World’s oldest comic story published in Brazil

World’s oldest comic story published in Brazil

An artifact, inherited from the family for generations, remains hidden for years in a dusty cellar until it is rediscovered. It seems the beginning of some short story by Jorge Luis Borges, but it is the real trajectory of the publication of the work of the Swiss Rodolphe Töpffer (1799-1846), author of the oldest comic in the world and pioneer of modern comics, by the publisher Sesi-SP .

“My father had a huge library, but he didn’t give a lot to the comic. He saw it as a child’s thing, he didn’t take it as a serious art, as it is seen today. Once, he came home and said: ‘Stay with this, because he was with his grandfather and the author is our relative’ ”, reports the protagonist of this true Borgian tale, the writer and historian André Caramuru Aubert, organizer of the collection and nephew- Töpffer tetranide.

Years later, Aubert came across the newspaper with the same features present in the cardboard boxes that his father had given him and realized the preciousness he kept. When he looked at the family archives, he discovered the relationship and realized that when Töpffer’s lineage was interrupted, the works stayed with his grandfather, Jacques Aubert, who maintained a publishing house in Geneva. After the 2nd World War, Jacques came to Brazil and brought with him the oldest comic in the world.

Illustration from ‘Monsieur Vieux Bois’, drawn in 1827 by Rodolphe Töpffer, perhaps the oldest comic book story in the world (Photo: Editora Sesi-SP)

Sequential art, some theorists argue, has been around since the first hominids drew figures on cave walls to tell a story. Greek and Egyptian murals are also ancient examples of how this art was applied for narrative purposes.

It was only after the industrial revolution, however, with the invention of Gutemberg, that the proliferation of cartoonists and caricaturists was possible in the then incipient press. What differs Töpffer from other illustrators, however, is the inseparable fusion of image and text for a narrative function. His stories are only intelligible through the union of drawings and legends, which characterizes him as one of the pioneers of the modern comic.

Wolfgang Töpffer, Rodolphe’s father, was a renowned painter in his day and also made cartoons. When Rodolphe was on the rise in the world of fine arts, he was stricken with health and vision problems that made it impossible for him to paint. “It was there that he dedicated himself to caricatures. It is impossible to know, but probably because I could no longer paint ”, ponders Aubert. “Kind of for fun, he created these stories in drawing and text. He showed his friends, made jokes about the politics of the time. It was a very troubled period, after the Napoleonic wars. There was no lack of subject. ”

Illustration from ‘Monsieur Vieux Bois’, drawn in 1827 by Rodolphe Töpffer, perhaps the oldest comic book story in the world (Photo: Editora Sesi-SP)

What started as a joke ended up putting its name in history. A friend of Töpffer showed his drawings to none other than Johann Wolfgang von Goethe, and the author of Young Werther’s Sufferings loved his strips. “Goethe was perhaps the best known figure in Europe,” says Aubert. “With this endorsement, Töpffer decided to publish Monsieur Jabot.”

This 1833 work was released in Brazil in 2017, but it was not the first that Töpffer had designed – this honor goes to the album Monsieur Vieux Bois, probably the first modern comic book, produced in 1827 by the Swiss and published a decade later . Together with Monsieur Crépin, she completes the five volumes of the Sesi collection, which is yet to receive two essays in which the illustrator explains his creative process.

Possibly Angelo Agostini (1843-1910), the patron of Brazilian comics, came into contact with the work of Töpffer through pirated editions of Livraria Garnier, one of the main publishers in Brazil at the end of the 19th century. “Töpffer fought a lot against piracy at a time when copyright laws did not even exist yet, ”recalls Aubert. “He basically influenced everyone who drew after him, it was inevitable. Several pages resemble storyboards even though they were created 70 years before the cinema and the first cartoons. ”

Töpffer’s humorous verve is present in all five volumes of the collection: “Monsieur Jabot made a joke like the new richness, the obsession that the new European bourgeoisie had for social ascension; Monsieur Trictac laughed at the police, the bureaucracy and the authorities; Monsieur Vieux Bois ridiculed romantic love and Catholicism.

In Monsieur Crépin, finally, the main target of Töpffer’s acid irony would be the pedagogical fashions of the first decades of the 19th century ”, explains Aubert in the preface to Monsieur Crépin, which, with Monsieur Vieux Bois, will be released this Thursday (31) , on the 220th anniversary of Töpffer’s birth. The launch will be at Livraria da Vila (R. Fradique Coutinho, 915, Vila Madalena), at 19h.

Töpffer’s fine and agile features, which certainly influenced the elegant style of classic names like Saul Steinberg (1914-1999), Hergé (1907-1983) and Wilhelm Busch (1932-1908), as well as more recent illustrators such as Jean-Jacques Sempé and Moebius, finally won an edition in line with their status as the cornerstone of modern comic history.

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