The De-Powering of Wonder Woman

By Rohit Chauhan

Several superheroes have gained iconic status in the comic book world thanks to their super-human feats and amazing stories beginning with Superman, Batman, Spider-man, Captain America, Hulk, the list goes on. But, if we were to do a similar listing of female superheroes who have enthralled us over the years, the list would start and stop at Wonder Woman. She has been dazzling the world for almost eighty years, has a massive fan following the world over, and is one of the most recognised heroes in the DC universe along with Superman and Batman.

Diana, aka Wonder Woman, is born in an all-female tribe of women called the Amazonian’s.  She wins a contest amongst all the Amazon’s for the right to return Captain Trevor, whose plane had crashed on the Amazon's isolated homeland, to the “Man’s World” and to fight crime and evil. She is unique and special as heroic women representing women's power in a world where women have been marginalised by law or custom for an extremely long time. Wonder Woman skilfully demonstrates that being physically fit, clever, and brave are human traits, not specific to any gender. They can be easily performed by anyone. Her creator, William Moulton Marston, was an outspoken feminist and wrote in the 1943 issue of The American Scholar, “Not even girls want to be girls so long as our feminine archetype lacks force, strength, and power. Not wanting to be girls, they do not want to be tender, submissive, peace-loving as good women are. Women's strong qualities have become despised because of their weakness. The obvious remedy is to create a feminine character with all the strength of Superman plus all the allure of a good and beautiful woman.” Marston had created a truly special woman, one that featured both the feminine and masculine traits allowing the character to gain instant likening for its diversity by comics fans. The binary nature of the character did become an enigma for many editors after Marston’s death in 1947. They were faced with an uphill task to redefine Wonder Woman in a way that resonated with the period after the end of WW2, with most men back to work and most females back to their domestic roles.

 

The genesis of De-powering


Initially, writer Robert Kanigher wrote Wonder Woman as a romantic series with occasional action scenes but soon lost the plot as fans were keen to see Wonder Woman’s heroic actions and not her romantic escapades. The tussle with gender roles and expectations of its target market continued to plague the character leading to declining sales. At the end of the 1960s, the new editor of DC Comics set up a new creative team of writer Dennis O’Neil, Mike Sekowsky, and Dick Giordano to bring Wonder Woman back on track. Both O’Neil and Sekowsky raised similar concerns about Wonder Woman's origin story and her magical powers as they felt that it was highly unlikely for a lady to perform superheroes' duties. The character would appear more heroic if she had human-like skills and abilities. And so Wonder Woman was completely reinvented from a superhero to an ordinary human being. She begins using her human identity to open a mod boutique and meets a Chinese martial arts expert, I-Ching, who teaches Diana the finer nuances of martial arts. Using her fighting skills instead of her superpowers, Diana engages in short stints of fighting crime with her hand-to-hand combat skills. Sekowsky did not see Wonder Woman’s superhero mythos as special instead he felt it was out of place for a female lead character to act like a superhero even in the fictional world! So, by de-powering her godlike status and giving her a typical female look and a story arc that revolved around the premise that, ordinary women could do everything with training and determination, would allure the feminine world as well as give the character a gender-specific identity. Easy for the male-dominated industry to imagine. Sekowsky’s quote in Comic Book Herald, summarises his intention “What they were doing in Wonder Woman, I didn’t see how a kid, male or female, could relate to it. It was so far removed from their world. I felt girls might want to read something about a super-female in the real world, something very current. So, I created a new book, new characters, everything, I did up some sketches and wrote out some ideas.” 


The process of De-powering


Starting with issue #178, the Wonder Woman storyline underwent drastic changes that would make one want to pity the desperation of the artists. It all begins when Steve Trevor is arrested on false charges. Diana Prince decides to go undercover to find the truth and  changes her look to blend with a young crowd. Her new hair and makeover for this one mission looked weird as was Diana praising herself for the new look. Most likely the artist had a bout of amnesia for in her origin story “Diana Prince” was created as a disguise for Wonder Woman’s Amazonian beauty. The next issues grew more bizarre as Wonder Woman loses her homeland, family, friends, and her magical power. Her home the Paradise Island is 10,000 years old and needs to move to another dimension to recharge its energies. Again, the artists went overboard to ensure that Wonder Woman was deprived of her unique abilities. The entry of martial arts expert I-Ching draws the curtain down on Wonder Woman as by now she is trained in martial arts, having lost her dear friend Steve, she is running her storefront and is made to drop the dual identity of Wonder Woman. She is now just an ordinary lady named Diana Prince. 


The backlash


The transformation of Wonder Woman from a superhero with magical powers to a spy agent with martial arts expertise initially drew a mixed response from the audience. Some were intrigued by the modern look and fighting abilities of a female character, while others were missing the female superhero magical adventures. The over-enthusiasm of its creators to de-power the character as fast as possible led to the rendering of a superficial Wonder Woman which lacked depth and the spirit of a superhero. One could easily see the shallowness of the new version as each issue threw up more questions as to why Diana had no friends, when did she quit military intelligence, and if she went broke how she managed to run a fashion boutique, and the cherry on the cake…the  blind martial arts expert I-Ching mentoring a superhero! Even the DC honcho’s supposedly got a headache seeing I-Ching, so they have never thought of reviving him. The fans were left grasping for answers, hoping the next issue might bring some sanctity to the character. Instead they were left in the lurch to find the real Wonder Woman, which sadly was erased. As the number of fans unhappy with Wonder Woman's loss of powers grew, the pressure increased on DC to revert the iconic character to its original roots. In early 1972, an American feminist journalist, Gloria Steinem (now an internationally renowned feminist), raised her voice through an all-out attack on DC’s de-powering of Wonder Woman with the now-iconic cover of Ms. Magazine featuring Wonder Woman in her traditional costume. DC comics were caught with their pants down. Gloria heavily criticised the reboot, accusing the creators of stripping the female beacon of Women’s Lib by  removing  her original powers and for the source of her new abilities to a male mentor. She also argued that as Wonder Woman, she was stronger than men and from a paradise unspoiled by man-induced wars. De-powering her of her Amazonian roots and her magical powers, the creators had not only muted the character’s impact but also made her meek as an ordinary lady living in a man’s world. The magazine also carried an article “Wonder Woman Revisited” which echoed the anti-feminist make-up of Wonder Woman and how an artistic decision had weakened feminism.


The Ending


DC brought back Silver Age writer Robert Kanigher, tasked to power back Wonder Woman to her original avatar. Kanigher in issue #204 published in January 1973 delivered in double quick time as he restored Wonder Woman by wiping out the famed, I-Ching, when a crazy sniper fired randomly. Diana eventually kills the sniper but loses her memory. Memory replays from Amazon's memory bank help her regain her memory, costume, and the golden magic lasso. Holla, Wonder Woman was back!


Some of the Modern Age writers have been fascinated by Wonder Woman’s martial artist era. The story “Who is the Wonder Woman”, published in 2006 is a throwback to the late 1960s Wonder Woman as Diana Prince. The fact that women have been historically underrepresented across all media is why Wonder Woman became a tricky issue for so many editors and creators. Only a handful of the creative community could understand the ethos of Wonder Woman or could have imagined the way a woman would do so. Times have changed with the progression of women into fields which were once male-only domain. The internet age fans are more vocal, demanding and can easily look through any creative act meant to disguise or distract their favourite fictional characters' origin story, superpowers, or even their popular costumes.  


Feminism in Comics

By Rohit Chauhan

Feminism is defined as the belief in the social, political, and economical equality of both men and women. It grew as a movement in the early 19th century in the United States, taking shape of women suffragettes who fought for the right to vote for women. The comic books were no different; Since the medium’s beginning as females were mostly featured in short-lived and inapt female superheroes or female characters shown either as a sidekick or male superheroes love interest like in the early Superman stories. It hardly mattered if a female role made a difference to the storyline.

