Sequential Art: From Bosch to the Beano.

At the beginning of 2012 QueenSpark Books ran a competition (Alt Brighton) asking writers to send in a short story based around Brighton’s history; from the hundreds of entries, thirteen stories were picked to be developed into a graphic novel later in 2013. My own story, Dead Famous was one those chosen, but during the first meeting I opted to develop a new story centred around some of the key moments in Brighton’s LGBT history, more of that later. As part of my research I have looked into the history of sequential art.

Part one: in the beginning….

Throughout history, sequential art  (the preferred term for comics and graphic novels) has been used to express ourselves, tell tales and to leave historical events for others to witness, ponder and conclude on their meanings. From the Stone Age cave drawings, Egyptian hieroglyphics, elaborate tapestries of the Middle Ages and the stain glass windows in churches and chapels across the world, have all been used to educate, frighten and cement historical or biblical events.  An early example can be seen in Lucas Cranach the Elder‘s painting “Adam and Eve in the Garden of Eden”.

Within the painting we see God warning Adam and Eve not to eat from The Tree of the Knowledge of Good and Evil. In the back ground we see Eve wrapped around the Tree of Knowledge along with the snake, her hand outreached with the fruit from the tree in her hand. (The bible never mentions what type of fruit it is, but as paintings were a central part to Christian worship, this subject was much discussed. Eventually it was decided that the fruit was an apple as the Latin for apple, ‘malum’ translates as ‘evil’.) Directly next to that Eve is standing next to Adam, offering him the fruit to taste, them to the right of the painting Both Adam and Eve are chased out of the Garden of Eden by one of Gods angels for defying his word.

Triptych paintings, a type of hard back graphic novel, were also extremely popular among the wealthy who used these style of paintings to entertain their guests.  The three panelled triptych The Garden of Earthly Delights by Hieronymus Bosch, (1450 -1516)  is an expansion on Lucas Cranach the Elder’s painting; within this piece heaven on earth is shown on the left panel, the middle panel is open to interpretation, but for many it represents Paradise Lost, with the right panel of hell on earth showing the consequences of disobeying God. The detail within this work introduces the viewer to all the drama, horror and gore of many modern-day graphic novels.

Fast forward and we come to the 17th and 18th century, here we find artists creating a more satirical art to explore the social and political happenings of the times. It was also at this period that speech bubbles appeared, giving the works  added vocabulary, but it is the art and the readers imagination that has always been key to bringing sequential art to life. The artist, William Hogarth (1697 – 1794) created a collection of eight paintings to tell the story of the rise and fall of Tom Rakewell, a man who came into a vast fortune, dismissed his pregnant girlfriend, Sarah Young, for a life of lavish living and then proceeded to squander the lot on women, booze. Ending up in prison, Sarah Young bails him out, only to be pushed aside by Rackewell as he goes off to marry an older wealthy woman, spends all of her money and ends up destitute in Bethlehem Hospital, with Sarah Young by his side. The paintings where later turned into engravings and copied into mass prints and sold as a pictorial narrative of Rakewell folly and demise.

The true comic strip and its development has often be credited to Swiss cartoonist Rudolphe Topffer (1799-1846) with his creation The Adventures of Mr. Obadiah Oldbuck in 1837 and was translated and published in England and America, four/five years later.

Around this same period there was a major impact on publishing industry with the boom of the Industrial Revolution were huge advances with the printing presses ability to produce cheaper and faster copies. This led to the written word and pictures becoming available to a wider audience and not just the wealthy. From here cheap publications like The Penny Dreadful that were primarily for a younger audience, but also appealed to both children and adults alike with their pictures combined with tales of terror and true crime horror.

The first true comic strip in the uk was  Funny Folks (1874 – 1894), a supplement delivered inside The Weekly Budget. The comic quickly gained popularity, leading to the publisher, James Henderson, to print the comic as a publication in its own right. From here a rival comic hit the newsstands under the title, Ally Sloper’s Half-Holiday (1884-1916).  By the end of the 19th century, comics came into their own with titles like Comic Cuts (1890-1953) and Illustrated Chips (1890-1952), all of which were aimed at the adult (male) market.

The early part of the 20th century saw the introduction of the first comic aimed specifically at children. The first publication, Rainbow (1914 -1956) was as popular with children as the previous comics had been to adults; so much so Puck, (1904 1940) an adult comic, changed its style for children. Each of these titles, including the long running, Jack and Jill (1954-1985), began to include some colour pages, but it would the American import of Mickey Mouse Weekly (1936-1955) printed in full colour that would see a real surge in children’s comics. This led to the boom in British comics with the introduction of the Dandy (1937), Beano (1938) Tiger (1954) and 2000AD (1977)

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