Noam Chomsky, who is one of the most recognized experts on the nature of language, estimates that human language began about twenty thousand years ago. I am guessing this estimate is based on written language which is rather different from communication vocally. Although the paintings discovered in caves have been estimated to be created about forty thousand years ago the quality of the pictures compares well with the efforts of current artists and the depiction of animals is as wonderful as the best of modern efforts. I have personal doubts that the artists making these exquisite depictions merely grunted at each other.
Both words and pictures are a product of the human mind to abstract and formulate individual qualities from sense input but visual imagery seems much closer to what might be called reality than what can be done with words. The simple description “The tall man in the peculiar hat” evokes a completely different image from “The large rabbit in the top hat” not only because the individual words are used differently but someone reading the phrase from different cultures or varied eras also would get a totally different image. Pictures are somewhat less limited.
Like most kids in recent times, literary experiences began with comic strips. Back in the early 1930’s the only comic books I saw were limited to just one called Famous Funnies which were mere reprints from the comic strips in the newspapers. But even then there were some very inventive artist writers who did Benny, Alley Oop, Mandrake the Magician, Terry and the Pirates, Krazy Kat, Smilin’ Jack, Flash Gordon, Prince Valiant, Smokey Stover, Popeye, Buck Rogers, Little Orphan Annie, Boob McNutt, The Squirrel Cage (nov schmoz ka pop), Little Abner, and many others. Before I was born there was a wonderful creative strip with fantastic artwork called Little Nemo that depicted strange dream sequences.
These were the precursors to the modern strips which were far more sophisticated such as Peanuts, Pogo, and Barnaby. I remember well when I was in junior high school and held the first edition of Action Comics where Superman made his debut – something that would have nicely added to my income if I had held on to it. I never lost my fascination for that medium and even made a weak try to get into the industry.
I quickly discovered that although I could manage the artwork and writing, I simply wasn’t fast enough to turn out at least couple of pages per day to make an economic go of it. So, I shifted my prospects and went into something else.
Nevertheless, the field still holds great respect for the wonderful artists involved. And lately Hollywood has granted the field some of the respect it deserves but still seems stuck in repeating itself into the standard action patterns and rarely ventures into the depths that really imaginative writing and mature understandings of history and human psychology and perceptive philosophy can offer. In recent decades more substantial comic books such as the French and Belgian Valerian series and even Tintin and Asterix are worth inspection. The Mobius series has some especially fascinating artwork. But I have been away from the field for a long time so I am sure more recent developments must exhibit more contemporary excellent developments and very talented people.
Throughout my life my dreams have shown me some wonderful possibilities. One of them was a dream I had many years ago wherein I was reading a comic strip in which each frame, instead of being static, contained a bit of live action with dialog that led into the next frame. When I had the dream, it was completely beyond technical possibility of that time, but recently I had read that action sequences are approaching the time when they can be printed on paper and activated by circuitry embedded within the paper. This still seems not economically possible but stranger things have happened and if the planet remains livable perhaps it could come about.