Originality in Comics
On March 12, 1951, one of the most amazing coincidences in any artform happened in the world of comics.
On that day in the United States, the first edition of Dennis the Menace was published. However, on that same day across the Atlantic, in the United Kingdom, edition #452 of the comic Beano was published, introduced a new character, also named Dennis the Menace.
The odds were astounding. However, the two creators, Hank Ketcham in the US and David Law in the UK, were an ocean apart and had no contact with one another. In this pre-internet era, it wasn’t just that they were unaware of what the other was doing: there was no way they could have known.
The two creators quickly struck up a conversation and both agreed to simply work on their character in their respective country. Both continue to be developed and printed to this day, over 65 years later.
But while this might be a story about how similar comics can be to one another, it also showcases the broad creativity and range that come with the format.
Though both Dennis’ were created for children’s comics, they are radically different characters, not just in appearance, but in personality. The US Dennis is an affable child who gets in trouble, not through malice but by simply being a kid. Meanwhile, the UK version is a mean-spirited boy who wickedly causes trouble and might even be considered a bully.
Other than their name and approximate age, the two Dennis’ share little in common.
But that is the nature of comics as a medium. It is a medium that allows almost unbridled breadth in the subject, story, and style. It’s a medium where artists and writers can create nearly any universe they want and tell almost any story.
The comic format (or the graphic novel format) spans everything, from gritty stories like the Sandman, Grendel and Spawn comics to kid-friendly tales like Richie Rich and Casper. It can tell sweeping, epic tales over many years and hundreds of books or it can tell a full story in just three panels in single Sunday newspaper.
But as varied and as creative as comics are as a medium today, there was a time where commercial comics were not so closely associated with neither superheroes nor newspaper funnies. During the Golden Age of comics, typically identified as the time between 1938 and 1956, one could find comics on any subject from crime dramas and westerns, to romance, science fiction and more.
Unfortunately, the rise of the superhero comic put many of those genres out of print as publishers focused more and more energy on what they saw as the core audience for the medium. By the 60s, comics were synonymous with superheroes, newspaper funnies and not much else. Though artists and writers still brought forth great new ideas and maintained vastly different styles, to outsiders, the medium often felt homogenous.
However, the internet has been a saving grace for originality in comics. Online comic artists are able to find a voice and do almost anything they want. From tech-focused comics like XKCD to more personal and bizarre comics like The Oatmeal, comics have branched into new territory online.
Now, comics are more diverse than ever, with more artists taking the medium in a variety of different directions.
Whether the internet ushers in a new “Golden Age” of comics will remain to be seen, but we are definitely entering into a new age for originality in comics. It’s one where artists can work and print their ideas without editors or other gatekeepers, and find an enthusiastic audience for their work.
Whether you enjoy this new wave of comics or not, there’s no denying that the medium is the most original and varied it has ever been.
This post was contributed by Jonathan Bailey, a foremost expert in plagiarism. He has spent over 16 years fighting plagiarism professionally and currently blogs on Plagiarism Today, where he raises awareness about the importance of digital literacy and the societal effects of plagiarism.