Wednesday, January 17, 2024

The Comics Journal Profiles David Kunzle


Platinum Age comics historian David Kunzle is profiled in The Comics Journal by Andrew Farago. 

"Kunzle is best known to scholars for his illustrated comics histories and biographies of the 19th century European artists who created foundational works that were direct antecedents of the modern comic strip. His fascination with that era began during his childhood in Birmingham, England, when he discovered a book of Hogarth engravings left behind by a long-deceased uncle who had amassed an interesting and diverse collection of books to help pass the time during his convalescence from polio.

"'Hogarth opened up all the mysteries of life which had and would continue to be occluded by authorities at home and at school; sex, death, cruelty; a grim, raucous, tawdry sort of vitality, and lust combined with beauty (so well embodied in the Harlot of Hogarth’s Progress),' said Kunzle in his autobiographical essay 'Kunzle and the Comic Strip,' written for the Spring 2003 edition of the International Journal of Comics Art. 'This book, laid and devoured on the floor—my immersions in which were never (I marvel in retrospect) intruded upon, as if my family sensed (but I doubt it) that this was for me a sacred, intensely private experience—sowed the germ of that enduring fascination with realistic, narrative art which would subtend my research in the various directions it has taken ever since.'"


It was about a half decade ago that he began to write and speak about the comics of the 19th century.


"In 1973, the University of California Press published the first volume of Kunzle’s seminal work The History of the Comic Strip, titled The Early Comic Strip: Narrative Strips and Picture Stories in the European Broadsheet from c.1450 to 1825. His official profile from the Dictionary of Art Historians cites the publication of this volume as a turning point in his career and in comics scholarship itself. Over the next five decades, he established himself as one of the founding fathers of comics scholarship, and his lectureships at the California Institute of the Arts, Valencia from 1972 to 1975 further cemented his reputation as one of the foremost experts in his field."


Andrew quotes me on the impact of Kunzle's work:


"Quoted in a blurb on the back of Rebirth of the English Comic Strip: A Kaleidoscope, 1847-1870, cartoonist and historian Mike Lynch said, 'Just paging through his work, and seeing all of those illustrated comics from the 1800s, was amazing. Reading his text, he put it all in context. The 1800s didn't all begin and end with Töpffer. Citing the simultaneous boom in education, faster printing and an emerging middle class with some extra money to spend, he was a guide to a wealth of early printed comics that were part of regular reading. This was a wider world of graphic narrative than I ever imagined. His research and copious samples of comic stories was impactful and will be remembered.'"


As I said earlier this week

"I go to his books again and again and always find something new and fascinating -- and funny." The comics he showcases, as old as they are, are still wonderfully grotesque and crazy.

No comments: