Comiccore is an aesthetic which reflects the themes and motifs of Western comics, particularly those created in America between 1920 and 1960. While comics are a wide and diverse medium, all are made distinct by certain technical limitations, such as dot matrixes, sequential storytelling, four-color inks, and pulp paper, all of which add substantially to a comic vibe. Unlike Pop Art, which can sometimes include comic elements (as in the case of Roy Lichtenstein's famous piece Whaam) comiccore is less self-referential and deconstructive, instead referring to the inherent and unique properties of comics themselves.
Comiccore does not concern superheroes, which dominate the industry to the extent they constitute an entirely separate aesthetic, or Manga, which is thematically and visually as far removed from Western comics as Anime is from Western cartoons.
Comics were first developed by R.F. Outcault, creator of the infamous Yellow Kid strips, and later Buster Brown. While these early strips lack many of the staples of the comics medium (a noticeable lack of word balloons, for instance,) they still maintain a hand-drawn, loose sketch style which later pioneers such as George Herriman would adopt.
In the 1920s, comics became both mainstream, with the rise of big hits such as The Katzenjammer Kids and Mutt
and Jeff, but also highly experimental, as in the case of the Kinder Kids, which uses angles, and Little Nemo In Slumberland, which incorporates unconventional panel layouts. Despite these early forays into whimsy, for most the distinctive American comic style had been defined- round noses, flat feet, a street-smart attitude and ceaseless visual gags. Comics, in addition, often commented more on prevalent societal issues than the movies of the era. Vegetarianism, war, psychology, international law and cultural boundaries all made appearances in these strips, as did certain revolutionary minority characters (Harry Hershfield's Abie The Agent, for instance, is Jewish.)
Most comics of this era share many things in common- larger full-color strips in the Sunday Newspapers, small "topper" strips, which accompanied their larger counterparts, and easily defined shapes. Artists in this period were primarily limited by the capacity of ink, though many went above and beyond, creating surreal cityscapes or bucolic farmland. Comics, unlike movies, better reflect the zeitgeist of their time, as the artist is not restricted by physical objects and can express the world around them however they see fit.
With the end of the 1930s came the rise of full-color comic books. While many point to Superman as the beginning of this era, Lee Falk's strip The Phantom debuted first. Even before this, comic strip compilations such as Famous Funnies primed the general public for long-form comic storytelling, as did high-stakes adventure serials in comics like E.C. Segar's story arc "Plunder Island" and Sidney Smith's The Gumps, which quickly evolved from a portrayal of typical American suburbia into a globetrotting race for survival.
With the 1940s and 1950s comics saw a major boom, particularly with the rise of monthly publications and big publishing houses. These comics include full-color formats, page spreads, and the iconic gag gift catalogs. They soon split from solely superhero comics into several genres, including but not limited to Romance, War, Westerns, Crime and Horror comics. Many attribute the proliferation of these genres to EC Comics, spearheaded in 1947 by William Gaines. The success of EC Comics spawned a number of imitators, all of whom capitalized on shock factor and pulpy exploitation.
After 1960, the definitive comics aesthetic was relatively set, and little innovation or experimentation has been done since- even underground comics, such as those published by Robert Crumb, maintain the standard large-nosed caricatures, intricate line work, and high-octane sound effects set by Crumb's predecessors.
While the medium's tropes and aesthetic was set by 1960, compelling stories continued with publishers such as Gold Key and Dell. Gold Key, in particular, is notable for licensing several well-known properties of the period, resulting in fondly remembered series such as Space Family Robinson, Turok, Son of Stone, and Boris Karloff's Tales Of Mystery. While most of these were not as culturally influential as EC Comics, they nonetheless are the closest thing post-1960s comics have to original serialized storytelling in multiple ongoing titles.
In the years since the collapse of EC Comics the market has been monopolized and superhero comics reign supreme, resulting in stagnation. Several artists, such as Greg Land, are notorious for their shady business practices and lack of originality, but attempts to remove them have proven futile.
Few attempts to capture the spirit of American comics in film have been made. Robert Altman's Popeye (1980) is one such attempt. The plot is a loose adaptation of E.C. Segar's Thimble Theatre, and is notable for its inclusion of oft-neglected characters such as G.W. Geezil, Rough-House, Castor Oyl, and Pappy. Several elements of the Flesicher cartoons, however, such as Bluto being the main antagonist, referring to Popeye's town as Sweethaven (in the strip it is clearly Santa Monica), and certain artistic liberties (such as giving Swee'Pea the powers of Eugene The Jeep) ultimately prevent 1980's Popeye from capturing the true spirit of its source material.
One of the most technically ambitious attempts is George A. Romero's 1982 cult classic, Creepshow, which presents the stories of the titular fictional comic book in a live-action fashion. This film far more captures the spirit and atmosphere of a 1950s horror comic, in particular EC Comics, though the stories of Creepshow have very little in the way of social commentary or provocative content. 1988's often overlooked entry, Cellar Dweller, should also be mentioned.
A discussion of comics being translated to film could not be complete without mentioning Ralph Bakshi's strange 1992 cinematic flop, Cool World, featuring future stars Brad Pitt and Kim Basinger. While many have compared the film to Roger Rabbit, Cool World differs in that its plot and universe take place only in undergound comic strips, the sort Bakshi would have been most familiar with. While the animation is choppy and lacks fluidity, this could be seen as an artistic decision- the characters are not animated cartoons, and so their movement would be more stilted and confined. Nonetheless, Cool World was a box office bomb, and the similarities between it and Roger Rabbit are noticeable at a glance. The film features a broad range of styles, from Brad Pitt's final form as a Gasoline Alley-esque figure to the Cool World comic covers, which bear almost no resemblance to the animated segments.
Comiccore fashion can include, but is not limited to:
- Baggy pants
- Sports jackets
- Bow ties
- Sharpening pencils
- Buying ink cartridges
- Sitting behind your desk
- Planning layouts
- Living on pennies
Comiccore as an aesthetic contains several elements exclusive to sequential storytelling. These include, but are not limited to:
- Emphatic sound effects
- Exaggerated facial features
- Sketchy line work, minimal backgrounds
- Dot matrices (especially in close-ups)
- Distorted body language