Class Meets Wednesday Nights at 630pm in the Emerson Online Classroom


Designed to introduce you to a thorough understanding and appreciation of comic book art from the Golden Age up until today's best work. We will examine a wide variety of works by the founding artists of the medium and explore the techniques used and developed to successfully tell a story in comic book form.

This blog will be the source of our online classroom discussions. We will meet for an online "Live" classroom section on Wednesday nights from 630 - 730pm BOSTON TIME. Check your time or use World Clock to ensure you are on time. Please click the link in the column to the right to get there.


History of the Comic Book Artform


1895 Hogan's Alley is introduced in newspapers.  It's the first time word balloons are used with illustrations. 
1912 ALL STORY MAGAZINE, a popular pulp magazine, publishes the first appearance of Tarzan by Edgar Rice Burroughs.  The magazine sells like crazy and the birth of the "pulp hero" is here.
1929 Buck Rogers appears in comic strips.  The story about outer space adventures attracts scores of readers.
1931 Dick Tracy is introduced in comic strips.  The character features the adventures of the hard boiled detective and a host of strange and bizarre villains.
1931 The Shadow, popular and mysterious host of radio adventures, is given his own pulp magazine, which becomes so popular it is published twice a month.
1933 Eastern Color press, producing pulp novels and other popular literature realize it's more expensive to shut off the presses than it is to keep them running-- so they look for new fodder for publication, and decide to reprint some comic strips.  FUNNIES ON PARADE collects previously released comic strips in magazine form.
1935 DC Comics (then known as National Comics) releases the first all new comic book, NEW FUN COMICS.

1938 Joe Siegel and Jerry Schuster finally sell their character SUPERMAN to DC Comics after having been turned down by every other newspaper syndicate in town.  The character headlines their new ACTION COMICS title.  SUPERMAN is the first super-powered comic book hero.
1939 Hoping to capitalize on the incredible success of Superman, DC Comics publishes Bob Kane's adventure character THE BAT MAN in Detective Comics #27. 

1941 Captain America is published by TIMELY Magazines (Now known as Marvel Comics), the character is featured on the cover of his first issue punching Adolph Hitler before the war has even started!

Captain Marvel, quickly becoming the most popular comic book hero being published gets the big screen treatment in THE ADVENTURES OF CAPTAIN MARVEL a 12 Chapter Movie Serial starring Tom Tyler.

Comic book sales were at an all time high-- Captain Marvel was selling close to 6 million copies a month, but by the mid-forties sales began to slide and publishers struggled to come up with new ideas.

1946 CRIME DOES NOT PAY featured ALL TRUE CRIME STORIES and the garish and violent stories found a new audience.

Around the same time, PHANTOM LADY came along and sex sold as well as crime.

1950 - EC Comics is born releasing a series of books with horror as the main theme.  Books like TALES FROM THE CRYPT and SHOCK SUSPENSE STORIES set the sales ranks on fire, but they also attracted the attention of parents and politicians with their extremely violent stories.


In 1954 Dr Frederic Wertham released the book SEDUCTION OF THE INNOCENT where he explored the results of his studies of juvenile delinquency which showed that readers of comic books were likely to participate in crime themselves.  What was overlooked was that virtually all of the nations youth were reading comic books so this could apply across the board.

The end result was a panic and public hearing on Comic Books, and the publishers, fearing censorship, opted to create the COMICS CODE AUTHORITY, a self governing council designed to ensure that comic books were no longer loaded with horror or violence.  Conspiracy theorists might argue that the code was designed specifically to put EC Comics out of business since some of the rules of the code included the outright ban of titles with the words HORROR, TERROR, etc in them.

1955 was comics darkest hour.  Publishers had reverted to stories that were pedestrian and safe-- designed to appeal to the average six year old.  Sales plummeted across the board and many publishers and characters disappeared from newsstands.

EC Comics found a way around the rules of the code with it's newest humor title, MAD, by changing the format from comic book to Magazine sized.  

Meanwhile Timely Comics all but ceased publishing, Fawcett (publisher of Captain Marvel, once the top selling comic book in the world) folded and DC Comics was looking to rejuvenate it's sales.

