In This Article Expand or collapse the "in this article" section Animations, Comic Books, and Manga

  • Introduction
  • Comparative History of Comic Cultures
  • Essay Anthologies on Comparative Comic Cultures
  • Reference Books
  • Genre-Specific Histories and Publisher Histories
  • Nonfiction, Biographic, and Political Comics
  • Gender and Minority Representation in Comics
  • Comic Censorship and Copyright
  • Theory and Formal Analysis of the Visual Elements in Comics
  • Comic Making Guides
  • Biographies of Comic Artists

Childhood Studies Animations, Comic Books, and Manga
Robert S. Petersen
  • LAST REVIEWED: 10 June 2021
  • LAST MODIFIED: 12 January 2022
  • DOI: 10.1093/obo/9780199791231-0127


Comic scholarship emerged out of several different arenas, each with its own distinct style and purpose. Some of the first books about comics were written by comic fans who were in the habit of writing letters to comic book editors; they eventually circulated their ideas in their own publications, called “fanzines” or “zines.” These fan-written essays often contained anecdotes about comic artists and descriptions of how characters and publications evolved. This history was steeped in personal memoir and served as a guide for future collectors by imbuing certain comics of the past with the idea of value. Another kind of scholarship, written by comic artists themselves, developed out of books that offered advice to would-be comic artists. These works eventually initiated a broader aesthetic study of comic art that inspired many to take a more careful look at comics as a communicative medium distinct from other forms of mass media. The third type of comics scholarship was the cultural critique of comics, either celebratory or cautionary depending on the view of the writer. Most of these commentators were neither comic artists nor ardent collectors but cultural and literary scholars, who often brought to the discussion the critical vocabulary of their disciplines, namely literature, fine art, and cinema. The variety of scholars from different disciplines who have contributed to the field of comic studies now includes historians of art, culture, journalism, politics, and literature as well as social scientists and linguists. This diversity has allowed for some remarkable insight into the complex nature of this subject, but it also has resulted in perpetuating many inconsistencies and confusions regarding terminology and even how to define the historical and formal boundaries of the subject. Early scholars confidently attributed the origins of comics to a handful of early innovators without looking too closely at how their work developed and where they drew their inspiration. American scholars often cite Outcault’s Yellow Kid in 1898 as the origin, whereas British scholars looked to the character Ally Sloper starting in 1867, and French comic scholars pointed to the work of Rodolphe Töpffer back in 1836. Today most scholars are more circumspect about the presumptive “origins” of comics and instead acknowledge a very old history of pictorial narrative that over the centuries slowly developed into the form of comics we know today. What constitutes a “comic” has also continued to vex many scholars, as attempts to catalogue the essential components of a comic always seem either incomplete or too broad. As comic scholarship continues to mature more research has gone toward the role of women and minorities in comics and in comic cultures outside the mainstream publications found in the United States, Japan, and Europe. Another new area that has greatly expanded in recent years is in nonfiction comics and autobiographical comics, which have challenged many preconceived ideas about what comics can be about and, in turn, expanded the kinds of people who will read them.

Comparative History of Comic Cultures

A few books take a very broad look at the history of comics and animation and especially examine how work from artists in one country carries over and influences artists in other countries. Kunzle 1973 and Kunzle 1990 are two of the early and ambitious chronicles of broadsheets from all across Europe, arguing persuasively that the genesis of modern comics can be found in these early satirical prints. Mainardi 2017 focuses on the 19th-century emergence of sequential graphic narratives (proto-comics) in France and England. Most broadly comparative studies of comics, such as Couperie 1968, Gifford 1990, and Kurtzman and Barrier 1991, focus primarily on Europe and the United States. Sabin 2003 focuses on British comics and American comics, but the later Sabin 2008 and Mazur and Danner 2014 also includes Japan, while Petersen 2011 goes further to include China, India, and Indonesia. Crafton 1993 looks at the relationship between early comics and film animation in both Europe and the United States.

