David Kunzle deserves a large part of the credit for debunking the myth of the Yellow Kid as the point of origin, and bringing the history of modern comics before Hogan’s Alley to light in a fledgling academic field, dominated for years by collective denial. A substantial part of that effort has been the reintroduction of Swiss comics pioneer Rodolphe TÃ¶pffer (1799-1846) to comics afficionados, initially in a couple of important articles, one on TÃ¶pffer’s strip M. Cryptogame in the journal Genava (no. 32, 1984) and another on the reception of his work by Goethe in the Journal of the Warburg and Cortauld Institute (vol. 48, 1985), and subsequently in a comprehensive chapter of his grand History of the Comic Strip vol. 2: The Nineteenth Century (1990). To have him return to TÃ¶pffer again, and finally see him publish a complete edition of the master’s strips, Rodolphe TÃ¶pffer : The Complete Comic Strips, as well as a monograph on TÃ¶pffer as a comics artist, Father of the Comic Strip – Rodolphe TÃ¶pffer, is therefore something of an event.
Not yet having seen the strip collection, which looks great, I will reserve judgement on that, but unfortunately the monograph, though full of interesting information, is not the book one could have hoped for from the world’s foremost authority on TÃ¶pffer’s comics. While up front about not wanting to cover the entirety of TÃ¶pffer’s life and work, but rather wanting to concentrate on his comics, it seems to me that Kunzle still wants to present us with something of an authoritative survey. The book is, however, rather a collection of more or less disparate essays. Instead of providing a thorough but accessible introduction to the man and his comics, it gets lost in detail and never achieves the sense of overarching structure the format traditionally suggests. It contains fine insights and presents a good deal of compelling research, but is at the same time confusingly structured, incoherently written and presumes prior knowledge to a self-defeating extent.