Histoire de M. Vieux Bois
|Histoire de M. Vieux Bois|
|Genre||Humor comics, Text comics|
Histoire de M. Vieux Bois, published in English as The Adventures of Obadiah Oldbuck, and also known as Les amours de Mr. Vieux Bois or simply Monsieur Vieuxbois, is a 19th-century publication written and illustrated by the Swiss caricaturist Rodolphe Töpffer. Published first in Europe in 1837 as Histoire de M. Vieux Bois, and then in the United States as a newspaper supplement, The Adventures of Mr. Obadiah Oldbuck, it is sometimes said to be the first comic book.
The format consists of sequential pictures with captions, aka "text comics", rather than utilizing the staple of word-balloons, a convention that would later be developed in newspaper comic strips. In Understanding Comics, comics theorist Scott McCloud says Töpffer's work is in many ways "the father of the modern comic." McCloud emphasizes Töpffer's use of "cartooning and panel borders" along with "the first interdependent combination of words and pictures seen in Europe." 
Töpffer described comics as a medium appealing particularly to children and the lower classes, and this is evident in the style of the work. It is notable that the story was never intended for publication but rather as an idle "diversion" for his close friends; however, the story achieved widespread popularity in the United States and its original France.
Töpffer used a lithography method called autography, in which the pen draws on specially prepared paper, allowing a freer line than the engraving of the time. Autography lithographs also did not require the drawings to be flipped horizontally.
Mr. Vieux Bois encounters a seemingly overweight young woman and instantly falls in love. His initial attempts at courting are ignored, followed by short periods of his desperation. He attempts suicide by falling on his own sword and then by hanging himself. Both attempts fail.
He discovers a rival suitor and challenges him to a duel. He is better with his dueling sword and his rival has to flee. Vieux Bois contacts the parents of his girlfriend, seeking her hand in marriage. He returns home and starts to celebrate loudly. His celebration ends with his arrest for disturbing the neighbours. The marriage is called off and he feels suicidal. He asks for hemlock but is given herb soup instead.
He then goes traveling but falls prey to highwaymen. Seeking refuge in a lair, he meets a hermit who persuades him to join the local cloister. After two weeks he escapes the cloister dressed in drag. He loses his right eye on his way home and starts wearing an eyepatch. At home he finds a letter from his love interest, finally returning his affection. Nightly he serenades her with a large but unspecified string instrument. They flee on his horse which struggles to support her weight. But Vieux Bois is apprehended by monks and returned to prison. He throws himself out of a window in his fourth unsuccessful suicide attempt.
Released he flees again with his fiancee. Returning to his home by way of the local river they are discovered by a "little hermit". Vieux Bois keeps the boy's head under the water until he dies from drowning. He finally can arrange for their marriage without opposition from the monks.
On his wedding day Vieux Bois leaves his home for the church but then returns to place his dog as guard outside the house. Consequently, he arrives late for his own wedding. His in-laws had tired of waiting and called off the marriage again. He tries to shoot himself in the head but only wounds his face. He is mistaken for dead and buried. Crows digging at his grave finally manage to awake him. He is "called back into existence".
Dressed in a shroud, he is mistaken for a ghost and a couple of local peasants chase him with their pitchforks. His return home terrifies his inheritors. As soon as he changes his clothes, he is again arrested for assault. His bullet had entered a neighbour's leg. He defends himself in court but nevertheless ends up sentenced to imprisonment for a year. His only cellmate is his loyal dog.
They soon manage to escape by opening a hole in the roof. He jumps to the roof of the neighbouring house but his dog falls into the chimney. The house belongs to his object of affection and her parents. The latter are scared by their canine visitor but their daughter recognizes it and hugs it. Mr. Vieux Bois pulls at the rope around his dog's neck and is surprised at its weight. The rope breaks and he falls from the roof and onto a street lamp. He flees the local police. Meanwhile, the resident family climbs the chimney to the rooftop in order to meet the dog's owner. They find nobody and are then trapped on the roof.
