This is the paper that I submitted in my grad school application as an example of a single-authored academic paper.
I wrote it outside of college (GASP!) and I got all of my research from the MSU Special Collections library. It deals with DC’s editorial practices during their first 30 years gleaned from looking at over 500 Superman comics. This is something I was incredibly interested in and I’m hoping that if anyone digs on incredibly geeky comic book minutae they’ll give it a read and let me know what they think. Also underneath the paper I’ve added some photos of actual comic pages for reference that might make this whole thing a little easier to understand.
The Use of the “Continued on” Narration Box in DC’s Superman Comic
Throughout comic history artists and editors have tried a host of different ways to make reading comic books easier. At the genesis of the medium, when both artists and readers were learning the strengths and weaknesses of the form, creators used guide arrows and panel numbers to show their audience the path through their graphic storytelling. As comics matured so did the devices that artists used to move the story along. Over time these devices became more subtle and blended with the story telling so as to ultimately become part of the art. Yet one particular protocol did not change over the years: DC Comics’ “Continued on” narration box, which could be found inside or outside a panel just before a page of advertising. When was it created? What purpose did it serve? Was it even necessary? These are the questions this paper will attempt to answer.
You will not find any of these special boxes in today’s modern comics. A reader must search through the old classics, funny books from the Golden and Silver ages, to get a glimpse of this little editorial jewel. There, in select issues, appears a small narration box usually found inside the last panel before advertising. It acted as a disclaimer, saying something akin to “Continued on 3rd page following.” This meant that the reader could find the actual story he or she had paid for after two pages of advertisements, or on the 3rd page following. This paper will look at the disclaimer’s use and appearance in issues of DC Comic’s Superman.
When comic books were a brand new product, in the late 1930’s, guide arrows, as well as panel and page numbers were prevalent simply because both the creators and the readers were getting used to the medium and the ways in which it could be presented and read. Most comic book readers were children, so the stories and the format of the pages had to be easy to understand. Eventually and inevitably however, complex page layouts and confusing panel movement would bog down a tale. In these instances artists could opt to use a guide arrow to clear up the frustrating mess of pictures and text. But what about when something interrupted the flow of the story from outside, say advertising? That’s where the “Continued on” disclaimer came into play.
Before the 1960’s the device appeared in one of three ways in any particular comic. In Superman #65, published in June of 1950, it can be found standing below the art with no box (Schwartz, 1950). In Superman #74, published in April of 1952, the reader will find the disclaimer inside a box inside the panel art (Hamilton, 1952). Finally, in Superman #76, published June 1952, it is found outside the art but inside a box attached to the bottom of the last panel (Finger, 1952). While the actual appearance of the “Continued on” narration box was not uniform throughout the early issues of Superman, even though they all had the same editor, they all appeared under the exact same circumstances: before advertisements that interrupted the story.
Nearly every early Superman issue contained three separate Superman tales. Between these yarns that cataloged the exploits of the Man of Steel there were advertisements, usually two to four pages. They were not interrupting the stories so there was no use for the disclaimer. However on the rare occasion that DC editorial needed to put advertising within a story, it would inform the reader with the “Continued on” box.
Issues of Superman followed this standard format, three different Superman tales with advertising separating them, until the 1960’s. Before then only a handful of comics actually sported the disclaimer: Superman #65, #74, #76, and #105 among them. After 1960, in 1963’s Superman #162 to be exact, the “Continued on” narration box found its longstanding place in Superman comics (Dorman, 1963). Why? The format of the stories was changing.
The longstanding 3-story Superman comic tradition came to an end in the mid 1960’s. What prompted this change in format is not readily clear, but a change was made. The Superman comics that followed placed an emphasis on longer Superman stories, imaginary novels that were told in three parts, and comics containing only two Superman tales became more and more frequent. Now, instead of three spaces in which to place advertising, between the individual stories, the editors only had one. They were probably unwilling to group all eleven to fourteen pages of advertising in the middle of the comics where readers could easily skip them, so they started to disperse them in one and two page bursts throughout the comics. Thus the advertising was interrupting the narrative and the disclaimer was required.
From then on each Superman issue began to dedicate more time and space to longer but fewer stories. Of course there was the occasional black sheep, Superman #243 contained three separate tales, one being reprinted material from Superman #38 but the majority of Superman comics coming out of the 1960’s and early 70’s contained only two (Bates, 1971).
Long time Superman fans probably noticed this shift in how they read their stories. After nearly twenty-five years in publication in the exact same format, Superman comics were being made differently. It is entirely possible that in an effort to assure readers that they had nothing to fear from this new style, DC fell back on their “Continued on” narration box which they had used sparingly in prior years. Then, instead of readers experiencing unwarranted trepidation from a tale that seemed to come abruptly to a close in the face of advertising, they were assuaged by the little box and assured they had not yet come to the end of their journey.
For a time everything seemed to settle into a new state of equilibrium. Superman comics contained longer but fewer stories and before each page of advertising that interrupted the story, readers were informed. It should be noted however, that if a story ended and was directly preceded by advertisements, those pages would be exempt from the disclaimer. However, another change was coming and a scant thirteen years after the last format shift, Superman comics transformed yet again, though the “Continued on” box stayed the same.
