Cartoonist, graphic artist, illustrator, painter
Gustave Doré (1832-1883) is best known for his elaborately wood-engraved illustrations of canonical western texts including Dante’s Inferno and The Bible. Although he died at 51, Doré left behind a massive amount of work. Doré’s prolific output was due not only to his astonishing speed but also to his prodigious skill, which manifested — without tutelage — in childhood and permitted Doré a longer career than his life-span might imply. Doré was a literal prodigy, who began his first career as a professional cartoonist at age fifteen under the auspices of publisher and cartoonist Charles Philipon.
Doré capped this phase of his career with 1854’s Histoire Pittoresque, Dramatique et Caricatural de la Sainte Russie, his 104-page satirically propagandistic “history” of “Holy Russia,” densely told with more than 500 captioned wood-block engravings that virtually catalog Doré’s early — and impressive — stylistic range. That same year saw the appearance of Doré’s Oeuvres de Rabelais, a great success which began to establish his new primary profession as an independent illustrator of literary texts.
Gustave Doré was born in Strasbourg, France in 1832. “By the age of four he was illustrating complicated battle scenes and had total recall of fairy and folk tales,” David Kunzle writes in The History of the Comic Strip: The Nineteenth Century (Kunzle 109). Picture stories and illustrated narratives are among the earliest available examples of Doré’s juvenile work, some of which is reproduced in Blanche Roosevelt’s 1885 Doré biography and in Gustave Dore: Das Graphische Werk, a fairly thorough compendium published in 1975. In 1840, at the age of eight, Doré drew a complete, illustrated picture-story for his neighbor, Madame Braun. Braun recalled the event to Roosevelt: “One evening we were laughing at him for drawing so much, and next day he brought this to me ‘as a present.'” Roosevelt describes the item:
It was a common little drawing-book, of the kind usually distributed to children at school; some sheets of gilt-edged paper, bound in a brown stamped leather cover. On the first page was written in a juvenile hand, with childish yet artistic precision, the following title: ‘The brilliant adventures of M. Fouilloux,’ told by _______;’ the name ‘Fouilloux’ being a marvel of elaborate calligraphy. The next page introduces M. Fouilloux, M. and Madame Braun’s dog! (Roosevelt 55-56) Roosevelt reproduced two images from Madame Braun’s unpublished manuscript, which relates the humorous misadventures of M. Fouilloux, the dog, including his interactions with members of the Doré and Braun families (in one image, Doré’s mother teaches M. Fouilloux the polka).
At age 9, Doré wrote an illustrated life of Jupiter; all that remains is the spot illustration that headed chapter ten (Roosevelt 37, 39). 1842 was a busy year for Gustave Doré, age 10. He “wrote also… and illustrated a ‘Voyage Infernal,'” based upon Dante, “in one of his copybooks” (Jerrold 16). Three of the ten pages are reproduced in Das Graphische Werk; each consists of hand-written text illustrated by one or two drawings (Doré 1975 1340-1342). In that same year, Doré produced several drawings imitating Grandville’s “Metamorphoses du Jour,” a series of 1829 lithographs that replaced “human heads with satirically appropriate animals’ heads on the figures” (Forwell 95; Doré 1976 1321-1335). By 1845, Doré returned to mythological subjects with the story of Calypso, freely mixing text and dialogue with images. The mythological figures are semi-grotesque character types with both classical and contemporary accoutrements.
In September 1847, Doré’s parents traveled to Paris on business and brought the 15-year old Gustave along. Doré later described the consequences in his journal:
The idea of returning to the provinces after having once contemplated Paris, the centre of light and cultivation, disheartened me sadly. I set my wits to work to find out how I could possibly contrive to remain behind when my parents should leave, because at that time I had only one idea — that of consecrating myself to the career of the fine arts. This idea, however, still encountered a lively resistance from my parents, who had destined me, like my two brothers, to undergo a scientific training at the Polytechnic School. One day, after staring for some minutes at the shop-window of Aubert and Philipon, whose place of business was [situated] on the Place de la Bourse, on entering my hotel it fortunately occurred to me to dash off a few caricatures in the style of those at which I had been looking. Taking advantage of the momentary absence of my parents, I ran back to the shop and presented my little drawings to those well-known publishers. M. Philipon examined my sketches kindly and attentively, questioned me minutely as to my position and then sent me back to my parents with a letter inviting them to come and have a talk with him about me. They went to see him, and M. Philipon spoke most urgently to them, bringing to bear all the arguments he could think of, in order to vanquish their objections and overcome the fears inspired in them by the notion of my undertaking the career of an artist. Eventually he obtained their permission for me to remain in Paris, assuring them that thenceforth he would utilize my sketches and pay me for them (Roosevelt 60 – 61).
