On January 15, 2021, at the Artcurial auction in Paris, an anonymous private collector paid € 3.2 million for a small painting, done in watercolor, ink and gouache. The sheet of paper 34 x 34 cm with the image was not well preserved – it was folded in half, and there were some spots on it. But it was a drawing by Ergé himself (Georges Prosper Rémy) – the legendary Belgian artist, author of comics about the reporter Tintin and his dog named Snowball, which have been loved by readers of all ages over the past 90 years. Unsurprisingly, the price of this drawing – a sketch for the cover of Tintin’s adventure book The Blue Lotus, first published in 1936 – exceeded the most optimistic expectations of the auction organizers: they hoped to bail out a maximum of 2.8 million euros for it.
Pictures from the past
The vast majority associate comics with Batman, Superman, Spider-Man and other superheroes. In fact, comics as a cultural phenomenon are much more complex and deeper. In fact, this is a story in pictures, and such a narrative has been known since ancient times, starting with rock paintings and drawings in the Egyptian pyramids. Some researchers consider the first comics to be pictures of biblical subjects, which appeared in the 16th century. in Valencia and Barcelona.
And Europe has become the birthplace of modern comics. The first newspaper comic, History of a Coat, appeared in 1826 in The Glasgow Looking Glass. And in 1837 the Swiss Rodolphe Toepfer published a book of humorous pictures “The Story of Monsieur Vieux-Bois” (in the American version – “The Adventures of Mr. Obadiah Oldbuck”), which turned out to be so popular that it was republished in translation in several other countries. It is curious that the great Johann Goethe suggested the idea of this publication to Toepfer.
The very name “comic” indicates that initially the stories in the pictures were mostly funny, although often with an admixture of black humor. So, in 1865 in Germany, Wilhelm Busch published a drawing book for children “Max and Moritz”, in which the main characters were punished for all sorts of leprosy by grinding in millstones.
At the end of the XIX century. comics began to be released in the United States. The first American comic strip, Teddy Bears and the Tiger, was published in 1892 by William Randolph Hirst’s The San Francisco Examiner. And in 1938 Superman was born – one of the most popular heroes in American comics, and now in the entire entertainment industry.
Such different comics
Today comics exist in a wide variety of genres: adventure, science fiction and fantasy, detective stories. There are comics, historical, educational, and even comics – adaptations of classic literary works. Various schools of comics have developed – American, European and Asian.
The classic American comic strip is a tense action game, a dynamic plot, simple dialogues. As a rule, a large team is working on its creation. European author’s comics. It has a deeper plot and elaboration of images and text and requires more thoughtful reading. Which, however, does not in the least scare off the reader.
In the Asian tradition, comics are called manga – the term originated in the 19th century. to denote “strange pictures” in which elements of Japanese culture were combined with Western style. Today, Japanese manga – black and white comics with extremely emotional characters – are immensely popular. They account for a quarter of all Japanese print production, and Japanese politicians see them as an important tool for exporting Japanese culture to strengthen Japan’s influence in the international arena. In neighboring countries, there is a similar tradition of comics: in South Korea it is manhwa, in China it is manhua.
“In the US, the comic book market is mostly 24-page periodicals,” says Vladimir Apenov, owner of the BWComics comic shop and co-founder and producer of the comic book program of the LiteraTula book festival. “The market itself is split into many niches, from superhero comics with an aging audience that emerged back in the 1980s, to copyrighted works for young intellectuals.” In Europe, continues Apenov, the market has long outgrown the genre of newspaper comics and in the XX century. developed in both adult and children’s format. European comic book stores are very high-profile and are visited by people of all ages. So is Japan, where the comic book market emerged after World War II. For 80 years, it has not lost its relevance and is also not a niche, but a massive one.
The Russian comic book market, according to Apenov, despite the fact that it is already about 10 years old, is still based on enthusiasts: “Comic shops focus more on mass products – for example, superhero comics or comics based on cartoons. We have 10-15 stores that are ready to represent all the variety of genres throughout the country, this is a rather low figure. “
Comics in Russia
In fact, comics in Russia have existed for a long time – even before the revolution, printed editions were published in the country in which drawn stories were published. “Many remember the Krokodil magazine, there was also Begemot, which was published in St. Petersburg,” says Dmitry Yakovlev, director of the St. Petersburg publishing house of author’s comics Bumkniga. – In the USSR, comics were always present in one way or another. Remember at least the children’s magazines “Hedgehog” and “Siskin” and “Veselye kartinki”. Moreover, even foreign authors such as Herluf Bidstrup or Jean Effel, who were more popular in our country than at home, were published in the USSR. “
In the late 1980s, on the basis of the newspaper Vechernyaya Moskva, the comic studio Kom was formed, which published comics both in the newspaper itself and in separate books. Such a large publishing house as Makhaon, which is now part of the Azbuka Atticus publishing group, began with the publication of comics. The magazine “Mukha” was published in Ufa with a circulation of 100,000 copies.
The 1998 crisis crushed all of these projects, but today Russian comic book culture is gaining momentum again. Currently, almost all types of comics are represented on the Russian market, they are sold in all major bookstores, and specialized comic stores have also appeared throughout the country. Special state libraries of comics are also emerging: in Moscow one was created on the basis of the Library for Youth, in St. Lermontov. A separate library is dedicated to Asian comics. Also in Russia there are about 15 clubs of comics lovers.
Original Russian-language projects also appear. One of the most striking examples is the comic strip by artist Olga Lavrentieva “Survilo”, a biographical story of her grandmother, who survived the repressions and blockade of Leningrad. The book was published in 2019 with a circulation of 2,000. “We not only sold the entire circulation, but also sold the rights to publish this comic to France, Sweden, Germany, Norway and Poland,” says Yakovlev.
Pros and cons of the comic
The popularity of comics is largely due to the fact that most people (primarily, of course, children) find it easier to perceive a picture than printed text. Professor William Bradford of Indiana University School of Law estimates that there are 65% of these “visuals”. The displacement of book texts by comics raises certain concerns not only among teachers, but also among scientists. “To develop, you need to read complex literature,” noted in one of her lectures professor Tatiana Chernigovskaya, an expert in the field of the theory of consciousness and psycholinguistics. “If children only deal with comics, they will not develop not only an algorithm for reading complex literature that forms consciousness, but also an algorithm for complex thinking.”
The comics industry disagrees. “In fact, reading a comic is very difficult, especially for a person who does not have this skill,” Yakovlev said. – When reading a comic book, both hemispheres of the brain are involved, and when reading a written text, only one. In addition, the comic consists of frames, between which there is a space, and this is where the reader’s imagination works. Finally, the comic is often the first independent reading, that’s a fact. “
Head of the Department of Interdisciplinary Programs of the Pushkin State Museum of Fine Arts A. S. Pushkin Evgenia Kiseleva agrees: “With the changes that are now taking place in the communication culture, both the speed and the volume of reading will change. And in this situation, the comic strip still allows the culture of reading to somehow maintain. In modern life with its accelerating pace and huge volumes of all kinds of information that falls on our consciousness, a comic strip is a kind of detox that allows us to perceive an action without the participation of a moving picture and sound. “
By the way, when preparing introductory materials about the museum for visitors with sensitivities, the specialists of the Pushkin State Museum of Fine Arts. A.S. Pushkin were the first in the world to use comics. “When looking at photography, some people with autism and other developmental disabilities cannot imagine themselves in this environment. But it is much easier for them to identify themselves with the drawn character, ”explains Kiseleva.