'Deux Vieilles Filles Vaccinées à Marier' (1840).

Cham was a 19th-century French caricaturist, illustrator and cartoonist. During his lifetime he was one of the most popular French cartoonists. His work appeared with equal success in English magazines. Cham's cartoons satirized politics, trends, travelling, the prestigious Salon and parodied popular novels and plays. Together with direct precedessors Jacques Callot and Honoré Daumier he is the first significant French comic artist, paving the way for other pioneers like Gustave Doré and Nadar. From 1839 on Cham produced a steady basis of humouristic text comics which pioneered several techniques still in use today. In comics like 'Mr. Lajaunisse' (1839), 'Mr. Lamélasse'(1839), 'Deux Vieilles Filles Vaccinées à Marier' (1840), 'Un Génie Incompris (M. Barnabé Gogo)' (1841) and his masterpiece 'Impressions de Voyage de Monsieur Boniface' (1844) Cham introduced close-ups, wide shots, jumpcuts, visual effects, different camera viewpoints and contrasts in lighting (darkness by making a panel black). One of the most productive artists of all time, Cham created a breathtaking body of work, exceeding well over 4.000 drawings!

Early life and career
He was born in 1818 in Paris as Charles Amédée de Noé. His father was a count with an artistic background. He was founder and president of the French Society of the Friends of the Arts. Furthermore he once wrote and illustrated a novel: 'Mémoires Relatifs à l'Expédition Anglaise partie du Bengale en 1800...' (1826). From an early age young Noé enjoyed drawing, but his parents didn't support him. The young boy studied at the general secretariat of the Ministry of Finance, yet abandoned this career in favour of becoming a pupil of painters Nicholas-Toussaint Charlet and Paul Delaroche. Among his other graphic influences were Honoré Daumier and Rodolphe Töpffer.

As an adult Noé created scandal by falling in love with a servant, Jeanne Leroy, with whom he openly lived together. Later the couple moved to a working class neighbourhood in the Batignolles, where they would stay together until his death. Many of Noé's artistic and high-class friends and relatives were disgusted by her. Alexandre Dumas Jr. in particular wrote nothing but bad remarks about her appearance and lack of manners in his letters. It's therefore all the more impressive that Noé never left her, though he didn't marry her until 1866, a few years after his father passed away, to avoid embarrassing him. Historians have often wondered why Noé distanced himself from his aristocratic roots? Some have searched for hidden meaning in his pseudonym: "Cham", which took the first two letters from his first names Charles Amédée, while his last name, Noé, is also the French name of the biblical character Noah. In the Bible Noah's second (and rebellious) son was named... (C)Ham, which could hint at a rebellious attitude towards his family.

On the other hand Cham never cut his aristocratic ties completely. He kept using stationery with the family crest throughout his entire life. He took frequent trips to his family's castle in the French countryside and his mother's relatives in England. Even though he never pursued a career at the Ministry of Finance, one of the cabinet members did bring him in contact with Charles Philipon, chief editor of the magazine Le Charivari, where he made his debut. Later in his career Cham used his English connections to his advantage, by promoting his work in popular English magazines too. Given the cartoonist's love for word play and crass jokes his pseudonym probably had no deeper meaning other than a clever pun. Cham was a notorious prankster. Once a fan sent him a letter, asking for a photograph. Cham just sent back someone else's picture. Another time he attended a friend's wedding and congratulated the minister - who conducted the ceremony - with the "compliment": "My friend is very pleased: he will return." Last but not least: Cham's father was never ashamed of his son's career. Despite his earlier reluctance he collected his son's cartoons with pride. He even visited the office of Le Charivari to purchase advance proofs of his drawings.

'Histoire de Monsieur Lajaunisse, Malheurs d'un Beau Garçon' (1839).

Le Charivari
On 27 February 1839 Le Charivari published Rodolphe Töpffer's 'Histoire de Mr. Jabot', to cash in on the popularity of this new phenomenon: comics. Halfway the serialisation the originals were clumsily redrawn by a staff member (possibly Cham?) to save costs. Publishing company Aubert nevertheless published these plagiarisms in book formats without crediting or paying Töpffer. Eventually Le Charivari's chief editor, Charles Philipon, got an even better idea to save money. He asked Cham to create a comic strip "in the style of Töpffer", which led to 'Histoire de Monsieur Lajaunisse, Malheurs d'un Beau Garçon' on 3 August 1839, followed two months later by 'Monsieur de Lamélasse' (1839). Cham took his commission rather literally: not only did he copy Töpffer's graphics neatly, he even stole entire gags and plot lines. The fact that both books were published anonymously further added to the confusion that these were original Töpffer stories. But they sold well and saved the magazine from impending bankruptcy. And even these rip-offs already showed hints of Cham's originality. In one panel of 'Mr. Lajaunisse' Lajaunisse blows out a candle, which darkens the room, visualized by Cham by making the next panel completely black. In 2004 'Histoire de Mr. Lajaunisse, Malheurs d'un Beau Garçon' was republished in Italy by the Napolitan publisher Comicon in an Italian, French and English edition, with written contributions by Alfredo Castelli, Leonardo De Sa and Michel Kempeneers.