By April 1848 Philipon1 and Doré’s father arrived at a three year exclusive contract for “lithographic work both in pen and pencil” (62). Due to Doré’s age and scholastic responsibilities, he was only required to provide Philipon with a minimum of one cartoon per week, “that is to say, if he has no time to do more by reason of his attendance at college, or during the epoch of the holidays, which he will be at liberty to enjoy, or on account of sickness or malady” (62). According to Kunzle, Doré served Philipon’s weekly Le Journal pour Rire “with about four hundred drawings the first year, and a thousand more up to 1855” (Kunzle 114). Doré supported himself, and later his family, with his cartooning.
Doré began working for Philipon before the contract was signed. “Philipon had already used a drawing by his young protégé in the specimen number of his new magazine, the Journal pour Rire for December 27, 1847” (Kunzle 109). Around that same time, Philipon “also had his brother-in-law and business associate, [Gabriel] Aubert, publish a picture-story which Doré had first drafted at Bourg-en-Bress, The Labors of Hercules [Les Travaux d’Hercule]” (ibid.). Doré apparently drew the story before his arrival in Paris; Jerrold names the work among the pieces that motivated Philipon to contract the fifteen-year-old. Roosevelt suggests that Doré actually drew the Hercules three years earlier: “At twelve, he had conceived a Hercules which he had presented to Philipon, and [Doré’s] amazement may better be conceived than described, when he saw his first effort printed and offered to the public under the title of ‘Hercules chez Augias’ [sic]” (Roosevelt 69). Certainly, the book is similar in theme and character treatment to “Calypso,” also drawn when Doré was twelve. Less specifically, Kunzle suggests that the 1847 picture story may have been a new work based upon a previous version: “The prospect of publication presumably inspired Doré to work up his Labors of Hercules afresh, with a consistently witty, elegant, occasionally calligraphic line and composition that are altogether richer in scenic and graphic effects (more shading and anatomy, more landscape and accessory) than those of his model, [Rodolphe] Töpffer” (Kunzle 109).
Doré’s Hercules reveals the influence of Töpffer — in format, structure, and style — almost as strongly as Doré’s metamorphoses reveal the influence of Grandville. Doré obeyed the model established by Töpffer — and adhered to by Cham and others — so closely that his Hercules became the twelfth and final book issued in the “Albums Jabot” line published by Gabriel Aubert, Philipon’s brother-in-law. Aubert began the line in 1839 with a piracy of Töpffer’s “Mr. Jabot,” followed by two more Töpffer piracies and then eight original volumes in the Töpffer mold, all published between 1839 and 1842. Doré’s book can be said to have occasioned the brief resuscitation of the line, which had been dormant for five years, and Doré instantly became a peer rather than an admirer of the artist whose work he had studiously emulated. In Hercules, “Doré’s manner of drawing… is greatly influenced by Töpffer’s delicate nervous talent — a style altogether different from the later Doré whom we all knew so much better,” Hellmut Lehmann-Haupt observed (Lehmann-Haupt 16).
