On Strips: "Comics"?

By | Friday, January 15, 2016 Leave a Comment
"Comics" comes from the newspaper strips, right? Before comic books were a thing, comics were generally found in newspapers and, at least in the late 19th/early 20th century when newspapers really started doing their thing, they were funny. Comical. So people started calling them, collectively, comics. Eventually, we started seeing adventure and drama strips, but the name was already pretty well cemented, so we use "comics" to talk about the medium at large, not necessarily only those that are comical.

Then the newspaper comics started getting collected and published in a single, multi-page pamphlet format. They were still comics, but people differentiated them a little by calling them comic books. A booklet of nothing but comics.

And we've continued along those same lines for decades. Every new version of comics still falls under the broad title of "comics" but we use something else to describe the specific version we're seeing. Comic books. Mini-comics. Webcomics. Digital comics. That's not unusual, linguistically speaking. The original version often keeps the base name, while subsequent versions get some kind of modifier.

So here's the thing I don't get, though: if "comics" was originally used to describe newspaper strips specifically, and people broadly continue to recognize that ("Dad, when you're done with the paper, can you give me the comics?") why is it that people, broadly speaking, don't seem to understand that they read comics?

"I'm a fan of comics."

"What do you read?"

"Oh, you know, Superman, Batman, Justice League... What comics do you read?"

"I don't read comics."

"What? Not even Garfield or Peanuts or anything?"

"Well, sure, I read those, but I don't read comics."

How is it that a person can know what comics are, refer to comics as comics, but then not register that what they're reading are comics? I'm not trying to be facetious here, I really don't understand how that disconnect happens. Are there any psychologists, or maybe linguists, that can explain how that happens to me?
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