Although much better known today for his Happy Hooligan comic strip featuring a hapless Irishman, Frederick Burr Opper (1857–1937) also played with representations of the French in his Alphonse and Gaston comic strip, published mostly during 1901–1905 in Hearst newspapers. The strip was inspired by a fictional travelogue written by a British journalist, which Opper illustrated. In Alphonse and Gaston, the assimilation of French characters Alphonse, Gaston, and Leon to an American identity evolves in some ways and remains arrested in others, allowing Opper to mock the American social elite indirectly. At the time, the wealthy strove to distinguish themselves by imitating European, especially French, manners. Opper's satiric representation of upper-crust politeness served Hearst's populist agenda. The period is famously rich in artistic evolution, as cartoonists explored the possibilities of the form. Opper was very much an innovator, as seen in his use of seriality and suspense in Alphonse and Gaston, especially in episodes where the French characters encounter African cannibals, depicted with abject humor. Despite the short time span during which Opper published the bulk of the episodes, the strip was immensely popular and had a lasting impact on American popular culture, including by giving us the banter, "After you my dear Alphonse. No, after you my dear Gaston," suggesting overwrought politeness. The strip remains a rich source for understanding how the comic strip evolved formally at a key moment in its history, and its relationship to social norms and ethnic groups.


Additional Information

Print ISSN
pp. 143-164
Launched on MUSE
Open Access
Back To Top

This website uses cookies to ensure you get the best experience on our website. Without cookies your experience may not be seamless.