Thursday, June 2, 2016

Graphic Novels 101

The comic book as we know it today has evolved, like any art form, from dime store disposable material into a multi-Billion dollar industry. Once upon a time it was hard to find anyone under the age of 20 who knew one superhero from the next. In today’s media empires it’s hard to find an adult who can’t name at least one, if not a few. So how did we get from niche to mainstream? The following is a very brief overview meant to give you some background as you plan out your 740’s section in your library!

In 1929, Dell Publishing published The Funnies, described by the Library of Congress as "a short-lived newspaper tabloid insert". An industry historian describes the 16-page, four-color periodical as "more a Sunday comic section without the rest of the newspaper than a true comic book. But it did offer all original material and was sold on newsstands". The Funnies ran for 36 issues, published Saturdays through October 16, 1930.

In 1938 National Allied editor Vin Sullivan pulled a Siegel/Shuster creation from the slush pile and used it as the cover feature in Action Comics #1 (June 1938). The duo's alien hero, Superman, dressed in a cape and colorful tights. The costume, influenced by Flash Gordon's attire from 1934, evoked circus aerial performers and circus strongmen, and Superman became the archetype of the "superheroes" that would follow.

Superman launched what would become known as the Golden Age of Comics. This era is marked from 1938 – 1955. During this “Age” many of the well-known heroes people know today were created. This era produced such heroes as Batman(1939), Human Torch(1939), Wonder Woman(1940), The Flash(1940) and Captain America(1941) among many, many others. Within the Golden Age is an unofficial sub-Age known as the Atomic Age. These books are usually identifiable by characters who obtained their powers through a scientific, usually radioactive/nuclear, situation.

Superheroes weren’t the only name on the stand though as a continuation of The Funnies concept of “strip” characters stayed popular. A rising young Producer & Publisher named Walt Disney moved his popular 1930’s era cinema creations Mickey Mouse and Donald Duck into comic book form in a partnership with Dell Publishing. Other cinema icons such as Tarzan and Lone Ranger took to the comic form in this Golden Age as well. 

As the 50’s started and society moved further from the War era superheroes started to wane and even saw the cancellation of some books like Human Torch. Captain America took a backseat in his own book and a rise of Romance Comics started. Then in 1956 the Renaissance of the Superhero started with the debut of an all new Flash debuting in Showcase Comics #4. This debut marks the start of the Silver Age of Comics. 

The Silver Age of Comics is marked from 1956-1970 and saw the rise of one comic company rebranding itself with a man known as Stan Lee. Timely Comics changed its name to Marvel Comics for the release of Fantastic Four #1. Stan Lee was burned out writing Romance and Western comics that had dominated the close of the Golden Age. He made a deal with his publisher to try out a few superhero ideas. Since Flash had shown success for a few years he allowed it and the Marvel Boom started. 

Stan Lee, in collaboration with a few other creators, created or co-created most of the characters now dominating the movie houses. From 1961-1970 he created the following: Spider-Man, Hulk, Iron Man, Thor, Daredevil, Black Panther, Dr. Strange and the X-Men. Black Panther was the first main stream black superhero in a time where the American racial divide was still strong. Black Panther just debuted in Captain America: Civil War on film in May 2016 and his solo film is in 2018. 

The Bronze Age of comics was next and it goes from 1971 -1980. This was an era dominated by a rise of the Horror character and stories with social messages, especially relating to Vietnam and illicit drug use. This era saw the creation of Blade and Swamp Thing, arguably the two best known in mass media, while DC used Green Arrow as a socially conscious hero traveling the country. His travels allowed him encounters with War Protestors and his sidekick getting hooked on heroin. 

That is the last of the industry settled upon “Ages” although there is a growing push for the official industry designation of at least two more. Currently everything from 1981 – Present is called the Modern Age. A push for a short Age from 1980 to 1986/’87 designated as the Copper Age and another from 1986/’87 – 2000 designated as the Dark Age. The Copper Age would highlight the rise of the Independent Publisher, Dark Horse, First Comics and Mirage was the biggest. Dark Horse is now the 5th largest publisher in the industry and Mirage was the home of the Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles. 

The “Dark Age” is characterized by the rise of the anti-hero in Wolverine, Punisher and Lobo. While the 90’s also saw such drastic storylines as The Death of Superman, Knightfall and The Clone Saga. Superman dying is a metaphor of the Golden Age light of optimism being snuffed out. Knightfall had Batman’s back broken by Bane after running a villain gauntlet let loose by Bane. Peter Parker found out that perhaps he’d been a clone and this caused a severe mental breakdown for him. Perhaps the most dominant thing was the real world legal issues at Marvel Comics. They had to file for bankruptcy. 

That would make everything from 2000 – Present the Modern Age. Fandom also calls this the “Golden Age of Comics on Film”. This is the era that most of our student population has grown up with. Mass Media has taken the comic book art form from being a niche hobby to main stream popularity. With over a dozen comic shows on TV and 4-6 comic movies a year these are the properties that more than likely your students are keen to ask about you having in stock.

So is all content suitable for all or even most readers? No, no it’s not. There is some visually graphic material as well as mature language within the printed page of some of the more popular comic series that have transitioned to TV. The Films are largely still translating from a hard PG-13 content stance. The Walking Dead and Preacher, both on AMC, are gory violent and use mature language at any time. Fox television also did a series called Lucifer and it’s got a second season coming. Being on Fox it’s been reigned in but the comic itself is not for all ages. The upcoming Suicide Squad film, June 2016, is also one that in terms of violence straddles a line. Jessica Jones was a great Marvel comic turned into a TV show on Netflix but its themes are mature.

What is more all ages appropriate that is on TV and in the Cineplex you ask? There is Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D., Flash, Green Arrow, Firestorm, Hawkman, Daredevil, Supergirl, and Batman (Gotham) on the television sides. At the cinema there are countless versions of runs for Avengers, Captain America, Thor, Iron Man, Hulk, Spider-man, Black Panther, Dr. Strange and Guardians of the Galaxy from Marvel. From DC there are numerous Superman, Batman, Wonder Woman, Aquaman, Green Lantern and Justice League of America comics from many eras. Then there are other standards that have a great following like Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles, Transformers and G.I. Joe from IDW Publishing. 

I hope this blog has helped you gain some insight into Graphic Novels. What’s being adapted and most importantly if any of it is suitable for your shelves. Most of it will be but should you have any questions feel free to email me. I’ll try to answer your inquiry to the best of my ability.

Team Library

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