Introduction

Caricature

in European Comic Art
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  • 1 European Comic Art

The history of European comic art is closely intertwined with that of caricature. The comic books by Swiss cartoonist Rodolphe Töpffer – his romans en estampes [‘novels in engravings’] – which are foundational to the medium, are essentially extended caricatures of social types (they have been called romans en caricatures [‘caricature novels’]): the limited but common-sensical father (Crépin); the flighty naturalist (Vieux Bois); the domineering financée (Elvire); the prodigal son and revolutionary (Albert); the bumbling, pretentious social climber (Jabot); etc. Together these constitute a continuation, in bande dessinée, of the passing portraits with which he scatters his Voyages en zigzig (1832 onwards). The latter in turn follow the tradition of Thomas Rowlandson’s The Tour of Doctor Syntax (1812, in French from 1821), which is linked to the ‘narrative series’ of engravings by William Hogarth, for whom Töpffer professed great admiration (Töpffer’s own father also drew caricatures). They have all been traced back to Charles Le Brun’s Méthode pour apprendre à dessiner les passions [‘Method for Learning to Draw the Passions’], first published in 1702, in which the artist explores the way physical appearance can depict interior morality.

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