics: From Comic Strips to Mass Media
Most experts regard The Adventures of Mr. Obadiah Oldbuck, published in New York in 1842, as the first comic to greet the American public. It was created by a Swiss cartoonist in 1827 and translated into several languages before arriving in the US in the form of an English comic strip.
Daily newspapers took this new storytelling art form to the masses at the time. Comic strips have continued on to the 21st century, winning the hearts and minds of readers with their signature speech balloons.
During the 19th century, comic books started appearing on shelves of bookstores. However, they were mainly extensions or collections of comic strips published in newspapers.
The year 1938 marked a monumental milestone for American comics as it saw the release of the first Superman book. Superheroes quickly grew in popularity among readers, while sci-fi, romance, and other genres also evolved, crafting their own niches.
This uptick took a U-turn in the 1950s, as many adults denounced comic books for their negative influences on children. Most publishers closed, unable to sustain their businesses, and only superhero-based books remained on the shelves.
The Silver Age (1956 – 1970)
The dwindling demand for comic books did not last for long. Driven mainly by the superhero genre, the Silver Age of American comics attracted renewed interest and gained momentum. Some of the successful releases during this time included The Fantastic Four and Justice League of America, which have remained widely admired to this day.
The Bronze Age (1970 – 1985)
Marvel Comics largely led the growth of comic books during this time, creating even more popular characters to inspire American fans. The Bronze Age also saw the advent of underground comics, which gave way to the steady rise of small-time publishers and self-published cartoonists. Unlike the superhero comics, their stories focused on fairly controversial social themes—from violence to sexuality.
The Modern Age (1985 – Present)
The 80s and 90s were a period of resurgence where new series were released, and existing ones were further refined to match the times. It also saw the rise of X-Men comics with more spinoffs in the likes of Wolverine and New Mutants. But, most importantly, comics transcended into other entertainment mediums, including movies and games, making this unique form of art an important part of pop culture.
The Impact of Comics on American Pop Culture
Comics are sometimes criticized for their depiction of violence and its impact on kids. Widely discussed concerns also include addiction and other extreme behaviors that stem from an inability to separate the comic world from reality.
Having said that, American comics have had more positive effects on society than negative ones. Here are some of the notable ways today’s pop culture has benefited from them:
According to studies, reading comic books can lead to improved creativity in students. This hardly comes as a surprise considering how cartoonists have long challenged the status quo.
Comic storylines cover a variety of genres, from science-fiction to supernatural, while each character is given its own unique personality, appearance, and abilities. Many are equipped with superpowers to transcend human capabilities. In the comic world, anything is possible. This allows readers to see beyond the accepted norms, use their imagination, and become inventive in the real world.
Highlighting cultural topics
Comics have also been successful in shedding light on culturally relevant subjects. For example, equality, sexuality, discrimination, drug use, corruption, and social justice have all been important narratives in their plots.
Besides, as a form of art and entertainment, they are able to use impactful storytelling techniques for stimulating social consciousness and discussing sensitive topics in a more non-threatening and engaging manner.
Comic movies and dramas have given rise to memorable theme songs and music. Popular series and characters have even inspired the music industry and its artists. Superman, for example, has drawn the attention of a number of musicians over the decades. The Flaming Lips’ Waitin’ for a Superman (1999) and The Kinks’ (Wish I Could Fly Like) Superman (1979) are a few examples.
Iconic characters in comics have led to iconic fashion, influencing their fans as well as designers and high street brands.
Some franchises, such as Wonder Woman, have created a range of items, including T-shirts, pants, lingerie, and accessories. Famous designers, such as Jimmy Choo, have also joined in, using partnerships to create capsule collections. Today, you can easily purchase clothes inspired by your favorite characters on various online platforms.
Successful comics command massive fan bases who religiously follow characters, plots, and series. It has allowed cartoon creators to monetize their franchises with branded merchandise—from clothes and figurines to other memorabilia.
Another major offshoot of this trend is annual conventions that gather thousands of fans from all corners of the US. These are popular events for comic fans to dress up and interact with others who share similar interests in their most-adored characters.
Apart from comic cons, social media communities and forums also provide you with the opportunity to network with fans, make friends, and take part in conversations.
Of course, minding your safety is crucial when you interact within these communities. Before sharing your personal details with someone, ensure you search for them in Leadar extensive contact database and check their social media profiles to find out more about them.
To Sum Up
Since they first arrived in the US in 1842, comics have come a long way, evolving through the Golden, Silver, and Bronze Ages to what we see today as the Modern Age of American comics.
They are undeniably a notable cultural phenomenon that has successfully intertwined entertainment, art, and mainstream media with culture and society.