The Forgotten Women of Surrealism: A Magical, Short Animated Film

“The problem of woman is the most marvelous and disturbing problem in all the world,” — Andre Breton, 1929 Surrealist Manifesto.

“I warn you, I refuse to be an object.” — Leonora Carrington

Fashion model, writer, and photographer Lee Miller had many lives. Discovered by Condé Nast in New York (when he pulled her out of the path of traffic), she became a famous face of Vogue in the 1920s, then launched her own photographic career, for which she has been justly celebrated: both for her work in the fashion world and on the battlefields (and Hitler’s tub!) in World War II. One of Miller’s achievements often gets left out in mentions of her life, the Surrealist work she created as an artist in the 1930s.

Hailed as a “legendary beauty,” writes the National Galleries of Scotland, Miller studied acting, dance, and experimental theater. “She learned photography first through being a subject for the most important fashion photographers of her day, including Nickolas Muray, Arnold Genthe and Edward Steichen.” Her apprenticeship and affair with Man Ray is, of course, well-known. But rather than calling Miller an active participant in his art and her own (she co-created the “solarization” process he used, for example) she’s mostly referred to only as his muse, lover, and favorite subject.

“Surrealism had a very high proportion of women members who were at the heart of the movement, but who often get cast as ‘muse of’ or ‘wife of,'” says Susanna Greeves, curator of an all-women Surrealist exhibit in South London. The marginalization of women Surrealists is not a historical oversight, many critics and scholars contend, but a central feature of the movement itself. When British Surrealist Eileen Agar said in a 1990 interview, “In those days, men thought of women simply as muses,” she was too polite by half.

Despite their radical politics, male Surrealists perfected turning women into disfigured objects. “While Dalí used the female figure in optical puzzles, Magritte painted pornified faces with breasts for eyes, and Ernst simply decapitated them,” Izabella Scott writes at Artsy. Surrealist artist René Crevel wrote in 1934, “the Noble Mannequin is so perfect. She does not always bother to take her head, arms and legs with her.” Edgar Allan Poe’s love for “beautiful dead girls” escalated into dismemberment.

Dalí employed no lyrical obfuscation in his thoughts on the place of women in the movement. He called his contemporary, Argentine/Italian artist Leonor Fini (who never considered herself a Surrealist), “better than most, perhaps.” Then he felt compelled to add, “but talent is in the balls.”

When writing her dissertation on Surrealism in the 1970s at New York University, Gloria Feman Orenstein found that all of the women had been totally left out of the record. So she found them — tracking down and becoming “a close friend to many influential female surrealists,” notes Aeon, “including Leonora Carrington and Meret Elisabeth Oppeneim” (another Man Ray model and the only Surrealist of any gender to have actual training and experience in psychoanalysis).

Through her research, Orenstein “became the academic voice of feminist surrealism,” recovering the work of artists who had always been part of the movement, but who had been shouldered aside by male contemporaries, lovers, and husbands who did not see them on equal terms. In the short film above, Gloria’s Call, L.A.-based artist Cheri Gaulke “manifests Orenstein’s journey into the surreal with collage-like animations.” It was a quest that took her around the world, from Paris to Samiland, and it began in Mexico City, where she met the great Leonora Carrington.

See how Orenstein not only rediscovered the women of Surrealism, but helped recover the essential roots of Surrealism in Latin America, also erased by the art historical scholarship of her time. And learn more about the artists she befriended and brought to light at Artspace and in Penelope Rosemont’s 1998 book, Surrealist Women: An International Anthology.

via Aeon

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Josh Jones is a writer and musician based in Durham, NC. Follow him at @jdmagness

The Polish Artist Stanisław Witkiewicz Made Portraits While On Different Psychoactive Drugs, and Noted the Drugs on Each Painting

Much of the information in this post comes from Juliette Breton at the Public Domain Review. See her post for more.

