Technological Agency

Will Eisner popularizes the term ‘graphic novel’ with the publication of<em> A Contract with God and Other Tenement Stories.</em>

 Eisner embodies the grittiness of 1930s NYC in the first graphic novel.

Marshall McLuhan draws us back from the more complicated arguments and returns us to the overly reductive notion of technological determinism. His seminal work The Gutenberg Galaxy makes a compelling and well documented case for the agency of the printing press in shaping our modern world and minds. At its most basic level, when applied to the medium of text and fixed image media, McLuhan argues that print technology + paper technology + ink technology + binding technology = comic books and graphic novels. Though McLuhan does not directly discuss the comic book medium, he does make the general argument that writers are only able to create their stories because the technologies listed above form a context in which they can imagine new worlds and invent amazing scientific inventions. According to McLuhan and Elizabeth L. Eisenstein (among others), the development of the printing press allowed for specific social and historical conditions to form, which directly led to the scientific revolutionthe Renaissance, and ultimately the industrial revolutions (Eisenstein 1979). Without these advancements in the printing press and other related technologies, not only would the comic book not exist, but much of the modern knowledge we depend on daily would remain undiscovered. We would live in a fundamentally different world. 

<em>The Yellow Kid</em> is widely recognized as the first modern comic strip.

While McLuhan's and Eisenstein’s argument is fundamentally correct, it does not tell a complete story. For without the aesthetic inventions Kubler describes and the formation of a fandom community, the American comic book may not have developed in its recognizable form. It is because of the standardization of formatting, codified by Will Eisner and Scott McCloud, that we can now authoritatively discuss the comic book and graphic novel. Much of their work discusses the development of the the comic strip and its evoluttion towards the modern comic book and graphic novel. 

Among its foundational creators, Richard F. Outcault, in particular, is noted for his early introduction and consistent use of recurring characters and text bubbles. On February 16, 1896 The Yellow Kid earned its name - being printed for the first time in brilliant color. The Yellow Kid was extremely popular and drew readers to the New York World. When Outcault was recruited by a competing newspaper, the comic strip and its readers followed him. Rudolph Dirks’ The Katzenjammer Kids was another early comic strip (Hennessy 1968) that played an important role in developing the comic strip as its own distinct medium.