People sometimes think that comic books are quite a modern invention, but they go back a lot further than most people realize. Stories have been told using pictures from the days of the Ancient Greeks and Egyptians. These stories became available for everyone with the invention of the printing press but in these days most of the printed word was to do with religion. This changed in the 18th Century when more commentary on political and social matters was published and this formed the basis of the comic books that we know today. The five oldest comic books that are known to have existed are listed below.
1755 – Master Flashgold’s Splendiferous Dream
This may sound like the name of a slot machine you would find at a new online casino but it is the name of the world’s oldest comic and came from Japan. It was published by Koikawa Harumachi and told the story of a low ranking samurai that travelled to Tokyo to find a better job than he had in the Japanese countryside. During the journey he fell asleep and started to dream about what his life would be like when he reached the city. The comic made fun of the government and society and almost immediately became very popular. There was even merchandise produced which was based on the comics in the same way as it is today.
1825 – Glasgow Looking Glass
For a time this was thought to be the oldest comic in the world before Master Flashgold was discovered. It was also the first time that To Be Continued…. was used in print. The comic depicted life in Scotland in the 1820s but was illustrated by William Heath who was an English cartoonist. Comics and cartoons were the only things that featured in the magazine and it was later renamed the Northern Looking Glass.
1833 – Historie de M. Jabot
Rodolphe Töpffer published this comic back in 1833 in his native Switzerland. This was the first of seven satires that he published and this comic was about a man that attempted to rise into the upper classes. When he started to draw the comics he never intended for them to be published as he only created them for his family and friends to read. However, they thought that they were so good that he should publish them so that more people could enjoy them.
1844 – Life of Mr. Lambkin
George Cruickshanks was the comic artist of the Life of Mr. Lambkin and he was heavily influenced by Rodolphe Töpffer. Cruickshanks was already very well-known as he had illustrated a number of famous books including Oliver Twist. He first delved into the world of comics as he wanted to be able to tell stories as well as illustrate them. Unfortunately his comics were not as successful as he hoped and they were not particularly well read at the time.
1849 – Journey to the Gold Diggings
Comics had been read in the United States for a number of years before 1849 but it was in this year that the first American comic was published. It was created by brothers Alexander and James Read who wrote and illustrated the comic. The story is set in the Gold Rush period and tells that tale of a man who arrives in California aiming to make his fortune by working as a gold digger. However, he is not very successful and is forced to return home with less money than he arrived with.
Comics have been around for almost 300 years but they have shown no signs of losing any popularity and they are more widely read now than they ever have been. It is not too much of a stretch to imagine that they will still be around in another 300 years.