Humour To Honesty- The Evolution Of Comics

-Riya Nagendra, I Year B.A. English
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Two things make a comic what it is – the art and the content. I try to focus on the latter when evaluating a comic, partly because as a very lazy cartoonist, I do not want to feel bad about my own abilities, but mostly because you can get a good joke across with any average sketch.

Of the comics that one still reads from the good old days of the 20th century, most are American dailies like Calvin and Hobbes, and Beetle Bailey, and Hagar the Horrible – and the list goes on and on, because American cartoonists published a lot of strips in a lot of newspapers – and they still do. Now, a few of the same comics are published in Indian newspapers, which is why we know them so well. The thing about the typical American dailies is that they’re typical family comics – one can understand them and enjoy them regardless of their age, and regardless of the generation they’re from. They’re timeless, in the sense that they follow rather typical tropes, with similar kinds of characters in different settings. Today, one gets their daily dose of cartoons from off the internet, rather than newspapers. The traditional three or four panel template is no longer a necessity – cartoonists choose how they want to structure their comics because space isn’t a constraint, now that they’re publishing their work online rather than in a newspaper. Web comics, especially the Buzzfeed kind, are centered around things happening in the now – the trends, the fads, the slang and the humour are all very relatable to us – the young and hip crowd. The newer comics also have a touch of postmodern existentialism thrown into the mix, with dark and sometimes extraordinarily absurd humour, that seem to elude the comprehension of the everyday adult. There is one comic that fits into both the categories of comics, that is humorous, honest and melacholic at the same time – Peanuts, an ageless masterpiece.


Compared to the simple, yet neat style of drawing comics, a lot of the relatable webcomics have a slapdash sort of appearance, where it seems almost like the artist compromises art in order to capture their mood on paper before it disappears – and this style works most of the time because the cartoonist understands that the capturing a character’s expression perfectly is more important than the general grandeur of the cartoon. Even more common nowadays are comics where the characters are simple figures – a mesh of shapes and lines. Bill Amend, the retired artist behind Foxtrot, dabbles in both styles – he makes quick cartoons with stick-figures on napkins at restaurants, while at the same time making classic Foxtrot Sunday strips.

Comics have gone from having fixed tropes and exaggerated humour of the general kind, to ones that seek to portray things that are real, more related to emotions and thoughts (often focusing on the darker side of the human psyche), than just humorous situations. Superhero comics have become darker over time, and many of the most popular graphic novels now, like Maus and Persepolis, focus on history – on different crises, from the point of view of people who have lived through them.

It seems almost like the most important part of a comic is no longer humour, but honesty.


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