To the snobs who don’t consider comic books art, consider this: it has classical origins.

When telling a story, visual artists have always had to figure out how to represent the passage of time (a problem even more pressing in a pre-literate era).

Today’s comic artists depict key scenes from the narrative using a framing device to set each scene off from the other. Depending on the style of the artist, sometimes a frame can contain multiple scenes within it. Either way, the reader automatically knows the sequence in which the frames should be read. If further clarification is needed, the artist uses arrows or speech bubbles.

The ancient Greeks approached the challenge of representing time differently. They avoided multiple scenes in favor of significant moments in a dramatic narrative. They would “freeze” these significant moments in three-dimensional, free-standing sculptures.

 

The ancient Indians, by contrast, used the same device as today’s comic books: the frame.  A single frame could contain single or several scenes (as in the frieze from the two millennia old Sanchi Stupa, making it the first comic strip). It’s also for this reason that ancient Indian sculptors preferred relief carving, where the figures are carved into a stone panel and protrude only slightly from the background. The method allowed them to create large narrative sequences within a single frame with relative ease. The viewer of the time automatically understood the sequence in which the frame had to be read.

 

And are there any classical counterparts to the animated comic strip? Well, instead of the moving image, the classical Indians had a moving viewer. Temples were designed with an external pathway along the walls of which were carved narrative strips, to be viewed in continuous sequence as the devotee moved through in a prescribed direction.