In the first chapter of a book Understanding Comics, Scott McCloud elaborates on the definition of comics and briefly reviews their history. The author names the main writers and artists who contributed to the development of the genre and places them in chronological order. At the end of the chapter, he raises philosophical questions of comics’ perception and meaning.
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The author defines comic books as a form of sequential art meaning that pictures and words are located in a particular sequence. He then covers the history of comics that dates back to ancient times, to Egyptian hieroglyphics, and Mexican paintings, where the similar sequential style of narration was used. In the early nineteenth century, William Hogarth sophisticated the sequential art adding philosophical and moral implications. He created a series of paintings telling a life story of a pure woman who became a prostitute.
Speaking about comics as an artwork, Scott McCloud mentions the wood-cut novels of Lynd Ward and collages of Max Ernst that are highly praised in the world of art. Even the glass paintings in churches often tell biblical stories in sequence. Rodolphe Töpffer was the author of comics as we see them today: illustrations with text remarks. His satiric stories were later adopted around the world adding to the genre of caricature. This, however, created a negative or neglectful attitude towards comics that we can see even today.
Nevertheless, sequential art was recognized as a good way of conducting and explaining ideas. Various brochures and manuals can be a proof of that. Moreover, comics provide almost unlimited possibilities regarding visual style, theme, and age group, for whom the comics are created. The author concludes the chapter by inviting a reader to get acquainted with a rich world of comics.