Harper's Bazaar

By | Monday, April 21, 2008 Leave a Comment
Harper's Bazaar was the Victorian equivalent of Cosmopolitan. Within it's pages were a myriad of articles explaining how women should be and behave. I stumbled across a scanned copy of the premier 1867 issue here and was surprised to see that the issue included a cartoon! (At right.)

I find it curious for a few reasons. First, it's hard to read as a cartoon since the humor derives from parodying customs that are now all but forgotten. In fact, I was dubious that it was even intended to be humorous until I looked up the heading facetiae to learn that it means "witty or humorous writings or sayings."

Secondly, I find it somewhat surprising that a ladies' journal of that time period would elect to publish something so sarcastic. Viewed with the humor that was intended by the (as far as I can tell) anonymous creator(s), the piece strikes me as amazingly progressive. Although with the overall magazine's focus on "matters which fall particularly under their [ladies'] jurisdiction, such as dress and household affairs", they lose much of their progressive credibility in my mind.

The third and most note-worthy reason is that it's a strange hybrid of illustration and comic art. Each rendering is unique unto itself and it doesn't really convey "sequential art" in the definition proposed by Scott McCloud. However, it clearly is sequential as indicated by the numbering of the captions. Furthermore, the sequence shows the daughter as she progresses in age starting as a young girl at her mother's knee, and ending with her completed education and being of marrying age.

In that respect, the piece is markedly similar to William Hogarth's A Harlot's Progress from over a century earlier. Each "panel" was created as an individual piece of art; however, none of them were meant to stand on their own. Indeed, they were created specifically to stand in a particular sequence with one another, with no one work being particularly more important than another.

It's certainly not the first example of published sequential art, nor can I find any other reason for it being particularly historical. I don't see anything particularly memorable in the comic that wasn't done before somewhere else. That said, though, I think it is note-worthy from the standpoint that comics in America were accepted as a medium and form of entertainment that Harper's felt comfortable enough to put one in their very first issue.
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