Telling stories in pictures can be traced back perhaps even to cave paintings. The telling of stories visually with words has evolved in many cultures. These include Egyptian wall paintings which combined images with hieroglyphics;
… the Bayeux tapestry ; medieval church wall paintings; the narrative art of eighteenth century artists such as William Hogarth ; and the l'Imagerie d'Epinal from the Vosges area of France with its framed sketches of stories.
All these provided the basis from which the earliest comic emerged. This was Rowlandson 's picture tales told through simple line drawings of a comic character called Dr. Syntax who appeared in stories such as The Tour of Dr. Syntax in Search of the Picturesque .
In other work contemporary with Dr Syntax it is possible to see three of the basic conventions of the comic:
<ul><li>Sketches and caricature - art that exaggerates physical appearance ; </li></ul>
<ul><li>Speech balloons or bubbles that were being used by artists such as Hogarth in his political engravings </li></ul>
<ul><li>Written commentary or caption in the picture to add to the point being made by the sketched image. </li></ul>
However, the first combination of images and words into the comic form of a series of framed images linked together, using words to characterise as well as to tell the narrative is attributed to Rodolphe Topffer , a short sighted Swiss artist
Topffer used the cartoon style as his sight failed. He believed that there was no value difference between stories in words and stories in pictures. His first published picture story was Les amours de M. Vieux Bois and this was followed in 1829 by another based on the story of Faust.
In 1845 Topffer wrote ‘The picture story .. appeals particularly to children and to the masses, the sections of the public which are particularly easily perverted and which it would be particularly desirable to raise '. Topffer's desire to use this form for moral and educational purposes was not to be how subsequent publications used it.
So are comics rooted in class divisions? Are they a way for the middle class to educate the working class? Are they, in fact, the first ‘text’ books?
Topffer regarded his art as helping to teach the illiterate population as well as being culturally improving. But others saw comics as away of being rather rude and sensational – a bit like some of the Sunday papers today.
The 18 th century forged a link between: Images Visual Conventions Narrative Popular Appeal . But how did the commercial and populist children's 'comic' emerge as an important part of popular culture in the nineteenth and twentieth centuries?
During the 19th century newspapers and magazines had begun to expand rapidly as a result of the following factors:
1. The improvements in printing technology and therefore the ability to reproduce line drawings.
2. Cheaper paper production , making newspapers accessible to a wider market.
3. The changing demographics - far more people lived in towns and cities, so helping communication and distribution.
5. The improvements in distribution available with new forms of transport such as the railways so that newspapers could reach most areas of the country.
Popular forms of mass print emerged from publications already in existence: -the Chap books - Reynolds Newspaper , a radical working class paper, - the Penny Dreadfuls of the 1840s and 50s, so called because they cost one penny and told gory or sensational stories.
Two of the most popular Penny Dreadful stories were Varney the Vampire and Sweeney Todd the Demon Barber , the latter running for 220 weeks .Their popularity shows that audience's pleasures in the gory and grotesque are not new.
In 1867 Judy , a humour magazine appeared which had contributors such as Charlotte Yonge, a fervent follower of the Oxford Religious revival, whose presence reveals Judy’s original moral purpose.
It also had the subversive character Ally Sloper in it. This slippery, working class character became very popular and would be the blueprint – the original design - for many similar types of comic character, in particular the 'naughty kid' such as Dennis the Menace
Ally Sloper eventually left the 'serio‑comic journal' to appear in his own comic called Ally Sloper's Half Holiday in May 1884, becoming the first recognisably English comic. This was published until 1917. The transfer of a character to his/her own comic is a trend that many later comic characters, such as Judge Dredd, followed.
This magazine was aimed at an adult working class audience and contained satirical attacks on the ‘establishment ’ as well as saucy stories about Ally Sloper and his ability to 'slope off' from work.
The power of the picture story had not been lost on the religious tract societies of the time: The Boys Own Paper (18 January 1879), followed the next year by The Girls Own Paper , appeared as moral teaching aids that followed the role that Topffer had originally outlined.
Comic publishers wishing to maintain their audience experimented with colour such as The Coloured Comic . But this was too expensive for its market and the first regular coloured comic was Puck (1904-40) aimed at a family audience followed by Rainbow (1914‑56) which was targeted specifically at children.
Another early comic was Magnet , first published in 1908, with Billy Bunter, a fat schoolboy as one of in characters. Cartoon or comic strips in newspapers like Rupert the Bear, which began in The Daily Express in 1920, were part of the same trend as Tiger Tim's Weekly (1920‑40), Film Fun (1920‑62) and Chick's Own (1 920‑57).
It was in 1921 that the company most associated with the comic in the UK published its first comic. The Scottish based D.C.Thomson launched Adventure .
This was followed in 1922 by the titles Rover and Wizard . These comics were characterised by far‑fetched stories and larger than life characters.
Other developments, such as the graphic novel , were developing. Mitsou , a story about a cat appeared in 1920 while Tintin , written by Herge appeared on 10 January 1929 and the first Asterix comic was published in 1957. The form of the graphic novel would be most popular on the continent.