Comic Book


A comic book portrays a story through a series of sequential illustrations that incorporate short bits of text containing dialogue, sounds, or narratives. The story may be humorous, or it may present a world of adventure, mystery, or fantasy. Most comic books are printed on a regular basis and have one or more central characters who appear in each issue. A particular story may be told in a single issue, or it may continue from one issue to the next over a period of time. The artistic style of a comic book is often attributed to a single artist, although most comics are produced by a team of artists and writers working together.


The use of sequential illustrations to tell a story dates to prehistoric times when early humans painted series of images on rocks and cave walls. Egyptian hieroglyphics are another form of sequential illustrations that tell a story.

Hand-drawn illustrations appeared regularly in newspapers and magazines starting in the 1800s. Many of them used humorous or un-flattering portrayals of well-known people and were the origin of modern cartoons and comics.

The first newspaper comic strip in the United States was Richard Felton Outcault's "The Yellow Kid," which appeared in the Hearst New York American on February 16, 1896. It was published in the Sunday supplement to the paper and was quickly joined by other comic strips.

By the 1910s, the Sunday comics were so popular that newspapers would occasionally publish small books containing reprints of past strips, which they would distribute to promote the paper and gain new readers. Soon, other publishing companies were assembling comic strips from several papers and selling them to merchants to be given away as premiums. In 1934, Eastern Color Printing Company decided to sell these books directly to the public for 10 cents each. American News, which controlled distribution to newsstands throughout the country, initially refused to handle the books, so Eastern Color took them to chain stores and quickly sold 35,000 copies. Faced with this astounding success, American News reconsidered and ordered 250,000 copies of Famous Funnies No. I from Eastern Color. It went on sale in July 1934 and became the first regularly published comic book to be sold at a newsstand.

During the late 1930s, many of the now-famous superheroes made their first appearances in comic books, and comic book sales soared as good triumphed over evil. By the early 1950s, however, readers grew tired of superheroes, and some comic book publishers turned instead to lurid crime and horror stories with graphic illustrations. Some people felt this material was unsuitable for children, and the comic book industry came under public criticism and federal investigation in 1954. In response, many comic book publishers banded together and issued the Standards of Comics Code Authority, which defined appropriate material for comics.

Comic books enjoyed a resurgence of interest during the 1980s, when fresh new artists created a whole new cast of heroes and heroines. Today, comic books are as popular as ever, and the comic book industry is a million-dollar

Creating a comic book is a detailed process that includes drafting the plot, designing thumbnail sketches and then the original drawings, and finally adding color and lettering.
Creating a comic book is a detailed process that includes drafting the plot, designing thumbnail sketches and then the original drawings, and finally adding color and lettering.
business that includes movies, television series, toys, costumes, and many other items.

Raw Materials

During the preparation of a comic book, a variety of art materials may be used to create the original hand-drawn page masters and color guides. These materials include various sizes, weights, and finishes of paper, as well as several different drawing mediums including pencils, inks, markers, and paints. After the master pages have been scanned and colored on a computer, the computer uses the color guides as a reference to generate four pieces of plastic film that are used in the printing process.

The actual comic book itself is printed on a variety of papers using four colored inks—cyan (pronounced SIGH-ann, a shade of blue), magenta, yellow, and black. These four inks are printed in an interlocking pattern of tiny dots, which our eyes perceive as various colors. The printed comic pages are then bound together with staples or glue to form a comic book.


Because each new issue of a comic book requires new artwork, the design process is part of the manufacturing process. The exception is when a new comic title or series is first introduced. That design process involves the same creative and artistic abilities required to produce any new work of art and may include idea generation, preparation of sketches, and the development of a series of refinements before the final characters and themes emerge.

The final product of the initial design process may be a prototype comic book known as an "ashcan," a term that was first used in the 1930s when comic book publishers sought to protect new titles by copyrighting them. Rather than take the time to develop new characters or plots to go with the new title, a publisher simply took pages from a previous comic book and pasted the new title on the cover. Once the publisher was granted a copyright, the pasted-up prototype was often thrown in the ashcan—a metal container used to dispose of ashes from the stove or fireplace and commonly found in many households and businesses of that era.

The concept of the ashcan was given a more modern meaning in 1984 when one comic book creator produced a limited number of black and white prototype comics for his friends and staff. In more recent times, several publishers have released small runs of ashcans in a variety of sizes and colors as promotional items for the full-production versions.

The Manufacturing Process

Comic book publishers may be small, independent operations that produce a single comic book title on an irregular basis, or they may be large, well-established companies that produce several comic book titles every month. The manufacturing process varies depending on the size of the operation and the equipment available. Here is a typical sequence of operations that a medium-sized company would use to produce a comic book.

Charles Schuiz.
Charles Schuiz.

Charles Schuiz was born in Minneapolis, Minnesota, on November 26, 1922. After World War II, Schuiz freelanced for a Catholic magazine and taught in the correspondence school, renamed the Art Instruction Institute. His work appeared in the Saturday Evening Post, and eventually he created a cartoon entitled "Li'l Folks."

The United Feature Syndicate of New York proposed publication of Schuiz' "Li'l Folks," but it was renamed "Peanuts" by the company. In 1950 the cartoon made its debut in seven newspapers. Within a year the strip appeared in 35 papers, and by 1956 in over 100. In 1955 and 1964, Schuiz received the Reuben award from the National Cartoonists Society. By 1965 "Peanuts" appeared in over 2,300 newspapers and the classic cartoon "A Charlie Brown Christmas," produced by Bill Melendez and Lee Mendelson, won a Peabody and an Emmy award.

Schuiz also received the Yale Humor Award in 1956, and the School Bell and National Education Association awards in 1960; plus honorary degrees from Anderson College in 1963 and St. Mary's College of California in 1969. A "Charles M. Schuiz Award" honoring aspiring comic artists was created by the United Feature Syndicate in 1980. The year 1990 marked the 40th anniversary of "Peanuts" and the Smithsonian Institution featured an exhibit titled, "This Is Your Childhood, Charlie Brown…Children in American Culture, 1945-1970." By the late 1990s the syndicated strip ran in over 2,000 newspapers throughout the world. Schuiz died on February 12, 2000, the night before his last original "Peanuts" strip ran announcing his retirement.





The Future

The future of comic books looks as dynamic as some of its superhero characters. Comic books offer a visual portal into a world of humor, action, and adventure that can stimulate a reader's imagination.

Where to Learn More


Alvarez, Tom. How to Create Action, Fantasy, and Adventure Comics. Cincinnati, OH: North Lights Books, 1996.


Allstetter, Rob. "Fire Drill." Wizard (September 1996): 48-51.

Grant, Paul J. "Brush Off." Wizard (August 1995): 52-54, 56.

Grant, Paul J. "Letter Perfect." Wizard (February 1996): 44-47.

Tiemey, Matt. "Separation Anxiety." Wizard (January 1996): 40-43.

White, Paul. "In the Can." Wizard (February 1994): 86-89.


Comic Art and Graffix Gallery. (September 18, 2000).

Comic Book Fonts. (September 30, 2000).

The Comic Page. (September 30, 2000).

International Museum of Cartoon Art. (September 18, 2000).

Words and Pictures Museum. (September 18, 2000).

Chris Cavette

User Contributions:

what kind of pen do you use for the inking on the comic book?
by saying that the artwork is then colored on the computer, does that imply that everything is vectorized or is it just digitally painted and in that case can't one just use magic markers?

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