  • Couperie, Pierre. A History of the Comic Strip: Created in Conjunction with the Exhibition of Comic-Strip Art at Museé des Arts Décoratifs, Palais du Louvre. Translated by Eileen B. Hennessy. New York: Crown, 1968.

    A broad overview of comic history from the French perspective, with later chapters exploring both cultural and formal aspects of comic art; it concludes with a survey of contemporary artists who are inspired by comic art in their work. Originally published as Bande dessinée et figuration narrative (Paris: S.E.R.G., 1967).

  • Crafton, Donald. Before Mickey: The Animated Film, 1898–1928. Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 1993.

    DOI: 10.7208/chicago/9780226231020.001.0001

    An excellent history of early animation that looks at how the first efforts of trick photography established the early working methods. Crafton discusses the role of comics in defining a visual style that was also sympathetic to the needs of animation.

  • Gifford, Dennis. The International Book of Comics. Rev. ed. London: Hamlyn, 1990.

    Organized into over ninety very brief sections, the book surveys the history of British and American comics by genre. Typical of books that mostly interest collectors, there are many illustrations of comic book covers and extensive lists of names of artists and publishers. Originally published 1984.

  • Kunzle, David. The History of the Comic Strip, Vol. 1, The Early Comic Strip: Narrative Strips and Picture Stories in the European Broadsheet from c. 1450 to 1825. Berkeley: University of California Press, 1973.

    A pioneering study of broadsheets in Europe that examines their cultural development and impact. While there are wide-ranging observations on the representation of political and cultural issues, the primary focus is on the gradual progress toward causally linked sequential narratives.

  • Kunzle, David. The History of the Comic Strip, Vol. 2, The Nineteenth Century. Berkeley: University of California Press, 1990.

    The second volume focuses on the vast range of new sequential graphic narratives that emerged following Rodolphe Töpffer’s picture stories. Especially valuable is the lengthy discussion of Wilhelm Busch and his contribution to the development of comic art.

  • Kurtzman, Harvey, and J. Michael Barrier. From Aargh! to Zap! Harvey Kurtzman’s Visual History of the Comics. New York: Prentice Hall, 1991.

    Heavily illustrated large-format book with brief but insightful comments from one of the longtime influential comic artists and editors, Harvey Kurtzman. While the main thrust of the book is oriented toward collectors of comics, Kurtzman also offers his firsthand experience in the industry from the 1950s to the 1990s.

  • Mainardi, Patricia. Another World: Nineteenth-Century Illustrated Print Culture. New Haven, CT: Yale University Press, 2017.

    An art historian’s analysis of the persistence and prevalence of hand-drawn illustrations and their critical role in the vast expansion of print culture in the 19th century. The focus is primarily on French and English print culture and contains a valuable discussion of the invention and evolution of sequential comics.

  • Mazur, Dan, and Alexander Danner. Comics: A Global History, 1968 to the Present. London: Thames & Hudson, 2014.

    A beautifully illustrated broader than usual map of the comics of Japan, the United States, and western Europe with an emphasis on the artistic innovations that each of these comic markets has seen in the last fifty years.

  • Petersen, Robert S. Comics, Manga, and Graphic Novels: A History of Graphic Narratives. Santa Barbara, CA: Praeger, 2011.

    An international survey that examines the gradual development of graphic narrative history following the expansion of literacy, the invention of caricature, and the use of linked sequential actions to create original stories told through pictures. The book also examines the relationship between popular narrative art and experiments by fine artists, and the final chapter looks at recent developments in digital comics.

  • Sabin, Roger. Adult Comics: An Introduction. London: Routledge, 2003.

    An excellent look at the major developments that defined independent and underground comics in Britain and the United States.

  • Sabin, Roger. Comics, Comix and Graphic Novels: A History of Comic Art. London: Phaidon, 2008.

    An engaging history of comic books in a large art-book format that covers primarily English-language comics, with some comments in the last chapter on current French and Japanese comics. While the text is not as substantive as Sabin 2003 book Adult Comics, the numerous illustrations make it a valuable visual guide to the history of comic art. First published 1996.

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