The Origins of Comics
Graphic Novels like Art Speigelman’s Maus, Chris Ware’s and Charles Burns’ Black Hole have only become popular in recent decades, but comics were invented much earlier. While some critics point to everything from Egyptian Hieroglyphics to the Bayeux Tapestry for predecessors, but most would agree that the first proper comics were created by the German artist Rodolphe Tüer. In the 1830's and early 1840's, Tüer published a series of seven satirical stories about 19th-century society. What made them unique was their format, a series of images in separate panels, with caption text describing the action—in other words, Tüer created the first comic books.
They were soon translated and published in the United States as a supplement to the New York newspaper Brother Jonathan (though they were only recently published in book form in the United States last year). They were popular and generally well received. However, one of the highest complements Tüer could have been paid was given him back in Germany: the great German poet, scientist and polymath Johann Wilhelm von Goethe was given a copy of Tüer’s work on his deathbed, and he was quite impressed. He found them amusing and “highly pleasurable,” but added a caveat—“if he . . . did not have such an insignificant text [i.e., story-line] before him, he would invent things which would surpass all our expectations.” Tüer never did take Goethe up on this and produc e a more serious work, but his successors in recent years certainly have.