"I'm Not a Loser, I'm Just Drawn That Way:" Comix, Graphic Novels, and the Ethos of the Anti-Hero


  • Fiorenzo Iuliano Università degli Studi di Bergamo




American comics


American comics are, still today, often regarded as undemanding books starring a few well-known superheroes wearing masks and costumes. This is only partially true: comics are not necessarily about superheroes, the latter being starred, in fact, only in a limited amount of the comics ever published and circulated in the US. The golden age of comics, which saw superhero comics gain immense popularity, reached its momentum in the 1930s, when Superman, Captain America and Wonder Woman were created in order to give a body and a face to traditional American values (like freedom and democracy), and, thus, to symbolically vilify the European dictatorships of the time. Before the 1930s, however, comic strips published in magazines and newspaper chiefly featured ordinary people (or sometimes animals), often portrayed in surreal and paradoxical contexts. In the immediate aftermath of the Second World War, superheroes were not the only protagonists of comic stories, horror and science fiction comics being, at the time, as much as popular as the stories about superheroes. The supremacy of superheroes in American comics was sanctioned during the Cold War. When the Comics Code Authority, established in order to prevent young people from reading those comics that would encourage bad behavior, imposed its ban upon a high number of publications, only superheroes were spared, since they clearly met at least one of the Authority’s requirements: “in every instance good shall triumph over evil and the criminal punished for his misdeeds” (Johnson 81). From the 1960s, the traditional superhero’s features started to change: no longer an exclusively “positive” figure, the new superhero was “the psychologically torn hero-villain” (Witek 49). The late 1960s and (especially) the 1970s, saw the increasing popularity of independent and underground comics, which in few years secured their niche in the comics industry: stories of antiheroes, as well as parodies of the most celebrated comics heroes, gained an almost immediate following. The era of graphic novel (from the late 1970s on), finally, witnessed the birth of art comics, radically different, on the whole, from old superheroes magazines, and the growing importance of authorship over marketability.


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