Comics and Graphic Novels

Comics in Portugal – An Academic Approach

The birth of the sequential art of comics is usually attributed to the newspaper industry in the nineteenth century but, as the seminal authors of Comics Studies Will Eisner and Scott McCloud have shown, the origin of comics can be found further back. In his book Understanding Comics: The Invisible Art, Scott McCloud shows us that the Egyptian paintings are a sequential form of art akin to comics; he offers other examples such as the Bayeux Tapestry, a pre-Columbian Mexican codex, The Tortures of Saint Erasmus, and A Harlot’s Progress.

The “invention” of modern comics is often credited to Rodolph Töpffer (1799-1846) who, as McCloud said, “employed cartooning and panel borders, and featured the first interdependent combination of words and pictures seen in Europe” [01]. Rodolph Töpffer used the expression littérature en estampes (“literature in engravings”); he is important not only for the fact of anticipating modern comics, but because he wrote in 1845 the first theoretical text about this “new” art form – Essai de Physiognomonie (“Essay on Physiognomy”). The book, available online, was originally printed as a facsimile of Töpffer’s manuscript [02].

The first portuguese comics

Using the Press (newspapers and magazines) as the medium for the genesis of the popular modern art of comics, the first published work in Portugal was titled Aventuras Sentimentaes e Dramáticas do Senhor Simplício Baptista (“The Dramatic and Sentimental Adventures of Mister Simplício Baptista”); it was published in 1850 and belongs to the author António Nogueira da Silva. The best-known Portuguese artist from this period is Raphael Bordallo Pinheiro, the creator of the character “Zé Povinho” – a representation of the lower uncultured classes that became the representation of all Portuguese people –, and the Portuguese “equivalent” of the English John Bull and the American Uncle Sam. Unlike the Portuguese counterpart, the English and American characters do not represent the lower classes [03] [04].

The very first comic book published in Portugal, in 1872, was authored by Raphael Bordallo Pinheiro and it was titled Apontamentos de Raphael Bordallo Pinheiro sobre a Picaresca Viagem do Imperador de Rasilb pela Europa (“Notes by Raphael Bordallo Pinheiro on the Picaresque European Tour of the Emperor of Razilb”). In this very important historic milestone of the Portuguese comics industry, Bordallo Pinheiro draw the story of a trip through Europe of the emperor of Brazil. The publication is available online [05]. Unfortunately, despite the early publication of this album, only one more was published in the nineteen century (in 1881), by the same author, Bordallo Pinheiro, entitled No Lazareto de Lisboa (“In the Leprosy Hospital of Lisbon”) [06]. In Lisbon, a museum dedicated to this prolific artist, cartoonist and ceramist have been open since 1916 [07].

A Portuguese Glossary

In Portugal, comics are called banda desenhada (with the acronym BD), an appropriation of the French expression bande dessinée (“drawn band”). According to the author José Ruy it was the visionary Vasco Granja who introduced the expression in Portugal [08].The French expression bande dessinée, according to Laurent Grove,was itself an adaptation of the English expression drawn strips [09]. In Portugal, before the introduction of banda desenhada, the common expression was histórias em quadradinhos, which can be translated to “stories in little squares”. The expressions sequential art and graphic novel, coined by Will Eisner, can also be found in Portugal, but the latter is usually mistranslated as novela gráfica. The correct translation is romance gráfico. The expression nona arte (“ninth art”) is sometimes used as well; the French film critic Claude Beylie coined it, expanding the list of arts created by the Italian Ricciotto Canudo [10].

For the newspaper comic strips, usually made up of a strip with three of four panels, called vinhetas (“panels”) in Portugal, the word tiras (“strips”) is very common. For the digital comics published online, and sometimes made specifically for the Internet medium, the term webcomic is used without a translation. Motion comics, or animated comics, are also used without a Portuguese translation.

The comic books specialized libraries have the name bedeteca, a derivative of the abbreviation BD joined with the suffix teca, from biblioteca (“library”). The BD abbreviation is sometimes written bedê (“comics”), but this is not very common. In Portugal, the fanzine is often used as a medium for comics and illustration, and specialized fanzine libraries are called fanzinetecas or fanzinotecas.