The onset of WW2 opened a small window for an independent and determined woman who could take the role of superheroes as they were busy fighting villainous Hitler! The birth in 1941 of the first female superhero in form of Wonder Woman was a momentous event in comics history. Sadly, after some time, Wonder Woman was demoted to more conventional female roles. She was rarely part of the action and became submissive. The spark of feminism was left to die a slow death by the same creators who had thought for a bright moment to let women live their dreams. The prevalent social attitude towards women was of sexism, comic books were creatively portraying women as an object of desire. Moral crusaders of that time decided to raise their voice against the comics, branding them as the originators of moral turpitude which resulted in the formation of the Comics Code of Authority (CCA). The comics censorship was an easy way out for publishers and creators to banish women from the comics world; DC comics' in-house Editorial policy code regarding the portrayal of women is a stark reminder of how insensitive the comics world had become to feminism. The policy read that “the inclusion of females in stories is specifically discouraged. Women, when used in plot structure, should be secondary in importance, and should be drawn realistically, without exaggeration of feminine physical qualities”. 

 

The Rise of Women Power

Throughout the Bronze Age of Comics, feminism gained some traction in response to the feminist movement and attempts were made by companies to reach out to female readers with the publication of several female characters. However, as usual, creators were largely ignorant of true feminism as most of these characters were often stereotypical, like the man-hating Thundra. The feminist activists were fighting hard for the change and they came up with a one-off comic called “That Ain’t Me Babe” which later evolved into Women’s comics; A first-ever all-female underground comic that brought many controversial women’s issues into the limelight. Marvel’s, feminist superhero, Ms. Marvel's debut in 1977 is a classic example of how comics were boasting off their support for feminism, but in reality, they had made a mockery of the movement itself. The first few issues of Ms. Marvel even had the cover line “This Female fights back!”. The change afterward was shocking with Ms. Marvel getting beaten black and blue by lower-class villains, her costume torn, and a yielding look. But worst was yet to come when an all-male Marvel staff under watchful eyes of Comics Code, crushed Marvel’s beacon of the modern woman by showing her as a victim of rape and then her wilful acceptance of it as her destiny. The shallowness of feminism was there to see for everyone, it was not going to go away anytime soon. In 1999, comic writer Gail Simone coined the term “Women in Refrigerators” as a response to an incident in Green Lantern #54, in which the superhero comes to his apartment to find his girlfriend killed by a villain and stuffed into a refrigerator. Simone also had a list made of female characters to show how women in comics were first objectified and then killed intentionally to punish the males in their lives; And those women were depowered or tortured in a wholly lop-sided way than their male counterparts. Or was it just too easy to kill the females to make the male character’s story arc move forward? The other big daddy of comics, DC, was not far behind from their rival Marvel comics. DC’s “Woman in Refrigerator” moment came when Stephanie Brown aka Spoiler was brutally tortured to death in the closing stages of War Games crossover. Fans were aghast at the gruesome killing of another female character and the way DC treated Steph at the end, demanding at least a memorial like that of the second Robin, Jason Todd. DC editorial team stuck to their guns with quotes like “She wasn’t really Robin”, generating even more sharp rebuttal from fans. It was the intense pressure from a feminist group called “Project Girl Wonder”, a website dedicated to better treatment of women in comics, that forced DC to eventually gloss it over with a new storyline where Steph is shown to be incredibly alive after going through a senseless ordeal. And the current Robin says to Batman "Oh! You always knew she was alive! No wonder you never made her a memorial case!". Hats off to DC for showing us how easy it was for them to hide their mistakes and still be able to keep their chin up. Was it really a victory of feminism or utter hogwash, DC could care less? 

 


Moving Ahead

The depiction of women in comics is still highly debatable as far as the mainstream comics are concerned. They continue to struggle with a realistic representation of the woman suffering from bouts of sexism now and then. Take the case of the Batgirl aka Barbara Gordon variant cover that DC planned to release in 2015. It featured tearful Barbara Gordon helpless in Joker’s arms, a chilling reminder of the 1988’s influential Batman story “The Killing Joke” in which Joker attacked and sexually assaulted Batgirl. Soon social media was on fire with the hashtag #changethecover becoming a hot topic for discussion within online comic communities; With feminist groups calling for a complete boycott of all DC Comics. Although variant covers are supposed to be a departure from the norm, it was not hard to see that this specific variant cover was bluntly opposite to everything the young team of Batgirl was trying to do at that time, to celebrate young women. The rebooted Batgirl was meant to show the superhero in a new avatar, fighting to save Gotham City, a superhero comic for everyone. DC quickly got into damage control withdrawing the variant cover based on the artist who had drawn it as they were now listening to their fan’s concerns. It is important here to understand that feminism is much more than how females are dressed up. It is the consistent characterization of female characters or giving them roles, which are in some way or another meant to show them as weak, silly, or dumb that is a cause to worry about. Too much focus on female costumes in comics is bound to create a distraction from real issues concerning females and will lead to the dilution of feminists. However, more recently steps have been made towards equality and de-sexualization with alternative comics leading the march creating stories dealing with real female issues. At Comic-Con fan fest, there is a huge presence of female fans, writers, and artists, eager to see their favorite superheroes or just to have fun. One can see even the Hollywood stars gracing the occasion to much delight of the fans, all due to the distinct effort of noted comic book editors, writers, journalists, and several

behind-the-show people working hard to bring more awareness of gender issues within the comics world. In the creative space as well, we can see a host of new generation writers, illustrators working hand in hand with the industry's well-known writers and editors. The young talent is more vocal, full of energy, and highly creative, providing a much-needed all-around view to creatives that cannot be easily ignored. Comics is a powerful medium to analyze how women were understood in society during different times as the pages of comics reflect the role of women that society wanted them to follow at any given time. The evolution of women in American society can be visualized from the comics of different eras. Comics are indeed a precious medium for preserving societal changes, yet they also send a strong message that if a medium is made gender-specific, with men dominating the industry for a good fifty years or so, we get to see only one side of the story. Hence, it was but natural for women to become vocal against the certain stereotypical portrayal of women and that has slowly and gradually awakened the comics industry from its deep slumber. The present transformation of the comics industry is simply amazing, in terms of top-notch creativity, catering to a diverse audience. Feminism is beautiful and very much part of our daily life in the modern world. We just need to be aware of it to see its true potential. It is a gradual change that is happening around us, for the better. The recent election of a female Vice President, in the world’s longest-standing democracy, the U.S. is a historic moment for a feminist to celebrate. Feminism was glowing as finally a woman got the same opportunity as a man would.


Real comics and graphic novels about Serious Subjects

Rohit Chauhan

Comics have been entertaining us for the past several decades with the most popular genre being superheroes. In recent years, comic book-inspired superhero movies have gained amazing success delighting millions of fans the world over. While comics have diversified into various formats keeping up with changing times, it continues as the stellar way of storytelling. And to think that comics and graphic novels show only fictional world stories is a bit naïve. Countless comic books have brought real-life issues to the forefront and continue to do so in present times. The visual narration, along with the combination of elements of gameplay and problem solving makes comics an excellent medium to engage readers and to present difficult subjects in a relatively candid way for the audience to explore and discuss. 

 

Real-life comics and graphic novels

Comics are unique in the way it builds an engrossing interaction between the story and the readers. No wonder that comics dealing with real-life issues, in form of personal stories, autobiography and public information narratives or graphic novels exploring serious social and political issues have significant power and appeal.

