, Volume 97, Issue 1, pp 21-33,
Open Access This content is freely available online to anyone, anywhere at any time.
Date: 03 Apr 2012

The Art of Making Animals Laugh Benjamin Rabier’s Comic-Illustration of Les Fables de La Fontaine

Abstract

This article aims to explore book illustrations in the form of comic strips, and hence the nature of the format itself: how does it interpret the text, how does it narrate by itself and what is the significance of this “comic-illustration” in comparison to the traditional illustrations. The subject in question is the French artist Benjamin Rabier’s illustrations of Les Fables de La Fontaine produced in 1906. As the term suggest, Rabier’s “comic-illustration” stands between “comics” and “illustration”. Unlike the cartoons with dialogue bubbles, his comics are more like coherent images beyond the text. This does not lead to pure decorations, however, because the images “narrate” the visual attractions in a pictorial way. In respect of illustration, the issue lies in the role of Rabier’s work in the fable context. Deemed as an iconology in itself, the Fables contain a long list of illustrators. From the beginning of his illustration, Rabier displays an innovative viewpoint in his frontispiece by not showing any image of La Fontaine as most classical illustrators have done, but instead depicting a child narrating the stories to the characters. While the fable genre is considered as an art of making animals “talk”, Rabier is making them “laugh” in this child’s narration. Does this mean La Fontaine is interpreted as an easy and naïve reading, or is it a kind of sarcasm in disguise? The laughing animals therefore narrate another dimension in Rabier’s comic-illustration.