Comics have always faced criticism, primarily aimed at the blending of prose and image. The Romantic poet and author of the poem Tintern Abbey was appalled by how the public had become infatuated with the serialised novels and illustrations of Charles Dickens’s novels. He even wrote a poem to convey his disgust.
In the summer of 2014, the British Library filled its gallery with an exhibition of British comics, the biggest ever in the United Kingdom. It used comics in all their forms from the fifteenth century to modern day.
Another critic of comics was the German critic Gotthold Lessing who compared the limits of painting and poetry. He complained that an illustration captured only one moment, whereas a poem or story covered a range of time, rendering the two forms incompatible. Lessing’s separatist theory was first translated into English in 1836 and it is still being read, taught and believed now.
The power of comics has been utilised as a tool of propaganda and political communication, used by the Young National Front, the Anti-Nazi League and other bodies.
During the fifties, there was real concern about the persuasive powers of American comic books, especially those in the horror and crime genres. An alliance was formed involving the Archbishop of Canterbury and the Communist party who lobbied for a government ban.