photo by Tom McNemar

5. Choujuu-jinbutsu-giga or “Animal-Person Caricatures” (Japan)

Choujuu-jinbutsu-giga (the literal translation of which is “Animal-Person Caricatures”), shortened to Choujuu-giga, is a 12th/13th century Japanese series of scroll drawings (emakimonofrom Kyoto, Japan, and is widely recognized as the first manga. The series of scrolls has no confirmed author, though many scholars believe the monk and astronomer Toba Soujou created them. The right-to-left reading direction of Choujuu-giga is thought to have created the existing standard for manga and prose in Japan that still exists today.

The scrolls were adapted into several novels over the years, continuing to be a popular aspect of Japanese history and culture. Other companies like Misuzu Shobo and Shibundou also published books based on the Chōjū-jinbutsu-giga emakimono.  The scrolls now reside in the Kyoto National Museum and Tokyo National Museum.

4. Dominguin (Spain)

Dominguin was a weekly comic publication started in 1915 and is considered the first Spanish comic series. Many of the illustrations are attributed to writer and illustrator José Espoy de Samà, but many of Dominguin‘s comic strips were anonymous, which made for a dynamic and varied collection. The comics were mostly humor and appropriate for children (to an extent) and became rather popular. Unfortunately, the publisher couldn’t keep up with the costs of printing in color and eventually switched to black and white.

Here’s a color issue of the early 20th century comic booklet, looking much like the early American comics that came decades after Dominguin.

3. Le Suprême Bon Ton or “The Supreme Bon Ton” (France)

This colorful collection of single page comics are at least considered to be published by a man named Adrien Pierre Godefroy (however, no one is exactly sure who made them) pokes fun at aspects of French and European life at the time, satirizing fashion, tourists, dating customs, and the emerging bourgeoise culture. If you’re up for some very brief French translation (and you’re a bit of a history nerd), most of the comic strips can be found here, but some are obvious enough just by the image alone.

I think we can all appreciate some good ol’ fashioned satire, yes? (Get it, good ol’ fashioned…because it’s satirizing fashion…let’s move on)

2. Sanmao (China)

Sanmao is the name of one of China’s most beloved comic series (or manhua) characters, a destitute little boy whose adventures and struggles reflect a concern for young children during and after the Second Sino-Japanese War. Sanmao‘s creator, Zhang Leping, was sympathetic to the war victims, particularly young orphans, and created the comic as a sort of social commentary. The young main character is drawn with three hairs (which is, subsequently, the literal translation of “sanmao“), which is supposed to portray malnourishment due to poverty.

Sanmao has remained an iconic fictional character in Chinese history and has inspired numerous films, books, and plays. The earlier Sanmao comics are quite morbid compared to their modern updates, however. The picture below is one of the less depressing Sanmao comic strips…

1. Birdseye Center (Canada)

Created by Canadian cartoonist and Ernest Hemingway drinking buddy Jimmy Frise, Birdseye Center was an early 20th century comic strip about Canadian rural life published in the newspaper the Toronto Star. It’s honest humor and cast of eccentric characters eventually earned it a soft spot in Canadian hearts everywhere, especially city-dwellers who had left or were familiar with rural life (such as Frise himself). Some particular favorites were a troublesome pet moose named Foghorn and a (probably still relatable) lazy man who’s only motivation to do work was if it got his in-laws out of the house.

Frise’s ability to laugh at urbanites while being one himself made for some pretty hilariously honest comics that are still totally funny. Ah, city-folk.