The most loved superheroes in the fictional universe have been using their cult status to raise real-world issues and to convey the message that fiction does care about the real world. The special edition comic book Batman: Death of Innocents: the Horror of Landmines is a unique "humanitarian comic book" published by DC Comics in 1996, to create global awareness about landmines and the dangers of active landmines leftover in war-torn countries. The comic book dealt with the story of Batman trying to prevent people from dying due to landmines, as well as stories from people who constantly face the threat of these devices. DC also raised the danger of landmines in another story titled, “Superman and Wonder Woman: The Hidden Killer.” 


The DC company took a step forward when in 2012, they launched their crowdfunding campaign “We can be Heroes” to stop hunger and support poor people of the Horn of Africa. The fans find it a bit difficult to effect change on their own but when they join hands with other donors, it leads to bigger global change.

Another noteworthy comic book that dealt with real-world issues was the “Unknown Soldier,” from Vertigo Comics, which highlighted the condition of child soldiers and the civil war that hounded Uganda in 2002. The character was reimagined from his WWII roots by writer Joshua Dysart and artist Alberto Ponticelli. The series is about the main character Dr. Moses Lwanga, who returns to Uganda from his home in America to help the people displaced by civil war. The brutal attack on Moses by warlords not only awakes him to reality but also pushes his inner self to stand up and fight the evil and injustice happening in his homeland by becoming the “Unknown Soldier”. According to the New York Times, in addition to library and Internet research, “Mr. Dysart decided that ‘if I was going to deal with the absolute worst aspect of these people’s lives, I was going to have to go there.’ He visited Uganda in early 2007, months after a cease-fire was declared the previous summer. Mr. Dysart spent time with the Acholi and visited the cities of Kampala and Entebbe.” The site also reported that Dysart brought over “1,000 photographs that Mr. Ponticelli could use as references for the illustrations.”

 

Apart from comic books, graphic novel format as a medium of storytelling has gained wide acceptance over the last few decades when some of the best literary works were created by visionary artists like Will Eisner and Alan Moore that were immensely appreciated by one and all. The visual nature of graphic novels allows for the display of visceral detail, supporting artists to present in-depth, feelings and experiences about their life stories, family stories, or world events that shaped them. The graphic nonfiction novel had at first only a niche audience, as the genre became popular, it embraced diverse fields of science, history, practical advice, biographies, financial literacy, and so on, touching real-world issues on subjects from teen pregnancy and Hurricane Katrina to the U.S. civil rights movement and ethnic conflicts. Nonfiction graphic is a rising genre that continues to impress established and emerging artists to deliver their stories.

“Maus” written by cartoonist Art Spiegelman and published in 1986 is the originator of the graphic nonfiction genre. Maus depicted the tragic experience that humanity underwent during WWII in form of the Holocaust. It was the first graphic novel to win a special Pulitzer Prize and gained significant academic success. Though critics have classified Maus as memoir, biography, history, fiction, autobiography, or a mix of genres, Maus remains an exceptional piece of creative nonfiction. Maus captivates readers with a simple but excellent and apt portray of the Holocaust by creating comic book versions of Nazis drawn as cats and Jews they slaughtered as mice. 

 

The graphic novel is increasingly being used to tell memoirs and personal accounts. The autobiographical account of growing up in Iran during the Islamic revolution by Marjane Satrapi, titled “Persepolis” paved the way for writing personal stories as diverse as nonfiction graphic “A Game for Swallows” by author Zeina Abhirached, published 2012. It captures the personal story of Zeina who was born during the civil war in Lebanon and how it became a normal part of life for her and her parents and little brother. Beirut city is split into two parts, Christians live in East Beirut and Muslims in West Beirut. Life is on the edge in the city due to constant shelling and sniper attacks. Zeina’s parents go missing one afternoon after they visit another part of the city. The neighbors take care of Zeina and her little brother engaging them in stories, cooking lessons so that they feel safe as the bombing outside their apartment grew louder. They all manage to live for another day, hoping to be safe in a place called home. The author narrates her real-life experiences using black and white drawings and text snippets to give “A Game for Swallows” a lasting visual delight.

A massive natural disaster that took place in New Orleans in 2009 was effectively captured by cartoonist Josh Neufeld in his nonfiction graphic novel A.D. New Orleans After the Deluge. The presentation of real-life true stories of survival as hurricane Katrina ravaged the city, destroying life, submerging homes, displacing communities and the distress faced by scores of affected people due to destruction caused by the hurricane touched the audience at the deeper level. 

As the popular saying goes, a picture is worth a thousand words. “You don’t need to spend pages and pages to describe a landscape; you just draw it,” graphic journalist Gianluca Costantini told Global Comment online magazine. The format allows creators to go beyond a direct reporting experience. “I can depict the past, which is hard to do if you’re a photographer or documentary filmmaker,” Joe Sacco told Mother Jones magazine. Sacco, considered a pioneer of graphic journalism, produced Palestine, a graphic novel about the plight of the Palestinians, and Safe Area Gorazde about the 1992–1995 civil war in Bosnia.

 

Comics is a powerful medium to convey the message of social causes, while superheroes or fictional beings are the preferred way, the idea of rendering real-life icons to raise awareness on global issues appealed to several fans when United Nations devised their comic book titled “Score the Goals”. The wide popularity of comics represents it as an ideal medium for Global welfare organizations to bring awareness and help people easily understand the importance of supporting social causes. Comics Uniting Nations is a UNICEF-led collaboration to make the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) accessible to people of the world through comics. Comics also play an important role in engaging younger audiences displaying their creativity to highlight real-life issues, like the 18-year-old Rizka, winner of UNICEF and Comics Uniting Nations’ School Superhero Comic Contest. Her comic book, named Cipta revolves around the sensitive issue of bullying in schools. “I hope Cipta can inspire others to take action, especially those that are afraid to speak up,” said Rizka. “Through the comic, I want to help other young people overcome their fears and use their superpowers to stop bullying and violence, including through art and expression, such as drawing, writing, activism or acting.” 

 

The city of Dundee is famous for Dennis the Menace, Desperate Dan, and Minnie the Minx, published by DC Thomson company. The latest comic to emerge from there is no fun and laughter but a touching graphic display on the serious subject of organ donation. The graphic novel “The Gift” is written by Mayra Crowe, a University of Dundee lecturer and depicts the personal tragedy of losing her young son Andrew to brain aneurism and how the family is faced with a challenging decision to donate Andrew’s organs. Their selfless act of organ donation saves the lives of nine people. The graphic novel aims to generate awareness of the importance of organ donation and to support young people to cope with grief and loss.

 

Motion Comics – The Future of Comics

By Rohit Chauhan

The world is experiencing a new wave of emerging technology that is delivering high-quality creative efforts never explored before. Comics have been evolving since the early 19th century, becoming a popular medium for entertainment. The classic comic book ruled American pop culture with occasional tweaks in layouts and story themes. It was not until the late 19th century when comic book-inspired superhero movie “Superman” spectacular box-office results influenced the adaptation of comics into various media, televised cartoons, webcomics, etc. Superhero movies continued their successful journey to greater heights and as the world became more digitalized in the early 21st century, demand grew for comic books that could be easily made available on various digital media platforms, smartphones, tablets, and the internet. The future of comics was evolving, moving from printed pages to digital medium - motion comics were born!

 

Motion comics take the narrative and static artwork from the comic book and use animation (CGI) to create a fascinating impression of moving images, “a multimedia comic.” The comic book images were alive; they could move. 

Keeping the storyline and speech bubbles the same as regular comics have, adding voice acting, sound effects, and music enhanced the overall effect of storytelling, giving the audience a feel of cinema. Motion comics can be easily distributed over the internet, smartphones, e-readers, etc.                    Screen capture from “The Watchmen” motion comic


The potential reach of motion comics in the age of the internet makes it an attractive medium for the mass media and entertainment community to explore and experiment using modern digital tools. The notion of traditional storytelling via comic book is gradually transforming into new motion comic storytelling which can lure millions of new audiences to a medium that is relevant to them. For those from older generations, the idea of story narration in motion comics may seem insane but for many who are hooked to their phone, a crisp voiceover taking the story forward is entertaining. 