More notably, Doré uses contiguous panel borders as a framing device and varies his panel sizes, following up on some of Töpffer’s significant innovations towards the depiction of rapid movement. Kunzle notes Töpffer’s influence “in the cut-off figures of the hind chasing scene” (Kunzle 111). The hind-chasing sequence is highly animated; in addition to narrative framing, Doré uses an early motion blur, a device also used to depict Hercules’ earlier struggle with the Nemean lion. The album’s preface, signed by the publisher, trumpets the arrival of the fifteen-year-old self-taught artist. “M. Doré’s second album will be executed in pencil, and will appear in the course of February” (Jerrold 45). Actually, Doré’s next picture stories would appear in 1851, after his initial exclusive contract expired. In the interim, Doré continued to provide Philipon with copious cartoons for his publications. In 1849, Doré’s father died suddenly and the rest of his family moved to Paris to be supported by Doré. “By 1850 he had left school, rented a large painting studio, and executed his first — and characteristically large — Salon paintings” (Kunzle 114).
In 1851 Doré produced two original picture-stories published as individual, self-contained albums that broke from the format and style of the Albums Jabot. Trois artists incompris et mécontents. Leur voyage en province… et ailleurs. Leur fain dévorante et leur deplorable fin (“Three Misunderstood and Dissatisfied Artists, Their Journey to the Provinces… and Elsewhere!! Their Devouring Hunger and Their Deplorable End,” as translated by Kunzle) appeared in a large, vertical format like the later Holy Russia. Doré no longer uses panel borders and freely arranges his captioned images (drawn, in this case, with a lithographic crayon) upon the page, scattering 153 images across 35 narrative pages (Kunzle 114). While breaking with the framed, strictly linear panel layout of the Albums Jabot, Doré develops other narrative techniques. As Kunzle notes, he “begins to exploit the pictographic, isolating in close-up such objects as flying tableware or a chompled dinner plate, and the graphic visualization of verbal metaphor” (116). The story itself is a darkly comic tale of three, prototypical starving artists and their doomed attempts to accommodate provincial society, ending with a cannibalistic group suicide among the three, who devour one another down to their boots. 3
That same year Doré produced a shorter, but more graphically ambitious story: Dés-agréments d’un voyage d’agrément (“Dis-Pleasures of a Pleasure Trip”). For this book, he returned to a horizontal format, but one much larger than the Albums Jabot, and proportionally taller. The 24-page book tells the story of Monsieur Plumet’s trip to the Swiss Alps, and features even more delicate use of the lithographic crayon than Three Artists as Doré renders picturesque detail. He employs a broader array of graphic devices and makes even more liberal use of the page as a narrative canvas. That Dis-Pleasures supposedly represents the “sketches” of Mr. Plumet, as edited by Doré (who appears in the story), and published by Aubert4, lends the book a meta-textual element that will recur in Holy Russia. In addition to written editorial asides and Doré’s own self-parodistic appearance in the book, Doré follows through on the book’s meta-textual premise with graphic inventions including a scribbled-out drawing and, most notably, an entire page “defaced” by the boot-print of a clumsy model. Doré uses something like a panel border in one tightly consecutive sequence wherein Madame Plumet tracks her husband’s progress up Mont Blanc through a telescope. Seventeen consecutive circular panels follow the climbers’ progress. The specificity of the panel border re-inforces that Madame Plumet’s view generally lags behind her husband and his team of climbers.
Kunzle supposes that the “Dis-Pleasures” might not have been very successful; Doré “returned to the safety of the Journal pour Rire for his next satiric travel tale,” a six page story in woodcuts called “Une Ascenscion comme quoi l’on peut trouver son bonheur sous la neige de Mont Blonc” (“An Ascent; or, How One Can Find Happiness Under the Snow of Mont Blanc”) (122). Doré drew another, album-length story for the same publication which remains uncollected: “Voyage sur les bords du Rhine” (“Trip Along the Rhine”) (ibid.). Kunzle reproduces a sequence from this story, and the adaptation of Doré’s storytelling style to the woodcut medium anticipates some of the stylistic qualities — and visual motifs — of Holy Russia.
