Rodolphe Töpffer  

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"Mr. Bachelor Butterfly, aged 35; has but one passion, the pursuit of Natural History." --The Veritable History of Mr. Bachelor Butterfly (1845) by Rodolphe Töpffer

"Mr. Oldbuck, in despair, commits suicide. Fortunately the sword passes below his arm.

For eight-and-forty hours he believes himself dead.

He returns to life dying of hunger." --Histoire de M. Vieux Bois (1837) by Rodolphe Töpffer

"Rodolphe Töpffer, a Francophone Swiss artist, is seen as the key figure in comics history of the early part of the 19th century. Although speech balloons had fallen from favour during the middle part of the 19th century, Töpffer's sequentially illustrated stories, with the text compartmentalised below the images, were reprinted throughout Europe and the United States. The lack of copyright laws at this time allowed such pirated editions, and these translated versions created a market on both continents for similar works." --Sholem Stein

"Writing in 1972, Sir Ernst Gombrich certainly felt Rodolphe Töpffer to have evolved a new pictorial language, that of an abbreviated art style, which worked by allowing the audience to fill in gaps with their own imagination." --Sholem Stein

"I have paid tribute in Art and Illusion to the most thorough and sophisticated of these experimenters, Rodolphe Toepffer, who established what I have proposed to call Toepffer's law, the proposition that any configuration which we can interpret as a face, however badly drawn, will ipso facto have such an expression and individuality." --Art, Perception, and Reality, page 24, E. H. Gombrich, 1972

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Rodolphe Töpffer (31 January 1799 – 8 June 1846) was a Swiss author, teacher, painter, cartoonist, and caricaturist. He is best known for illustrated books such as Histoire de monsieur Jabot (1833) Histoire de M. Vieux Bois (1837) and Histoire de Monsieur Cryptogame (1845) which are widely regarde as the earliest European comics and graphic novels.

Töpffer published several more of these books, and wrote theoretical essays on the form.


He was born in Geneva to Adam-Wolfgang Töpffer. His father was a professional painter and occasional caricature artist. The elder Töpffer's main claim to fame is serving from 1804 to 1807 as "Drawing Master" of Joséphine, Empress- consort of the First French Empire.

Rodolphe sought an education in Paris, France from 1819 to 1820. Then he returned to Geneva where he found employment as a school teacher. By 1823 he was able to establish his own boarding school for boys. In 1832 he was appointed Professor of Literature at the University of Geneva.

Relatively successful in his chosen profession, Rodolphe would gain his fame from the activities he pursued in his spare time. He depicted a number of local landscapes in paintings considered influenced by the contemporary movement of Romanticism. He became an author of short stories and occasionally entertained his students by drawing caricatures.

The later two of his activities would be combined in a number of illustrated comedic accounts. The first of them, Histoire de M. Vieux Bois (The story of Mr. Wooden Head), was completed by 1827 but not published until 1837. It consisted of 30 pages, each containing one to six drawn panels with a caption of narration below. It was translated and republished in the United States in 1842 as The Adventures of Obadiah Oldbuck.

Töpffer's stories were produced by autography, a variation of lithography that allowed him to draw on specially prepared paper with a pen. This process allowed for a loose line, quicker and freer than engraving, the usual process for printed illustration at the time.


The comedic story was not originally intended for publication but Rodolphe continued to create others in his spare time to entertain his acquaintances. Notable among them was Johann Wolfgang von Goethe who in 1831 persuaded Rudolphe to publish his stories. Seven of them were eventually published in newspaper form across Europe but Goethe would not live to see them.

  • Histoire de M. Jabot - created 1831, first published 1833. It features the adventures of a middle class dandy who attempts to enter contemporary High Society.
  • Monsieur Crépin - first published in 1837. It features the adventures of a father who employs a series of tutors for his children and falls prey to their eccentricities.
  • Histoire de M. Vieux Bois - created 1827, first published 1837. The above mentioned story.
  • Monsieur Pencil - created 1831, first published 1840. An escalating series of events beginning with an artist losing his sketch to the blowing wind and almost resulting in a global war.
  • Histoire d'Albert - first published in 1845. The adventures of an inexperienced young man in search of a career. After many attempts he ends up as a journalist in support of radical ideas.
  • Histoire de Monsieur Cryptogame - first published in 1845. The story of a lepidopterist who goes to great lengths to replace his current lover with a more suitable one.
  • Le Docteur Festus- created 1831, first published 1846. A scientist wanders the world, offering his assistance. He is blissfully unaware that disaster marks his path.

All seven are considered satirical views of 19th century society and proved popular at the time. In 1842 Rodolphe published his autobiography. On September 14, 1842 the Histoire de M. Vieux Bois was first introduced to a United States audience as The Adventures of Mr. Obadiah Oldbuck. It was published in comic book form as a supplement to that day's edition of Brother Jonathan, a New York, New York newspaper published by author John Neal (August 23, 1793 - June 20, 1876). It has come to be considered the first American comic book and, according to several Robert Beerbohm articles published in Comic Art Magazine and the Overstreet Comic Book Price Guide, the inspiration for an entire U.S. genre of nineteenth-century graphic novel.

Rodolphe is considered alternatively the father or at least an important precursor to the modern art form of comics. He is also considered to be an influence to younger comic artists such as Wilhelm Busch (April 15, 1832 - January 9, 1908), creator of Max and Moritz.

Unless indicated otherwise, the text in this article is either based on Wikipedia article "Rodolphe Töpffer" or another language Wikipedia page thereof used under the terms of the GNU Free Documentation License; or on research by Jahsonic and friends. See Art and Popular Culture's copyright notice.

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