'Revue Comique de la Semaine' (Le Charivari, 1 August 1850).

Cham's association with Le Charivari was somewhat odd, seeing that they held a very pro-Republic stance, while he was a royalist. Nevertheless they offered him enough creative freedom to fill most of its pages on a weekly basis, most notably in his regular feature 'Revue Comique de la Semaine'. Commissions for more humorous text comics couldn't stay behind, which the ever-productive Cham was happy to provide and Aubert more than willing to publish them in book form. From 'Histoire de Mr. Jobard' (1840) on they were all published under his own pseudonym. 'Deux Vieilles Filles Vaccinées à Marier' (1840) follows two old daughters who are still unmarried, mostly because their mother wasted her children's dowry and none of their suitors are rich either. The comic is notable for some amusing visual gags, such as when the caption reads "the fog was so thick they could see the end of the nose" with an image of a nose floating in white space. In a more cheeky, fourth-wall breaking gag Cham shows the same image of a closed door twice and states in the caption "that he is too discreet to show the events going on behind it."

His text comic 'Un Génie Incompris (M. Barnabé Gogo)' (1841) shows a similar self-awareness. The story follows a young boy who dreams of becoming an artist, but even as an adult his drawings look as if a kid made them. He is rejected by the Académie des Beaux Arts, yet in an ironic conclusion he decides he's at least good enough to become a caricaturist. The story shows Cham's gift for self-mockery, but is also historically significant for being the first comic strip in which an adult imitates a children's drawing style, paving the way for comics like Felix Hess' 'Uit het kladschrift van Jantje' (1916) and Jack Mendelsohn's 'Jacky's Diary' (1959). Some sources incorrectly claim that Cham also drew 'Histoire de Mr. de Vertpré et de sa ménagère aussi' (Aubert, 1840), but in reality the author was Eugè̀ne-Hippolyte Forest.

'Un Génie Incompris' (M. Barnabé Gogo) (1841).

On 20 December 1843 Cham created the two-panel series 'Moeurs Algériennes, Chinoiseries Turques', which poked fun at Algeria - colonized by France at the time - and other foreign people. Readers enjoyed it so much that only a year later it already appeared in book format. It also spawned spin-offs, like Cham's own 'Souvenirs de Garnison' and 'A La Guerre Comme à La Guerre', and imitations such as Benjamin Roubaud's 'Les Arabes en Paris' and 'Nos Troupies en Afrique', and Eugène Forest's 'Expédition d'Alger', which appeared in L'Illustration. Le Charivari also published Cham's travel parody comics 'Voyage de Paris en Amérique' (1 December 1844 - 9 January 1845) and 'M.M. Trottman and Cham' (5 November 1845), in which Belgium, Russia, England, Scotland, Ireland, Spain, Italy and Turkey are all depicted through a stereotypical lens. In 1843 cartoonists Bertall, Raymond Pelez and later Eduouard de Beaumont ridiculed the prestigious exposition gallery Salon in a series of cartoons. Cham made this a regular feature from April 1845 on. Week in, week out he would parody the new paintings, artists and art critics of the Salon. In 1845 Cham also introduced his weekly page ridiculing current events and trends in nine separate cartoons with funny captions. It became a popular and long-running weekly series from 9 January 1848 on.

Aubert published a series of cartoon books, 'Miroirs Comiques' (1840-1841), which offered satirical and parody cartoons, some illustrated by Cham. Together with Honoré Daumier and Paul Gaverni the artist also contributed to Philipon's bi-monthly magazine Le Magasin Comique de Philipon, nicknamed 'Musée Philipon' by readers. The magazine specialized in parodies of popular stage plays and novels, a genre Cham quickly put to his hand, tackling Daniel Defoe's 'Robinson Crusoe', Victor Hugo's 'Les Misérables' and Eugène Sue's 'Mystères de Paris' and 'Le Juif Errant', to name just a few. In 1842 these picture stories were published in book format. More than a century and a half later this book was republished as 'Parodies Littéraires' (Phileas Fogg/La Chasse au Snark, Paris, 2003), with a foreword by Bertrand Tillier. Aubert also issued the illustrated children's books 'La Lanterne Magique' and 'Nouvelle Lanterne Magique'. 'Calembourgs en action' (1842) and 'Les Rébus Comiques' (1842) which collected rebuses and other word play.

