OK, I’m going to divide you into two groups for this tour.
Those of you who think you don’t like comics (possibly because you associate them with bland newspaper strips and endless arrays of costumed superheroes), please get on the bus labeled “Quick Tour”. You should at least take a peak at this, even if just out of curiosity. You may find that your image of comics is unnecessarily limited and discover some wonderful visual art you’ve been missing out on.
I will suggest those of you who love comics, but limit your appreciation for them to modern superhero comics, join the first group on the “Quick Tour” bus.
In the other group are those of you who love comics and revel in the wide spectrum of accomplishment in this amazing and unbounded art form, along with those who are simply adventurous in terms of your appreciation for visual art.
I will ask those of you in this group to pack a lunch, sign a waiver releasing me from responsibility for exposing you to a major time sink, and get on the bus labeled “Magical Mystery Tour”.
Both groups may find their eyes opened about what “comics” are, have been or can be, and may allow themselves to be dazzled with some of the oldest, weirdest, and finest examples of this wonderful medium.
Andy Konky Kru (Andy Bleck) has compiled an amazing archive of “early comics”, hosted on the site of Bugpowder, a collaborative weblog devoted to the UK independent comics community.
If, like me, you think of “early comics” as being the wonderful work from the late 19th and early 20th Centuries, you will be amazed and delighted to find that Andy’s collection begins in 300 A.D., and includes examples of “comics” (which has been defined as images in sequence, often combined with words, that tell a story) from the dusty centuries of the dark ages, the flowering of the Renaissance, through the 18th and early 19th centuries and up to the early 20th. He leaves off at around 1929.
Those of you on the “Magical Mystery Tour” will find prime examples of favorites as describe above, the expected landmarks like Wihelm Busch, Rudolph Dirks, Frederick Opper, Richard Outcault, Frank King and others, but you may also encounter surprise treasures like Harry Grant Dart.
Aficionados of the great illustrators will find unexpected examples of “graphic stories” by such luminaries as Howard Pyle, Gustav Dore, Augustus Egg, Heath Robinson (and here), A. B. Frost, John Held Jr., Ernest Shepard and John Tenniel.
There is a handy chronological index at the top of the pages. The index page has a more descriptive listing of the periods.
My only complaint is that, in what I assume is an effort to make them easier to read on web pages, Andy has taken the liberty of rearranging the panel layout of many of these comics and placing them in vertical stacks, sometimes missing their titles. I would much rather scroll around if necessary to see them in their original layout, but this is a minor quibble and pales in the light of what a tremendous service he is providing with this archive. Here’s an opportunity to see these gems on the web, large enough to be close to their original size in early newspapers and book printings, and you can search them out in their original form elsewhere once you find yourself fascinated.
While the archive isn’t complete, and is weak in some areas (E.C. Segar for example), I assume this is a work in progress; and on the whole, Andy has picked superb examples of these artist’s works. It’s an amazing resource and an absolute delight.
(Images above, top to bottom: Winsor McCay, George Herriman, Cliff Sterrett, Harry Grant Dart, Heath Robinson.)
Andy has also provided articles on speech balloons in cartoons and comics and an index of comics without words in his archive. He also provides listings of books with reprints of early comics and over 500 links to comics resources.
Whew! I’m glad I had you sign those time sink waivers.