Editor Julius Schwartz was brought in from the pulp magazines to helm some of DC's new titles and his first order of business was to revamp THE FLASH and GREEN LANTERN-- popular characters from comics Golden Age who had fallen out of favor.  These new versions had their basis in science fiction where the originals were based more on magic.

1960 DC Comics puts it's top characters together as a team-- releasing THE JUSTICE LEAGUE OF AMERICA, which is an update to the JUSTIC SOCIETY OF AMERICA which had been published in the 1940s.  Featuring Wonder Woman, Green Lantern, Flash, Aquaman and Martian Manhunter with Charter Members Superman and Batman (just like the JSA).  The title was a huge hit.

On a golf course in 1961 the publisher of DC Comics was telling the publisher of Marvel Comics (formerly known as TIMELY COMICS) that his new superhero team book was selling like gangbusters.  Returning to the office the publisher told his editor in chief, Stan Lee, to come up with a superhero team book of their own-- and THE FANTASTIC FOUR was born.

Marvel's newfound title crushed sales figures and soon was followed by a list of other similar characters. Stan Lee wrote all of the titles himself, and under the suggestion of his wife Joan-- he wrote the stories he wanted to read, giving his characters real world troubles, soap opera like conflict and secret identities that sometimes got in their own way.

Whereas Superman miraculously was a successful Newspaper reporter in spite of the fact that he had to take time off to save the world, Spider-Man struggled to make ends meet while juggling a personal life outside of his role as superhero.

This new kind of hero appealed not just to kids, but to adults as well, and Marvel Comics seemingly could do no wrong.

DC Comics recognized what Marvel was doing, but they were slow to respond, considering the output of their main competitor to be of inferior quality.

1966- The BATMAN TV show debuts on ABC-TV and is a blockbuster hit, launching a Pop-Art Movement in the comics industry and making comedy camp superheroes hip.

As the 70s came in, President Nixon's office contacted Stan Lee and asked if he would do  story about drug abuse and Stan worked it into a Spider-Man storyline.  Despite the request coming from the White House, The Comics Code Authority refused to allow Marvel to publish the storyline since any reference to drug use had been banned by the code.

Stan went to his publisher with the dilemma; what to do?   Marvel decided to publish the books without the Comics Code seal of approval, the first mainstream publisher to produce a book without the code since it's inception in the 1950s.

The books came out and the world didn't come to an end, and the Code was all but disbanded.  It's rules were lessened which lead to a new relevancy from comic book publishers who decided to address more serious adult themed stories in their books.  Now Green Arrow's sidekick Speedy became addicted to Heroin in a much more graphic manner than Marvel had done with the Spidey stories-- and the softened Code opened the door to a new wave of Horror Comics and magazines.

The Batman TV show was short lived, and DC Comics decided to return Batman to his dark and serious roots under creators Denny O'Neil and Neal Adams.

1978 Superheroes were on the big screen in Warner Bros SUPERMAN and on the small screen with TV shows for SPIDER-MAN, THE INCREDIBLE HULK and WONDER WOMAN all enjoying degrees of success.

In 1980 Warner Bros announced they'd be producing a serious film version of Batman written by James Bond screen writer Tom Mankiewicz but it would take almost ten years for it to materialize.

1983- Superstar creator Frank Miller was given free reign and opted to do the first high quality prestive format graphic novel for an American publisher with DC Comics RONIN.  Released at a then unheard of price of $2.95 ea (comics were $1ish) the book featured paper quality and coloring more akin to what was being produced in Europe and Asia where comic books were seen as more than just children's literature.

1986 Miller followed up RONIN with THE DARK KNIGHT RETURNS-- a 200 page graphic novel that told of Bruce Wayne's return from retirement donning Batman's costume again in a hellish Gotham City which in turn inspired Tim Burton to make his blockbuster film with Michael Keaton and Jack Nicholson.

The same year Alan Moore and Dave Gibbons released WATCHMEN which turned the comic world on it's end with a look at what might have been real life Superheroes, behaving fully and sometimes badly.

Through the 90s the comic industry locked into the idea of gimmicks with things like the Death of Superman, and holographic covers that were sold on things like the Home Shopping Channel.

Into the 00s comics were revitalized again with the advent of digital technology opening up comics to a whole new audience of comic readers.