Comics Before Alley Oop

Where and when this art form began depends on who is talking and what words they are using. Comics, comix, comic strips, comic books, graphic novels, sequential art, and cartoons all have similar, overlapping meanings and yet are distinct terms. Some historians credit cave paintings as the earliest forms of comics, and trace their history through Egyptian hieroglyphics, the Bayeux Tapestry, block-books in fifteenth-century Europe, caricature and political cartoons, up to today's graphic novels and manga. Displayed here are some significant British, French, and American artists who helped to shape the art form in the hundred years or so before Alley Oop.


George Cruikshank, Illustrator.
Charles Dickens.
The adventures of Oliver Twist.
London: Bradbury & Evans, 1846.

George Cruikshank

Cruikshank was one of England's most popular caricaturists, and came from a family of artists. He drew political and social caricatures for numerous British periodical publications, but became known internationally for his book illustrations.

Arguably one of the most famous images from all of Dickens' novels, Cruikshank's illustration of Fagin in his jail cell is a haunting masterpiece. Dickens was known for working very closely with his illustrators and even collaborating with them on plot and character development.


Thomas Nast, Illustrator.
H. W. Pullen.
The fight at Dame Europa's school.
New York: F. B. Felt & co. [1871].

Thomas Nast

Nast began drawing for New York periodicals at age fifteen, and quickly became a popular illustrator. Perhaps the first great American political cartoonist, he had an enormous influence on public opinion, and played a significant role in both the American Civil War and the ousting of New York politician William "Boss" Tweed. Dame Europa, his first book, is a humorous allegorical telling of the Franco-Prussian war. All of the major European players are depicted as unruly students in an elementary school.

Dropping the Pilot

Sir John Tenniel.
"Dropping the pilot."
Punch. London: Punch Publications Ltd., March 1890.

Sir John Tenniel

Tenniel was the principal cartoonist for Punch for the second half of the nineteenth century, and produced over 2,000 full-page illustrations for the publication. He is best-known for his illustrations for Lewis Carroll's books Alice's Adventures in Wonderland and Through the Looking-Glass.

"Dropping the pilot" is arguably Tenniel's most well-known illustration from Punch, and depicts Chancellor Otto von Bismarck's forced resignation by German Emperor Wilhelm II as a pilot leaving a ship.


George Herriman.
Krazy Kat.
New York, H. Holt and company [1946].
©1946, Henry Holt and Company, Inc.

George Herriman

Herriman is best known for his comic strip Krazy Kat, which ran from 1913 until the artist's death in 1944. It is widely regarded as one of the greatest comic strips of all time. Its stark, surreal qualities prompted comparisons to artists such as Joan Miró and gained it fans like e.e. cummings, who wrote the introduction to this book printed two years after Herriman's death. Currently, independent comics publisher Fantagraphics is reissuing all of the Krazy Kat Sunday strips in large-format volumes designed by artist Chris Ware.


Winsor McCay.
The Complete Little Nemo in Slumberland, v. 1-6.
Westlake Village, CA: Fantagraphics Books, 1989.
©1989, Remco Worldservice Books.

Winsor McCay

Winsor McCay was a pioneer of both the comic strip and animation. His Little Nemo is a full-page Sunday strip he drew for the New York Herald from 1905-1914 and 1924-1926, which documents the dream world of a young boy. Though it only appeared in one newspaper, it was wildly popular. It has been reprinted many times, was one of the first animated strips, was made into a Broadway musical, and was even turned into a video game. Artists Chuck Jones, Maurice Sendak, and V.T. Hamlin have all cited McCay as a major influence.