At least once a day, staff at art museums and galleries worldwide must hear someone say, “the artist must have been on drugs.” It’s the easiest explanation for art that disturbs, unsettles, confounds our expectations of what art should be. Maybe sometimes artists are on drugs. (R. Crumb tells the story of discovering his inimitable style while on acid.) But maybe it’s not the drugs that make their art seem otherworldly. Maybe mind-altering substances make them more receptive to the source of creativity….

In any case, artists have long used psychoactive substances to reach higher states of consciousness and cope with a world that doesn’t get their vision. In the early days of LSD experimentation, one psychiatrist even tested the phenomenon. UC Irvine’s Oscar Janiger dosed volunteer subjects at a rented L.A. house, then had them draw or otherwise record their experiences. He ultimately aimed to make a “creativity pill,” testing hundreds of willing subjects between 1954 and 1962.

Had Polish artist Stanisław Ignacy Witkiewicz (1885-1939) — who went by “Witkacy” — lived to see the spread of LSD, he would have signed up for every trial. More likely, he would have conducted his own experiments, with himself as the sole test subject. The Warsaw-born artist, writer, philosopher, novelist, and photographer died in 1939, the year after Swiss chemist Albert Hoffman accidentally synthesized acid. Throughout his career, however, Witkacy experimented with just about every other psychoactive substance, anticipating Janiger by decades with his portraits — painted while… yes… he was on lots of drugs.

Unlike his contemporary Dalí, Witkacy did not claim to be drugs. But he was hardly coy about their use. He made notes on each painting to indicate his state of intoxication. “Under the influence of cocaine, mescaline, alcohol, and other narcotic cocktails,” Juliette Bretan writes at the Public Domain Review, “Witkacy prepared numerous studies of clients and friends for his portrait painting company, founded in the mid-1920s.” The drugs induced “different approaches to colour, technique, and composition. The resulting images are surreal — and occasionally horrific.” Sometimes the drugs in question were limited to caffeine, a daily staple of artists everywhere. He also made portraits while abstaining from other addictive substances like nicotine and alcohol.

At other times, Witkacy’s notes — written in a kind of code — specified more pronounced usage. He made the portrait above, of Nina Starchurska, in 1929 while on “narcotics of a superior grade,” including mescaline synthesized by Merck and “cocaine + caffeine + cocaine + caffeine + cocaine.” Another portrait of Starchurska (below) made in that same year involved some heavy doses of peyote, among other things.

Witkacy’s investigations were literary as well, culminating in a 1932 book of essays called Narcotics: Nicotine, Alcohol, Cocaine, Peyote, Morphone, Ether + AppendicesThe book “owes much to the experimental works of other European psychonauts throughout the nineteenth and twentieth centuries.” Invoking the decadent moralism of Thomas De Quincey and Baudelaire, and it anticipates the utopian, psychedelic prose of Aldous Huxley and Carlos Castaneda.

Where he might fulminate, with satirical edge, against the use of drugs, Witkacy also joyously records their liberating effects on his creative consciousness. His chapter on peyote “most closely approximates the spirit” of his paintings, notes Bibiliokept in a review of the recently republished volume:

“Peyote” begins with Witkiewicz taking his first of seven (!) peyote doses at six in the evening and culminating around eight the following morning with “Straggling visions of iridescent wires.” In increments of about 15 minutes, Witkiewicz notes each of his surreal visions. The wild hallucinations are rendered in equally surreal language: “Mundane disumbilicalment on a cone to the barking of flying canine dragons” here, “The birth of a diamond goldfinch” there. 

Elsewhere he writes of “elves on a seesaw (Comedic number)” and “a battle of centaurs turned into a battle between fantastical genitalia,” all of which lead him to conclude, “Goya must have known about peyote.”

