Comic Book Influence On Graphic Design

What do characters such as Iron Man, Batman, Judge Dredd, Wolverine and more have in common with each other? They can all trace their origins back to comic books, which have given birth to some of the most memorable icons of pop culture in living memory.

We may be more used to seeing characters from the Avengers or Justice League gracing our screen in large scale movies, or even on a smaller basis in television shows, but they have lived for much longer in pages. Famous Funnies, released in 1933 was the very first modern comic book and they have since become popular beyond their humble origins; it would be hard to find someone who did not know what Marvel is now!

The layout of a comic books is recognisable immediately, with each page often split into multiple panels that outline an important scene, often with speech stylised in speech bubbles and other text in information boxes. Given the design heavy aspect, it’s easy to understand that they can take a long time to be produced, with comic writers working with artists and colourists to ensure their idea comes to life.

To celebrate Comic Book Day on 5 May, we’ve taken a brief look at some of the history of comic books along with a few of the ways that they have influenced, or can be an influence, on graphic and web design.

The Ages Of Comic Books

Comic books have had a rollercoaster history, with periods of high popularity following lows that precede struggles. The first ‘age’ that saw comic books become a popular and beloved part of American culture was the ‘Golden Age’ which ran from 1938 to 1950. It was during this time that what is known as the ‘superhero archetype’ was created, with beloved characters such as Superman, Captain America, Wonder Woman and Batman being introduced.

The Silver Age ran from 1956 to around 1970 with the introduction of DC Comics’ The Flash. During this time, influential writers such as Stan Lee of Marvel and Gardner Fox for DC Comics along with artists Jack Kirby and Curt Swan had risen to prominence.

From 1970 to 1985 there was the Bronze Age, which saw superheroes remaining popular but taking on darker topics such as racism, urban poverty, drug use and more. It also saw the introduction of more minority characters including Marvel’s Luke Cage, Blade and Storm while DC introduced Black Lightning, Cyborg and Bronze Tiger.

Since 1985, comic books have been in what is considered the ‘Modern Age’ with Watchmen being one of the comics that began this age. This, combined with Batman: The Dark Knight Returns, signifies common characteristics which include realism and serious content along with antiheroes becoming more popular.

“Workington, UK – September 22, 2011: Batman Graphic Novels. A stack of graphic novels from DC comics relating to the Batman character. Several editions are present including the titles: Batman R.I.P, hush money, long shadows, Penguin Triumphant, Killing Joke, No mans land, Arkham Asylum, Tales of the Dark Knight, Knightsend, Batman versus Predator. The Batman character was invited by Bob Kane 1939 and still has a strong following in both the comic and movie world.”

The Influence Of Comic Books

Given that comic books have an immediately recognisable style, it’s perhaps no surprise that they have influenced graphic design in turn throughout the years. Perhaps one of the most common areas is in film posters. There’s no doubt that you’ve likely seen a movie poster filled to the bring with characters, usually with the main character in the centre.

Comic books are renowned for featuring lots of characters and this translated into a requirement to try and get the supporting cast featured on the cover as well to attract attention. Movie studios have taken to using this method in their posters, allowing them to advertise their film and characters without giving much away of the films plot.

An article from freelance blogger and web designer Jenni Chasteen also brings up the relevance of comic books on the modern, digital world including websites. When looking at a comic book, each page is split into panels, which parallels a website. An artist for a comic book will make sure that the biggest panels are used for the most important scenes, which parallels the need to make sure the most important information on a website is what is seen first.

Along with this, due to the very nature of how comic books are drawn it is important that they are clear and easy to read. This should make sense to website designers, who will want to attract attention to the bit of the site they want people to look at. So maybe comic books can have more relevance on both graphic and web design than we thought?

Sarah Jubb