'Impressions de voyage de Monsieur Boniface' (1844).

L'Illustration: 'Mr. Boniface'
Cham's work could be read in other publications too. The magazine L'Illustration, issued by Jean-Baptiste-Alexandre Paulin and Jacques Dubochet, published his comic 'Impressions de Voyage de Monsieur Boniface' (1844) in book format. This would be the first of his many comedic travel stories. The story stars Mr. Boniface, who has to fulfill a civic guard duty. Typical for most comics at the time all kinds of things go wrong. But 'Mr. Boniface' stands out because of its experiments with text and image to enhance the narrative. Rather than handwrite the captions, Cham uses standard typeface. Instead of the simple same-sized panels Töpffer used, Cham creates a comic with more visual variety. Many scenes cut back and forth between shots inside Mr. Boniface's train or ship, shots from his viewpoint (for instance: what he sees through the window) and outside shots showing the train or ship itself. In several scenes Cham introduces concepts like close-ups, wide shots, jumpcuts and different perspectives. Two panels of the same group of trees depicted beneath one another visualize the boringness of a long trip from a passenger's viewpoint. Another page tilts text and image to evoke sea sickness. All are nowadays standard visual language in comics (and from the 1890s on: movies), but back then they were unprecedented in any medium. 'Mr. Boniface' remains a landmark in comic history and can be considered Cham's magnum opus.

Other work for French magazines
In 1845 L'Illustration serialized Töpffer's 'Monsieur Cryptogame', though in a redrawn woodcut version by Cham. In September of that same year it also published Cham's comic strip 'Les Aventures Anciennes et Nouvelles d'un Chasseur Connu' (1845), featuring tall tales about an incompetent hunter. The artist himself was a fierce opponent of hunting, despite his aristocratic upbringing. On 11 July 1846 Cham published 'Episode de l'Histoire d'une Nation Sauvage où les Bienfaits de la Civilization', a daring parody of imperialism against Native Americans. Cham's work could also be enjoyed in the first issue of La Lune (1 October 1865), entirely illustrated by his woodcut drawings, and magazines like La Mode, Le Gaulois and Le Journal Amusant.

Work for English magazines
In England his cartoons appeared in the Illustrated London News, Punch, Pictorial Times and the Puppet Show. In the second issue of Man in the Moon (February 1847) Cham published an English-language comic strip, 'The Foreign Gentleman in London, or the English Adventures of Mr. Vanille', which he left unfinished as he had to return to Paris. From the next issue on, Albert Smith and Henry George Hine therefore made a new serialized comic strip as a replacement. In 1846 Cham was even offered 40.000 francs a year to create an English cartoon magazine fully devoted to his work, which would be in direct competition with Punch. In 1852 a French count made a similar offer, though at 24.000 francs annually. The artist refused both, presumably because he already earned enough.

'Ce qu'on appelle des idées nouvelles en 1848', anti-socialist cartoon by Cham, featuring Pierre-Joseph Proudhon, Victor Considerant, Pierre Leroux, Étienne Cabet, Alexandre Auguste Ledru-Rollin and Louis Napoléon Bonaparte.

Political-satirical comics
In 1847 Cham made a series of two panel-cartoons named 'Les Toques du Jour' (Arnauld de Vresse, 1847), depicting "the lunatics of the day", a satirical look at many 19th-century archetypes. A year later he published 'Proudhoniana où Les Socialistes Modernes' (1848), a book about the Communist revolutions which had swept Europe that year but were all suppressed. It features a series of satirical text comics targeting socialist politicians and activists like Pierre-Joseph Proudhon, Victor Considerant, Pierre Leroux, Étienne Cabet, Alexandre August Ledru-Rollin and Louis Napoléon Bonaparte. Pierre Leroux, for instance, is inspired by a madman, while Louis Napoléon borrows his outfit and ideology from his famous uncle, Napoléon Bonaparte. In 1850 Cham illustrated Auguste Lireux' 'L'Assemblée Nationale Comique' (1850), which lampooned the National Assemblée. The artist delighted in ridiculing the ferociousness and pomposity of people in parliament, many caricatures of real-life politicians at the time. The landscape format-shaped book 'Fantasia Enfantine' (1856) is a humorous series of lithographs depicting the life of pupils and college students. With 'Pincez-moi à la Campagne' (Maison Martinet, 1860) Cham created a hand-coloured text comic about a city dweller travelling to the countryside and regretting every instance of it. Chief editor Jules Hetzel scripted 'Les Mésaventures de Jean-Paul Choppart' (1865) and 'L'Odyssée de Pataud et de son chien Frictot' (1877) under the pen name "Hetzel", all illustrated by Cham. Both books are an odd mix between an illustrated novel and a comic strip.

