Staff Research

A Story of Western Comics



In 1950, the famous art historian E.H. Gombrich published The Story of Art. Describing the development of Western art from the Middle Ages to the early 20th century, it is still today one of the most often read introductions to this vast domain of knowledge. Without a single footnote, it was initially conceived as a book for children and young adults and avoided all the complications of his other academic publications. Not intended as a complete history of Western art but merely an account of what he thought was worth knowing by anyone, it was designed to be read as just an interesting book, full of novelistic twists and turns, hence the title: not a ‘history of art’ but a ‘story of art.’ Several attempts at writing books covering the history of world comics have been made, all failed miserably because of the dizzying amount of information concerned: it is simply impossible to deal with even only the most important and influential of comics to construct a convincing history, there are simply too many of them to be made sense of comprehensively, even by a team of writers. This book intends to fulfill a similar function as Gombrich’s book but concerning the development of comics in the Western world, and more specifically Western Europe and North America, where this form of narration has known an extraordinary development since the mid-19th century. Although just as interesting, the comics culture of other countries will only be mentioned here if they have some kind of bearing on Western comics. Even though there is now a rich academic literature on comics in the Western world, this book will only mention it in passing, and only when it matters to the narrative contained in its pages. I will rely on the historical, and sometimes political, context within which comics have been created in writing this story, but it will also be mainly based on my many years of experience reading comics as both a lover of the form and an art historian. As such, this story of comics is also an account of a personal experience and a voyage through the beauties and complexities of an art form that has never weakened, has always renewed itself and is still breaking boundaries that could not even have been imagined by the first creators of the genre in the 19th century. It can be claimed that every country in the world, every culture, has known at least one form of storytelling with images in its history. But it can be safely said that Western Europe and North America are no match to any other comics culture in the world in terms of the length of its history and its worldwide popularity.
This book, based on the author’s lectures on the history of Western comics, is still being written and will hopefully be finished by the end of 2021. It is intended to be between 150,000 and 200,000 words and will be published in an English-Chinese bilingual edition. The editorial committee of the Chinese University Press has already expressed interest in its publication.