Doré illustrated works including “The Bibliophile Jacob” by Paul Lacrois in 1851 and “The Works of Lord Byron” in 1853; Philipon meanwhile published themed collections of Doré’s cartoons as part of his “Les Albums pour Rire” series (Roosevelt 130). Doré remained frustrated by his inability to gain critical acclaim (and financial success) as a fine artist and additionally chafed at his limitations as a working cartoonist. “The branch of art styled caricature was a long way from being the one to which my natural tastes attracted me,” Doré later wrote in his journal, “and although during four or five years I had produced a number of drawings which readily ran up to thousands, it was simply because the only editor (Philipon) who then accepted my sketches, had but one exclusive specialty of publication, that of caricature… At last in 1853 I found a way to escape apparently from the continuation of comic work which I own had begun to annoy me excessively. Seeing what a run there was upon the Journal pour Rire, which was in enormous vogue at the price of twenty centimes a copy, I begged my publisher’s permission to execute an illustrated Rabelais, which should appear serially in the same form as the comic periodical in question” (ibid.). According to Roosevelt, Doré began the Rabelais in 1853, but it “was not published until the early part of 1854” (153). The work appeared in seven installments; a collected edition incorporating Rabelais’ text and “two hundred drawings” was published by J. Bry in 1854 (Kunzle 130; Roosevelt 153).
That same year the Crimean War broke out, with England and France joined in an alliance to defend the Ottoman Empire against Russian incursions. If, as Richard Pipes says in his introduction to the 1971 Library Press edition of Holy Russia, “the mood in France was revanchist,” vis-a-vis Napoleon’s 1812 Russian defeat, Doré apparently shared that sentiment and was motivated to take on two related projects. “The war against Russia had just broken out when I conceived the notion of founding a journal in which I could give daily, so to speak, the bulletin of the passes at arms of the English and French soldiers, and I called this weekly collection ‘Le Musee Anglais-Francais,” Doré wrote (Roosevelt 154). The sketches were published in French and English and “naturally came to an end with the Crimean War” (ibid.). Doré’s other topical project was the Holy Russia, described by Blanchard Jerrold as “a scathing pictorial satire, conceived and executed by [Doré] in his twenty-first year, in the midst of confusing masses of weekly work for the illustrated papers” (Jerrold 57). Kunzle suggests that the 208-page book (with images on odd-numbered pages) “was not exactly welcomed by the publisher, de Bry, who consented only because of the great success of Doré’s Rabelais edition, about which he had also initially had doubts” (Kunzle 129-130).
Holy Russia opens with some of the book’s most innovative moments as Doré freely designs his pages to broadly sketch out his intentions for the book 5. Beneath quotes from Horace and Rabelais — and a pseudo-quote from Confucius, in which the calligraphic letter forms deteriorate into a possibly scatological squiggle — Doré opens with: a blacked out panel. “The origins of Russian history are lost in the mists of antiquity” (Doré 1971 1). Image and text will offer humorous counterpoint throughout the book. In the next panel, “history begins to take shape:” a facial profile is visible among a scattered arrangement of sketchy lines that otherwise fail to coalesce. Doré proceeds with a slanderous origin of the Russian race, suggesting that the first Russian sprang from the “sinful union” of a walrus and a polar bear, complete with mock-academic citations: “(Nest.: ap.: et ecc.; gloss. Conrad.; apud. Sev.!: ? et q.s.)” (3). Doré then appeals to other arcane (non-existent) sources which posit that it was a penguin, and not a walrus; Doré depicts a violent, hair-pulling academic struggle, with iconographic books flying through the air. The mock-history, with its derogatory bestial insinuations, is not out of place in this book, but Doré’s larger goal is to mock historicity itself before he begins the narrative proper: “I shall advise you, my dear reader, to assume the above skeptical and lofty expression in the face of what only mad erudition or blind hatred of all things Russian could have inspired. Besides, to return to the origins of this tedious history would be like climbing the Urals or… an icily cold undertaking” (ibid.) A full-page composition follows, with ink from a quill pen and an overturned bottle blotting out a dense block of nonsensical pseudo-academic etymological and ethnographic text (5). Doré, pen in hand, will not be citing his sources, nor will he adhere to the historical method he has just maligned.
