Comic Vs. Comic Vs. Comic

When we think of the word comic, not everyone visualizes the same thing. We can think of comedians, the Sunday Funny Pages, or Watchmen. That’s what makes defining the word comic so difficult.

So what is a comic? According to Merriam-Webster, a comic is as follows:

  • of or relating to a comedy
  • causing laughter or amusement

With that in mind, we have to look at the etymology of the word. After doing some research, I learned that comic derives from the Greek word komikos which means “of or pertaining to comedy.” However, as we’ve seen with comics like Watchmen and Akira, comics no longer solely pertain to the comedy genre. However, it would be difficult for comic book writers to put out darker and more serious work if the very name of what their doing contradicts their creation. If people pick up The Killing Joke because it’s a comic and they’re expecting something funny, they would be horrified to find Barbara Gordon being shot and paralyzed by the Joker. So a new term came into the comic field: graphic novel.

Coined by Will Eisner, author of A Contract with God, if something is a graphic novel, we don’t expect it to be funny. Even now, this course we are taking is not called ENGL 386: Comics. It’s called ENGL 386: The Graphic Novel. Now there’s a distinction between the two terms. However, that does not mean that they are entirely separate. In my own interpretation, I believe that the word comic is an umbrella term. There are different subsections of comics. We have graphic novels, which can also be seen as an umbrella term. Both Fun Home and Akira are considered graphic novels, though they are fundamentally different. From the term graphic novel, we can break things down even further. Different genres, subject matter, etc.

But finally, what do we do about the word comic? How can we change it to better fit what comics are today? I think that we must recognize that the term has changed. Different people will think of different things when the word is used. Older generations may be more inclined to think of more lighthearted fare, like Mighty Mouse. Current generations are more likely to think about The Dark Knight Returns or Fun Home. All of these varying works exist under same blanket term. It is up to us to distinguish between them when talking about them.