Comic books, like many art forms, have been co-opted by a hungry consumer capitalist economy which makes a Faustian bargain with its artistic meals: give me your subversive art forms and ideas, this economy says, and I will communicate them to a mass audience beyond your wildest dreams; however, in exchange, your art forms and ideas will often simultaneously be stripped of their dignity and uniqueness by becoming products of no less ubiquity and no more value than toothpaste – mere tools to sell, sell, sell, and make more, more, more money for gigantic multinational corporations. This phenomenology is the ultimate in postmodern recontextualization, the stripping of an object’s original meaning and significance, and its endowment with a new purpose either heretofore considered or deemed ethically, morally, or artistically acceptable. .
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We shall explore the unique nature and popularity of comic books, and the themes presented in their narratives and characters, as a quasi-underground phenomenon whose ever-increasing popularity from the 1940s to the 1980s left them perfectly positioned to be gobbled and turned into movies and merchandise by giant corporations eager to both exploit the devotees of comic books and expand their numbers.
What has been the big deal, historically, about comic books? Though they are primarily a postmodern phenomenon localized in the latter half of the 20th century through to the present, their roots go as far back as the 17th century, when the English mass-produced woodcuts depicting ghastly public executions. Comics first reached mass popularity in the United States in the 1930s in the form of newspaper comics; then, the comic book as a separate, thriving, and sophisticated art form began to evolve from there. “…The comic book has been one of our most familiar, yet least appreciated, popular art forms. As vehemently criticized as it is passionately defended… [it is] a graphically sophisticated and culturally revealing medium.” (Sabin, 1996, p.1).
After roughly a decade of occupying a comfortable place in the American pop culture mainstream, comics, and then comic books, began to take to reflect a less sanguine view of American society. Violent crime comics began to appear, and the more squeaky-clean comics of the 1930s and during World War II absorbed some of these same themes. In the so-called Silver Age of Comic Books, the 1950s through the 1970s, most characters and narratives began to take on a darker and more complex tone, mostly in response to plummeting sales after World War II that reflected an unsettled cultural undercurrent brewing in America.
In this initial countercultural heyday of the 1950s and 1960s, comic books were sometimes dismissed, much like rock-and-roll music, as the juvenile, unsophisticated, and pulpy fantasies of hormone-addled adolescents. Sometimes, however, comic books were labeled as cultural filth that was an ongoing threat,
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