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Written by 7:45 am Comic Strip

What are the different styles of comic strip art and how have they evolved over time?

Comic Strip Art

Comic Strip Art

Comic strips first emerged in the late 19th century as short, humorous illustrations with sequential panels meant to entertain newspaper readers. The earliest known comic strip appeared in 1852 in the satirical magazine Punch.

These very early comics tended to have a political focus and relied heavily on caricatures, stereotypes, and ethnic humor.As newspaper comics evolved in the early 20th century, common styles began to emerge that moved away from overt ethnic stereotypes.

These styles gave rise to iconic family strips, dramatic adventure comics, humorous gag-a-day strips, and more. Let’s look at some of the main comic strip art styles that developed during the 20th century.

The Funnies – Lighthearted Family Strips

Some of the earliest and most iconic comic strips had a focus on family life and centered around enduring characters who embodied traditional American values. These strips aimed to provide light, family-friendly humor and entertainment. Well-known examples include:

  • Gasoline Alley: premiered in 1918 and followed the lives of a man named Walt and his adopted son Skeezix over multiple generations.
  • Little Orphan Annie: was launched in 1924 and featured the adventures of the spunky, red-haired orphan Annie.
  • Blondie: Debuted in 1930 with Dagwood and Blondie Bumstead dealing with middle-class family life.

The drawing style in these classic family strips tended to be simpler, with minimal background detail. Themes often focused on domestic life, relationships, careers, and everyday adventures.

Cliffhangers: Dramatic Adventure Comics

In contrast to amusing family-based strips, some comics took a more dramatic turn, using action, adventure and cliffhangers to draw readers in. These strips often had recurring heroes and villains locked in conflict. Notable examples include:

  • Buck Rogers: First appeared in 1928 with a World War I veteran waking up in the 25th century to become a space explorer.
  • Flash Gordon: Launched in 1934, featuring the adventures of Flash Gordon and his companions fighting in outer space.
  • Dick Tracy: Premiered in 1931 about the crime-fighting police detective with his famous villains like Flattop Jones.

The drawing style in dramatic strips tended to use heavy shadows, detailed backgrounds, and greater realism compared to gag-based comics. The action and suspense kept readers coming back daily.

Gag-a-Day – Humorous Standalone Strips

Many iconic strips used humorous standalone daily gags and cartoons rather than extended storylines. These types of strips aim to deliver a amusing punchline or comedic payoff with each installment. Notable gag-a-day strips include:

  • Bringing Up Father: Launched in 1913 and focused on the antics of Maggie and Jiggs in a middle-class Irish American family.
  • Popeye: Premiered in 1929 with one-eyed sailor Popeye and his love interest, Olive Oyl, getting into misadventures.
  • Dennis the Menace: First appeared in 1951, featuring the lovable but mischievous Dennis and his annoyed neighbor, Mr. Wilson.

The drawing style of gag strips varied widely, from more caricature-based styles to those with detailed line work. The humor is derived from funny situations, witty dialogue, or physical comedy rather than dramatic storylines.

The Comics Expand – New Styles Emerge

As comic strips continued to evolve through the mid-20th century into the modern era, new styles and genres emerged to reach wider audiences. These included:

Surreal and Avant-Garde Comics: These strips used experimental styles influenced by avant-garde art with unusual panel layouts and minimal text. Examples include Krazy Kat and Barnaby.

Educational Comics: Intended to entertain and educate, these strips simplify complex ideas on topics like science, history, and mathematics for younger audiences. Notable examples are Little Man by Dr. Seuss and King Aroo.

Non-fiction and Editorial Comics: With creative visuals, these strips provided commentary, opinions, or addressed real-world topics like politics and social issues. Well-known examples include Doonesbury and Tom the Dancing Bug.

Graphic Novels and Long-Form Comics: These extended comic books popularized in the late 20th century allowed more complex storytelling for mature audiences on weighty topics like mental illness, abuse, and political conflict. Notable examples include Maus, Persepolis, and Fun Home.

So by the early 21st century, comics had expanded far beyond their lighthearted roots into a diverse medium with artistic styles tailored to every genre, topic, and age group. The evolution of the comics art form continues today with new styles and innovations.

Key Milestones in Comic Strip Art

Year Milestone Significance
1852 First known comic strip appears in Punch magazine Early political focus with ethnic stereotypes
1896 “The Yellow Kid” premieres Coined the term “yellow journalism”, used text and speech bubbles
1918 Gasoline Alley launches Established iconic family/domestic comic genre
1929 Popeye premieres Popularized gag-a-day comic strip style
1934 Flash Gordon launches Solidified dramatic adventure comic style
1951 Dennis the Menace appears Revived interest in humorous kid strips
1978 Garfield premieres One of the most widely syndicated strips
1980 Bloom County launches Introduced avant-garde style to comics
1986 The Dark Knight Returns released Helped establish credibility of graphic novels
2006 xkcd webcomic begins Webcomics go mainstream for tech/science savvy audiences