Three days later Mr. Vieux Bois returns disguised as an officer. He searches for his lady love and is informed that the whole family is still missing. He leaves to search for them. The following day, a chimney sweep discovers the whole family. Vieux Bois encounters one of the monks responsible for his imprisonment. He cuts off his beard in revenge but then has to flee a legion of vengeful monks.
He returns empty-handed to his hometown. The chimney sweep informs him of the rescue of his lady. Led to the roof, he finds his lost dog. He stays on the roof for nine days in an effort to communicate with his love ... not realizing the family has moved. On the ninth day he leaves the roof and reestablishes contact with his lady. They flee again with horse and carriage. Mr. Vieux Bois is rushing the horse and manages to cover 18 leagues in three hours ... only to find that the carriage containing his lady was lost at some point.
The carriage has been loaded on a stagecoach heading for Paris. But its weight eventually overturns the stagecoach into a river. A passenger seeks refuge on the river-floating carriage. He is identified as the rival driven away at the duel months ago. He drives the carriage to the shore and attempts to release the woman from it. Before he can do so Vieux Bois arrives, posing as a highwayman. He forces his old rival to keep his face on the ground. Then he enters the locked door of the carriage, releases his lady, forces his rival to enter it and throws it to the river again.
The lady complains of exhaustion and seems to have lost weight. Her lover leads her to the mountains where she can pursuit a fattening diet. Meanwhile, he adopts a pastoral lifestyle under the name of "'Tircis". Several pages are devoted to the sleeping woman changing hands between the two persistent rivals for her affection. When she awakes she finds Vieux Bois with a new donkey, taken from his opponent.
On their way home they have to cross the grounds of the local monastery where they have several enemies. The man disguises himself as a miller and the woman as a sack of flour. The monks stop them anyway to examine the cargo. They are scared to find it squealing. The "miller" assures them it contains the Devil. The monks flee but return with reinforcements. The couple are condemned as sorcerers and sentenced to execution by burning. The execution is carelessly prepared and the prisoners take advantage of the smoke to flee towards the river. There their old carriage is found standing. Two pursuing monks are approaching. Knowing them well, Vieux Bois throws some coins around and enters the carriage with his lady. The monks believe the carriage is filled with coins. In their greed they decide to keep it for themselves and dig a pit in order to bury it. When it gets deep enough, their prey exits the carriage and buries them up to their necks. Leaving the monks, the duo has one last encounter with the rival suitor before the story ends happily with their marriage.
Töpffer described[where?] the type of work as appealing particularly to children and the lower classes. Though the story was never intended for publication, but rather as an idle diversion for his close friends, the story achieved widespread popularity in the United States and its original Switzerland. Critics, however, panned almost all of Töpffer's caricature works, decrying them as a low ambition for a greater mind.
- Max and Moritz (1865), by Wilhelm Busch
- Ally Sloper (1867)
- The Yellow Kid (1894), by Richard F. Outcault
- The Adventures of Mr. Obadiah Oldbuck at the Dartmouth College library
- The Adventures of Mr. Obadiah Oldbuck at Don Markstein's Toonopedia. Archived from the original on March 13, 2012.
- Beerbohm, Robert; Wheeler, Doug; and De Sa, Leonardo. "Topffer in America" (Comic Art #3, 2003).
- McCloud, Scott, Understanding Comics: The Invisible Art. New York: Harper Collins & Kitchen Sink Press. 1994. ISBN 0-06-097625-X, pg 17.
- McCloud, pg. 17
- "Rodolphe Töpffer Synopsis". interdinamica.net. Retrieved 24 June 2015.
- Les amours de Mr. Vieux Bois Full 1839 edition at Michigan State University Libraries
- Beck, Andy. "Rodolphe Töpffer". Andy's Early Comics Archive (fan site). Archived from the original on April 5, 2007.
- Histoire de Mr. Vieux Bois Full 1827 manuscript edition at "King Leonardo and his Short Subjects"
- The Adventures of Obadiah Oldbuck Full 1840s American edition at Dartmouth College Library