Future ahead

Motion comics score highly on innovation and viability as a medium of entertainment in the internet age. It is also leading to experimentation and greater sophistication as companies roll out new motion series. The emergence of mobile app-based versions gets their inspiration from motion comics’ art and are destined to become popular among today’s digitally wired audience. The comic book companies are also gearing up to reinvent themselves to produce printed artworks that are rich in color and have a visually impactful version when seen on a mobile screen.


The shorter motion comic version also allows for quick adaption of comic books into local languages by changing the voice-over tracks. The technology-driven changes in format and distribution of comics are also leading to radical changes in storytelling. The shorter motion comic version is slowly gaining ground with the newer audience who are glued to their mobile screens binge-watching video shorts and reels as they are easy to watch at any time and give a much needed instant break of entertainment from today’s hectic life. 

 

Conclusion

Motion comics have no doubt polarized comic book fans to a great extent. Some oppose it outright as the smell of printed paper can never be replaced nor will the value of printed comic books! For others, the transformation from the static version of comics is the need of the hour, lest we let the art die a slow death. 

 

With its unique cinematic approach and high-tech production making, motion comics have an edge over other interactive modes to bring comic book narration to a new digital audience. Will this transition to motion comics sustain with the greater interplay between animation and the comic book or will it lead to something more enriching and creative? Only time will tell!

Great Comic Book Universes You May Have Overlooked.

By Rohit Chauhan

The fascinating transformation of early newspaper strips to modern-day comic book universes is nothing short of a miracle in the fictional world. The comics universe is much more than an extension of the company holding the title of its popular comic characters. They have allowed creative artists to explore the vividness of their imagination beyond the traditional role of a character, producing multiple stories featuring multiple characters. The fact that almost all comic book companies have a unified universe only goes to show the vast creative value it brings to the industry. The Big-2 have gone further extending their fictional rights to multiverses, a collection of many fictional universes which is a great way to present multi-universe interplay, continuity-destroying crossover events to keep readers engaged. Apart from widely popular Marvel and DC, there exist incredible comic book universes featuring amazing stories and characters, catering to a large group of comic book readers. So let us explore some of the best ones presented in no specific order.

Image Universe


The birth of Image comics was a direct result of the vision of some of the top comics artists to own their comics characters instead of the publishers. The Image Universe started with the founding of image comics in 1992, introducing series such as The Savage Dragon, Spawn, WildC.A.T.s, and Youngblood. While the Image comics idea allowed the comics creators to retain the rights to the characters they publish, it also led to the entry and exit of many characters from the Image comics universe as the creators moved from or to other publishers. Despite creators holding character's rights, they could cross over and share connections. The image universe popular characters such as Spawn, Youngblood, and others were able to create a distinctive world that especially connected with fans.


Hellboy Universe

Mike Mignola is the creator of the Hellboy Universe consisting of Hellboy comics and its various spinoffs. The series early start was in the form of a black and white four-page promotional comic published in 1993 by Dark Horse comics. Led by the supernatural monster Hellboy a half-demon who is raised like a normal boy on earth by his adopted father. Hellboy is recruited as a primary agent for BPRD (Bureau for Paranormal Research and Defense) and is regarded as the World’s greatest paranormal investigator. United Nations grants him honorary human status after he successfully finishes his first mission. Hellboy and his compatriots have been protecting humans from supernatural forces. The Hellboy Universe has managed to secure a loyal audience resulting in associated spin-offs, live-action films, video games, and so on. 


Valiant Universe


Valiant comics has a somewhat chequered history, rising like a phoenix from bouts of bankruptcy. The company was founded by ex-Marvel editor-in-chief and his associate in 1989. From the time Valiant released its first title in 1991, Magnus Robot Fighter to the award-winning series Harbinger about a group of teenage super-powered outcasts and featuring the most powerful mentalist on earth, Toyo Harada, Valiant comics have remarkably delivered highly creative superhero stories just behind the industry leaders Marvel and DC. The Summer of Valiant event starting in 2012 has been hugely successful in showcasing Valiant Universe’s popular characters such as Bloodshot, X-O Manowar, Harbinger, Eternal Warrior as well new titles with grand stories, all of which has managed to captivate comic fans the world over. The Summer of 2015 event saw the launch of Valiant’s miniseries Book of Death which became one of the best-reviewed comics of the year and the biggest selling independent crossover event of the decade. With another new owner in 2018, DMG Entertainment, Valiant Universe released the first movie of its superhero Bloodshot in 2020. Last heard a sequel is in making.


Archie Universe


Teenaged Archie Andrews was created in 1941 by publisher John L. Goldwater and artist Bob Montana. The character first appeared in Pep Comics#22 owned by M.L.J. Magazines. The instant popularity of Archie as a relatable normal guy living next door led the company to change its name to Archie Comics. Archie is the average American guy from a small-town Riverdale. His parents work to meet their ends. Archie is fascinated by up-town girl Veronica, rich and stylish. Betty, the girl next door who has a middle-class upbringing is crazy about Archie. The ensuing love triangle as well as the rivalry between Veronica and her best friend Betty has been the fodder for several stories in Archie’s Universe. Then there is Jughead, Archie’s best friend, usually the first one to bail out Archie from trouble, occasionally making it messier. Archie Universe has enjoyed a loyal fan following since its first publication in 1941. The normal teenage guy has withstood the regular onslaught of superheroes over the years, giving an alternate world that is joyful and easily relatable. Archie was reimagined in 2015 giving him a new character look and a grown-up storyline targeted for modern-day teenage and young adult readers.  


TMNT Universe


Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles characters are the creation of cartoonists Keven Eastman and Peter Laird. The first TMNT comic book in 1983 was in black and white, generating strong media coverage due to the extraordinary ninja fighting skills of the mutant turtles and their thrilling stories. The four turtles each wearing their respective color eye masks were the result of a radioactive accident, transformed into enlightened humanoid beings. They are raised by a mutant talking rat and get their names from renaissance time painters. Leonardo is the leader of the group, most skilled and spiritual, Michelangelo or Mike is the youngest of the group, most naturally skilled of the four brothers, he is known for his wise-cracks and witty optimism. Donatello, with a natural aptitude for science and tech. His ninja skills are the lowest of the four turtles, he relies on gadgets over combat skills. Raphael or Raph in short is the most violent and physically strong turtle in the group. He has a tendency for going berserk either in battles or when he loses his cool. Together with their master, Splinter, a mutant rat, and ninja instructor, the turtles must fight with their greatest enemy the evil Shredder, leader of the ninja gang Foot Clan. New characters got introduced during the time new publishers came in expanding TMNT Universe. Several crossover comics emerged featuring TMNT with likes of Batman, Savage Dragon, Archie to name a few. The four turtles have been delivering action-packed entertainment, even though many characters entered and exited. TNMT movies have also garnered commercial success. 


Boys Universe


Garth Ennis and Darick Robertson created “The Boys” to present the harsh reality of the superheroes who are spoiled by their celebrity status, abuse their powers, and in-process risk the safety of the world. A clandestine CIA squad known as the Boys is formed to keep an eye on the superhero community. The series had a short run of six issues since DC-owned Wildstorm canceled further issues as the comic’s cheeky premise did not resonate with DC’s rich superhero lineage. The creators not only set up their group of superheroes that mocked the existing ones but also went with a lesser-known comic publisher, Dynamite Entertainment to continue their onward journey till the final series seventy-second. The Boys are on a heroic mission led by Billy Butcher, Wee Hughie, the Frenchman, Mother’s Milk, and the Female to find rogue supes and if needed kill them. They are up against the mighty, The Seven, a group of most corrupted supes. The series earned a lot of praise for its satirical storyline, fascinating characters, and brutal humor, which is rarely seen in modern comics. It enjoyed ample commercial success and huge critical acclaim during its run from 2006 to 2012. An adaption on Amazon Prime Video with the debut of the first season in 2019 was an instant hit, which led to the creation of a highly watched second season in 2020. The boys are waiting for the third season!


