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Changes and Elements of Comics

kapelian's picture

Since the 19th century, America has been producing comics – small panels of pictures with text that told a joke of some kind, or even a story.  Characters such as Superman, Capitan America, and Spiderman where created as superheroes to inspire the youth and tell fun, short stories that could be made cheaply and sold cheaply too.  There are three main kinds of comics that have evolved from the basic pictures and text from the earlier days.  Those are political cartoons; often one picture and some text commenting on society today, newspaper cartoons; one to three panel comics with common characters but no constantly running story line, and graphic novels and superhero comics; novels or sets of issues that are published about once a month that run a continuous story about the characters.  Political cartoons where the first to appear in newspapers, and then the newspaper cartoons that we know today.  Soon after was the graphic novels, which gave rise to such comic cliques such as the superhero fighting a super villain to save the earth.  I will focus on the graphic novels, and how they've changed as literature, especially in the use of death as a change in the story, and also a way to make money from the released issues.

    Superheroes first came into the scene in the 1930s, with people like Superman leading the way.  These superheroes often had amazing powers that ordinary people didn't have, and cool gadgets that they would make themselves.  They could have sidekicks, pets, and most importantly an arch nemesis.  The villains would kidnap people, commit robberies or other crimes in order to make money for themselves or to help them take over a city or even the world.  During World War II, the villains of these superheroes became America's enemies in the war, making cartoons like propaganda.  Eventually comic stories went back to the generic superheroes versus super villains theme, however has the stories changed, new twists and turns where added in order to make the stories more interesting.

    One thing that many comics do is kill off a main or important character to the story.  By killing off this character who is very popular with fans, many of them will buy the comic issue in order to read about the character's death.  This is a quick way to get a lot of revenue for comic book creators and artists, but it also is a way to bring a deeper, more serious tone to a series.  However, what often happens is soon after this death, comic sales dip.  Some comics don't bother bringing the character back, but if that character was important enough, they will find a way to bring that character back to life.  That is why one of the main rules in comics is “If you don't see the body, you can't say they're dead.”  One example of this is the death of Superman.  Superman has actually died on several different occasions, but because he is the title character of the series, he always comes back, whether the story is on a different time line, or if he's brought back to life somehow.  These deaths of Superman often mark a change in the story, or a change in an artist or writer for the Superman comics.  The killing off of main characters happens less frequently, but it does happen, most often for the sake of making a profit over making an appropriate twist for the comic.

    This strategy is first seen not in a comic, but in the Sherlock Holmes novels, when Holmes was brought back to life from supposedly dying from falling down a waterfall.  This strategy was picked up later, most famously in the Dare Devil comics when Electra, Dare Devil's girlfriend, was killed. This was the first time an extremely important character was killed off in the middle of a storyline, which caused a big disruption in the comic world.  It was very rare for comics back in the 60's when this happened to be so deep and touch on death.  Most comics back then where more lighthearted, usually just the hero saving the Earth from whatever villains that  where trying to take over it.  Also, many superheroes such as Superman where neigh invulnerable.  They would only have one weakness that very few people would know about, and it would be that superhero's best kept secret other then his secret identity.  This is why many superheroes where not killed off earlier, however normal people, such as Batman or the Dare Devil, could be more easily killed in their respective series.  Just a few months ago, Batman was killed, and several months before that Capitan America died.  The volumes that these were published in became very popular and sold thousands more copies then other issues of their series.  The sales of volumes before the deaths even had better sales, so fans could read up to and see the events leading to the character's death.

    One thing to note about the death's of Capitan America and Batman where the two very different contexts in which they where killed.  Capitan America died at the hands of Iron Man, and Capitan America's producers said that he would never be published in comics again.  Capitan America used to be very popular, but he has become less so as newer comic heroes like Deadpool take the scene.  Batman on the other hand was killed off in the height of his popularity, with The Dark Knight being one of the highest grossing movies since the Titanic.  Also, when Batman died it was left to be very ambiguous, and his producers never came out and said that they where never going to be making more Batman comics ever again.  Another big difference between both of their deaths was that in the comic, everyone saw Capitan America die.  Batman on the other hand, there was no body – just his mask left behind.  According to the rule that “If you don't see the body, you can't say they're dead”, no one can say Batman has truly be killed.  It is very likely for Batman to be brought back once again, and that Capitan America has taken his final stand in the comic book world.

    These changes in comics from being simple statements on society and politics in America to long, drawn out stories with deep characters shows the intense evolution comics have made overtime.  From Electra to Batman, many different ways of people dying and being brought back to life are possible in this fictional world.  By looking at these changes we can see how the industry has changed as well.  They do not look to make a quick buck from young children, but try to get in a more constant market of people interested and making as much money as they can by making the best stories or most intense stories possible.


Paul Grobstein's picture

comics, death, money, and evolution

"the use of death as a change in the story, and also a way to make money"

What's the relation between death and making money?  Are the two co-evolving or is one driving the other?