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Superheroes: transcending continents

Comics have a youthful appeal, taking us back to school holidays and days spent exploring imaginary worlds. From their appearances in daily newspapers as comic strips to full comic books, some of popular culture’s favourite characters started out as illustrations.

Calvin and Hobbes

     We have been telling stories through drawings and illustrations for thousands of years, from cave paintings during the Palaeolithic period to religious texts in the Middle Ages. From storytelling to art, advertising and political, illustrations have long been a regular part of daily life.
     Cartoons, the precursor to comic books, have been popular in England and America since the early 1800s, originating in newspapers and periodicals. Through natural evolution, cartoons developed into comic books, first through publications containing compilations of cartoon re-prints, then as books with original cartoon artwork, before reaching critical mass through the creation of superheroes in 1938.
     What is now referred to as the ‘Golden Age of Comic Books’ began in 1938 with the debut of the beloved Superman. Batman premiered less than a year later. These would soon become two of DC Comics’ most favourite characters, and were joined by Flash, Green Lantern and Wonder Woman in the 1940s. Their stories have been told through comics for over 70 years, and have successfully transitioned into the radio, film and television markets.
     Marvel Comics have arguably made the most successful transition into film over the past few years. Combining super powers and humour, with a type of science fiction that somehow seems to believably fit into the real world, characters like Iron Man, the Hulk, Thor, Deadpool, Star-Lord, Black Panther, Spider-Man and the X-Men have seen audiences streaming into movie theatres, often pre-booking tickets weeks in advance.

Black Panther

     But there’s so much more than just superheroes. Light humour is a popular genre among both children and adults. Charles M. Schultz’s Peanuts ran in daily and weekly papers from 1950 to 2000 and is the most popular and influential in the history of comic strips. With 17 897 published in total, it is arguably the longest story ever told by one human being. Meek Charlie Brown, Snoopy and their social circle have made their way into numerous books, TV shows, stage musicals, video games and even board games, with their audiences existing across age, gender and country lines.
     Published since 1978, Garfield is the world’s most widely syndicated comic strip. The lazy, lasagna-loving, orange cat who disdains Mondays, earns $750 million to $1 billion annually in merchandise sales and has spawned several animated television specials, two animated television series, two theatrical feature-length live-action/CGI animated films, and three fully CGI animated direct-to-video movies.
     Another beloved ‘cat’ is Hobbes of Calvin and Hobbes. Bill Watterson’s daily comic strip follows the humorous antics of Calvin, a precocious, mischievous, and adventurous six-year-old boy, and Hobbes, his sardonic stuffed tiger.
     Even more exciting for comic book fans is the news that Comic Con Africa will be taking place at the Kyalami Convention Centre this September. Don’t forget to get your tickets!

To read more about teenaged Archibald ‘Archie’ Andrews debut with Betty Cooper and Jughead Jones, The Adventures of Asterix, The Adventures of Tintin, Dragon Ball Z, Pokémon and more, purchase our June issue, or to continue supporting the arts and culture sector, subscribe to our monthly magazine, like us on Facebook, or follow us on Twitter and Instagram.

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