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The Origins of Comics

From William Hogarth to Winsor McCay

Thierry Smolderen

Publication Year: 2014

In The 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.

Published by: University Press of Mississippi

Title Page, Copyright

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pp. i-iv


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pp. v-2

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1 William Hogarth: Readable Images; The First Form of the Novel in Prints

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pp. 3-24

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, an écriture. 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...

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2 Graffiti and Little Doodle Men: Töpffer and the Romantic Preference for the Primitive

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pp. 25-34

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...

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3 The Arabesque Novels of Rodolphe Töpffer: The Second Form of the Novel in Prints

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pp. 35-52

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...

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4 “Go, Little Book!”: The Novel in Prints after Töpffer

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pp. 53-74

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 circulating Mr. 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...

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5 The Evolution of the Press: Between Institution and Attraction

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pp. 75-118

The publication of Histoire de Monsieur Cryptogame in L’Illustration in 1845 marked a decisive turning point for Töpfferian picture stories. Adapted by Cham from Töpffer’s drawings, Cryptogame introduced the genre to the periodical press,a transplantation that would shape the future of the form for more than a century....

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6 A. B. Frost and the Photographic Revolution

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pp. 119-136

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...

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7 From the Label to the Balloon: The Creation of an Audiovisual Stage on Paper

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pp. 137-148

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 them...

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8 Winsor McCay: The Last Baroque

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pp. 149-161

Winsor McCay’s Little 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...


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pp. 162-164


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pp. 165-168

E-ISBN-13: 9781617031496
E-ISBN-10: 1621039927
Print-ISBN-13: 9781621039921

Page Count: 200
Publication Year: 2014