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

Charles Keene was a 19th-century British cartoonist and illustrator, best known as a regular contributor to Punch. More of a straightforward graphic artist than a caricaturist, Keene made very elaborate illustrations. Some of his cartoons, like 'The Adventures of Miss Lavinia Brounjones' (1866) and 'Our American Cousin in Europe' (1875) are prototypical comics. 'The Adventures of Miss Lavinia Brounjones' is notable for being the first comic strip in history to star a female character. 'Our American Cousin in Europe'  uses speech balloons during an era when this was still a novelty. 

Life and career
Charles Samuel Keene was born in 1823 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. Keene 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 Leech's domain. From 1859 on, Keene published a large number of drawings in Once a Week. 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. Charles Keene was furthermore 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. By the 1880s Keene started to suffer from rheumatism and indigestion. He passed away in 1891.

The Adventures of Miss Lavinia Brounjones
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 beneath the images. Historically this one-shot comic is important for being the very first comic strip to star a female character. It would take nearly half a century before other comics starring women as recurring characters first saw print. Gene Carr's 'Lady Bountiful' (1901) was the first balloon comic and actual comics series to star a female character. Grace Drayton's 'Toddles' (1903-1933, later renamed 'Dolly Dimples') is the first female character drawn by a woman cartoonist. Other notable pioneer comics about women were Winsor McCay's 'Hungry Henrietta' (1905), Émile-Joseph Pinchon's 'Bécassine' (1905), Grif's 'It's Only Ethelinda' (1908-1910)' and Jo Valle and André Vallet's 'L'Espiègle Lili' (1909-1998).  

Our American Cousin in Europe
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").

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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