Transformers Universe



Transformers originated from a toy line created by American Hasbro and Japanese Takara Tomy company. Since the creators were not from the comics industry, the rights to publish Transformer comics shifted across multiple publishers over time. In 1984, Marvel Comics got the license to publish comic books based on the Transformer toy line. The transformer toys became massively popular and so were the comics which turned into regular monthly series from the initial four-issue limited series. The Eighty-issue American run ended in 1991. Dreamwave productions revived the Transformer comics in 2002 but faced bankruptcy in 2005. IDW Publishing picked up the rights soon after and continues to currently own the characters. The Transformer plot essentially revolves around two factions of alien robots, the heroic Autobots and the villainous Decepticons. They both belong to the Transformer race, fight a deadly war on their home planet Cybertron to secure their energy needs. The robots crash land on earth after Cybertron is decimated. The battle begins on earth with robots acquiring the ability to hide by changing into vehicles, devices in case humans become hostile. The most iconic characters of the series, Optimus Prime of the Autobots and Megatron of the Decepticons continue to battle it out for supremacy. 

 

The Transformers Universe is a multimedia extravaganza sharing common themes and characters across, toys, cartoons, TV series, movies, and comics. It is without a doubt that comics have truly brought life to the ever-expanding universe of Transformers with its many interesting storylines including the darker tones. The infinite creativity of a comic book artist to imagine “robots turning into animals” and building amazing stories around it goes to show that Transformers are here to have an extended stay. 


What is the New Normal?

Rohit C.


Our work and home lives have forever changed in 2020 and continue to do so in the current year. From our physical hugs and meetings to elbow bumps and virtual meetings, everything has changed. We were pushed to learn and adapt to new skills just because it was a question of our survival. It was a big challenge for many of us to accept change so fast in our normal lives and seeing the scale of change from a global viewpoint is just staggering. Who would have thought that a normal toilet paper, in this pandemic, will attain the status of gold! The shift in our lives is real and visible. The new normal that we see today is way different from the old normal and possibly continues in some form or other for a long time.


The normal we enjoyed living

The last year was a complete whitewash for all of us. This frustrating time is still ongoing for a major part of the world as the happy hours many of us boasted about became off-limits. The old normal way of going to the office jostling in a metro, catching sometimes with a long-lost friend was enough to put up a smile on our face. The office was for fun, the thought of staying at home would make many go crazy. School-going children were not far behind. They were happy to go to school every day, learning new things, playing, and having fun with friends. Picnics, outings, sightseeing trips, tourism, and travel were the perfect getaway from boredom as well as to feel good and recharged to live another day. Surprisingly for us, the word “virus” used to be just another harmless word in the dictionary. It was best left for creative writers to imagine sci-fi stories where a lonely virus could bring the world down. And for those who were feeling let down, it was the thought of positivity created by the positive people that worked wonders.


The normal gestures which we were used to, a firm handshake, a tight hug, or a friendly tap are in for a long break. Sneezing and coughing were just a way to show that we are alive! Meeting new people at different places, parties, clubs and even hanging out with friends and family is how normally weekends were spent. People used social media but never went off limits with it, there was much more to do. Life was in the fast lane, people were happy to live a mechanized life for it brought them stability, success, and peace in life. Special costumes were for special occasions, PPE and masks were rarely seen in public; social distancing was unheard of. Office meetings were a good time to eat your favorite pizzas and McD burgers.


The New normal we have adapted


A year has passed with “new normal” now part of our lives. It is all about a new way of living, working, and interacting with other people after a major disruption in our life routines due to a global health crisis. The current one emerging from the widespread outbreak of Covid-19 has influenced every aspect of our work and life. All of us are adjusting to new ways to manage our daily activities. This adaptation is the New Normal, for some, it may be a temporary phase while for others it will be a new living culture. Besides, the numerous changes in our lives, the new normal is also about knowing ourselves better. It is also time for preparing for the post-pandemic generation. So let us dive into what is the new normal. 

 

Virtual world

The emergence of a new kind of virtual world in a short span of a year and moving at a break-neck speed is simply mind-blowing. In some parts of the world, this digital transformation, unimaginable a couple of years back is leading the change in society. Society has become contactless to a large extent. People are using digital technology like never before, ordering food, groceries, medicines, etc, online, from the comfort of their home. Binge-watching and eating go hand in hand with a host of OTT platforms to keep us glued to screens for hours. Work-from-home is here to stay as more and more companies adopt it as a part of their work culture. People have upped their skills to cope with remote working learning new office tools. Social media platforms, video chat, and phone calls are the only ways to stay in touch with your close ones. The world of schools and universities has shifted to the e-learning model, teaching done remotely and on digital platforms. Will this abrupt move to online learning will become a norm or we will see an emergence of a hybrid model where online education will have a larger role to play, only time will tell? Cash in physical form is now hardly seen with people finding it easy and safe to pay using credit, debit, or mobile-based apps. Public transport is seeing dwindling users as most of the world is virtually connected. Businesses have increasingly moved to an online model, those solely relying on physical mortar and brick are in deep trouble as consumers accept online shopping at a frantic pace.


The future of medicine is undergoing rapid change. People will continue to have online consultations with doctors. Internet of Things-based devices will continue to grow at a fast pace offering advanced technology at cheaper costs to monitor everyday health. Social distancing norms are part of the new virtual world, people are willing to interact virtually but reluctant to meet in person. The age-old thought of a human being as a social animal has gone for a toss! Personal hygiene was always an important part of our lives before the pandemic, but now it is more to do with how many times we wash our hands, incessantly use sanitizers and wear face masks with a ritual-like frequency. And based on our habit-forming tendency, this will continue for a while and they should. The once-revered word “positive” has lost its sanctity, now it sets most of the people in panic mode. People are happy to see “negative” people or negative-positive people!! (person tested negative for covid-19, and with a positive attitude)


New beginnings

The pandemic has been a great leveler for all of us, giving everyone time to introspect about ourselves, society, and nature. It gave us the time we all needed in building ourselves to cope with this tough situation and learning the various truths of life. We even got the space and time to grieve, to celebrate, and to feel every emotion in between, during this challenging time. We are living in a situation that never happened before, and it is impacting each one of us in a very distinctive way that we never thought of. We even got time to learn our indoor hobbies which we did not even know we had. People enhanced their skills in their area of interest. From the initial shock, the 'new normal' has been able to reduce the chaos and calm us down to a great extent. It has also allowed us to think but it also expands our ability to think openly about the efforts that are needed to help our society at large.  

 

Conclusion

There is no denying the fact that the current pandemic has turned our world upside down. Indeed, it was very tough to suddenly change your way of living to something alien to all of us initially. But we persisted like so many times the human race has done in past in face of adversity. We allowed the change to happen, some for good and some for just survival. It is but natural to resist a change that is so dramatic and so many of us were not ready to accept the new normal. The resistance was more with the inner self which had to give in at some point in time. Will life ever return to old normal is the question that crops up whenever one sits down thinking about life. The answer is probably no as the clock ticks with each passing moment, the new normal has already become normal for most of us. The comfort of tech and habits that we have picked up during this time is here to stay. Of course, some of the restrictions will go off simply because we are indeed social animals! We are born to interact physically with some caution. 