Narcotics functions as a kind of key to Witkacy’s thinking as he made the portraits; part drug diary, part artistic statement of purpose, it includes a “List of Symbols” to help decode his shorthand. The artist committed suicide in 1939 when the Red Army invaded Poland. Had he lived to connect with the psychedelic revolution to come, perhaps he would have been the artist to make psychotropic drug use a respectable form of fine art. Then we might imagine conversations in galleries going something like this: “Excuse me, was this artist on drugs?” “Why yes, in fact. She took large doses of psylocybin when she made this. It’s right here in her manifesto…..”

See many more Witkacy portraits by visiting Juliette Bretan’s post at the Public Domain Review.

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Josh Jones is a writer and musician based in Durham, NC. Follow him at @jdmagness

Grandma Moses Started Painting Seriously at Age 77, and Soon Became a Famous American Artist

As an artistic child growing up on a farm in the 1860s and early 1870s, Anna Mary Robertson (1860-1961) used ground ochre, grass, and berry juice in place of traditional art supplies. She was so little, she referred to her efforts as “lambscapes.” Her father, for whom painting was also a hobby, kept her and her brothers supplied with paper:

He liked to see us draw pictures, it was a penny a sheet and lasted longer than candy.

She left home and school at 12, serving as a full-time, live-in housekeeper for the next 15 years. She so admired the Currier & Ives prints hanging in one of the homes where she worked that her employers set her up with wax crayons and chalk, but her duties left little time for leisure activities.

Free time was in even shorter supply after she married and gave birth to ten children – five of whom survived past infancy. Her creative impulse was confined to decorating household items, quilting, and embroidering gifts for family and friends.

At the age of 77 (circa 1937), widowed, retired, and suffering from arthritis that kept her from her accustomed household tasks, she again turned to painting.

Setting up in her bedroom, she worked in oils on masonite prepped with three coats of white paint, drawing on such youthful memories as quilting bees, haying, and the annual maple sugar harvest for subject matter, again and again.

Thomas’ Pharmacy in Hoosick Falls, New York exhibited some of her output, alongside other local women’s handicrafts. It failed to attract much attention, until art collector Louis J. Caldor wandered in during a brief sojourn from Manhattan and acquired them all for an average price tag of $4.

The next year (1939), Mrs. Moses, as she was then known, was one of several “housewives” whose work was included in the Museum of Modern Art’s exhibit “Contemporary Unknown American Painters”.  The emphasis was definitely on the untaught outsider. In addition to occupation, the catalogue listed the non-Caucasian artists’ race…

In short order, Anna Mary Robertson Moses had a solo exhibition in the same gallery that would give Gustav Klimt and Egon Schiele their first American one-person shows, Otto Kallir’s Galerie St. Etienne.

In reviewing the 1940 show, the New York Herald Tribune’s critic cited the folksy nickname (“Grandma Moses”) favored by some of the artist’s neighbors. Her wholesome rural bonafides created an unexpected sensation. The public flocked to see a table set with her homemade cakes, rolls, bread and prize-winning preserves as part of a Thanksgiving-themed meet-and-greet with the artist at Gimbels Department Store the following month.

As critic and independent curator Judith Stein observes in her essay “The White Haired Girl: A Feminist Reading”:

In general, the New York press distanced the artist from her creative identity. They commandeered her from the art world, fashioning a rich public image that brimmed with human interest…Although the artist’s family and friends addressed her as “Mother Moses” and “Grandma Moses” interchangeably, the press preferred the more familiar and endearing form of address. And “Grandma” she became, in nearly all subsequent published references. Only a few publications by-passed the new locution: a New York Times Magazine feature of April 6, 1941; a Harper’s Bazaar article; and the land­mark They Taught Themselves: American Primitive Painters of the 20th Century, by the respected dealer and curator Sidney Janis, referred to the artist as “Mother Moses,” a title that conveyed more dignity than the colloquial diminutive “Grandma.”

