Töpffer in Zigzag

father_of_the_comic_strip.jpgDavid 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 Töpffer (1799-1846) to comics afficionados, initially in a couple of important articles, one on Töpffer’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 Töpffer again, and finally see him publish a complete edition of the master’s strips, Rodolphe Töpffer : The Complete Comic Strips, as well as a monograph on Töpffer as a comics artist, Father of the Comic Strip – Rodolphe Töpffer, 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 Töpffer’s comics. While up front about not wanting to cover the entirety of Töpffer’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.

Comic Transformations РȚpffer and the Reinvention of Comics in the First Half of the 19th Century

To mark the recent release of David Kunzle’s long-awaited collection of Swiss comics pioneer Rodolphe Töpffer’s comics work, as well as his monograph on Töpffer the cartoonist (read our review here), the Metabunker hereby presents the following introduction to the comics of Töpffer. It should be noted that the text is a slightly edited version of an essay I wrote as part of a class on the history of the print at the CUNY Graduate Center, Fall of 2004. It was supervised by Prof. Patricia Mainardi, who by the way recently wrote this informative article on the development of comics in the 19th Century.


Chasing the Lead

When one looks at the top stories in hip hop today, it is no wonder that sales are plummeting faster than in any other genre. While once the media were abuzz with Ice Cube’s at times ill-advised but nevertheless truly provocative statements, Biggie and Pac’s tragic feud which exposed the underbelly of ghetto fame, or even Eminem’s perceived threat to white suburbia, what we have today is mostly such nonsense as the latest shenanigans of that joke of an MC, 50 Cent, the latest on-going of which being his vow to stop recording solo if his upcoming third album, Curtis, doesn’t outsell toyboy Kanye West’s third release, Graduation, both of which “happen” to be dropping on September 11 (how poignant to pick that date, by the way, go PR!).

This story was made more “interesting” last Thursday when it became apparent that his next single, “Follow My Lead”, as well as the video for it – slated for release in October – had been leaked. 50 reportedly ‘erupted’ at this news, tore a 70″ plasma screen from the wall at the Interscope offices, and threw his Blackberry through the window. The best laid of plans and all that…

The Cartoon Crisis Comes to Sweden

vilks.jpgJeez, here we go again. Swedish artist Lars Wilks (pictured) has, during the course of the last three weeks, had a handful of drawings, amongst other things showing the Prophet Muhammed as a so-called ’roundabout dog’ rejected from two exhibitions in the province to which he had been invited to participate. A media storm has followed, and he has since then also submitted his drawings to Moderna Museet in Stockholm asking them to exhibit the drawings on principle. They also rejected them. Predictably, he is crying foul and berating Swedish political correctness and self-censorship, etc., and he is joined by other critics, amongst them Flemming Rose, who was the editor responsible for the commissioning and publication of the infamous Danish Muhammed cartoons in the Fall of 2005 (note that this is unfortunately the only link in English here).

Let’s see: Vilks explicitly draws these images to ‘test’ the ‘tolerance’ of the art institutions he is submitting them to and when they’re rejected he takes that as confirmation that something is rotten in Sweden. That may be the case, and it is certainly unacceptable that Vilks has received a couple of death threats over the last weeks. But on the other hand: can you blame an institution for not wanting to show what is evidently scribbled, substandard drawings done deliberately to provoke and not much else? And does such a rejection necessarily mean that free speech and civilization as we know it is in danger?

Watch This Hand!

Via Dirk, my attention was called to this analysis of the page pictured at left, from Darwyn Cooke’s characteristically bland revival of The Spirit, issue 5.

Now, I guess the criticism of the plot problems in the story is valid enough, although this is a broad, archetypical comic book story, not a realistic one. Cooke’s writing is invariably lacklustre. More glaring to me is the actual storytelling on the page. What’s up with the Cossack’s sleight of hand here? He makes the switch *three* times in one page (once while managing to fire a gun at the same time!) Not only is Cooke a sloppy writer, he’s a sloppy storyteller.

Nifty designer, of course.

Travelogue: Berlin, August 2007

neurotitan_heiner.jpgSince my recent trip to Berlin mostly consisted of looking at drawings and prints in the Kupferstichkabinett, I unfortunately didn’t get much time to take in the city this time around. I however did make it to Neurotitan in Haus Schwarzenberg, nested in the alt. culture oasis of Hackescher Höfe in Berlin Mitte. Haus Schwarzenberg is a must for anyone interested in contemporary art, comics, design and all of that Ringling Brothers shit.

Mike Weiringo 1963-2007

This is some sad news to come home to. Comics artist Mike Weiringo died of a heart attack Sunday. He brought a nice and friendly attitude and a sleek energy to American mainstream comics art. The fun of children’s comics wedded to the coolness of those for adolescents, and a joy to behold. Rest in Peace.

Memorial Day sketch by Weiringo. More here.

Save Storyville!

It has come to my attention that a petition to prevent the BBC from cutting the budget of their documentary department, Storyville, by c. 60%, has been launched a while back. The BBC has a world-class history of documentary production and remains one of the important guarantors of innovation an quality in the field. To see such a substantial reduction in their budget would be sad indeed. Go, sign the petition.

Read more here and here.