comic art by Charles Keene
The Adventures of Miss Lavinia Brounjones (1866)

Charles Samuel Keene was born at Hornsey, England, as the son of a solicitor. After the death of his father, he was destined to follow in his footsteps. He studied law and architecture in London, but was eventually apprenticed as a wood engraver. He learned the craft from 1842 to 1847, then found employment at the Illustrated London News and became a regular contributor to Punch magazine, rising to the position of staff artist. Upon the death of John Leech in 1864, Keene took on illustrations of street life, which was previously the domain of Leech. From 1859 on, Keene also had a large number of drawings published in Once a Week.

In 1866 Keene drew the text comic, 'The Adventures of Miss Lavinia Brounjones'. It tells the story of a woman who plans to go out sketching in the Highlands. As she tries to draw some rustic scenes, she has some encounters with unpredictable sheep and a stereotypical Scotsman. The humorous tale is told in pictures, with dry, witty understating sentences written below the images. In 1875 Keene made a cartoon called 'Our American Cousin in Europe', which was published in Punch's annual almanac. This particular cartoon is interesting for comics historians because it looks like a modern comic book page, complete with sequences telling a story and characters using speech balloons. The drawings poke fun at a stereotypical New Yorker visiting England. Keene even mimicks a Yankee accent by letting the man use slang like "gal" and the word "o' " (instead of "of").

Keene was a shy man. A lifelong bachelor, he dedicated his entire life to his art. He only showed anger towards people who didn't vote for the British Conservative Party. At the staff of Punch he frequently quarreled with supporters of the Liberal Party. As a cartoonist, Keene was never very popular with the general public. Contrary to more low brow cartoonists of the time, his style of humor was very gentle and subtle. Instead of caricaturing people he preferred to draw everything as realistic as possible. Keene enjoyed far more respect from his colleagues in the art business, including the famous German painter and etcher Adolph von Menzel. It's been said that Menzel bought every issue of Punch, just for Keene's drawings. By the 1880s Keene started to suffer from rheumatism and indigestion. He passed away in 1891.

Our Cousin in Europe

Charles Keene in Andy's Early Comics Archive
Charles Keene on John Adcock's blog

Series and books by Charles Keene in stock in the Lambiek Webshop:


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