A comic book is a magazine or book containing sequential art. Although the term implies otherwise, the subject matter in comic books is often serious and action-oriented and can cover a range of genres from religion to super heroes. Comic books are so called because some of the earliest comic books were simply collections of comic strips 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 the term's definition is vague.
American comic books have become closely associated with the superhero tradition. In the United Kingdom, the term comic book is used to refer to American comic books by their readers and collectors. The term used in the Britain is a comic, short for comic paper or comic magazine.
Since the introduction of the modern comic book format in the 1934 with Famous Funnies, the United States has been the leading producer, with only the British comic and Japanese manga as close competitors in terms of quantity of titles. The majority of all comic books in the US are marketed to young adult readers, though they also produce titles for young children as well as adult audiences. This readership is reflected in the colours and themes used.
The history of the comic book in the United States is divided into several ages or historical eras: The Platinum Age, The Golden Age, The Silver Age, The Bronze Age, and The Modern Age.
The Golden Age is generally thought as lasting from the introduction of the character Superman in 1938 until the early 1950's. During this time, comic books enjoyed considerable popularity; the archetype of the superhero was invented and defined, and many of the most popular superheroes were created. The Platinum Age refers to any material produced prior to this, 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 in 1956 through to the early 1970's, during which time Marvel Comics revolutionised the medium with naturalistic superheroes as the Fantastic Four and Spider-Man. There is less agreement on the beginnings of the Bronze and Modern ages. Some suggest that the Bronze Age is still taking place but it is generally accepted that it started 1970-1971. The start of the Modern Age (occasionally referred to as the Iron Age) has even more potential starting points, but is generally agreed to be the publication of Alan Moore's Watchmen by DC Comics in 1986.
comics published after World War II in 1945 are sometimes referred to as being from the Atomic Age (referring to the dropping of the atomic bomb), while titles published after November 1961 are sometimes referred to as being from the Marvel Age (referring to the advent of Marvel Comics).
American comic books are generally noted to be mainstream: meaning they have mass appeal and focus on socially acceptable issues and genres, such as good verses evil.
Originally the same size as a usual comic book in the United States, although lacking the glossy cover, the British comic has adopted a magazine size, with The Beano and The Dandy the last to adopt this size in the 1980s. Although generally referred to as a comic, it can also be referred to as a comic magazine, and has also been known historically as a comic paper. Some comics, such as Judge Dredd and other 2000 AD titles, have been published in a tabloid form. It is also not uncommon for gifts to accompany comic magazines such as, badges or cigarette card holders.
popular titles within the UK have included The Eagle and 2000 AD. Underground comics and "small press" titles have also been published within the United Kingdom, these often have a genre specific angle or message such as, women's rights or sexual education.
Marvel Comics established a UK office in 1972. DC Comics and Dark Horse Comics also opened offices in the 1990s. These repackage American titles for a UK audience, they are often less glossy and colourful than their US counterparts.
At Christmas time, publishers repackage and commission material for comic annuals, printed and bound as hardcover A4-size books. A famous example of the British comic annual is Dr Who.
France and Belgium are two countries that have a long tradition in comics and comic books, where they are called Bande Dessiné (BD for short) in French and strips in Dutch. Belgian comic books originally written in Dutch are influenced by the Francophone "Franco-Belgian" comics, but have their own distinct style.
La bande dessiné is derived from the original description of the art form as drawn strips (the phrase is literally translated as the drawn strip).
In France, most comics are published at the behest of the author, who works within a self-appointed time frame, and it is common for readers to wait six months or as long as two years between installments. Most books are first published as a hard cover book, typically with 48, 56 or 64 pages. In Italy, comics are known as fumetti and began as humouristic strips and then evolved into adventure stories inspired by those coming from the US in the 1940's.
Mainstream comics are usually published on a monthly basis, in a black and white digest size format, with approximately 100 to 132 pages. Collections of classic material for the most famous characters, usually with more than 200 pages, are also common. Author comics are published in the French BD format.
In the late 1960's and early 1970's, a surge of underground comics occurred and has continued. These comics were published and distributed independently of the established comics industry, and most titles reflected the youth counterculture and drug culture of the time. Many were notable for their uninhibited, often irreverent style; the frankness of their depictions of nudity, sexual content, and politics had not been seen in comics before. Underground comics were almost never sold at newsstands, but rather in such youth-oriented outlets such as record stores and by mail order.
The term graphic novel was first used in 1964. Graphic novels tend to be bound and longer in length than comics. They often represent known prose stories such as, Treasure Island or plays such as, Othello in a comic strip format. Thus, they make these stories accessible to new and often younger audiences.