But “Grandma Moses” had taken hold. The avalanche of press coverage that followed had little to do with the probity of art commentary. Journalists found that the artist’s life made better copy than her art. For example, in a discussion of her debut, an Art Digest reporter gave a charming, if simplified, account of the genesis of Moses’ turn to paint­ing, recounting her desire to give the postman “a nice little Christmas gift.” Not only would the dear fellow appreciate a painting, concluded Grandma, but “it was easier to make than to bake a cake over a hot stove.” After quoting from Genauer and other favorable reviews in the New York papers, the report concluded with a folksy supposition: “To all of which Grandma Moses perhaps shakes a bewildered head and repeats, ‘Land’s Sakes’.” Flippantly deeming the artist’s achievements a marker of social change, he noted: “When Grandma takes it up then we can be sure that art, like the bobbed head, is here to stay.”

Urban sophisticates were besotted with the plainspoken, octogenarian farm widow who was scandalized by the “extortion prices” they paid for her work in the Galerie St. Etienne. As Tom Arthur writes in a blog devoted to New York State historical markers:

New Yorkers found that, once wartime gasoline rationing ended, Eagle Bridge made a nice excursion destination for a weekend trip. Local residents were usually willing to talk to outsiders about their local celebrity and give directions to her farm. There they would meet the artist, who was a delight to talk to, and either buy or order paintings from her. Songwriter/impresario Cole Porter became a regular customer, ordering several paintings every year to give to friends around Christmas. 

In the two-and-a half decades between picking her paintbrush back up and her death at the age of 101, she produced over 1600 images, always starting with the sky and moving downward to depict tidy fields, well kept houses, and tiny, hard working figures coming together as a community. In the above documentary she alludes to other artists known to depicting “trouble”… such as livestock busting out of their enclosures.

She preferred to document scenes in which everyone was seen to be behaving.

Remarkably, MoMA exhibited Grandma Moses’ work at the same time as Picasso’s Guernica.

In a land and in a life where a woman can grow old with fearlessness and beauty, it is not strange that she should become an artist at the end. – poet Archibald MacLeish


Read Judith Stein’s fascinating essay in its entirety here.

See more of Grandma Moses’ work here, and her portrait on TIME magazine in 1953.

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Ayun Halliday is the Chief Primatologist of the East Village Inky zine and author, most recently, of Creative, Not Famous: The Small Potato Manifesto.  Follow her @AyunHalliday.

The Ghosts and Monsters of Hokusai: See the Famed Woodblock Artist’s Fearsome & Amusing Visions of Strange Apparitions

When Halloween comes around this year, consider playing a round of hyakumonogatari. You’ll need to assemble a hundred candles beforehand, but that’s the easy part; you and your friends will also need to know just as many ghost stories. In early nineteenth-century Japan, “participants would sit in a candlelit room and take turns telling frightening tales. After each one was shared, a candle would be extinguished until there was no light left, in the room. It was then that the yōkai [“strange apparitions”) would appear.” So says Youtuber Hochelaga (who’s previously covered the Biblical apocalypse and long-ago predictions of the future) in the video above, “The Ghosts of Hokusai.”

We all know the name of Katsushika Hokusai, the most widely renowned master of the traditional Japanese woodblock-print art called ukiyo-e. In a lifetime spanning the mid-eighteenth to the mid-nineteenth century, Hochelaga notes, Hokusai created around 30,000 unique pieces of art, including The Great Wave off Kanagawa, part of Thirty-Six Views of Mount Fuji.

But before executing that triumphant late series, Hokusai made his own Hyakumonogatari (literally, “hundred tales”) — or rather, he rendered in his distinctive style five of those traditional ghost stories’ tragic, grotesque, and often humorous protagonists.

These characters are yōkai, those “weird and mysterious beings” that “inhabit supernatural Japan.” They “come in all shapes and sizes, from friendly household spirits to fierce demons,” including the Oyajirome, who literally has an eye in the back of his head, and the Ushi-oni, “one part bull, one part crab, and the rest nightmare fuel.”  Hokusai’s interest tended toward yōkai who had once been normal humans: the neglected wife of a samurai whose spirit became trapped in a lantern, the murdered kabuki actor whose skeletal remains emerged from a swamp to hunt down his killers.

