Edited by: Tejaswini Vondivillu
It is a lazy Sunday morning in late 1980. The sun is shining bright. Steve sluggishly rolls out of bed and heads for breakfast, thinking of the dreadful Monday morning that is to come. He flips through the newspaper uninterested until an orange tabby cat named “Garfield” appears in a comic strip. It was a story that most people could relate with, and through which many would laugh out the ironies of their lives. Garfield portrayed a sullen, lazy cat who disdained Mondays and loved to eat. Garfield comic strips are based on a comical interaction between the owner Jon Arbuckle, and Garfield, the lazy cat. It was one of the most popular comics and is still well-known. The laid back attitude and the sarcastic nature of ‘Garfield’ made it a satirical medium to convey the current happenings in society at the time.
Comics are intricate panels of images that not only entice the readers with its beautiful, eye-catching graphics but also engage them with onomatopoeia and engross them with conversations in speech bubbles between characters. It is an illustrious form of storytelling which ties various forms of art together to form an interactive piece, that paints a vivid picture of the plot in the reader’s mind as well as allows space for their imagination. Comics have also evolved in different forms such as the highly demanded graphic novel, “Diary of a Wimpy Kid” or into the very trendy culture ‘memes’. Memes are small panelled comics or can simply be a part of a comic that are replicated multiple times over the internet. They mostly use captions but at times may use dialogue balloons. It is the relatability of memes and the widespread reach of social media that makes them so well-liked and part of every conversation across cultures.
Comics are an integral part of entertainment; they painted a bright, colourful action studded imagination for young kids. I remember as a kid I wanted to be as rich as Richie rich and own a dalmatian named Dollar with dollar signs instead of the black spots. I wanted to lead a life as adventurous as Tintin and wanted to fight as bravely as Wonder Woman. Many other children would have grown up with similar imaginations. Comics gained popularity in the mid-1940s and ever since they have had a colossal impact on society and culture. They were not only used as a source of amusement and fun, but they were also used for political and educational purposes. The most popular and beloved superheroes like Captain America were used to spread American propaganda. During World War II, Captain America stood out in his patriotic red, white, and blue uniform, espousing the ideals of American nationalism and persuading many people to help America win the war by supporting the government. One of India’s well-known comics “Amar Chitra Katha” has spread the knowledge of Indian history, mythology and literature through ages.
Along with Captain America, there were many other superheroes that people loved. They were presented as just and loyal citizens in the eyes of the readers. These books shaped the concept and idea of good, bad, right and wrong. Comics had such a prodigious impact on the mindset of society that they set a standard for not just beauty but also the roles that people played depending on their looks. Comic book characters have a rather sexually appealing image which is perceived in sync with the popular notion of beauty at the time. The idea of a ‘perfect’ body is enforced by characters who portray the role of the kind, righteous and powerful hero. It is widely accepted that the definition of beauty has changed with time. However, with the popularity and mass appeal that these comics have even today, it is difficult to break the stereotype of beauty they formulated in the society decades ago. Despite the comic world being dominated by such ideals of allure, there are many comics like R.K Laxman’s “The common man” that gained a considerable number of readers since comics like these were very relatable and sometimes spoke the unsaid truth of the society humorously. Realistic comics such as “Garfield” and “The common man” draw a sharp contrast from the superhero comics; they provide readers with the imperfect view of physique, human nature and the world, which is otherwise idealised in many comics.
“The Big Bang Theory” is one of the few shows that very well showcase the die-hard fandom of comic books. The show focuses on a group of extremely intelligent friends who have a hard time fitting in the society . These comic books give space to the so-called ‘Geeks’ to be a hero and escape from reality. Many Psychologists call such an escapist technique “Geek – Therapy’. Though comics may have led to forming stereotypes about a lot of issues, they also are an imaginative escape from the rigidly constructed social norms and ideologies. Thereby, many people used comics as a way to soothe their anxieties and deal with their stress: comic books act as a bridge to healing at times. Today, they are being used as therapy for many. There are many methods that therapists prefer, but the basic idea behind using comics as therapy is that people use the colourful and creative thread of comics to substitute their feelings.
Comics have been a significant influence in society; they have shaped pop-culture for many years. Comics not only have dominated the world of readers but their stories are also reigning over the cinematic world and a huge amount of merchandise is sold every year. Comics such as Tarzan, Phantom and Archie were read by the generation before ours and are very popular even today. Marvel comics came out as a medium to spread propaganda, but today they are every child’s fantasy. Garfield may have left our newspapers long ago but the orange cat is still synonymous to laziness. Some may argue that the readership of comic books has declined, but to that, I would say their essence is only increasing and comics are evolving.