Form(ul)ation of a Novel Narrative Form: Nineteenth-Century Pedagogues and the Comics

[Word & Image, Vol. 24.1 (January-March 2008): 1-14]

WillemsFNNFFig7Abstract: This article examines the often overlooked, yet seminal role played by two distinguished francophone educators in the birth of the modern graphic narrative. Its founding father, Rodolphe Töpffer (1799-1846), and his most devoted disciple, Georges Colomb (1856-1945), a.k.a. Christophe, were faculty members at the Academy of Geneva and at the Sorbonne, respectively. Neither could have anticipated the full cultural relevance of their experimental works.

Töpffer created the comic book and the graphic novel with Goethe’s encouragement, and Christophe’s graphic narratives generated a teaching method that shaped France’s scientific education for several generations. The comic strips of Töpffer and Christophe clearly emerged from pursuits in perfect synch with some of their century’s most eminent intellectual endeavors, and the underlying theories of narration developed by their authors stand at the crossroads of pedagogy and linguistics. They contain in embryo some of the most defining concepts of Western 20th-century thought such as structural linguistics and communication theory. To both Töpffer and Christophe, sequential art was not a diversion from academic pursuits, but on the contrary, part of a reflection on efficient methods of communication.

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