You can read more about these yōkai, and take a look at Hokusai’s depictions of them, at the Public Domain Review and Thoughts on Papyrus. Soon after Hokusai’s death Japan opened to the world, beginning its transformation into a state of hypermodernity. But tales of yōkai still have a certain influence on the Japanese cultural imagination, as evidenced by the Miyoshi Mononoke Museum in Hiroshima. Japan has been more or less closed once again these past couple of years, but once it re-opens, why not make a trip to collect a few scary monogatari for yourself?

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Based in Seoul, Colin Marshall writes and broadcasts on cities, language, and culture. His projects include the Substack newsletter Books on Cities, the book The Stateless City: a Walk through 21st-Century Los Angeles and the video series The City in Cinema. Follow him on Twitter at @colinmarshall, on Facebook, or on Instagram.

An Online Archive of Beautiful, Early 20th Century Japanese Postcards

The world thinks of Japan as having transformed itself utterly after its defeat in the Second World War. And indeed it did, into what by the nineteen-eighties looked like a gleaming, technology-saturated condition of ultra-modernity. But the standard version of modernity, as conceived of in the early 20th century with its trains, telephones, and electricity, came to Japan long before the war did. “Between 1900 and 1940, Japan was transformed into an international, industrial, and urban society,” writes Museum of Fine Arts Boston curator Anne Nishimura Morse. “Postcards — both a fresh form of visual expression and an important means of advertising — reveal much about the dramatically changing values of Japanese society at the time.”

These words come from the introductory text to the MFA’s 2004 exhibition “Art of the Japanese Postcard,” curated from an archive you can visit online today. (The MFA has also published it in book form.) You can browse the vintage Japanese postcards in the MFA’s digital collections in themed sections like architecture, women, advertising, New Year’s, Art Deco, and Art Nouveau.

These represent only a tiny fraction of the postcards produced in Japan in the first decades of the twentieth century, when that new medium “quickly replaced the traditional woodblock print as the favored tableau for contemporary Japanese images. Hundreds of millions of postcards were produced to meet the demands of a public eager to acquire pictures of their rapidly modernizing nation.”

The earliest Japanese postcards “were distributed by the government in connection with the Russo-Japanese War (1904–5), to promote the war effort. Almost immediately, however, many of Japan’s leading artists — attracted by the informality and intimacy of the postcard medium — began to create stunning designs.” The work of these artists is collected in a dedicated section of the online archive, where you’ll find postcards by the commercial graphic-design pioneer Suguira Hisui; the French-educated, highly Western-influenced Asai Chi; the multitalented Ota Saburo, known as the illustrator of Kawabata Yasunari’s The Scarlet Gang of Asakusa; and Nakazawa Hiromitsu, creator of the “diver girl” long well-known among Japanese-art collectors.

Surprisingly, Nakazawa’s diver girl (also known as the “mermaid,” but most correctly as “Heroine Matsuzake” of a popular play at the time) seems not to have been among the possessions of cosmetics billionaire and art collector Leonard A. Lauder, who donated more than 20,000 Japanese selections from his vast postcard collection to the MFA. “In 1938 or ’39, a boy of five or six, or maybe seven, was so enthralled by the beauty of a postcard of the Empire State Building that he took his entire five-cent allowance and bought five of them,” writes the New Yorker‘s Judith H. Dobrzynski. The youngster thrilling to the paper image of a skyscraper was, of course, Lauder — who couldn’t have known how much, in that moment, he had in common with the equally modernity-intoxicated people on the other side of the world.

via Flashbak

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Based in Seoul, Colin Marshall writes and broadcasts on cities, language, and culture. His projects include the Substack newsletter Books on Cities, the book The Stateless City: a Walk through 21st-Century Los Angeles and the video series The City in Cinema. Follow him on Twitter at @colinmarshall, on Facebook, or on Instagram.

