The Blue Age of Comic Books

The Medium of Comic Books

A comic book is often understood today within the context of the superhero genre, although it is certainly not the only genre represented by comics. Scott McCloud, in Understanding Comics, defined comics as a noun, plural in form and used with a singular verb, consisting of “juxtaposed pictorial and other images in deliberate sequence, intended to convey information and/or to produce an aesthetic response in the viewer” (9). A comic book of the superhero genre collects these “pictorial and other images” in an issue or, colloquially, a floppy. Series are then collected into trade volumes, usually made up of four to seven issues, that tell one or more stories. Not all series are collected, although trades are becoming increasingly common. Despite the notion of the genre, there is no universal condition by which one might categorize superhero comics.

It is often easier to define comics and their genres as what they are not as Douglas Wolk, in Reading Comics, does. He writes, “Comics are not prose. Comics are not movies. They are not a text-driven medium with added pictures; they’re not the visual equivalent of prose narrative or a static version of a film. They are their own thing: a medium with its own devices, its own innovators, its own clichés, its own genres and traps and liberties” (14). Like the medium through which they are transmitted, superhero narratives have their own devices, innovators, and clichés. Within the context of this work, “comics” and “comic books” will be used interchangeably to refer to works within the superhero genre published by one of the “Big Two” companies, Marvel and DC Comics. While other publishing companies may offer “superhero” titles, Marvel and DC have historically dominated the market. As such, it must be understood that not all comics operate in the same ways and that comics of the superhero genre are particularly notable for their serialization and for their systems of production, distribution, and collection. Since 1938, no other popular media narrative has so consistently been produced in sequence for public consumption as that of the American superhero.

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