comic art by Christophe
'L'Idée Fixe du savant Cosinus'.

Georges Colomb was a French professor of natural sciences and the deputy director of the botanical laboratory in Sorbonne. Under the pen name Christophe, he was also a pioneer in French comic art, together with his 19th-century contemporaries Adolphe Willette, Caran d'Ache, Steinlen, Doës, Émile Cohl and Henri de Sta. He is best remembered for his comic series 'La Famille Cornouillet' (1887) and 'La Famille Fenouillard' (1889-1893). Both are historically important as one of the first attempts at a comics serial in France and the earliest example of a family comic. Christophe's comics are full of sharp observations of society, rich vocabulary and frequent cultural winks. Among his other long-running series were 'Les Facéties du Sapeur Camember' (1890-1896), 'L'Idée Fixe du Savant Cosinus' (1893-1899) and 'Les Malices de Plick et Plock' (1893-1904). 

Life and career
He was born in 1856 in Lure, not far from Bourgogne, as Marie Louis Georges Colomb. He was the son of a school principal. In 1878 Christophe graduated in mathematics, physical sciences and natural sciences from the École Normale Supérieure in Paris. He had his first teaching experiences at the Lycée Condorcet in Paris, where one of his pupils was the future novelist Marcel Proust. From 1887 on, Christophe taught botany at the Faculty of Paris, and later became a lecturer at the Sorbonne. He was the author of many text books in botany and zoology, which tried to popularize his science. The man remained active as a teacher until the age of 70. Between 1924 and 1939 he frequently presented shows on Radio-Paris, making him a pioneer of radio communication too. 

La Famille Cornouillet, by Christophe
'La Famille Cornouillet'.

Early comics
Inspired by Rodolphe Töpffer, in 1887 Christophe started publishing picture stories in addition to his teaching activities. He used the pseudonym Christophe, in reference to Christopher Columbus. His first "comic" story was published in Mon Journal on 15 September 1887. Titled  'Histoire Drolatique de Maître Pierre' it shows a teacher in a slapstick situation, depicted in two panels. 

La Famille Cornouillet
Two years later, Christophe created 'La Famille Cornouillet' (1889), an illustrated text story about a Parisian family taking a trip to the countryside and the 1889 World Exhibition in Paris. It was published in ten episodes in Le Journal de la Jeunesse, between 12 January and 16 March 1889. Showing a father, mother and their two teenage daughters, the comic was an embryonic version of what later would become 'La Famille Fenouillard'. 

Pantomime comics
'La Famille Cornouillet' attracted the attention of publisher Armand Colin who asked Christophe to create some comics for his new children's magazine Le Petit Français Illustré. He made three one-shot pantomime comics 'Pluie et Orage' (23 March 1889), 'Tirants Mal Cousus' (1 June 1889) and 'Un Arroseur Public' (3 August 1889). 

La Famille Fenouillard
'La Famille Fenouillard'.

La Famille Fenouillard
Le Petit Français Illustré published another family comic by Christophe, which took the same premise of his previous series 'La Famille Cornouillet', albeit under a different name: 'La Famille Fenouillard' (1889-1893). It ran for 53 episodes, from 12 January 1889 until 24 June 1893. The main characters are a snobby father, Agénor, his stiff wife Léocadie and their dumb teenage daughters Artémise and Cunégonde. The plot takes them to exotic locations like Normandy, the United States (where they meet Sioux Indians), the Bering Street (where they encounter fur trappers), Japan, New Guinea, Persia and Egypt. Much of the comedy comes from the fact that this seemingly dignified bourgeois family gets involved in all kinds of humiliating slapstick adventures.

Although Cham, Nadar and Gustave Doré had already experimented with the comics narrative, Christophe's 'La Famille Fenouillard' can be considered as one of the first French comics serials. The comic strip also inspired other artists to create similar family comics, such as René-Charles Béliveau's 'La Famille Citrouillard' (1904-1905). In 1893 all episodes of 'La Famille Fenouillard' were collected in a landscape format-shaped book, published by Armand Collin. 


Les Facéties du Sapeur Camember
Christophe made new features for Le Petit Français Illustré in the years that followed. Between 4 January 1890 and 12 September 1896 he drew 55 episodes of 'De Facéties du Sapeur Camember' (1890-1896), a text comic about a sapper soldier, François Baptiste Éphraïm Camember, Camember is stupid, illiterate and frequently gets into trouble with his superiors for not understanding or mishandling basic military commands.

L'Idée Fixe du Savant Cosinus
Between 9 December 1893 and 23 November 1899 Christophe drew the text comic 'L'Idée Fixe du Savant Cosinus' (1893-1899). The reader follows the slapstick antics of a brilliant but absent-minded scientist in 62 episodes. Pancrace Eusèbe Zéphyrin Brioche, nicknamed "Cosinus", wants to travel the world to "educate the niggers about mathematics", but never gets further than Paris. René Goscinny and Albert Uderzo referenced this character by naming a Roman in the 'Asterix' story 'La Zizanie' ('Asterix and the Roman Agent') Savancosinus (in the English version he's called Magnumopus). 

Les Malices de Plick et Plock
'Les Malices de Plick et Plock' (23 December 1893-1904) ran for 55 episodes in Le Petit Français Illustré and drew inspiration from the malicious gnomes Lothar Meggendorfer had created for the German magazine Fliegende Blätter. In Christophe's version two gnomes enjoy playing tricks with child-like glee, but despite frequent backfires never learn from their mistakes. 

Le Sapeur Camember by Christophe
'Le Sapeur Camember'.

Other comics
Christophe's 'Le Baron de Cramoisy' (1899) remained unfinished. In 1915, his 'Les Douze Commandments de Lord Curzon' was published by editor Armand Collin. He illustrated several works of a spiritual nature, of which he was not the author, such as 'Le Triomphe de Bibulus', 'Les Trois Miracles d'Osiris', 'L'Héritage du Cousin Agathias' and 'Les Contes Antiques'. A lot of his proto comics work was reprinted after his death in 1945.

Plick en Plock by Christophe
'Les Malices de Plick et Plock'.

Later life, death and legacy
During World War II, Christophe fled with his family to Nyons, where he died from an intestinal obstruction on 3 January 1945. In 1975, Colomb's granddaugher Hélène Colomb dedicated the book 'Mon Grand-père Christophe' to him. 'La Famille Fenouillard' was adapted into a 1925 theatrical play and a 1960 comedy film. The movie was directed by Yves Robert and starred Sophie Desmarets and Jean Richard. The musical score was composed by Gérard Calvi, who later wrote music for the first three animated films based on René Goscinny and Albert Uderzo's 'Asterix'.

Christophe - Selfportrait 1937

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