Rebirth of the English Comic Strip: A Kaleidoscope, 1847–1870, due for release next year, is a new book by David Kunzle that enters deep into an era of comic history that has been entirely neglected. This buried cache of mid-Victorian graphic humour is marvellously rich in pictorial narratives of all kinds.
Running to 500 pages, this academic work published by University Press of Mississippi features over 300 black and white and 12 colour illustrations.
David Kunzle calls the period a “rebirth” because of the preceding long hiatus in use of the new genre, since the Great Age of Caricature (circa 1780 to around 1820) when the comic strip was practiced as a sideline. Suddenly in 1847, a new, post- Rodolphe 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 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 analyses these much neglected works down to the precocious modernist and absurdist scribbles of Marie Duval, Europe’s first female professional cartoonist.
David Kunzle is and the author of numerous books and articles on topics in popular, political, and public art. He is also one of the founding fathers of contemporary comics scholarship, and is perhaps best known to comics scholars and fans for his groundbreaking multivolume work The History of the Comic Strip and his translations and introduction for the English-language edition of Ariel Dorfman and Armand Mattelart’s How to Read Donald Duck. His works include From Criminal to Courtier: The Soldier in Netherlandish Art 1550-1670 and an updated edition of Fashion and Fetishism, a Social History of the Corset, Tight-Lacing, and Other Forms of Body Sculpture in the West.
His books Cham: The Best Comic Strips and Graphic Novelettes, 1839–1862; Father of the Comic Strip: Rodolphe Töpffer; Gustave Doré: Twelve Comic Strips; and Rodolphe Töpffer: The Complete Comic Strips, have all been published by University Press of Mississippi.