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Father of the Comic Strip - Rodolphe Töpffer

Father of the Comic Strip

Rodolphe Töpffer

By David Kunzle
Series: Great Comics Artists Series
Tom Inge Series on Comics Artists

Paperback : 9781578069484, 224 pages, March 2007
Hardcover : 9781578069477, 224 pages, March 2007

A critical study of the Swiss artist who created the comic strip


Sixty years before the comics entered the American newspaper press, Rodolphe Töpffer of Geneva (1799–1846), schoolmaster, university professor, polemical journalist, art critic, landscape draftsman, and writer of fiction, travel tales, and social criticism, invented a new art form: the comic strip, or “picture story,” that is now the graphic novel. At first he resisted publishing what he called his “little follies. ” When he did, they became instantly popular, plagiarized, and imitated throughout Europe and the United States.

Töpffer developed a graphic style suited to his poor eyesight: the doodle, which he systematized and also theorized. The drawings, with their “modernist” spontaneous, flickering, broken lines, forming figures in mad hyperactivity, run above deft, ironic captions and propel narratives of surreal absurdity. The artist's maniacal protagonists mix social satire with myth. By the mid-nineteenth century, Messrs. Jabot, Festus, Cryptogame, and other members of the crazy family, comprising eight picture stories in all, were instant folk heroes. In a biographical framework, Kunzle situates the comic strips in the Genevan and European culture of the time as well as in relation to Töpffer's other work, notably his hilarious travel tales, and recounts their curious genesis (with an initial imprimatur from Goethe, no less) and their controversial success.

Kunzle's study, the first in English on the writer-artist, accompanies Rodolphe Töpffer: The Complete Comic Strips, a facsimile edition of the strips themselves, with the first-ever translation of these into English.


"The recent legitimization of the comic strip has brought plenty of vintage-strip reprintings and analyses of the medium. David Kunzle offers volumes of both devoted to the nineteenth-century Swiss artist who may have invented the comic strip. Father of the Comic Strip reveals that Rodolphe Töpffer's protocomics were but a sideline. He founded a successful boarding school, became a university professor, and achieved success as an author and a painter. He was encouraged to publish his picture stories, originally drawn for his students' amusement, by none other than Goethe, who saw them shortly before his death in 1832. Kunzle places Töpffer's pictorial satires in the cultural and political context of the era and shows how Töpffer influenced the next generation of artists in France (notably, Gustave Doré) and elsewhere, arguing his probable inspiration of English illustrator George Cruickshank and novelist W. M. Thackeray, who, like Töpffer, fulfilled a youthful desire to become an artist by illustrating his own stories."

- Gordon Flagg, Booklist

"Kunzle’s books bring the comics of yesteryear magically back to life. If you take the time to read them, you’ll be transported to a nineteenth-century playground where painters, illustrators, and early cartoonists built an industry that continues to thrive today."

- Michael Taube, syndicated columnist and Washington Times contributor,