Adjusting to new normal is never too early or too late, it is a process that each one of us is getting used to at our pace. The opportunity to change, make a better version of ourselves is a godsend and should be taken in the right spirit. It is difficult for us as a global community to predict when such a crisis will occur and what will be its impact, but if we prepare for any eventuality then it is sure that the next black swan event will not be as gloomy as the one, we all have endured. “Life is what happens to us while we are making other plans” So, let us leave old normal to rest in peace while we focus our energy on the bright future ahead that holds the promise of a great life, a society that upholds the principles of liberty, truth, and justice for all.  

Comic icon of India, Dheeraj Verma, passes away due to COVID complications

Mike Gagnon

It is with a heavy heart that we report on the passing of Dheeraj Verma. 

Verma is idolized by comic fans worldwide for his amazingly detailed comic book illustration, and in India particularly, where he is recognized as the first comic creator from India to break into the mainstream comics scene with major publishers such as Marvel and DC.

Verma was hospitalized in May with COVID-19, though he recovered and was showing improvement, Dheeraj developed pulmonary fibrosis as a side effect of his COVID-19 exposure, likely due to organ damage caused by the virus. 

While hospitalized waiting for treatment for his complications Dheeraj fell into a coma and had to be put on a ventilator. 

Being in India, Dheeraj lived in the country with the largest production of Vaccine, but, like most Indian citizens did not yet have access to it. 

As of June 9th, Mr. Verma's passing due to pulmonary fibrosis caused by Covid-19 was confirmed by his daughter in social media posts. 

Our heart goes out to the comics community in India and around the world and all those that mourn the passing of this great artist.

Dheeraj's daughter, Vinnie, was running a crowdfunding campaign to pay for his father's medical treatment to save his life when he passed. 

Condolences and donations can be made to the Verma family at: My Father Is Suffering From Pulmonary Fibrosis. We Need Your Help To Provide For His Treatment - Ketto 

Rest in Power, Dheeraj.


Note from the creative director: When I first met Dheeraj, it was online. In fact, with him being in India and me in Canada, online is the only way I know Dheeraj, but I knew him. 

Many years ago, when neither one of us had had a big break yet, he and I worked on an independent comic together we were going to self-publish. I think we may have gotten it half completed when Dheeraj started catching the eye of bigger publishers with paid gigs. I was looking at forming my own publishing company at the time, so we mutually agreed to put the project on "pause" while we both pursued success in our separate careers, but always stayed in touch and said we'd get back to finishing that book together. 

We never did get back to it, but it was great to see an artist with so much talent and for who I had so much respect continue to succeed and get some of that recognition that he deserved. 

To be honest, if I could be any artist than the one I am, it would have been Dheeraj Verma. One look at his work tells you how amazing his art skills are amazing. I always thought it was crazy that he wasn't already working for Marvel by the time that I first met him. 

What really weighs on my mind, is that when we were working together, Dheeraj and I had discussed the idea of me sponsoring him to immigrate to Canada. At the time I felt like a nobody, and didn't think my fledgling publishing idea would be able to support someone moving across the world, so we decided not to do it. 

If I had done more then, Dheeraj might have been in Canada now. He may have still gotten COVID, but he might not have, and he would have had access to the vaccines and treatment he needed without his family having to worry about medical costs as much. 

There are very few regrets I have in life, but not helping Dheeraj get to Canada is definitely one of them.

I have privately donated what I could to the fundraiser for Dheeraj's medical care, and with a heavy heart, I encourage others to do the same if they can. 

New Technologies Deliver Comic Books in New Ways

Rohit C.

Modern-day technology is increasingly disrupting traditional systems and processes like never before. The human mind is enjoying its best time by pushing the boundaries of creativity to deliver astounding innovations as emerging tech evolves further. The way we are wired to digital tech in this age of the internet would have been viewed as part of some sci-fi story a few decades ago. The ancient art of storytelling has been transforming over several years, driven by societal changes. The torchbearer of the sequential art of storytelling, comic books have undergone massive changes in the way they are produced and distributed, from their early years to the present time. As technology developed further and became progressively more affordable and powerful, comic book creation moved from analog to digital.

 

The traditional method of comic book creation involved a writer and team of line artists, penciler, inker, letterer, and finally, the colorist. Every word was a physical act with writing long-form by hand or on a typewriter. Editing also meant manual work using the white-out, cutting, and repasting process to edit the stories. While the work of writers and editors is largely the same, that is editing the work, checking deadlines, or writing, of course now they have digital tools to improve their productivity. It is the role of penciler, inker, colorist, and letterers that have hugely changed with the evolution of computers and technology, greatly improving the speed, output, and artistry. Modern styluses have replaced pencils and inks and modern technology has affected comics in all possible ways. Whether someone is writing and creating a comic or a company is looking to distribute them, technology has changed the ways these things used to work. The first commercially published all-digital comic was Shatter, released in 1985 and drawn in full on a Macintosh, except for the coloring. The art had pixelated images that appeared blurry and blocky, with its rigid words. Shatter was way ahead of its time in innovation and became a best seller.

 

Digital Age Writing, Drawing, and Coloring

The art of storytelling via comics has undergone a sea of change. In earlier days, writers were a bit more thoughtful, as it took a lot of effort to redraft stories. Now, even before the idea is cooked, something is already written on the table. The digital age writer is modernity personified, for they love a popular go-to-app for writers, Scrivener, where the idea gains the shape of a story and to make their brain work on autopilot, the writer is happily listening to a playlist on Spotify and watching random images on a slideshow. It is not unusual to get story ideas from anywhere now. In fact, the quirkier the source, the faster the brain throws great ideas. 

 

The modern tools that have become essential for today’s digital artists reflect the ease with which they have been adopted the world over. Dropbox allows just a click to transfer files from one device to another. Though the writers just need a laptop or desktop and a great word processing app, it is the artists who use multiple digital creation tools to optimize their time and also to deliver quality work. Earlier, the inker was the best person to uplift the penciler’s work, as it was the inker who would give proper weight to each line as well the final creative touch to the story after the penciler laid out the page and drew the initial images. Now in the digital world, it is the colorist or more suitably the illustrator who has the most artistic importance in the entire production chain. The workflow is also quite different as now the illustrator works on a low-res file, laying out panels, gestures, and framing. Flexibility is the king. Earlier, if the page was not okay, everything was redone. Now one can copy panels, avoiding starting from scratch. The process of putting words in comics is known as lettering and is an artistic skill that has been an integral part of comics since their birth. With the rise of digital lettering, great improvements are made in how captions and word balloons are rendered. The ability to change dialogue easily in the digital world, plus the uniformity and neatness of the work, meant the end of the earlier analog process of lettering. 

 

Clip Studio Paint is a digital painting program ideal for painting and rendering any type of illustration. The painting brush is highly customizable and easy to use. One can sketch, ink, color, create captions and word balloons, and also do line works with ease. Clip Studio Paint is strongly skewed towards the digital creation of comics and mangas. Some comic artists also follow a hybrid workflow where they begin with rough sketches using traditional pen and paper. Then they scan the work to import the art into Adobe Illustrator. The virtual artist then uses tools like pens and brushes to give more detail and ink it as well. Adobe Illustrator has an advantage over Photoshop; it uses vector art instead of pixel. Vector art lets you scale your lines so work looks great at any dimension. It allows printing at different sizes without losing the resolution. 


Apart from the new tech software, the hardware also plays an important role in modern-day art creation. With the Apple iPad Pro, 13-inch Wacom Cintiq, and a larger 22-inch Wacom Cintiq for use in the studio, the smaller device acts as the artist’s go-to device. Each device is a masterpiece of the latest digital tech, Wacom Cintiq allows one to draw as accurately as possible directly on the screen with increased size and resolution. The old-time erasers and inks are now mostly left for kids to play with! Besides, the neatness of the work, the time needed to create a page has been greatly reduced due to modern tech marvels. The times have changed and so has the art of making money with a faster turnaround.


