Comic Books – an Introduction

So, those of you who have read my abstract might be wondering – how does one study comic books? Good question – I barely know myself. In fact, judging by what is out there, very few people know, but this is what this is what this project is all about –  a chance to explore something I love, despite the fact that I know nothing of it and most certainly handle it somewhat clumsily. And you, anonymous, perhaps nonexistent reader, will be along with me for this journey! Yey!

Let’s start at the beginning, shall we? What is a comic, and what sets it apart from other mediums, like literature, painting, sculpture, and the like? Will Eisner, residential badass and a juggernaut (heh) of the comic book world, defines it quite simply as “sequential art” – basically a series of pictures shown side-by-side (in sequence! gasp!) each indicating some sort of change from the one before, that allow pictorially for the passage of time, place, and action. These later, make up plot – The Joker robs a bank in Image 1, the Bat Signal is released in Image 2, and Batman proceeds to kick major butt, with allowances made for Joker-esque shenanigans, in Image 3 and onwards.  If you want more info on this definition (because it entails a lot more than just this lovely stuff) I’ll just point you to the wonderful Understanding Comics, by Scott McCloud, which basically is a good intro in what comics are and how they work in comic book format! It’s so…meta.

So, comics is just a fancy, imported French word for cartoons put together in a certain order to tell you something. Just like any other medium, that “something” can range from important and poignant to silly, vulgar, and even pornographic. Comic books in the United States, until relatively recently, carried a stigma that the “something” it told was meant only for kids or a selectively dull audience – not for enterprising college students with too much time on their hands. As we all (I’m hoping) know, this has not been the case for some time – as comics and comic book films like Watchmen and The Dark Knight have proven, cartoons can be both cerebral and satisfy an older audience with pure, unadulterated awesomeness. And isn’t a message wrapped up very well in unadulterated awesomeness the true meaning of art?

I’m not going to be looking so much at the message – the “something”  – in my study of comic books. Instead, I want to look at how the medium conveys a message – the packaging of the message, so to speak – and more specifically how different cultures of the medium convey the medium. But more on that tomorrow.


  1. granzini says:

    I came here to suggest Scott McCloud’s book, read your post again, then realized that you’d mentioned it already. It’s a good one, no?

    So, are you sticking to Western comics, then, or are you going for a broader take? In particular, what about the rise of unconventional panel arrangements, especially in manga, that can confuse or defy normal notions of sequential depiction?

  2. Yeah – I read it, and then immediately read the book he recommended by Eisner. Quite informative, although I prefer McCloud’s approach. Seems more appropriate to the medium than just a series of lectures!

    Anyways, I thought it would be best to stick to western comics – and Lisa Grimes agreed with me – because I can actually read English and French. I’d work on the Japanese side too, but it seemed like a better idea to analyze these comics in as close to their original forms as possible. I haven’t talked too much about the arrangement of panels simply because, as far as the blog is concerned, I haven’t gotten there yet! In other words – I decided to start with what I assume my readers would think of when they heard the phrase “comic book” – and I’ll move on from there, with its evolution, “deviations”, alternate forms, and the like. Thus why my next post is specifically about Action Comics #1.