Have you ever read a comic from the 60’s, 70’s, 80’s, or 90’s? Chances are that if you have you’ll have noticed a difference in the way the comic was put together compared to one released in the last few years. But the characters within these comics? That’s an entirely different kettle of fish.
Although some advances in technology would herald in new methods for creating comics, such as the digital coloring present in many comics today, the layout of the comics themselves has undergone the greatest change. When looking at comics published over the past 75 years (you can find an example of a comic page from 1938 here), you can see the composition of the page has evolved from the early, simple layouts to pages that were crammed with text, where full conversations could happen in one single panel, before coming to the layouts of today where a conversation may take half a comic to complete.
The comics of today seem to take longer to tell a story than those of years past. Action Comics #1 had four Superman stories in it; although they were only few pages each, the stories were still complete. As time progressed stories began to fill the entire comic, and by the mid 70’s the layout of the comics was changing. There was more content to the individual pages, and looking at them with today’s eyes, the pages look overly crowded with text, and the art work has far more line work visible. Comparatively comics released in today’s market tend to have much more focus on the art rather than an overabundance of text boxes. The pages still tell the story, but where in the past what could be contained within one to three issues (X-Men: Days Of Future Past is a two issue story) will now be spread over four or more, allowing the artwork to shine to a greater degree – while at the same time encouraging more comics to be sold.
There are a handful of comics published today that contain a full story within one issue; Marvel’s 2014 Moon Knight series had a single issue story for the first eight or so issues before a two part story was published, worth noting is that the single issue stories have been consistently praised as some of the best comics published on the week they come out. Single issue stories are less likely to be seen than a multi issue story in today’s comic book climate that seems to have a multi-comic crossover appearing every four months or so. Part of the reason for this is the rise of the comic shop. In the early years of the medium, when comics were sold on newsstands it was far more difficult for readers to get a hold of every issue in numbered order (and sometimes publishers would switch the name of the comics without any real notice), and finding an issue that was missed? Before the comic shop back issues were very hard to come by – part of the reason some of the early comics are worth so much today.
It may sound like there is a nostalgic longing for the way comics were – the text and images crammed on the page, the stories complete in an issue or two. Although the single issue story is sadly beginning to fade away, comics ability to show an intense scene emphasized by a lack of on paper talking, thinking, and narration has blossomed with the ability to spread the stories across multiple issues; allowing the artwork (not just the pencils and inks, but the colours as well) to tell the story. Marvel’s current ongoing Moon Knight is a perfect example of this; you can find the first trade, Moon Knight: From The Dead at your local comic shop.
As the layout of the comic evolved from a condensed page allowing a single issue to contain a wealth of story to the more spread apart layouts of today, one thing hasn’t changed as much within those pages: the ability of the comic book to tell stories that move you.
And at the end of the day, that’s all that matters.