By the early twentieth century, the major American daily newspapers brought comic strips to millions of readers – day in, day out, and in colour on Sundays. They were primarily targeted at the papers’ adult readership rather than children and teenagers. Series like Winsor McCay’s Little Nemo in Slumberland or George Herriman’s Krazy Kat continue to captivate audiences with their exquisite draughtsmanship and signal the cultural significance of the medium. With the rise of the comic book and the superheroes in the second half of the 1930s, comics became an integral part of the first media-related youth culture – long before the advent of Bill Haley and rock ‘n’ roll.
As such, comics were soon singled out as the root cause for the rise in juvenile delinquency and illiteracy. A United States Senate Subcommittee hearing on the potential corruption of minors through comic books took place in 1954 and was televised nationwide. To forestall government regulation, publishers decided to form a self-regulatory body. Compliance with its rules, commonly called the Comics Code, was certified with a seal on the cover of the comic book. As a result, comics lost much of the bite and subversiveness that had previously distinguished them and actually turned into the ‘trivial pap for illiterates’ they had always been derided as.
In the 1960s, thanks to artists like Robert Crumb or Will Eisner and figures like Asterix or Barbarella, comics once again began to attract an older readership. In the wake of the cultural upheaval of 1968, comics came to be seen as the ‘ninth art’, and with the phenomenon of the graphic novel, we now witness the discovery of its hitherto ignored literary potential. At the same time, manga has established itself as a global phenomenon.