In 1870 the Franco-Prussian War broke out between France and Prussia (roughly present-day Germany). As the Prussian army besieged Paris famine broke out. Cham and Honoré Daumier collaborated to make cartoons ridiculing the situation, which were bundled as 'Album du Siège' (1870). When the Communards tried taking advantage of this siege to create a left-wing revolt, their actions were brutally suppressed. Cham once again made light of the event through a cartoon book named 'Les Folies de la Commune' (1871).

'Le Danger de Manger de la Souris est qu' ensuite Votre Chat le coure après' ('The danger of eating a mouse is that your cat will jump after it', 1870).

On 8 February 1877 Cham received the Légion d'Honneur.

Death and legacy
Cham was always a man in bad health. As a child he suffered from TBC and though adulthood he had painful swelling and crackling of the skin named chilblains. He eventually died in 1879 at age 61 from a type of TBC called phtisis. Nine months after his passing his widow committed suicide by throwing herself from the first floor of their apartment. Cham left behind more than 4.000 drawings. He was such an obsessive scribbler that even his letters often featured tiny comic strips. In the 40th issue of L'Autographe (1 June 1872) the cartoonist published a letter of complaint, illustrated with several doodles. Most of his published drawings, however, were cartoons, illustrations, lithographs, woodcuts, caricatures and comics for magazines and books. He also created new material for annual almanacs by these magazines and designed advertisements and posters to promote them. In between Cham whipped out aquarel and oil paintings and wrote three musical plays: 'Une Martingale' (1862), 'Le Serpent à Plumes' (1864, with music by Léo Delibes) and 'Le Mysotis' (1866). For music hall singers Gustave Nadaud and Edmond Lhuillier he illustrated song books, while he designed costumes and sets for Jacques Offenbach's operette 'La Vie Parisienne'.

Illustrated letter requesting work, published in L'Autographe on 1 June 1872. The tall man holding a woman with an umbrella's hand is a self-caricature.

Interestingly enough, French art critic Arsène Alexandre once nicknamed Cham the "Offenbach of caricature". While a comparison to a composer might come across like a compliment today it was actually more of an insult, seeing that Offenbach was seen as a musical lightweight during his lifetime, popular with the masses but less with critics. Indeed Cham had a similar reputation. Thanks to his massive productivity and notability in various printed media, more people in France were familiar with him than any other cartoonist. Most critics saw him as a great entertainer and less of a groundbreaking artist. At the time Cham's comics were notable enough that Belgian comic pioneer Richard de Querelles drew a comic story named 'Le Déluge à Bruxelles' (1843) in which Cham has a cameo. Gustave Doré's parody of François Fénelon's novel 'Télémaque' was a comic strip titled 'Les Travaux d'Hercule' (1847), inspired by Cham's earlier comic strip parody of the same novel 'Télémaque, fils d'Ulysse' (1842). Another Belgian comic pioneer, Félicien Rops, drew a comic strip, 'Les Époux Van-Blague' (1853), which he signed with the pseudonym Cham-Loth, a pun on Cham and the word "Camelot". Rops later drew a comic strip, 'Juif errant et ferré' (1854), much like Cham also drew a comic strip parody of Eugène Sue's 'Juif Errant' in 1844.

Like any artist who creates a ton of work, Cham too couldn't escape making a few duds now and then. Particularly in his later years he tended to repeat himself. Only a few years after his death Félix Ribeyre wrote a biography about him, 'Cham, Sa Vie et Son Oeuvre' (1884), with a foreword by Alexandre Dumas Sr. Few 19th-century cartoonists received such an honour. Even Honoré Daumier, who died in the same year as Cham, had to wait until 1888 before Arséne Alexandre devoted a biography to him. Playwright Ludovic Halévy once said about Cham: "One should not solely have talent, one should have his talent."

After his death Cham nevertheless quickly faded away in obscurity. His contemporaries Honoré Daumier and Gustave Doré nowadays enjoy a much higher reputation among art critics. Since his back catalogue is so immense, few art historians have taken time to explore and study his work in its entirety. Only in the 1990s serious efforts were undertaken, giving Cham's wonderful talent more well-deserved attention again.

Websites and books about Cham
Since the 2000s Rodolphe Trouilleux maintains the very informative blog amedeenoe.unblog about every aspect of Cham's expansive life and career. David Kunzle's book 'Cham: the Best Comic Strips and Graphic Novelettes, 1839-1862' (2019) is also highly recommended.


Series and books by Cham you can order today:


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