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How To Create Graphic Novels

How To Create Graphic Novels

How To Create Graphic Novels back

Rodolphe Topffer


Page 45 Review by Stephen

Pocketbook resurrection of a long-lost artefact originally published in 1845, translated by the gregarious John McShane whom many may remember from Glasgow's AKA Books (which I thought was a wittily playful and positive name for a comic shop) who also provides an introduction full of insightful context almost as long as the proposition itself.

Amongst many amusements there, you will learn of the absurd pseudo-science called phrenology once bandied about by highly regarded quacks with a disregard for truth and evidence on a scale approaching Donald Trump's po-faced proclamations. Rodolphe Töpffer, you'll be relieved to hear, was not a fan. Of phrenology, I mean; I'd like to have seen him draw Donald Trump.

Here's an edited version of what The Lakes International Comic Art Festival wrote about their publication:

"It was the first ever book on creating graphic novels, which has been translated, edited, and introduced by John McShane and designed by Festival patron Sean Phillips.

"Born in Geneva in 1799, Töpffer was a schoolmaster, university professor, polemical journalist, art critic, landscape draughtsman and writer of fiction, travel tales, and social criticism. Within two years of the first appearance of the world's first regularly published comics magazine, 'The Glasgow Looking Glass' (11th June 1825), Rodolphe Töpffer single-handedly started creating what became the world's first graphic novels.

"At first he resisted publishing what he called his "little follies". When he did, they became instantly popular, plagiarised, and imitated throughout Europe and the United States.

"In 1845, he wrote HOW TO CREATE GRAPHIC NOVELS, the world's first book about this new art of the graphic novel.

"This new edition has been endorsed by Benoît Peeters, the UK's only Professor of Graphic Fiction and Comic Art (at Lancaster University) and comics artist and illustrator Dan Berry, Programme Leader for the BA/MDes Illustration, Graphic Novels and Children's Publishing degree courses at the School of Creative Arts, Wrexham Glyndwr University, who will both be guests at this year's Festival in October.

""Many people who read Will Eisner's A CONTRACT WITH GOD in 1987, or Art Spiegelman's MAUS in 1980-9, or Alan Moore and Dave Gibbons' WATCHMEN in 1986-87 probably felt that they were witnessing the first examples of a new form of literature," notes John McShane. "But the truth is that these books were part of a rebirth of the form, a renaissance indeed, which Rodolphe Töpffer created in 1827 - all by himself."

"So, what is this 'little book' which you now hold in your hands all about? It is Töpffer's demonstration of the advantages of the graphic form over prose novels - and how to go about creating your own," John explains. "Töpffer's theories are still influential to this day, and still worth studying."

What no one seems to consider worth mentioning is that within the work Mr T actually illustrates his prose hypothesis about conveying character as a constant and immediate emotion or thought in several drawn demonstrations utilising different - and differentiating - component parts of the face.

He does the same, passing by, on stature etc.

It's a starting point which will give you much food for thought.

Let no one tell you, however, that this is where the history of comics began (I've edited that extract out). It may be where the first discussion of the medium occurred, but the history of comics began with ancient Egyptian, sequential-art paintings of harvests circa 1300 B.C.*, and flourished as Töpffer himself points out under Britain's William Hogarth in the 18th Century. Its origins may even lie much earlier in pre-historical cave paintings like those in Lascaux (170th Century BC), depending on your interpretation of those fairly dynamic daubs. I subscribe, certainly.

This is a genuine gem of a find and an important part of our beloved medium's evolution.

* Not hieroglyphics, obviously, for they were merely pictorial representations of letters.