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Comic Books Offer a Unique Glimpse into Other Cultures

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For decades, comic books have offered a unique reflection of the culture in which they are created while also cultivating their own distinctive global culture with millions of devoted followers.

Comic books represent a massive global industry, valuing $935 million in North America alone, according to Comichron. Comics from around the world incorporate the cultural norms and values of their culture of origin in creative and engaging ways. For the millions of comic book followers worldwide, this provides a glimpse into the cultures of other communities.

The American comic book industry has amassed one of the largest international followings. The popularity of the recent Avengers movies has expanded this global audience. According to IMDB, Avengers: Age of Ultron earned $1.15 billion worldwide by May 21, 2015.

For decades, American comic books have reflected the shifting culture of their time.

“Superheroes of the Depression era—especially Superman—were created as champions of the oppressed, devoted to helping common people in need,” found the Montclair Art Museum. Their exhibit, Reflecting Culture: The Evolution of American Comic Book Superheroes, followed American comics and their reflection of changing cultural trends and important events.

The museum notes that as the U.S. joined in World War II, their superheroes fought beside them with Captain America bravely taking on Hitler and Captain Marvel staving off the Japanese.

The American comic book industry has followed this pattern, continuing to reflect current, important events throughout its history.

After the September 11th attacks “The Amazing Spider-Man, encased in a solid black cover, was the first to do so, [featured] Spider-Man, Captain America and Daredevil helping to clear the wreckage in the aftermath of the attacks. They stand, on the last page, behind the real heroes—the firefighters, rescue workers, police, and armed forces,” the museum noted.

“They represent the best of American values,” said Mike Benton, author of The Comic Book in America: An Illustrated History, in an interview with Deseret News. “Truth, justice, liberty, fair play and right winning over all.”

The global popularity of manga has had similar success in sharing this unique look into Japanese culture with the world.

“Manga, or Japanese comic art, is a huge and lucrative business that is truly popular in Japan,” writes Kinko Ito in her article, A History of Manga in the Context of Japanese Culture and Society. “Nowadays, it is also exported to many countries, influencing their popular cultures.”

This influence is huge. According to Anime News Network, the manga industry raked in $3.53 billion dollars in 2011.

“[Manga] is immersed in a particular social environment that includes history, language, culture, politics, economy, family, religion, sex and gender, education, deviance and crime, and demography,” writes Ito. “Manga thus reflects the reality of Japanese society, along with the myths, beliefs, rituals, tradition, fantasies, and Japanese way of life.”

Recently, the Indian comic book industry has made bold steps into this global market.

Graphic India, a recent entertainment startup, is working to share Indian comic book characters with the world.

“Mobile is the opportunity to build and control a direct audience, to build the comic book fanboy in India,” said Sharad Devarajan, CEO and co-founder of Graphic India, in an interview for Tech Crunch. “There are 550 million people in this country aged under 25 who’ve never been served with content that speaks to them in this way.”

Comics in India have a long history of incorporating Indian mythology and legends.

“Indian culture is enriched by mythology, folklore and its people,” shared Rajani Thindiath, editor of Tinkle comics. “This means we have a lot of fodder to invent new stories, new art—the Mahabharata and the Ramayana being just the tip of the iceberg.

“So, instead of a comics culture of superheroes, the scene in India is far more diverse,” said Thindiath. “Across the country, comics writers and artists are also looking at the graphic novel and web comics space to express their individual voices. They are looking at issues and concerns of the ordinary Indian in ways that are both experimental and game-changing.

“There is a sense of getting comics back into the space where it works as one of the most effective and impactful mediums of mass communication.”

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