Stunningly Elaborate Ottoman Calligraphy Drawn on Dried Leaves

The study of Islamic calligraphy is “almost inexhaustible,” begins German-born Harvard professor Annemarie Schimmel’s Calligraphy and Islamic Culture, “given the various types of Arabic script and the extension of Islamic culture” throughout the Arabian Peninsula, Persia, Africa, and the Ottoman Empire. The first calligraphic script, called Ḥijāzī, allegedly originated in the Hijaz region, birthplace of the Prophet Muhammad himself. Another version called Kūfī, “one of the earliest extant Islamic scripts,” developed and flourished in the “Abbasid Baghdad,” Anchi Hoh writes for the Library of Congress, “a major center of culture and learning during the classical Islamic age.”

Despite the long and venerable history of calligraphy around the Islamic world, there is good reason for the saying that the Qur’an was “revealed in Mecca, recited in Egypt, and written in Istanbul.” The Ottomans refined Arabic calligraphy to its highest degree, bringing the art into a “golden age… unknown since the Abbasid era,” Hoh writes.

“Ottoman calligraphers adopted [master Abbasid calligrapher] Ibn Muqlah’s six styles and elevated them to new peaks of beauty and elegance.” One of the peaks of this refinement can be seen here in these delicately preserved dead leaves covered with golden Arabic script.

This particular application of the art is, needless to say, “difficult and delicate work,” say the notes on one such leaf in Singapore’s Asian Civilisation Museum:

The leaf has to be dried, and the tissue has to be removed slowly so as to leave the skeletal membrane. The stencil of the composition is placed behind the leaf and the gold ink with gum Arabic is applied over it. This art of producing calligraphy of a dried leaf, is one that was practised most widely in Ottoman Turkey during the 19th century. During this period, Ottoman calligraphers were interested in producing compositions which took the shape of fruits, animals and even inanimate objects like ships and houses.

The examples here come from a Twitter thread by Bayt Al Fann, an artist collective “exploring art & culture inspired by Islamic tradition.” There you can find many more elaborate examples and translations and descriptions of the calligraphic script — generally verses from the Qur’an, Hadith prayers, and poetry. Learn much more about Islamic calligraphy in Schimmel’s book; in her Metropolitan Museum of Art bulletin “Islamic Calligraphy” with Barbara Rivolta (free here); and in Hoh’s three-part Library of Congress series here. And find out how Turkish calligraphers like Nick Merdenyan and Saliha Aktaş have reinvented the art in the 21st century….

via MetaFilter

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Josh Jones is a writer and musician based in Durham, NC. Follow him at @jdmagness

Why Does This Lady Have a Fly on Her Head?: A Curious Look at a 15th-Century Portrait

In the National Gallery there hangs a portrait of an unknown woman, painted by an unknown artist around 1470 somewhere in southwestern Germany. This may sound like an artwork of little note, but it does boast one highly conspicuous mark of distinction: a housefly. It’s not that the portraitist was in such thrall to realism that he included an insect that happened to drop into the sitting; at first glance, the fly looks as if it belongs to our reality, and has alighted on the canvas itself.  Why would a painter, presumably commissioned at the considerable expense of the sitter’s family, include such a seemingly bizarre detail? National Gallery curator Francesca Whitlum-Cooper offers answers in the video below.

“It’s a joke,” says Whitlum-Cooper. “And it’s a joke that works on different levels, because on the one hand, the fly has been tricked into thinking this is a real headdress,” fooled by the painter’s mastery of that most difficult color for light and shadow, white.

“But obviously there’s a double joke, because we, looking at it, think, ‘Oh my gosh, there’s a fly on that painting!'” It is our very instinct to shoo the bug away that tells us “we’ve been duped, because actually, everything here is two-dimensional. This is just paint. And the skill of the artist is that they’ve been able to take that paint, and brush, and a bit of wood, and conjure it into something that feels so lifelike, we do believe — even just for a second — that’s a fly sitting on that picture.”