As if to offer a reassuring constraint on his now unfettered narrative, Doré uses his prior technique of pseudo-editorial interference in another innovative full-page construction. “The next century being as tedious an affair as the last one, I would be frightened of setting my reader against this book from the start, wearying him with a plethora of dull sketches. However, my publisher, being a conscientious man, has insisted that I leave spaces at this point to show how an astute historian may render all things palatable while excluding nothing” (7). The page is a joke that signals Doré’s subjective approach and comes in contrast to the dense, inky page preceding. Co-incidentally, the page also resembles nothing so much as the comics page as it would be conventionalized decades hence. It is the only instance in this book of any kind of panel border. This nearly-blank page perhaps diagrams Doré’s basic concept of page structure, although the book does contain a few overly-dense pages in which “panel” order is confused and counter-intuitive. Both the blacked-out page and the nearly empty page recall similar devices in Laurence Sterne’s mid-eighteenth century novel The Life and Opinions of Tistram Shandy, Gent.
Having dispensed with ethnography, Doré proceeds to political culture and here his narrative of Russian national history begins. The first page of his pseudo-historical account exhibits the narrative style that most consistently characterizes Holy Russia: a series of woodcuts, borderless images of varying sizes, constrained by the shape of each rectilinear wood block, arranged on the page and linked by typeset text beneath (Doré 1971 9). Blanchard Jerrold notes second-hand an opinion that “Doré, as a designer on wood, had at least half-a-dozen styles of his own — styles adapted to the varieties of subjects and of treatment he had in hand” (Jerrold 66). Half-a-dozen may be a conservative estimate. Because Doré runs roughshod over a vast subject — the whole of Russian history — and rarely pursues moment-to-moment action or “tracking,” he eschews stylistic consistency and gives each image a graphic treatment consistent with his intentions. As patterns of behavior emerge throughout the book, Kunzle notes, “the permutation of graphic effects within this pattern was to Doré a primary artistic challenge” (Kunzle 123). The running text provides a structure that accomodates Doré’s variable approach to style.
Doré’s range is broadly evident on page nine alone; detail is used to accentuate creulty or strangeness, as in the worship of Perun, and also to evoke pathos, as in the image of the women pushing the ox-cart. More pictographic treatments wring humor from cruelty by turning human sacrifice into a dark gag — these images, with their lack of specificity also denote ongoing patterns of behavior. An open, outline-based style occupies a middle ground. Few images are as classically rendered as that of the women here — rarely does Doré wish to evoke that much sympathy. Kunzle adequately sums up Doré’s motives: “to make Russian history look as grim as possible and at the same time to make it look as silly as possible” (Kunzle 123). Partial realism does occasionally wrest surreal humor from cruelty, as in the bloodless severed heads and limbs caught up in a tangle of spears, illustrating the absurd end result of barbarous internecine conflict (Doré 1971 21).
The spears of war, along with the knout, or whip, are among the book’s most frequently recurring symbols. Depending on their graphic treatment at any given time, these symbols can be absurd or foreboding. In one tightly modulated sequence, Doré establishes a historical — and historically futile — Czarist obsession with the Ottoman empire to indicate the origins (and apparently likely result) of the conflict that occasioned the book at hand (13). The strategy employed is emblematic of the book as a whole. Three identically formatted tiers show a Czarist incursion against Constantinople in three successive stages: an organized Russian army marches leftward, then returns, broken and exhausted. In the third panel, the czar, in cartoonish silhouette, succumbs to “the family complaint:” poison (or, “tsarina colica”). As the tiers progress, the Russian army becomes larger, more modern, and drawn in fuller detail. This communicates the growing strength and size of the Russian army as well as creating the sense of history advancing towards the present of the reader: the Russians become larger and more real as events progress towards the contemporary. Meanwhile, Doré constantly reserves the right to revert to a humorous silhouette, both to play a darkly comic note, and, more importantly, to emphasize historically recurring patters (other Czars will send their troops to Constantinople throughout the book). Beyond the whimsical variation and bravura moments, this might loosely describe the overall structure of Holy Russia, which begins with gross generalizations and ends with concrete propaganda directly relevant to the events of the day.
