From Frescos to Manga: The Ancient History of Comic Books

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Caricatures by Katsushika Hokusai (Wellcome Images/Public Domain)

From Frescos to Manga: The Ancient History of Comic Books

Debuted in 1825, The Glasgow Looking Glass - later renamed The Northern Looking Glass- was a satirical publication which lampooned the fashions and politics of the time. The Glasgow Looking Glass included most of the elements of a modern comic, such as images with captions which tell a continuous story, as well as speech bubbles, caricatures and satire. Later, Ally Sloper's Half Holiday which debuted in the British humour magazine Judy in 1867, became the first weekly comic to feature a regular character. In 1890, two more comic magazines named Comic Cuts and Illustrated Chips were introduced to the British public, thus establishing the tradition of the British comic as a periodical anthology containing comic strips.

Frolicking Animals and Tengu, anonymous 18th century Japanese handscroll, Honolulu Museum of Art (CC0)

Actual comic books first appeared in the 1930s. Although they initially also offered little more than reprinted newspaper strips, this was quickly replaced by more original content leading up to 1938 with the first publication of Action Comics in the USA which went on to change and elevate the medium to an integral part of the culture at the time. During the Second World War, superheroes and talking animals were particularly popular and led to the birth of more comic genres such as westerns, romances, and science fiction. Around the same time in Japan, manga became a major contributor in the country’s publishing industry. However, there is a much older history of comics which has taken many paths in different parts of the world.

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