Mayan Comics: Thought Bubbles, Crude Jokes, And Even An Ancient Bugs Bunny
Blondie Has Run For Nearly 100 years, Yet it still a Baby Compared to Mayan Comics. Source: (flickriver.com)
You might think that the earliest comic strips started in the 1920s. Those daily black and white newspaper panels that were delivered to door to door and starred the humorous exploits of characters like The Katzenjammer Kids, Gasoline Alley, and Blondie brought people joy every day. However, these weren't the first comics. Not even close. Believe it or not, Mayan comics go all the way back to 600 AD.
There's No Humor Like Ancient Humor. Source: (cartoonistgroup.com)
Comics, Not Simply Cave Paintings
The earliest comics were found on cave walls and various artifacts discovered by archaeologists. According to Soeren Wichmann of Leiden University in the Netherlands, these are different from what we normally think of as cave paintings. The stories are told in sequence as you turn the dish or walk along the wall, filled with dialogue, motion, bad smells, funny animals, and naughty jokes. "You have all these mechanisms come together---it's getting close to something that is very similar to comics," says Wichmann.
However, unlike modern comic strips, which aren't exactly held up as high art, the Mayans cherished these comedic depictions. "It was the highest quality art you could have," Wichmann says. "It was highly valued, whereas in modern societies comics are frowned upon." In fact, these "comic strips" were used to ease political tension and form alliances between neighboring tribes. Imagine giving a Dilbert or Cathy comic as a peace offering.
The first speech bubble appeared around 650 BC, and could be considered the descendant of the modern speech bubble. Source: (Credit: Justin Kerr BBC.com)
The First Thought Bubble
In the Mayan comic strip above, dated approximately 650 BC, an elderly teacher corrects his pupils. The thin line emanating from his face could be one of the first-ever thought bubbles. Perhaps he's telling his students to pay attention and stop looking down at their own hidden comic cups.
According to these Lines the Mayan Players are Rocketing Around the Field. Source: (Justin Kerr, BBC.com)
In the picture above, athletes compete in some type of ball game. Experts think the curly lines around their bodies represent the speed, direction, and motion of the dynamic players, not dissimilar to the lines drawn behind Superman as he flies off to save Lois Lane.
Apparently The Mayans Enjoyed Rather Crude Rumor. Source: (Justin Kerr BBC.com)
The First Bugs Bunny
Mayan comic artists even had their own version of our beloved bane of Elmer Fudd, Bugs Bunny. In the picture above, a rabbit seems to have stolen an old man's clothes. According to Wichmann, the rabbit's thought bubble says something to the effect of "Smell your sweat, wizard penis."
Everyone Needs a Good Laugh Now and Then, Especially During Ancient Times. The Romans also may have Carved a Joke or Two. Good Luck Figuring Out This Knee-Slapper. Source: (smithsonianmag.com)
Comedy for Comedy Sake
"It’s clear he’s saying some nasty things which don't serve to tell the story---they are simply funny," Wichmann notes. Just like Bugs Bunny or Dilbert, Mayan comics featured animals and people of exaggerated proportions to get a laugh. It's a truth universally acknowledged that nothing's funnier than a tiny dog who walks on two legs, and obviously, in Mayan times---with ritual sacrifice and 1,000-mile walks for supplies---they needed some levity in their lives.