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The Origins of Comics

The Origins of Comics: From William Hogarth to Winsor McCay

Thierry Smolderen
Bart Beaty
Nick Nguyen
Copyright Date: 2014
Pages: 168
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  • Book Info
    The Origins of Comics
    Book Description:

    InThe Origins of Comics: From William Hogarth to Winsor McCay, Thierry Smolderen presents a cultural landscape whose narrative differs in many ways from those presented by other historians of the comic strip. Rather than beginning his inquiry with the popularly accepted "sequential art" definition of the comic strip, Smolderen instead wishes to engage with the historical dimensions that inform that definition. His goal is to understand the processes that led to the twentieth-century comic strip, the highly recognizable species of picture stories that he sees crystallizing around 1900 in the United States.

    Featuring close readings of the picture stories, caricatures, and humoristic illustrations of William Hogarth, Rodolphe Töpffer, Gustave Doré, and their many contemporaries, Smolderen establishes how these artists were immersed in a very old visual culture in which images--satirical images in particular--were deciphered in a way that was often described as hieroglyphical. Across eight chapters, he acutely points out how the effect of the printing press and the mass advent of audiovisual technologies (photography, audio recording, and cinema) at the end of the nineteenth century led to a new twentieth-century visual culture. In tracing this evolution, Smolderen distinguishes himself from other comics historians by following a methodology that explains the present state of the form of comics on the basis of its history, rather than presenting the history of the form on the basis of its present state. This study remaps the history of this influential art form.

    eISBN: 978-1-62103-992-1
    Subjects: Language & Literature, Sociology

Table of Contents

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  1. Front Matter
    (pp. i-iv)
  2. Table of Contents
    (pp. v-1)
  3. 1 William Hogarth: Readable Images The First Form of the Novel in Prints
    (pp. 3-23)

    Since the end of the twentieth century, French comics artists have exhibited a growing interest in literature and now enjoy speaking about drawing as if it were a form of writing, anécriture. Without realizing it, they have reactivated a very

    old tradition that can be definitively located in the work of the eighteenth-century English painter and engraver William Hogarth. This conception of drawing dates to a time when the image, and in particular the engraved image, lent itself to forms of reading and writing whose richness and sophistication we no longer recognize. In reality, each time a contemporary illustrator...

  4. 2 Graffiti and Little Doodle Men Töpffer and the Romantic Preference for the Primitive
    (pp. 25-33)

    Rodolphe Töpffer was born in Geneva in 1799, a century after William Hogarth. The son of a painter and caricaturist (he himself seemed destined for a career in painting before an eye disease discouraged him), Töpffer was penetrated by

    the literary values of the first German romantic period, and he knew the modern tendencies of English caricature intimately. In the following chapter we will return to his picture stories, which played a decisive role in the history of comics. In the interim, the question of his drawing deserves our attention. His style, which could be said to fall somewhere between...

  5. 3 The Arabesque Novels of Rodolphe Töpffer The Second Form of the Novel in Prints
    (pp. 35-51)

    The second form of the novel in prints was born at the end of the 1820s before a small group of students whose teacher, Rodolphe Töpffer, wanted to share his interest in pantomime and the theory of theatrical action. A very busy amateur

    actor in his home town of Geneva, this son of a painter, who earned his living in a private school, had good reason to be interested in the rhetoric of gesture, a subject that carried a great deal of formative baggage for him both as an artist and as an actor.

    Fortunately, Töpffer’s first paper pantomime has...

  6. 4 “Go, Little Book!” The Novel in Prints after Töpffer
    (pp. 53-73)

    A survey of novelistic genres in Europe between 1740 and 1900 shows that the average lifespan of a literary genre is about twenty-five years (Moretti 2005); Töpffer started circulatingMr. Jabot, his first published album, in 1835,

    and the genre of small oblong albums seemed to have quietly faded out in France and England by the end of the 1850s—neatly corresponding to the twenty-five year model. The actual extent of the genre’s success in England is unknown, however, and more examples will probably be discovered in the future. Nevertheless, a number of milestones can be established, thereby highlighting the...

  7. 5 The Evolution of the Press Between Institution and Attraction
    (pp. 75-117)

    The publication ofHistoire de Monsieur CryptogameinL’Illustrationin 1845 marked a decisive turning point for Töpfferian picture stories. Adapted by Cham from Töpffer’s drawings,Cryptogameintroduced the genre to the periodical press,

    a transplantation that would shape the future of the form for more than a century.

    In moving to another medium, Töpffer’s invention also changed its raison d’être. Its artistic goals could no longer remain the same: the aim was not to produce an autonomous work—a novel in prints—but to share in the life and rhythms of a periodical and its readers. The periodical press...

  8. 6 A. B. Frost and the Photographic Revolution
    (pp. 119-135)

    The 1880s gave cartoonists many reasons to be interested in the evolution of photography. In the publishing world, photographic processes began disrupting the traditional connection between illustrators and the printed image.

    Wood engraving, essential until then, would become obsolete by the beginning of the 1890s, and from then on images published in the mainstream press would almost always be reproduced photographically from pen drawings. The American Arthur Burdett Frost was one of the first (along with England’s Phil May [Fougasse 1956, 26]) to develop a style based on the expressive possibilities offered by the new process. His strips display a...

  9. 7 From the Label to the Balloon The Creation of an Audiovisual Stage on Paper
    (pp. 137-147)

    For the contemporary reader, the act of reading comics is a perfectly transparent task. This does not mean, however, that the language of comics is natural or simple; what its transparency suggests is that we are able to read it fluently.

    This familiarity constitutes a pernicious trap for the historian, who may be tempted to believe that some solutions were adopted only because their simplicity and effectiveness made themobvioussolutions. The real question is why, at a given period, certain solutions begin to perform their job so well that they provide an impression of simplicity and efficiency.

    In this...

  10. 8 Winsor McCay: The Last Baroque
    (pp. 149-161)

    Winsor McCay’sLittle Nemo in Slumberland(1905) offers a fascinating example of a work that explores almost all of the possibilities of the form, or medium, in which it is produced. Since its rediscovery in the 1960s, the series has been treated

    like an artistic miracle that could only have been conceived by an incomparable genius. Created just a few years after the modern comic strip was settled in its twentieth-century tracks, the series does indeed push the limits of the genre well beyond what might reasonably have been expected in such a short period of time.

    If we hope...

  11. Bibliography
    (pp. 162-164)
  12. Index
    (pp. 165-168)