Doré repeatedly depicts armies massing and fighting with their clusters of long spears — tall like forests when organizing and marching, a deadly tangle on the battlefield. Depicting conflicts of succession among Czar Vladimir’s heirs, Doré makes his point through repetition. Stacked vertical panels depict a chaos of spears, soldiers and horses in counterpoint to the mannered, pseudo-politic arguments written beneath (37). Each image depicts the same chaos; indeed, the last two utilize the same wood-block. The next panel on the following page zooms out on the dense tangle, with the words “etc… etc… etc…” incorporated into the image, mixing word and image as freely as Doré’s childhood work did. Peter the Great’s conflicts with Charles XII are depicted similarly, but with a lighter touch through the use of cartoon dust-clouds (masking any violence) and rapid back-and-forth repetition (105).
Over three pages (47 – 51), Doré depicts a massing Tartar-Mongol army. An interrupted sequence of four identically-sized panels begins with a loose, outline drawing of disorganized Tartar-Mongol soldiers milling about. The soldiers gain in number and organization as groups of tall spears begin to form. The point of view zooms out in the third panel as the spears gain in density, over-shadowing the growing numbers of soldiers. The sequence culminates in a dense, dark panel. The soldiers lose all personal delineation to become scribbles swarming around dense, threatening masses of spears. This anticipates the most directly threatening image of the book, as a barely delineated (and dehumanized) Russian army advances endless, impossibly tall spears towards conflict in Odessa (167).
Holy Russia is punctuated with other bravura moments that recall the book’s opening pages. Doré introduces Ivan the Terrible with a series of tortures and dismemberments before presenting a full-page composition: one single panel border overlaid with a simulated smear of blood (89). “1542 – 150. Ivan the Terrible’s reign. Let us only consider the general aspect of this crime-filled period” (ibid.) 6. The book takes a self-reflexive turn, recalling the “Dis-Agreements,” when Doré (literally) covers Catherine the Great (123 – 125). Doré depicts a Roman orgy in a sketchy, outline style and apologizes to the reader for having substituted a classical vignette for the more distasteful Russian orgy he means to politely imply. Doré’s own anthropomorphized pencil takes the stage, refusing to go any further in depicting the lewd details of Catherine’s alleged affairs, and gains Doré’s sympathies; the two are then confronted by the book’s actual publisher, M. Bry, who reminds Doré and pencil both of their contractual obligation to depict the whole of Russian history. The chastened pair return to their task and offer the following page: A vine leaf laid upon a series of implied images, recalling the giant boot-print of the “Dis-Pleasures.” The blood-spot and the vine-leaf serve Doré’s depictions of Russian cruelty and Russian absurdity, respectively.
One two-page sequence notable for its tight restraint and disciplined use of a grid layout occurs on pages 23 – 25. Vyacheslav and Mistlav, squabbling heirs to the throne, face off with their armies to settle the matter of succession. The two make insulting, grandiloquent speeches (trailing off with “etc., etc, etc.,” in the Doré manner), facing one another across the vertical gutter that bisects the page. Insults mount and the two prepare to attack. They advance towards one another — and stop short at each panel’s implied edge. More than a graphic device, the gutter is, in this case, an insurmountable barrier of physical cowardice.
Doré treats Napoleon’s 1812 defeat against the army of Alexander I in cursory fashion (133) and then turns to the ascension of Nicholas I, at which point his narrative begins to focus on the events of the day. Massing Russian armies return to wage the Balkan War (149). Nicholas takes a literal gamble, sending two giant dice across the world, one landing in the English Channel, the other within the Ottoman empire; he sends expressionistically drawn soldiers with long, slashing spears “to reclaim the object” (153). For several pages the book takes a turn towards illustrated prose, as satirically composed, but relatively realistic, figures illustrate long passages of dialogue, interpreting Russian Prince Menshikov’s audacious negotiations with the Turkish Sultan, and then illustrating Nicholas’s subsequent resolve to make war (accompanied by the flag of the knout) (165). The Russian wall of armaments soon advances upon Odessa.
