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"Fumetti" redirects here. For comics made in Italy, see Italian comics.
"Fotonovela" redirects here. For the 2008 film, see Fotonovela (film).

Photo comics are form of sequential storytelling that uses photographic images rather than illustration for the visuals, along with narrative text and word balloons containing dialogue. They are often referred to in English as fumetti or as photonovels.

Although they have generally been less common than illustrated comics, photo comics have filled a number of niches in various places and times, such as adapting popular film and television works, telling original melodramas, providing medical education, and other genres. Photo comics have been particularly popular in Italy and Latin America, and they have been popular to a lesser extent in English-speaking countries.


The terminology used to describe photo comics is somewhat inconsistent and idiosyncratic. Fumetti is an Italian word (literally "little puffs of smoke" in reference to speech balloons), which refers in that language to comics in general. However in English, because of the popularity of the technique in Italian comics, the term came to be associated specifically with photo comics. Comics which use a mixture of photographic and illustrated imagery have been described as mezzo-fumetti ("half" fumetti). Meanwhile, the term photonovel or fotonovel came to be associated in English primarily with film and television adaptations, which were marketed using that term.

In Italian, a photo comic is referred to as a fotoromanzo ("photonovel", plural: fotoromanzi). In Spanish-speaking countries, the term fotonovela refers to several genres of photo comics.


Photo comics emerged in Italy in the 1940s and expanded into the 1950s.[1][2] (Actress Sophia Loren worked for a time as a fotoromanzi model.)[1] The lurid Italian crime comic Killing ran from 1966 through 1969, and was reprinted in other countries; it has been reprinted and revived numerous times since then.

The technique spread to Latin America, first adapting popular films, then for original stories. By the 1960s, there were about two dozen fotonovela movie adaptations circulating in Latin America and nearly three times as many original works.[3] They remained popular in Mexico into the late 1980s, where 70 million copies of fotonovelas were printed each month.[3]

Photo comics first became successful in the United States and Canada with Harvey Kurtzman's Help! magazine, which ran humorous photo stories from 1960 to 1965. Later, National Lampoon offered similar fare with its "photo funnies".

During the 1970s lines of American paperback books were marketed as "Fotonovels" and "Photostories", adapting popular films and television shows. Although home video largely supplanted this market in the 1980s, a small number of photo comic adaptations continued to be produced as promotional tie-ins to the original work.

Photo comics were common in British magazines such as Jackie in the 1980s, and a few are still published. There are a number of photo newspaper strips in the UK and the form was popular in girls comics in the 1980s. Boys comics of the early 1980s such as Load Runner and the relaunched Eagle also experimented with photo comics but without much success; when the Eagle was revamped, former photo comic strips such as Doomlord continued as illustrated strips.

Software applications such as Comic Life, Comic Strip It, and Strip Designer, which allow users to add word balloons and sound effects to their personal photos and incorporate them into storytelling layouts, have revived some interest in the medium.[4]

Online series such as Night Zero, A Softer World, and Alien Loves Predator have gained attention in the webcomics community. In 2007, the Web Cartoonist's Choice Awards gave the first award for "Outstanding Photographic Comic".[5] In 2010 and 2011 the bilingual photo comic Union of Heroes was nominated for the "Web-Sonderman"-Awards for the best German webcomic.[citation needed]

Common genres[edit]

Movie adaptations[edit]

In the United States, one of the common uses of photo comics has been TV and film adaptations, usually abridged for length. Still frames from the film or video are reproduced, often in simple grids but sometimes with creative layouts and cropping, overlaid with balloons with abbreviated dialogue from the screenplays. They are a cost-effective way to adapt films and TV series into comics without the expense of commissioning illustrations, and were a way for consumers to revisit motion-picture stories before the widespread availability of affordable home recording and video playback equipment such as VCRs.[3][6]

Health information[edit]

The familiarity of fotonovelas in Spanish-language culture makes photo comics an effective vehicle for health promotion and health education. Since the small pamphlets can be traded among individuals, they possess an element of portability that traditional materials lack. Frequently traded fotonovelas reach a wider audience than envisioned. Since the fotonovela concept is familiar to Hispanics and Latinos, regardless of age,[7] health educators have used the fotonovela to champion important health messages. By using the message design and content presentation format of the fotonovela for Spanish-speaking audiences, both health and non-health entities[8][9][10] have utilized the fotonovela as informational pamphlets. The fotonovelas produced by these organizations present information in a variety of illustrated forms but usually contain a summation of key points at the end.