Five centuries later the joke still works, though it could well be more than a joke. One theory put forth here and there in the comments holds that the fly functions as a reminder of impermanence, of decay, of mortality. If so, it suggests that the subject of this portrait may already have been dead by the time of its painting, a notion supported by the symbolic weight of the forget-me-nots in her hand. (One commenter even argues that the artist is none other than the famed Albrecht Dürer, and that the woman depicted is his late mother.) Though it may not rank among the great works of art, this mysterious image nevertheless shares with them the quality of multivalence. The fly could be a gag, and it could be a memento mori — but why not both?

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Based in Seoul, Colin Marshall writes and broadcasts on cities, language, and culture. His projects include the Substack newsletter Books on Cities, the book The Stateless City: a Walk through 21st-Century Los Angeles and the video series The City in Cinema. Follow him on Twitter at @colinmarshall, on Facebook, or on Instagram.

Explore a Big Archive of Vintage Early Comics: 1700-1929

The popularity of graphic novels (and more than a few extremely lucrative superhero movie franchises) have conferred respectability on comics.

Handsome reissues of such stunning early works as Winsor McKay’s Little Nemo in Slumberland, George Herriman’s Krazy Kat, and Frank King’s Walt and Skeezix suggest that readers’ appetite for vintage comics extends deeper and further back than mere nostalgia for the Sunday funnies of their youth.

Artist Andy Bleck’s Andy’s Early Comics Archive is an excellent resource for those seeking to discover early examples of the form that have yet to be reissued in a collected edition. (Fair warning: reflecting the attitudes of the time, the collection does inevitably contains some racist imagery. Such imagery won’t be on display in this post.)

Bleck, the creator of Konky Kru, a beautifully simple, wordless series, as well as several self-published mini comics, takes a historian’s interest in his subject, beginning with the William Hogarth engravings A Harlot’s Progress from 1730:

The famous ‘progressions’ by Hogarth were not actually comics. The images don’t lead into and don’t interact with each other. Each shows a distinct, separate stage of a longer story. However, because of their great popularity, they established the very notion of telling entertaining stories with a series of pictures and so became a highly influential stepping stone for future developments.

He also cites the influence of British political cartoons, Chinese woodcuts, illustrated fairy tales and nursery rhymes, and Heinrich Hoffmann’s Struwwelpeter, a book that terrified children into behaving by depicting the monstrous consequences befalling those who failed to do so.

Ironically, Franz Joseph Goez’s Lenardo und Blandine, an actual graphic novelette from 1783, “probably had little influence:”

 It was too ahead of its time as far as the comic structure is concerned. In content, it was delightfully very much of its time, full of outrageous melodrama.

Things continued to evolve in the second half of the 19th-century, with picture broadsheets for children, such as the ones starring Wilhelm Busch’s wildly popular Max and Moritz. (See an English translation here.)

Bleck traces the birth of modern comics, whose storytelling vocabulary continues today, to the beginning of the 20th century, with American newspaper strips and particularly, the Sunday funnies:

The newspaper format was much larger and cheaper, providing a lot more empty space to fill. The audience was less sophisticated, but (possibly because of this) more open to a particular type of experimentation, despite the dumb and lowbrow humor… these American Sunday pages became the breeding ground for something new. Weirder, rougher, slapdashier. Also easier, for children, but not childish. More popular. More … somethingier.

Maybe it was that new type of human being, the urban immigrant, who was most prepared and eager to pay for all this new visual goings on.

Andy’s Early Comics Archive can be searched chronologically, or alphabetically by artist’s name. Enter here.

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Download Over 22,000 Golden & Silver Age Comic Books from the Comic Book Plus Archive

Download 15,000+ Free Golden Age Comics from the Digital Comic Museum

Ayun Halliday is the Chief Primatologist of the East Village Inky zine and author, most recently, of Creative, Not Famous: The Small Potato Manifesto.  Follow her @AyunHalliday.


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Open Culture was founded by Dan Colman.