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Stan Tychinski owns and operates Collectible Dreams, a pop-culture memorabilia shop located in Selinsgrove, Pennsylvania. He has been collecting comic books and related items for the past 35 years.

Worldwide, Disney's work is more often published as a graphic novel than as a comic book.
Stan Tychinski  

From The Adventures of Obadiah Oldbuck by Rodolphe Toffler - 1842.

From Richard Outcault's The Yellow Kid - Created in 1895.

Action Comics No. 1 by Jerry Siegel and Joe Shuster - 1938.

From Tintin in the Land of the Soviets by Herge - 1930.

From Dubious Doings At Dismal Downs by Walt Disney.

Stan Lee and John Buscema's Silver Surfer #1 - 1968.

Neil Gaiman's Sandman No. 11

A Brief History of the Graphic Novel
by Stan Tychinski

Since the days of prehistoric man, people have been telling stories using pictures instead of prose. From the cave paintings of the Cro-Magnon to the hieroglyphics of Ancient Egypt, graphic storytelling has been in use as a popular means for communicating thoughts and ideas.

In most early civilizations, and well into the current century, the majority of the population was illiterate. Reading was a luxury for the well to do. Drawings and cartoons were used as a simple way to convey ideas or sentiments to the working class populace. As we entered the Industrial Age and began using machines to do work for us, these working class people began to have more leisure time; time that was spent looking for entertainment. As more folks began reading, humor periodicals began to appear. Humor was an effective way to address social ills or political agendas. One of the best examples of this type of publication is POOR RICHARD'S ALMANAC, printed in 1732 by Benjamin Franklin. In it, Franklin used satirical cartoons to advance the cause of American Revolution.

Another popular form of entertainment periodical was the Novel, an early form of today's paperback book, usually illustrated, and involving a sensational adventure or mystery. Many were set in the American Wild West, and they help popularize men like Davy Crockett and Buffalo Bill. Dime novels were also known as "penny dreadfuls."

In 1842, the first major graphic novel was published in the United States. THE ADVENTURES OF OBADIAH OLDBUCK by humorist Rodolphe Toffler, appeared in a weekly humor magazine called Brother Jonathan. It concerned the misadventures of a young man and his "lady-louve", using captioned cartoons arranged in tiered or strip like fashion. THE YELLOW KID appeared in 1895, and quickly became the first successfully merchandised comic strip character. Created by Richard Outcault, The Yellow Kid was so popular that the strip's presence actually increased newspaper sales. In 1897, the Hearst Syndicate released the first collected edition of Yellow Kid cartoons in book form. This best selling collection could be considered the very first financially successful graphic novel.

Popular forms of entertainment periodicals began to appear in the United States after WW1, such as the Pulp novels. Named as such for the cheap pulp paper they were printed on, they usually featured adventure stories aimed at male readers, with topics such as war stories, westerns, and science fiction. As pulp publishers began to look for new genres and ways to expand their readership, they hit upon the daily newspaper strips. In 1933, M.C. Gaines created the first comic book, called NEW FUNNIES, which reprinted daily comic strips. Later that year, a company called Humor Publications printed the first all original comic book, DETECTIVE DAN. And in 1938, everything exploded with the publication of ACTION COMICS #1 and its star, a guy named Superman!

Superman paved the way for the comic book's Golden Age, and a vast array of costumed heroes, detectives, cowboys, and the like flooded the newsstands. During the 1940's comic books sold millions of copies, and to readers of all ages, including many adults. However, in the 1950s, that all changed dramatically. With the new medium of television attracting the general public, along with a growing social concern over increasingly graphic horror and crime comics, sales began to drop. In an effort to control this decline, publishers began to offer a more acceptable, if somewhat bland, type of comic. Western and TV stars became the subjects, and the Comics Code was instituted to appease the parental complaints of violence and sensationalism. The Code, a self-imposed regulating device, led to the stagnation of comic books here in the United States. As publishers bounced from genre to genre, looking for the next big trend, comic books in America became increasingly known as children's fare.