Health educators have also utilized the fotonovela because the medium overcomes issues of health literacy, which is the degree to which individuals can obtain, process and understand basic health information to make appropriate health decisions,[11] in their target audience. Most providers believe that health education materials designed specifically for patients with low health literacy would be helpful:[12] however, written educational materials found in most health settings have been deemed to have serious deficiencies.[13] Health literacy is not simply overcome through the printed translation of health educational messages, but instead, through the accurate transformation of important health information into culturally sensitive messages that the target population can comprehend. Although the fotonovela provides a competent route to the Hispanic population, the information within the fotonovela must be understandable to readers with low health literacy.

Notable examples[edit]

Original photo comics[edit]

Film adaptations[edit]

Television adaptations[edit]


  1. ^ a b "The Art of Fotoromanzo on View at Casa Italiana Zerilli Marimo". Retrieved 2016-09-09. 
  2. ^ "Italy's Fumetti: Curiously Sophisticated Pulp Comics - Print Magazine". 2012-06-19. Retrieved 2016-09-09. 
  3. ^ a b c RWHP, Nikki Edwards,. "RWHP - Fotonovela". Retrieved 2016-09-09. 
  4. ^ Eaton, Kit (2014-05-14). "Transforming Your Photos Into Comic Strips". The New York Times. ISSN 0362-4331. Retrieved 2016-09-09. 
  5. ^ "Outstanding Photographic Comic". Retrieved 2008-07-24. 
  6. ^ John Kenneth Muir's Reflections on Film/TV: Retro Toy Flashback # 16: Photonovels
  7. ^ Flora, C. (1985). The fotonovela in America. Studies in Latin American Popular Culture, 4, 84-94.
  8. ^ U.S. Food and Drug Administration. (2003). Carlos’ Tragic and Mysterious Illness – how Carlos almost died by eating contaminated raw oysters, College Park: MD.
  9. ^ Associated Press (2006, November 24). Using Fiction in a Real Fight Against Drugs. The New York Times.
  10. ^ Marzolla, A. and Yau, A. (2007, Nov) "The Agua Pura Fotonovela Project: Latino Community Engagement in Water Quality Education"
  11. ^ Colorado Department of Public Health and Environment – Office of Health Disparities (2008). Glossary of a Few Key Public Health Terms.
  12. ^ Schlichting, J., Quinn, M., Heuer, L., Schaefer, C., Drum, M., and Chin, M. (2007). Provider perception of limited health literacy in community health centers., Patient Education & Counseling, vol. 69(1-3), 114-120.
  13. ^ Demir, F., Ozsaker, E., and Ilce, A.. (2008). The quality and suitability of written educational materials, Journal of Clinical Nursing, vol.17 (2), 259-265.
  14. ^ Diabolikal Super-Kriminal
  15. ^ "A Softer World: 332". Retrieved 2008-07-24. 
  16. ^ "Alien Loves Predator: In New York, no one can hear you scream". Retrieved 2008-07-24. 
  17. ^ "'Alien Loves Predator' Creator Reviews 'Alien vs. Predator' Game". Comics Alliance. Retrieved 2016-09-09. 
  18. ^ "Undertoad Comics". Retrieved 2008-07-24. 
  19. ^ "Night Zero: A Photographic Novel". Retrieved 2008-10-02. 
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  28. ^ "Trevor Mueller from @$$hole! - 144 | Two Geeks Talking". 2010-12-27. Retrieved 2016-09-09. 
  29. ^ "Anime-zing! Announces Cristina Vee and Trevor Mueller [4319] | Convention News". Retrieved 2016-09-09. 
  30. ^ Bully Says: Comics Oughta Be Fun!: To Boldly Go Where No Screen Capture Has Gone Before