Doré returns to his previous format for the book’s penultimate sequence. The text is written in verse, to the tune of “The Good King Dagobert.” Doré relates a conversation between the overconfident Czar and an advisor, whose cautious critiques of Nicholas’s strategy is brushed aside at every turn. Co-incidentally, one panel shows a czarist parrot repeating the hand-lettered (then engraved) word “protectorrrrrat,” (171), anticipating the parrot (“sic em, Towser”) in R. F. Outcault’s first Yellow Kid panel (Perry and Aldridge 112). This is the only example within Doré’s narrative of actual dialogue within in image area; one of the full-page cartoons at the book’s end also includes a speech-banner (Doré 1971 189). In one pictographic sequence, Doré returns to a prior device (from Dis-Pleasures) and depicts Nicholas and his soldiers as musical notes, marching along a three tiered staff, the men reduced in substance compared to the recognizable knout beneath whose flag — and shadow — they march (179).7 The last page of the narrative proper signals the drum-beat of militant nationalism with a return to a realistic style, contrasting “progressive” French citizens who oppose Napoleon III and his war against stern French soldiers who “await the coming trials, passing the time in the meanwhile by imagining a future full of Glory and, above all, Honor” (181).
The narrative ends here, with a laureled question mark and a textual “Moral and Epilogue.” Twelve of the book’s remaining thirteen pages are full-page editorial cartoons, drawn in a more realistic style and generally depicting the Czar as foolish, repeatedly mocking Russian rhetoric of 1812-style glory, and valorizing the French soldiers. Doré’s theme culminates in a horizontal composition titled “The Soldiers of Peace” (199). Russian soldiers beneath a flailing knout bend their spears against apparently invincible French soldiers who say, in caption, “Let us spare these poor wretches, who reluctantly bear arms against us.” Corporal Achille Champavert, a sympathetic soldier, appears in two cartoons, eager to finish the war and minimize Russian bloodshed: “…can’t you see that if we don’t get there soon, we’ll ‘ave to kill too many of them fine fellows” (207). In effect, Doré employs pseudo-humanistic rhetoric to justify swift engagement. Although the book repeatedly depicts Russians as victims of the state, the overall tone is macabre and depersonalized throughout. Doré’s sudden, overt compassion is new, although the appeal to a convenient argument is typical. David Kunzle hypothesizes that these “allegorical cartoons… executed in a graphic mode quite different from the rest, suggests that Doré first responded to the war with conventional, Charivari-style cartoons. But the Charivari, already filling with lithographs on the war by its regular contributors, Cham and Daumier, had no use for them, nor had Doré’s regular outlet, the strictly nonpolitical Journal pour Rire.” (Kunzle 128) This rejection, Kunzle suggests, may have inspired Doré to widen his scope and produce the Holy Russia as a single, cohesive work.
The book, however, was an apparent commercial failure. Unlike the Rabelais, published in affordable installments, the lengthy and topical narrative work “had to appear all at once or not at all, and given the propitousness of the current political situation, quickly” (130). The four franc book may have been too extravagantly priced for the audience; more importantly, Kunzle asserts, despite the astonishing speed of execution, the book’s darkly comic military boosterism quickly lost any potential appeal as the war progressed. “It would therefore seem that Doré’s virulent and absurdist satire, which spoke to an unqualified optimism about the war, suffered in a climate of popular opinion that had probably never been enthusiastic in the first place, and that rapidly degenerated just when the book should have enjoyed accelerating sales” (131).
Doré spoke fairly dismissively about his first career as a cartoonist. His early biographers tend to gloss over the period, treating his work under Philipon more or less as an extension of Doré’s child prodigy period, emphasizing instead the literary projects which anticipate his later work. More recently Lehmann-Haupt and Kunzle have recognized the accomplishment of Doré’s picture stories, especially his Holy Russia. Certainly Doré is a significant early imitator of Töpffer’s. Although Doré didn’t pursue Töpffer’s groundbreaking use of the panel border, his free approach to the page resulted in several innovative constructions that made early, simultaneous use of both horizontal and vertical juxtaposition. His lengthy narratives allowed Doré to modulate his style over many panels and pages to create and inflect recurring motifs. He made witty use of text and image in combination, wryly observing through disjunction the gap between rhetoric and reality. Though the book’s content became quickly dated in its own time, the propagandistic content is more dismissable than distasteful today. Now a historical document, Holy Russia stands as a major antecedent to the modern graphic novel.