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Rebirth of the English Comic Strip - A Kaleidoscope, 1847-1870

Rebirth of the English Comic Strip

A Kaleidoscope, 1847-1870

By David Kunzle
Hardcover : 9781496833990, 472 pages, 309 b&w and 12 color illustrations, July 2021

A master scholar's thorough study of the neglected but vital age in which the term “cartoon” was coined


Rebirth of the English Comic Strip: A Kaleidoscope, 1847–1870 enters deep into an era of comic history that has been entirely neglected. This buried cache of mid-Victorian graphic humor is marvelously rich in pictorial narratives of all kinds. Author David Kunzle calls this period a “rebirth” because of the preceding long hiatus in use of the new genre, since the Great Age of Caricature (c. 1780–c. 1820) when the comic strip was practiced as a sideline. Suddenly in 1847, a new, post-Töpffer comic strip sparks to life in Britain, mostly in periodicals, and especially in Punch, where all the best artists of the period participated, if only sporadically: Richard Doyle, John Tenniel, John Leech, Charles Keene, and George Du Maurier. Until now, this aspect of the extensive oeuvre of the well-known masters of the new journal cartoon in Punch has been almost completely ignored. Exceptionally, George Cruikshank revived just once in The Bottle, independently, the whole serious, contrasting Hogarthian picture story.

Numerous comic strips and picture stories appeared in periodicals other than Punch by artists who were likewise largely ignored. Like the Punch luminaries, they adopt in semirealistic style sociopolitical subject matter easily accessible to their (lower-)middle-class readership. The topics covered in and out of Punch by these strips and graphic novels range from French enemies King Louis-Philippe and Emperor Napoleon III to farcical treatment of major historical events: the Bayeux tapestry (1848), the Great Exhibition of 1851, and the Franco-Prussian War in 1870. Artists explore a great variety of social types, occupations, and situations such as the emigrant, the tourist, fox hunting and Indian big game hunting, dueling, the forlorn lover, the student, the artist, the toothache, the burglar, the paramilitary volunteer, Darwinian animal metamorphoses, and even nightmares. In Rebirth of the English Comic Strip, Kunzle analyzes these much-neglected works down to the precocious modernist and absurdist scribbles of Marie Duval, Europe’s first female professional cartoonist.


"I discovered something new on virtually every page of Rebirth of the English Comic Strip. David Kunzle has unearthed a treasure trove of information that restructures the very history of comics as an art form. The work is expansive, generative, and path-breaking. "

- Bart Beaty, professor of English, University of Calgary

"This outstanding magnum opus contributes to the literature on comic studies, popular culture, and British history. Over the volume's fourteen chapters, Kunzle (emeritus professor, University of California, Los Angeles) documents the history of the comics, charting the peculiarities of the British tradition at a time when magazines began gaining a foothold among the middle class. Kunzle first examines this mid-century phenomenon in the biting work of George Cruikshank and then incorporates the politics of cartooning in such publications as Punch and Illustrated London News. The carefully curated drawings, all well reproduced, are supported by a careful analysis that offers helpful context. For example, this is a rare volume that offers the full set of Cruikshank's The Bottle, a social commentary often reproduced in social history textbooks without explanation. Kunzle's prose is engaging, and non-specialists as well as scholars will benefit from his erudite references. The publisher is also to be congratulated for choosing a wider printing format, thus allowing a full appreciation of the comic strip, which was once considered, as the author writes in the prologue, the 'poor, unbaptized, and unrecognized' stepsister of caricature. A valuable addition to Kunzle's copious writings."

- G. P. de Syon, Albright College, CHOICE

"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,

"With Rebirth of the English Comic Strip: A Kaleidoscope, 1847–1870, David Kunzle, eminent historian of European comics, continues to enrich our picture of the world of comics before the twentieth century, this time focusing on a narrow and surprisingly deep moment in English periodical comics. . . . This will be an essential volume for the study of mid-nineteenth-century comics and its wealth of material will hopefully generate much comics scholarship to come."

- Journal of Graphic Novels and Comics, Shawn Gilmore