David Kunzle – RIP

The peerless “pre-comic strip” comic strip historian David Kunzle has passed away.

David Mark Kunzle

April 17, 1936 – January 1, 2024

The Center for the Study of Political Graphics reported on David’s death and his more “radical” disposition:

David Kunzle died Monday, January 1, after a three-year struggle with Amyloidosis. CSPG’s Poster of the Week was displayed outside his office door at the UCLA Art History Department for decades. He didn’t care if the Hammer & Sickle in the center of the poster produced by the Communist Youth of Chile offended administration, faculty, or students. David was willing to put his career on the line.

David was a Renaissance Man both literally and figuratively. He was a political activist, art historian, full professor at UCLA, actor, curator, international lecturer, poster collector, writer, and gymnast-–he performed a unique baroque vaulting and tumbling act for nearly 20 years at the Los Angeles Renaissance Faire in Agoura.

A brief profile of arts professor and historian David Kunzle from UCLA:

David Kunzle taught at UCLA as Professor of Art History from 1976 until his 2009 retirement. A prolific author and one of the founding fathers of contemporary comics scholarship, he has written articles and books on a diverse range of topics, many of them pertaining to popular, political, and public art, including From Criminal to Courtier: The Soldier in Netherlandish Art 1550-1670 (Brill, 2002) and an updated edition of Fashion and Fetishism, a Social History of the Corset, Tight-Lacing, and Other Forms of Body Sculpture in the West (Penguin Social History Classics, 2002). More recently, he published the book Chesucristo: The Fusion in Image and Word of Che Guevara and Jesus Christ (De Gruyter, 2016).

A longer profile from The Dictionary of Art Historians touching on David’s comics research:

In between lectureships at the California Institute of the Arts, Valencia, 1972 and 1975, he published The Early Comic Strip, the first volume of his groundbreaking multivolume work, The History of the Comic Strip in 1973. Kunzle’s book was in fact popular graphic arts including the broadside. He translated Ariel Dorfman and Armand Mattelart’s 1973 Para leer al pato Donald in 1975 as How to Read Donald Duck, a stunning indictment of the pervasiveness of Capitalism (“Imperialism” to use the author’s phrase) through innocuous cartoon imagery.

David is recognized as the preeminent scholar and historian of 19th Century (and earlier) comics and cartoons.

All his books are meticulously researched and highly recommended, especially for those who think the comic strip began in 1895 with the Yellow Kid. University Press of Mississippi is his current U. S. publisher.

Here is Britannica’s entry for “comic strip” as written by David.

The earliest strips concerning private morality are German and recount atrocious forms of murder and their public punishment, the emphasis shifting from the latter (in the 16th century) to the former (in the 18th century).

True and Horrible News of what happened and took place in the town of Limburg, with the daughter of a rich baker called Catherine, who bore seven illegitimate children and murdered and killed them all (March 11th 1626).

Condolences to his wife Marjoyrie, his family, and his friends and colleagues.

One thought on “David Kunzle – RIP

  1. His scholarly books on “comic strips before comic strips” of the 19th century helped cement the prehistory of sequential art. He added a new chapter in the evolution of the picture narrative and was a truly vital voice in its evolution. I go to his books again and again and always find something new and fascinating — and funny.

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