Around issue #300 nearly all Superman comics became single stories. This change took place between the years of 1974 and 1976 and again there is no formal documented reason. Then in issue #309, published in 1977, the “Continued on” disclaimer moved out of the panel to a spot just below the panel border inside of a box (Conway, 1977). It was on its way out. From this issue until the end of Superman’s first print run in #423(during DC’s continuity restructuring event Crisis on Infinite Earths in 1985-86) the disclaimer stayed the same, just outside the art.
The Superman comic book was then discontinued and renamed The Adventures of Superman, published four months afterwards in January 1987. The Adventures of Superman kept up the same editorial practice and readers could still find their comforting disclaimer before advertising. Then in May of 1988, in The Adventures of Superman #440 it disappeared from the pages of Superman forever (Byrne, 1988).
In 1987 Superman turned forty-nine. The Superman and subsequent The Adventures of Superman comics had been in publication for forty-eight years. After nearly half a decade of modernization and evolution of the medium and in light of their aging audience, what use was DC editorial’s “Continued on” narration box? As any casual reader knows, advertisements appear in magazines, newspapers, and within digital sources without any indicator that they will appear. The reader does not need to be forewarned.
So what was different in the case of Superman comics? In light of the research findings, it seems there are a few reasons why the disclaimer may have been enacted in the first place. First, comics were a new medium and no one rightly knew how to read them because a common format had not been accepted yet. Thus, to limit confusion and ensure that readers finished the comics, editorial added the disclaimer. Also, the main consumers of these comics were children, not the best of readers. To assure their young audience that there was indeed more story after advertisements they used the “Continued on” box.
Once DC had standardized Superman comics format, the rigid three-story style, it fell off the grid, though not seen often in the first place. When that strict format changed to two stories an issue in the 1960’s it returned with a vengeance. Why? It was somewhat familiar to editors and the audience and it helped with the transition into a new style of comic. However, it hardly seems necessary to continue it for twenty-five years afterwards. Apparently DC editorial thought this as well as it was discontinued in 1988 (Byrne, 1988).
One interesting reason for the halting of the disclaimer might have come from advertisers themselves. DC Comics was informing readers of advertising and giving them the exact page number to flip to if they chose to skip the ads. In a business where audience viewership is paramount, giving the audience the option to skip an ad is unacceptable. Maybe DC received pressure from their advertisers to remove the disclaimer. We may never know.
In the 1970’s it was moved outside the art for reasons unknown. It may be because artists and editors did not want to restrict the amount of drawing space on any given page. Also, the seven and ten year-old children that had been reading comics in the 1940’s were now in their thirties and forties. They knew how to read comics and they were absolutely aware that advertisements were an integral part of the experience. Editors and readers may have seen the box as redundant. Finally, it may have pulled them out of their reading experience unnecessarily.
In conclusion, the “Continued on” disclaimer did serve a purpose at one time, but after years of evolution and adaptation, comics found it could exist without it. The device stands as a fossil in comic’s history, extinct in comic’s present. It fell into disuse because comics format became standardized, readers had familiarized themselves with the style, and the overt narration box might have shaken readers out of their suspension of disbelief sooner than editors desired. Comics have evolved beyond such obvious reading protocols and for good reason; we read comics to escape, not to be reminded that we are reading.
Bates, Corey (w), Don Cameron (w), Bob Brown (p), Sam Citron (p), Curt Swan (p), Murphy Anderson (i), Dick Giordano (i). “The Starry-Eyed Siren of Space.” Superman #243 (October, 1971), National Comics Publications [DC Comics].
Byrne, John (w), Jerry Ordway (p), Dennis Janke (i). “The Hurrieder I Go.” The Adventures of Superman #440 (May, 1988), DC Comics.
Conway, Gerry (w), Jose Luis Garcia-Lopez (p), Frank Springer (i). “Blind Hero’s Bluff.” Superman #309 (Mar, 1977), DC Comics.
Dorfman, Leo (w), Kurt Schaffenberger (p), Curt Swan (p), George Klein (i). “The Amazing Story of Superman Red and Superman Blue.” Superman #162 (July, 1963), National Comics Publications [DC Comics].
Finger, Bill (w), Edmond Hamilton (w), William Woolfolk (w), Wayne Boring (p), Al Plastino (p), Curt Swan (p), John Fischetti (i), Stan Kaye (i). “The Mightiest Team in the World.” Superman #76 (Jun, 1952). National Comics Publications [DC Comics].
Hamilton, Edward (w), Alvin Schwartz (w), William Woolfolk (w), Wayne Boring (p), Al Plastino (p), Stan Kaye (i). “The Lost Secrets of Krypton.” Superman #74 (Feb, 1952). National Comics Publications [DC Comics].
Schwartz, Alvin (w), William Woolfolk (w), Wayne Boring (p), Al Plastino (p), Stan Kaye (i), Al Plastino (i). “The Testing of Superman.” Superman #65 (Aug, 1950). National Comics Publications [DC Comics].