Last semester, I took Prof. Young’s Graphic Narratives class, and in it we read Scott McCloud’s Understanding Comics. McCloud credits Swiss teacher/author/artist Rodolphe Töpffer with inventing the genre of comics and graphic narrative, with the publication of the first of his eight illustrated books in 1837. At first, he resisted publishing his doodles, but once he did they became instantly popular among all ages and classes, both in Europe and America.
All of his works satirize 19th century society in one form or another, pairing spontaneous, scratchy doodles with humorous and absurd situations that mock some form of sociopolitical issues topical to the Victorian era. Their intended audience was originally the educated elite, and many of the scenes and protagonists reflect this.
I think it’s interesting to compare the political cartoons we’ve looked at in class with Töpffer’s work. Because of the sequential nature of these comics, narratives and characters are allowed to develop and proceed through a continuous story, creating a more nuanced satirical structure that is lost in single-paneled cartoons or caricatures.
Kunzle, David. Father of the Comic Strip: Rodolphe Töpffer. Jackson: U of Mississippi, 2007. Print.