Fanzine is a neologism that results from the contraction of the words fanatic (fan) and magazine (zine). The outcome is a magazine published by a faneditor, or a group of fans of a certain theme: in Portugal, the most common theme is comics [11]. When professional artists produce a fanzine (or a zine) the term prozine is often used, and if the zine has no text or is very small the terms graphzine and microzine are used as well. Nowadays, the fanzine is often disseminated on the Internet, therefore, the terms e-zine (electronic fanzine) and webzine are recurrent. The Portuguese faneditor João Bragança created the world fanzine day – April 29 –, but the day is not disseminated internationally, with the exception of Brazil: the Brazilian academic Gazy Andraus registered the date [12].

The first fanzine was published in the United States of America (U.S.A.) in 1929 under the title Cosmic Stories [13].It was later, in 1940, that the American faneditorRuss Chauvenet coined the term fanzine (later he coined prozine). In Portugal, the first fanzine – O Melro (“The Blackbird”) –, written by the comics artist José Garcês, was published in 1944 [14]. After this first Portuguese incursion, the major milestone is found in 1972: this year registered eight published comics fanzines: Argon; Saga; Quadrinhos – Fanzine de Banda Desenhada [“Comics – Comics Fanzine”]; Copra; P.Druillet – P.Caza; Orion; Ploc!; and Yellow Kid [15].

In 1996, the Portuguese faneditor Geraldes Lino coined the term fanálbum (“fanalbum”) paralleling this neologism with the fanzine concept. For him, an album that is self-published by a non-professional individual is a fanalbum [16]. Nowadays, the use of this format is common in Portugal because of the low cost and high quality of printing. Portugal does not have as formal a comics industry as countries like Belgium, France, Japan, and the U.S.A. and there is not an official national style, therefore, the fanalbum format is very important because many authors self-publish and self-promote (networking and participating in festivals) their own works. The term is not nationally disseminated for lack of publicity. Unfortunately, Geraldes Lino died at the beginning of 2019: one of the many ways to celebrate his work and importance in the Portuguese comics and fanzine circles is to disseminate this neologism.


[01] McCloud, Scott. Understanding Comics: The Invisible Art. New York: HarperPerennial, 1994.


[03] Neves, João César. Portugal, Esse Desconhecido: Mitos e Realidades de um País Muito Antigo. Alfragide: Dom Quixote, 2014.

[04] Moura, Pedro. Small Panels for Lower Ranges. An Interdisciplinary Approach to Contemporary  Portuguese Comics and Trauma. 2017. Lisbon U, PhD dissertation. Repositório da Universidade de Lisboa,


[06] “História da BD publicada em Portugal: 1ª parte”. Lisboa: Editora Época de Ouro, 1995.


[08] Pessoa, Carlos. “Morreu Vasco Granja, o Pioneiro da Divulgação do Cinema de Animação e da Banda Desenhada em Portugal.” Público, 5 May 2009,

[09] Grove, Laurent. “Autobiography in Early Bande Dessinée.“ Bélphegor Vol. 4, no. 1. (November 2004),

[10] Panzner, Christopher. “The Ninth Art: A Look at the Emergence of Graphic Novels.” ArtsEditor, 28 Jan. 2008,

[11] Lino, Geraldes. “Fanzines, Esses Desconhecidos.” Divulgando Banda Desenhada, 24 Jun. 2015,

[12] Lino, Geraldes. “Dia Mundial do Fanzine e Dia Nacional do Fanzine.” Sítio dos Fanzines de Banda Desenhada, 29 Apr. 2018,

[13] Gardner, Jared. Comics and the History of Twenty-First Century Storytelling. Palo Alto: Stanford University Press, 2012.

[14] Magalhães, Henrique. “Fanzine no Mundo.” Personalzine, 13 Mar. 2012,

[15] Lino, Geraldes. “Português Incorrecto nos Fanzines – Erro Geracional: “Uma”(?) Fanzine.” Sítio dos Fanzines de Banda Desenhada, 4 Aug. 2016,

[16] Lino, Geraldes. “Fanzine e Fanálbums – Estudo.” Sítio dos Fanzines de Banda Desenhada, 15 Jan. 2001,


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