Comics are a visual art form that conveys a story. It is a product of the culture and it interacts with the culture through its stories. Today, comics are becoming an integral part of the book stores and competing with the novels and literature of similar standards. The characters from the comic books are transferred to the live action screen and to different forms of merchandise. In totality, comics make a significant part of the pop-culture and provide a window to reflect upon the world around. However, since its birth, comics have always remained a form of subversive art. Its status has been considered as subaltern as compared to the ‘high-art’. Comics and its creators has been a subject of critical adverse comments and unacknowledgement throughout the history. It is not a surprising fact that both painting and comics employ common tools for expression. The space, images, text and panels all become a part of a 21st century conceptual artist working in a range of media. The visual styles of art are evident in comics and vice-versa. Therefore, the relationship of art and comics is intertwined in space and time.
Since the classical period of visual art to the post-modern era of conceptual art, visual styles have changed and modified. The visual styles those are prevalent in one era gives way to newer styles. This is a general process of progression for visual arts. In the same context comics have witnessed a change in the visual styles from the early newspaper strips to the recent digital comics (figure 1). It is true that the standard format of a comic book is still a bound-book form, but even then the visual style and the design have undergone a change. As mentioned earlier about the state of comics as subaltern art, the visual styles of comics from a designer’s perspective have not been studied yet. Scholars have mostly studied comics as part of cultural phenomena, a tool for education, a medium for visual language or a medium for storytelling. Rarely the process of working in different visual styles has been attributed significance. As there are many visual styles as genres of comics, this demands in depth understanding of the images and their representation in comics.
Fig 1. Different formats of comics.
If comics are considered as a medium which uses images to tell stories, then its roots can be traced back to the period of cave-painting. But then, history of images or any form of visual arts has developed from the Paleolithic age only. Therefore, to narrow down the history of comics, we would consider the middle ages as a starting point. During AD 113, Trajan’s column in Rome stands as an important example from this period. It mainly consists of a continuous narrative inscribed on the stone column that runs from bottom to top. It is also one of the earliest examples where man learnt to depict events in a sequential manner. During the same period, Bayeux tapestry in Normandy is considered another exceptional example where images represent events.
In the 15th century, Wood-block printing mainly accounted for the printing of ‘broad-sheets’ and ‘pamphlets’ that mainly announced political affairs. However, with the invention of printing press, mass production printing was made possible. It not only revolutionized the printing industry but sparked further possibilities of new innovations through print. Some important elements of comics like the speech balloons, speed-lines and panels appeared in the broad-sheets, although in a crude form than in today’s comic books. With the improvement in printing in 19th century, the broadsheets were transformed in the form of ‘magazines’, which were tightly bound and contained more pages with more images. Funny illustrations were always a part of the printed material and enjoyed by the masses. Whether it’s a caricature of a dictator or a satire on the political context, humor made the images more appealing and acceptable. Once the magazines were popularized, it paved the way for dedicated illustrated magazines by the end of 19th century. ‘Punch’ (1841) was particularly famous for its satirical drawings on political affairs (figure 2). A bunch of other magazines followed the way, which further strengthened the foundation for comic books in the coming years.