Tuesday, January 10, 2017

Before There Were Comics: Comic and Cartoon Features, 1860s-1880s

In their books and periodicals, young readers of the second half of the 19th century were routinely treated to creative combinations of art and text that, in many instances, uncannily resembled comic-strip and comic book features to come--so much so, that maybe the time has come to regard them as an earlier version of both.

Take, for instance, this "picture story" from the periodical The Little Corporal (1869).  Though intended to function as a type of word puzzle (with readers challenged to guess the accompanying text, to be revealed in the next issue), its comic-strip nature is obvious.  As for "W.O.C.," I've yet to figure out who this talented illustrator was.

More typically, picture panels accompanied verse, with the text and images interspersed, as with J.T. Trowbridge's comic poem, A Tale of a Comet, in the Jan. 1881 issue of the highly popular children's periodical, Wide Awake.  Here I've separated the illustrations from the text and arranged them in sequential order to give an idea of their comic-strip feel.  Artist unknown:

From a bound 1877 volume of Wide Awake, here are two similar verse/illustration efforts which, like the above, feature comic book-style art, albeit not quite as fanciful:

Next, from an 1881 issue of The Nursery, a more conventional comic book-style set-up, with rectangular panels above the verses:

Children's periodicals and books of the latter 1800s weren't always genteel in their approach to traditional children's stories and rhymes, as evidenced by this downright dark treatment (for babies, yet!) of Jack and Jill from 1878's More Classics of Babyland (art by L. Hopkins):

The 1879 Art in the Nursery was a cartoon and comic-strip volume for very young readers.  An early comic book?

Finally, two comic pages, more modern-looking than the preceding examples, the first from the newspaper The Youth's Companion (June 5, 1884; art by M.W. Wallace)...

...and the second from the June, 1888 issue of the periodical St. Nicholas (artist unknown):

Before we go, a comic-style ad from the April, 1874 issue of The Nursery:

And a product highly familiar to comic book readers: x-ray vision, complete with the iconic bones-in-hand motif, only from 1899 (The Youth's Companion)!!

Maybe it's time we renewed our search for the roots of our comic book images and ads.


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