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A comic book is a magazine or book containing the sequential art in the form of a narrative. Comic books are often called comics for short. Although the term implies otherwise, the subject matter in comic books is not necessarily humorous, and in fact its dramatic seriousness varies widely. more...

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The term "comics" in this context does not refer to comic strips (such as Peanuts or Dilbert). In the last quarter of the 20th century, greater acceptance of the comics form among the general reading populace coincided with a greater usage of the term graphic novel, often meant to differentiate a book of comics with a spine from its stapled, pamphlet form, but the difference between the terms seems fuzzy at best as comics become more widespread in libraries, mainstream bookstores and other places.

The earliest comic books were simply collections of comic strips that had originally been printed in newspapers. The commercial success of these collections led to work being created specifically for the comic-book form, which fostered specific conventions such as splash pages. Long-form comic books, generally with hardcover or trade-paper binding came to be known as graphic novels, but as noted above, the term's definition is especially fluid. Like jazz and a handful of other cultural artifacts, comic books are a rare indigenous American art form, though prototypical examples of the form exist.

American comic books have become closely associated with the superhero sub-genre. In the U.K., the term comic book is used to refer to American comic books by their readers and collectors, while the general populace would mainly consider a comic book a hardcover book collecting comics stories. The analogous term in the United Kingdom is a comic, short for comic paper or comic magazine.

The comic book in the United States

Since the invention of the comic book format in the 1930s, the United States has been the leading producer, with only the British comic (during the inter-war period through the 1970s) and Japanese manga as close competitors in terms of quantity of titles (although, Japan outweighs America currently in overall sales by a vast margin). The majority of all comic books in the U.S. are marketed at younger teenagers, though the market also produces work for general as well as more mature audiences.

The history of the comic book in the United States is split into several ages or historical eras: The Platinum Age, The Golden Age, The Silver Age, The Bronze Age, and The Modern Age. The exact boundaries of these eras, the terms for which originated in fandom press, is a debatable point among comic book historians. The Golden Age is generally thought as lasting from 1938's introduction of Superman until the early 1950s, during which comic books enjoyed a surge of popularity, the archetype of the superhero was invented and defined, and many of comic books' most popular superheroes debuted. The Platinum Age refers to any material produced prior to this. While comics as an artform could arguably extend as far back as sequential cave paintings from thousands of years ago, comic books are dependent on printing, and the starting point for them in book form is generally considered to be the tabloid-sized The Funnies begun in 1929, or the more traditional sized Funnies on Parade from 1933. Both of these were simply reprints of newspaper strips.

The Silver Age of Comic Books is generally considered to date from the first successful revival of the dormant superhero form — the debut of the Barry Allen Flash in Showcase #4 (Sept.-Oct. 1956) — and last through the early 1970s, during which time Marvel Comics revolutionized the medium with such naturalistic superheroes as the Fantastic Four and Spider-Man. The beginings of the Bronze and Modern ages are far more disputable. Indeed, some suggest that we are still in the Bronze Age. Starting points that have been suggested for the Bronze Age of comics are Conan #1 (Oct. 1970), Green Lantern/Green Arrow #76 (Apr. 1970) or Amazing Spider-Man #96 (May 1971) (the non-Comics Code issue). The start of the Modern Age has even more potential starting points, but is most likely the publication of Alan Moore's Watchmen in 1986.

Notable events in the history of the American comic book include the psychiatrist Frederic Wertham's criticisms of the medium in his book Seduction of the Innocent, which saw the Senate Subcommittee on Juvenile Delinquency investigate comic books. In response to this attention from government and the media, the U.S. comic book industry created the Comics Code Authority in 1954 and drafted the Comics Code, a move which saw the particularly targeted EC change its satirical comic book Mad from comic book to magazine format in order to circumvent the Code.

Underground comics

During the late 1960s and early 1970s, a surge of underground comics occurred. These comics were published and distributed independently of the established mainstream, and most reflected the youth counterculture and drug culture of the time. Many were notable for their uninhibited, irreverent style; their frankness in graphic sex, nudity, language and overt politics hadn't been seen in comics outside of their precursors, the pornographic and even more underground "Tijuana bibles". Underground comics were virtually never sold on newsstands but in such youth-oriented outlets as head shops and record stores, and by mail order.

The underground-comics movement is often considered to have started with Zap Comix #1 (1968) by Canadian cartoonist Robert Crumb, a former Cleveland greeting-card artist living in San Francisco. Crumb later created the popular characters Fritz the Cat and Mr. Natural, and published Gilbert Shelton's The Fabulous Furry Freak Brothers.

Independent and alternative comics

The rise of comic-book specialty stores in the late 1970s created a dedicated market for "independent" or "alternative comics"; two of the first were the anthology series Star Reach, published by comic-book writer Mike Friedrich from 1974-1979, and Harvey Pekar's American Splendor, published from the 1970s through the present day. Some independent comics continued in the tradition of underground comics, though were generally less overtly graphic, and others resembled the output of mainstream publishers in format and genre but were published by smaller artist-owned ventures or by a single artists. A few (notably RAW) were experimental attempts to bring comics closer to the world of fine art.


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