But in many other countries, comics continued to be marketed on different levels for different readership groups. In Japan, Manga comics appeared, first as individual issues, then as wholly created album type comic books. Manga is distinguished as being published in multiple genres, each aimed at a specific age or type of reader. This concept also became popular in the French comic albums. In 1930 a Belgian artist named Herge created an adventure story of a boy and his dog, Tintin. The first graphic album, TINTIN IN THE LAND OF THE SOVIETS was a major success and eventually Herge produced 24 Tintin albums, up until his passing in the late 1980s. Tintin is still being published in over 29 languages. Other major Belgian graphic novel series include ASTERIX THE GAUL by Goscinny and Uderzo (starting in 1961 with 37 albums to date in 30 countries) and Peyo's THE SMURFS, arguably one of the most successful comic album series of all time.

Back in the United States, underground comics began to appear in the mid-sixties. Undergrounds were self- published comics that did not conform to the restrictions of the Comics Code. Although many underground comics dealt with sexual themes and drug related culture, many used satire to comment on political and social issues of the times such as the Vietnam War and the Civil Rights movement.

A bizarre twist on the concept of graphic novels involves American creations who have had limited success here in the States, but enjoy enormous popularity overseas. A great example of this is the Phantom. While still done as a continuing daily strip in American papers, he is extremely popular in graphic novel form throughout Europe and Australia. By far the most popular graphic album series of all time features the characters of Walt Disney. Although Disney comics have been sporadically published in the United States since the late 70s, they have been in constant publication all over the world, usually in graphic novel form not comic books. Currently Donald Duck, Mickey Mouse, and Uncle Scrooge albums are printed in over 90 languages worldwide.

During the late 1970s and early 80s, a new factor entered the picture. The changing face of retailing, such as the advent of malls and mass merchandisers, were eliminating the local mom-and-pop retailers, a major outlet for comic book sales. Comic publishers began to sell to the direct market, stores that sold mainly comic books and related merchandise. This direct market opened up the way for creators to do comics and albums using specific themes and target audiences, similar to what the overseas market had been creating for years. Creator's rights, such as character ownership and profit sharing, became an issue between the publishers and the creators. Up 'til now, comics were created under a work-for-hire clause.

In 1978, Marvel Comics produced the first original mass-market trade paperback graphic novel, THE SILVER SURFER, by Stan Lee and Jack Kirby. Lee and Kirby were paid standard rates for their work, but Marvel reaped all the profit. Later that year, Eclipse Comics released SABRE by Don McGregor and Paul Gulacy. Sabre, a science-fiction adventure story, was the first graphic novel that granted full copyright ownership and sales royalties to its creators. Other major creator graphic novels also released around this time were A CONTRACT WITH GOD by Will Eisner (the first creator owned and published graphic novel) and ELFQUEST by Wendy and Richard Pini (the first creator owned series to receive mass market distribution in mainstream bookstores). 1985 saw the release of DC Comics' THE WATCHMEN by Alan Moore and Dave Gibbons. Watchmen was notable as being the first collected series graphic novel, spinning out of a new comics vehicle called the limited series, which were designed to only last a finite number of issues. This limited series concept would prove to be a major factor in today's collected series graphic novels.

Meanwhile, many of the artists from the underground comics were becoming involved in self-publishing graphic novels. Art Spiegleman, whose work first appeared in 'Raw', released MAUS: A SURVIVOR'S TALE. Maus, the biographical story of Spiegleman's parents in World War 2 during the Holocaust, was nominated for several literary awards, and in 1992 received a special Pulitzer Prize. Other non-mainstream creators such as Dan Clowes (Ghost World) and Harvey Pekar (American Splendor) have seen their graphic novels turned into critically acclaimed motion pictures.

The most successful graphic novel series in the United States so far has been Neil Gaiman's SANDMAN series, published by DC Comics under their Vertigo imprint. Collecting the original comic book series into book form, there are currently 10 volumes with estimated sales of over one million copies.

Today, graphic novels are becoming increasingly important in the field of comic book publishing. Along with a growing US market for import books like Manga, traditional bookstores and libraries are carrying larger selections of graphic novels. With an ever-shrinking base of comic shops to sell from, publishers are finding that packaged collections are appealing to mainstream bookstores, as well as to consumers without the patience to collect the individual issues or even having easy access to the comics at all. Many of today's comics are produced in "story-arcs", a fancy name for limited series. These "made-for-trade" series are usually collected into book form soon after the final issue is released.

As current media interest continues to focus on comic books and related series, the popularity of the graphic novel will continue to grow. The time has come for mainstream public acceptance of graphic novels to take their place as valid literature in the United States, as they have been for years in the rest of the world.

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