Webcomics

In the age of the internet, comic books have witnessed not only innovative distribution channels but also high creativity in producing them. Webcomics, also known as online or internet comics, are published on the internet or a mobile app. Anyone with internet can publish their webcomic. They allow for a large degree of artistic freedom for their creators as well as using non-traditional styles. Webcomics are commonly made in a comic strip or printed comic book format. Many websites allow free access to these comics on the internet. For those who want to try their hand at creating comics, the web allows us to do that as well. 

 


Motion comics

As the internet reaches a wider audience delivering faster speeds, the earlier static image is fast shifting to moving image or video culture. More people are now watching videos on the internet, which is expected to grow exponentially in near the future. Comic books, a popular medium of entertainment, have been continuously evolving with creators looking at innovative ways to engage newer audiences. Motion comics have come a long way since their conceptual stage in the mid-1960s. The animation style in motion comics combines both the elements of print comics and animation. They do not contain text or speech bubbles. Instead, motion comics use actual voice acting and effects within expanded individual panels to illustrate a full scene. The immense popularity of new digital gadgets like iPads and tablets have led artists to further innovate sequential art of storytelling with the likes of motion comics featuring interactive styles that allow readers to control the pace of animated panels at the speed to which they are comfortable reading, giving an enjoyable and lasting experience.

 

Comics in the AR World

Another digital tech innovation that has captured the minds of creators as well as the digital audience are virtual and augmented reality. AR is gaining ground quickly with its ability to work with even a smartphone, enhancing both the real and virtual world. The VR one requires a headset device. AR is capable of overlaying digital content (images, sounds, text) in a real-world environment. The launch of the Pokémon Go game in 2016 made AR an instant hit and got the artist to explore AR-based comics. Modern Polaxis, a story of a time traveler, showcases AR capabilities as the future of storytelling. Fast forward to the future and we may have our favorite superheroes moving around close to us! 

 

Old Wine in a New Bottle

The comics as a medium of entertainment have held steadfastly against consistent onslaughts from technology. While no doubt comics have morphed with the changing times, the inner core is still the original content which is what makes it popular among the newer audiences. Just as digital art is appealing to a large section of creators and readers for scaling new heights in creativity, the perfection in digitally made comics is also eroding human sensibility to some extent. Will it be lost forever or can it be restored in some form in digital comics? The answer lies in the future. 

Best comics and graphic novels for kids 10 and under

By Rohit C. 

Dog Man

Dog Man by American cartoonist Dav Pilkey is a comedic graphic novel series. When Greg, the police dog, and his cop friend are injured in an explosion from a bomb, the medical team does a life-saving surgery, and Dog Man - the crime-busting half-man, half-dog creature - is born. Dog Man cannot speak as his canine nature seems to overpower his human qualities. He is seen doing what a dog loves to do - chewing on furniture, taking naps in the middle of the floor, and licking people. However, when it's action time, Dog Man’s human abilities enable him to chase away criminals. He is on a mission to bring peace and justice to the city.
Reading age: 6-10 years

Best features: Funny and quirky. The laughing does not stop, with loads of humor (one of several euphemisms for passing gas: “who sneaked a one-cheek squeak?”). The book’s characters can be drawn by kids as part of fun-filled activity. 


Scooby-Doo! Team-up

The team-up between Scooby-Doo/the gang and superheroes of the DC universe is a funny and entertaining series for kids, as well as grown-ups who wish to revisit their childhood. It is exciting to see how the characters react to giant bat sightings, as some of them feel it to be the work of a robber, while others suspect the Man-Bat is behind it all. Writer Sholly Fisch manages to deliver an amusing experience for children, with great jokes. 

Reading age: 7-10 years

Best features: Colourful animated style, basic writing, and funny punchlines that are sure to bring a smile.

 

Owly

This is a silent (wordless) comic featuring a friendly owl named Owly. He is always helping those around him. Even though Owly is kind-hearted, he is unable to make friends, as his would-be friends seem to get scared by the fact that he is an owl. Owly gets to meet Wormy, who is also in need of a good friend, and there starts the story of a great friendship and adventure!

For early readers, who are still trying to gain confidence with words, writer Andy Runton presents a perfect blend of words and symbols that can be easily read by them and are a great way to introduce graphic novels! The characters are all cute, full of innocence, and truly represent the way young kids see the world from their eyes. The stories revolve around friendship, loyalty, and nature. It is sweetly innocent.

Reading age: 4-8 years

Best features: Owly is a series of innocent, cute stories. It is a must-read for early readers, to let them know of good values, such as friendship and loyalty.

 

Tiny Titans

This is a superhero comic book aimed at pre-schoolers, featuring short, humorous stories and puzzle pages. Tiny Titans is not like your typical superhero comic book, as there are no fights or battles with villains. The stories are more about being in school, playing together, and sometimes exploring the Batcave. The art style is simple, creative, and appealing without being overly cute.

Authors Art Baltazar and Franco Aureliani are known for creating superhero comics in a kid-friendly style. Tiny Titans have twice won the comics industry's top award for Best Kids Series.

Reading age: 4-10 years

Best features: Fun-filled comic book, with puzzles and activities for kids.

 

Abigail and the Snowman

Abigail and the Snowman is a delightful story about a young girl named Abigail, who makes friends with a yeti shortly after moving to her new town. She is a highly imaginative girl; it only makes it harder to fit in at her new school. Abigail meets an adorable yeti named Claude, who has escaped from a top-secret government facility. Abigail and Claude become good friends, even if no one else believes that he is real. The fun is short-lived, as the mysterious Shadow Men chasing Claude are hot on his trail. In order to protect him from his earlier captors, Abigail and Claude start on a journey to find his real home. 

Reading age: 5-10 years

Best features: A heart-warming journey of friendship, loyalty, and imagination.

 

Little Robot

Little Robot by writer Ben Hatke is the story of a brave little girl who finds a cute robot in the forest. She accidentally activates him by pressing a button. Now, she finally has a friend. Little Robot has all the right flavors of fun, humor, and action that a kids’ comic should have. The story delivers a wonderful message of true friendship - which is fully accepting your friends with their differences. The illustrations in Little Robot, and the full spreads with bright colors, are awesome. 

Reading age: 6-8 years

Best features: Great book featuring diverse characters. Teaches universal values of friendship, how to deal with disagreements, and acceptance.  

 

An Elephant and Piggie

Mo Willems brings a comic book series for early readers called Elephant and Piggie, featuring two friends: an elephant, Gerald, and a pig, Piggie. The author uses a conversational style for the book; Piggie having pink letter bubbles and Gerald’s shows in grey letter bubbles. The characters are expressive, funny, and original, while the illustrations are simple. 

Reading age: 4-8 years

Best features: Very relatable. It has a surprise ending, with a good message like “having fun is most important”.

 

Benjamin Bear in Bright Ideas

Benjamin Bear is highly creative and has bright ideas to deal with situations - such as crossing a stream, helping a lamb cool off, and how to rid himself of fleas. The graphic novel has single-page comics that tell short and clever stories filled with humor. For example, the time when Bear was filled with eagerness to help his rabbit friend achieve his dream of having a house in the woods. Once the house was completed, not a single tree is left in the vicinity! The author is excellent at varying the stories enough to make the book entirely surprising and great fun to read. The concept of sequence of events can be easily introduced to emerging readers with this book. Since each story is complete on a single page, it is easier to use them for several different lessons.

Reading age: 5-8 years

Best features: Features life lessons on what to do in certain situations.

 

Maya Makes a Mess

Writer Rutu Modan’s Eisner Award-winning talents are seen in the toon graphic novel for emerging readers, Maya Makes a Mess. Maya's parents often tell her to correct her messy table manners with “what would the queen think?”. While having a family dinner, Maya receives a very unexpected invitation to dine with the queen. It is time for her messy manners to be put to the ultimate test and she begins to improvise her very own set of rules, with riotous results that are perfect for messy eaters or those who are not allowed to have their fun at the table. Filled with humor and superbly imagined detail, this comic book is sure to turn every child into an avid reader. 

