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The Yellow Kid by Richard F. Outcault

The Yellow Kid
by Richard F. Outcault


Comics is a medium that expresses narratives or other ideas using a series of still images, usually combined with text. It typically takes the form of a sequence of panels of images. Textual devices such as speech balloons, captions, and onomatopoeia can indicate dialogue, narration, sound effects, or other information. The size and arrangement of panels contribute to narrative pacing. Cartooning and other forms of illustration are the most common image-making means in comics; fumetti is a form which uses photographic images. Common forms include gag-a-day comic strips, editorial and gag cartoons, and comic books. Since the late 20th century, bound volumes such as graphic novels, comic albums, and tankōbon have become increasingly common, while online webcomics have proliferated in the 21st century.

The history of comics has followed different paths in different cultures, but by the mid-20th century comics flourished, particularly in the United States, western Europe (especially France and Belgium), and Japan. The history of European comics is often traced to Rodolphe Töpffer's cartoon strips of the 1830s, but the medium truly became popular in the 1930s following the success of strips and books such as The Adventures of Tintin. American comics emerged as a mass medium in the early 20th century with the advent of newspaper comic strips; magazine-style comic books followed in the 1930s, in which the superhero genre became prominent after Superman appeared in 1938. Histories of Japanese comics and cartooning (manga) propose origins as early as the 12th century. Modern comic strips emerged in Japan in the early 20th century, and the output of comics magazines and books rapidly expanded in the post-World War II era (1945–) with the popularity of cartoonists such as Osamu Tezuka (Astro Boy, et al.). Comics has had a lowbrow reputation for much of its history, but towards the end of the 20th century began to find greater acceptance with the public and academics.

The term comics is used as a singular noun when it refers to the medium itself (e.g. "Comics is a visual art form."), but becomes plural when referring to works collectively (e.g. "Comics are popular reading material."). Though the term derives from the humorous (comic) work that predominated in early American newspaper comic strips, it has become standard for non-humorous works too. The alternate spelling comix – coined by the underground comix movement – is sometimes used to address these ambiguities. In English, it is common to refer to the comics of different cultures by the terms used in their original languages, such as manga for Japanese comics, or bandes dessinées (B.D.) for French-language comics.

There is no consensus among theorists and historians on a definition of comics; some emphasize the combination of images and text, some sequentiality or other image relations, and others historical aspects, such as mass reproduction or the use of recurring characters. Increasing cross-pollination of concepts from different comics cultures and eras has only made definition more difficult. Read more...

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Superman "S" symbol

Superman is a fictional character and one of the most famous and popular comic book superheroes of all time. Created by American writer Jerry Siegel and Canadian artist Joe Shuster in 1932 while both were growing up in Cleveland, Ohio, and sold to Detective Comics Inc. the same year Superman debuted in Action Comics #1 (June 1938), the character has since appeared in radio serials, television programs, films, comic books, newspaper strips and video games, contributing to his long-standing ubiquity. Superman is born Kal-El on an alien planet — later named Krypton — and is rocketed to Earth as an infant by his scientist father moments before the planet's destruction. The rocket lands on Earth, where he is found by passing motorists who adopt him and give him the name Clark Kent. As Clark reaches maturity, he learns he has superhuman abilities which he resolves to use to help others, fighting anything from petty crime to universal threats. To keep his identity secret when not fighting evil as Superman, Clark lives among humanity as a "mild-mannered" reporter for the Metropolis newspaper The Daily Star (later changed to the Daily Planet). Clark works alongside reporter Lois Lane, with whom he is romantically involved (and married in the mainstream current comics' continuity).

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A play with panels in Winsor McCay's Little Sammy Sneeze strip.
Credit: Winsor McCay

A panel is an individual frame, or single drawing, in the multiple-panel sequence of a comic strip or comic book. A panel consists of a single drawing depicting a frozen moment. Newspaper daily strips typically consist of either four panels (Doonesbury, For Better or For Worse) or three panels (Garfield, Dilbert), all of the same size. The horizontal newspaper strip can also employ only a single panel, as sometimes seen in Wiley Miller's Non Sequitur.

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Jerry Siegel
A couple of months after I published this story, it occurred to me that a Superman as a hero rather than as a villain might make a great comic strip character in the vein of Tarzan, only more super and sensational than that great character. Joe and I drew it up as a comic book.

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