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"Little Sammy Sneeze" comic strip, published 1904-1906. Created by Winsor McCay (1871-1934).

Little Sammy Sneeze comic strip,
published 1904-1906
by Winsor McCay


Comics is a medium that expresses narratives or other ideas using a series of still images, usually combined with text. It typically takes the form of a sequence of panels of images. Textual devices such as speech balloons, captions, and onomatopoeia can indicate dialogue, narration, sound effects, or other information. The size and arrangement of panels contribute to narrative pacing. Cartooning and other forms of illustration are the most common image-making means in comics; fumetti is a form which uses photographic images. Common forms include gag-a-day comic strips, editorial and gag cartoons, and comic books. Since the late 20th century, bound volumes such as graphic novels, comic albums, and tankōbon have become increasingly common, while online webcomics have proliferated in the 21st century.

The history of comics has followed different paths in different cultures, but by the mid-20th century comics flourished, particularly in the United States, western Europe (especially France and Belgium), and Japan. The history of European comics is often traced to Rodolphe Töpffer's cartoon strips of the 1830s, but the medium truly became popular in the 1930s following the success of strips and books such as The Adventures of Tintin. American comics emerged as a mass medium in the early 20th century with the advent of newspaper comic strips; magazine-style comic books followed in the 1930s, in which the superhero genre became prominent after Superman appeared in 1938. Histories of Japanese comics and cartooning (manga) propose origins as early as the 12th century. Modern comic strips emerged in Japan in the early 20th century, and the output of comics magazines and books rapidly expanded in the post-World War II era (1945–) with the popularity of cartoonists such as Osamu Tezuka (Astro Boy, et al.). Comics has had a lowbrow reputation for much of its history, but towards the end of the 20th century began to find greater acceptance with the public and academics.

The term comics is used as a singular noun when it refers to the medium itself (e.g. "Comics is a visual art form."), but becomes plural when referring to works collectively (e.g. "Comics are popular reading material."). Though the term derives from the humorous (comic) work that predominated in early American newspaper comic strips, it has become standard for non-humorous works too. The alternate spelling comix – coined by the underground comix movement – is sometimes used to address these ambiguities. In English, it is common to refer to the comics of different cultures by the terms used in their original languages, such as manga for Japanese comics, or bandes dessinées (B.D.) for French-language comics.

There is no consensus among theorists and historians on a definition of comics; some emphasize the combination of images and text, some sequentiality or other image relations, and others historical aspects, such as mass reproduction or the use of recurring characters. Increasing cross-pollination of concepts from different comics cultures and eras has only made definition more difficult. Read more...

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Thrud the Barbarian is a comics character created by Carl Critchlow in 1981. Although Thrud himself is a parody of Conan the Barbarian, particularly as depicted in the Arnold Schwarzenegger films, inspiration for the character's adventures and adversaries has been drawn from several fantasy sources. During the 1980s, a Thrud comic strip was a regular and popular feature in the roleplay and wargame magazine White Dwarf with Thrud's grotesque and comic antics forming a memorable part of the magazine's golden age. In 2002, continued interest in the character from role-playing enthusiasts and a desire to be free to experiment with a new artistic style prompted Critchlow to self-publish a series of award-winning full-length Thrud the Barbarian comics. Since October 2002, Critchlow has continued to develop his new artistic style in several different 2000 AD stories, contributing to the success of Lobster Random in particular. While Critchlow's use of muted palettes has been criticised, his style has received praise for being highly recognisable and unique.

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Saturday Morning Breakfast Cereal panel
Credit: Comic: Zach Weiner

A panel from Saturday Morning Breakfast Cereal, a webcomic by Zach Weiner first published in its current iteration in 2002. This daily comic features no recurring characters or storylines, and has no set format; some strips may be a single panel, while others may go on for ten panels or more. Recurring themes include atheism, God, superheroes, romance, dating, science, research, parenting and the meaning of life.

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The four most common speech balloons, top to bottom: speech, whisper, thought, scream.

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Grant Morrison
The comics medium is a very specialized area of the Arts, home to many rare and talented blooms and flowering imaginations and it breaks my heart to see so many of our best and brightest bowing down to the same market pressures which drive lowest-common-denominator blockbuster movies and television cop shows. Let's see if we can call time on this trend by demanding and creating big, wild comics which stretch our imaginations. Let's make living breathing, sprawling adventures filled with mind-blowing images of things unseen on Earth. Let's make artefacts that are not faux-games or movies but something other, something so rare and strange it might as well be a window into another universe because that's what it is.

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