Reading age: 4-8 years

Best features: Hilarious, messy fun for kids of this age group!

Great Public Domain Comics for Kids online for FREE!

By Rohit C. 

The Brain

Comics published by Magazine Enterprises in the mid-1950s, the Brain is a series of humorous stories featuring the character the Brain. The first series has four stories with the protagonist Brain, who is a cute little boy, always up to something especially when he sees someone needing help. The moment Brain starts thinking about a solution, his brain gets zapped to create a brainstorm, which is a telling sign for the quirkiest idea Brain has! Like the time when he wants to impress his mom by quickly mashing potatoes, so he fills an old vacuum bag with all of the potatoes and starts punching them, creating a dust storm! Poor fella gets banged by his dad for his idea of help. Hilarious and quirky stories that are sure to make kids laugh. Check out all twelve issues available in the public domain at comic book plus.

 

Beany and Cecil

Published by Dell, the comic book series Beany and Cecil was introduced during 1959-1962 starring Beany boy and the serpent Cecil along with Captain Huffenpuff, villain Dishonest John, and others. Kids will have a good time reading Beany and Cecil's adventures aboard the versatile sailboat, Leakin’ Lena. Beany with a cute propeller on his head is up to a few tricks in the series, even saving them from losing their way while going to buy groceries as the sun starts to set. The gusty winds tear apart Leakin Lena's sails which do not last long after they repair it. Beany’s head saves the day with the propeller spinning fast, moving the sailboat on land! Beany and Cecil are fun-filled children's comics delivering wholesome entertainment. Collection of five books available online at CB+.

 

Coo Coo

One of the funniest children’s comic books in the public domain is the collection of stories featuring Supermouse and other funny animal characters with likes of Buster bruin, Parker Penguin, Jack Rabbit, Silly Billy, and so forth. They were published during 1942-1951. Some series in the Coo Coo collection have one-off character stories. Supermouse has a sci-fi origin, after two scientists brainstorm to create a super liquid, the mouse dunks his cheese in the super liquid. Upon eating the dunked cheese, the mouse gets all the superpowers from the super liquid and a super mouse is born. He decides to use his superpowers to protect the innocent and so catches rogue ratface doing a crime. Buster bruin is about a lazy bear who just wants to sleep, but his two little kids are always up to something and poor dad pays the price for their mischief. CooCoo comics has sixty-two issues available online, a massive collection of assorted stories, delivering unlimited fun and action.

Cowboys ‘n’ Injuns (Editors note: though the name is problematic by today's standards, we chose to include this title, as we believe knowing the past is better than burying it.)

Western genre comic books published in different periods from the 1940s to 60s, the Cowboys book features a group of cowboys each having their unique tag line - Jessy Jimmy is the junior bad man, Ol’Smokey is the tall tale teller, Cuckoo Sheriff is a crazy bird of Texas, and others. Jessy James is a young kid ready to show off his tough cowboy skills, only to make a fool of himself by his funny acts. Jessy James does not fear ghosts because he is a tough man, but the kid gets scared when the fisherman dresses as a ghost! The tales of Smokey are interesting with a funny twist at the end, forcing Jessy James to give a hard stare. Eleven Fun-filled issues in vintage American western style are available online at CB+.

Cutie Pie

Cutie Pie is a small, cute girl, always on the lookout for trouble. Her innocent thoughts are sure to make anyone go crazy, as are her parents. Cutie Pie is highly active and does not think twice before asking silly questions which she feels are right. Her mother wants to buy an alligator bag at a bargain sale. For Cutie Pie, it is a fun time as she thinks that the alligator is inside the bag and not finding one at the sale, she manages to create a riot by shouting alligator, leaving her parents with a hefty repair bill and a headache! The stories are humorous, cutely innocent for kids, and show kids’ view of the world. Only five books available online.

Li’I Genius

A kid called Li’l Genius is in a playful mood proudly showing his genius skills as his parents watch him, holding their heads in dismay. Li’l Genius' silly questions and acts are enjoyable throughout the story. In the end, he comes out as a clever, witty kid. As usual, his parents are speechless listening to his closing arguments. To release his hyper energy, Li’l Genuis' parents take him to a concert on the advice of a doctor, only to be told by the audience to leave due to Genius’ antics. On their way back home, Li’l Genius advises his father to buy ice cream for his mother, but his mother refuses for it was too easily a bargain for his actions at the concert. When his father offers to buy a hat, his mother is mightily happy. Genius grabs this chance to ask for ice cream, countering his mother’s no with his witty remark that it was due to him that she got a hat. A simple read, full of clever humor. A big collection of sixty-five books at CB+ is sure to keep kids engaged for a long time.

Little Eva 

A little girl named Eva does what she likes to do. She is lively, full of ideas, and ready for action. Each story in the comic book is written keeping small kids in mind with a unique ending. The stories are simple and easy for kids with an element of fun and creativity. Eva is a bubbly girl; she takes all of the stuff needed to go swimming in a hot climate. She roams few places only to find they are not suitable for swimming. She does manage to find a water fountain, some of her friends already enjoying the cool water in hot weather. But to Eva’s dismay, she has forgotten her bathing suit! Eva carries all the stuff back home, her mother is upset to know that she is roaming everywhere to escape from the heat. If only she would have used the bathtub! CB+ has forty-one books of Little Eva and her creative ways.

Punch and Judy

A delightful comic book featuring Punch and Judy along with funny animal characters’ assorted stories were published in years 1944 to 1951. Old toymaker Tony has made a boy doll named Punch whom he gives life by spraying his secret perfume of life. Little Judy lives next door to the toy shop and she and Punch have become good friends. Punch does not like being called a toy; his real self is always ready to prove that he is same as Judy and old man Tony. When Punch is sent to an orphanage to entertain kids, he runs off, creating a ruckus, and jumps in the lake. Uncle Tony and Judy rescue him from the fish. Punch agrees to become a good boy thereafter. Nice, happy ending with lots of action/fun. Kids will love reading thirty-four books at CB+.

 

Calling all Kids

Calling all Kids is a complete comic book with stories, coloring pictures, puzzles, and games. Wholesome entertainment and fun activities to keep kids busy all day. The main attraction is the stories of Marco Polar Bear (inspired by Marco Polo, the great explorer) and his helper Bobby Beaver as they travel across the world on their magic linoleum rug. During their trips to various places, Marco Polar Bear describes the special features of the country they visit as well as the country’s wonderful traditions. He also answers the questions of Bobby, like why does cheese have holes? CB+ has a collection of 28 issues available online.


Sniffy the Pup

The cute pup Sniffy is full of life, ready to share and care for others. Sniffy jumps to action upon seeing a baby cry, trying to calm him down. He feels sad about the flowers, plants, and the garden because it is not raining. He has a heart of gold but is hardly petted for all his good work. Sniffy never loses his calm and goes all out to bring happiness to others. When Sniffy is stuck in clouds, he begs the rain god to let it rain so that plants and flowers can get relief from the heat. He jumps from a cloud onto a rainbow to slide down to the ocean! The stories have great imagination like the small kids and share a beautiful message of caring for others. Fourteen books to enjoy online at CB+

 

Buster Bear

Buster Bear was published for a limited time in the 1950s as a comic book of assorted animal characters with the main character being Buster Bear. He is often caught in amusing conditions. It all starts when Buster and his friends are busy posing for pictures, even doing senseless acts, like his friend Cholly Chipmonk showing off his acting talents, as he wants to become a movie star. As they finish up, all are laughing loudly except for Buster Bear, for he is so silly that he forgets to put film in the camera! The stories are simple and easy to understand for early readers. Read all ten comic books at CB+.