A comic book is a publication that consists of comic art in the form of sequential panels that represent individual scenes. These panels are often accompanied by brief descriptive prose and or a written narrative.
The first modern comic book was a reprinting of earlier newspaper humor comic strips, which had established many of the story-telling devices used in comics. Although comic books have origins in 1700s Japan and 1800s Europe, comic books were first popularized in the United States during the 1930s.
The introduction of Jerry Siegel and Joe Shuster’s Superman in 1938 turned comic books into a major publishing industry and what followed through the 1960’s were comic books that centered around the archetype of the superhero.
By the early 1970s a surge of creativity emerged in what became known as underground comics or “comix”. Published and distributed independently of the established industry, these small press comics reflected the youth counterculture of the time. These books had an uninhibited and often irreverent style and explored issues that had never been produced in the comic book form before.
The rise of comic book shops in the late 1970s and early 1980’s supplied a market for “independent” or “alternative” comics in the U.S. The first such comics were anthology series focusing on anti-establishment political themes while others represented experimental attempts to bring comics closer to the status of fine art.
By the 1980s, the direct market approach to comic book distribution had begun and several key independent publishers had started releasing standalone titles that featured a wide range of styles and formats. These titles differed from main stream publications allowing individual artists and writers to have a personal voice in their work. These titles specifically diverged from the archetype of the superhero and in many ways self-consciously commented on the phenomenon itself. These publishers also reprinted ground breaking out of print series introducing them to a new generation of readers. Further these publishers were aware of popular foreign comic book art and distributed works like Japanese Manga for the first time the U.S.
By the mid 1980’s to the early 1990’s the industry leaders in comic book publishing recognized the popularity of these new independent voices in comic books. Marvel and DC Comics sought many of the same independent artists and writers to establish a new line of diverse titles that would forever transform the comic book publishing landscape.
This exhibition curated by UWM Libraries Assistant Head Systems Librarian Andy Ritter is drawn from numerous materials held in the Special Collections Department of the UWM Libraries. The exhibition offers a survey of the “independent” or “alternative” comic books from its modern beginnings in the 1970s through the early 1990’s.
The project is dedicated to my Dear Brother Benjamin Ritter (1971-2016)