Vive les Stick Figures

Why bother drawing real people when stick figures are just as expressively representational—and educational? That’s the first question raised by the 1909 French primer Le Petit Bon Homme Pierre, written and illustrated by Lottie King for Longmans, Green and Co. (Longmans was the first publisher to ever use a “dust wrapper,” the precursor to the book jacket.)

This is, arguably, the antecedent of Otto Neurath’s ISOTYPE picture-symbol language, as drawn by Gerd Arntz, which was intended to educate by reducing complex information into accessible data-bytes.

King noted in her brief introduction: “This little book is intended for the use of beginners, and the sentences are, therefore, as short and as closely allied to the illustrations as possible.” (Take that, Rosetta Stone!) She further notes the book is designed to be a guide for the teacher who will take the lessons to another level of verbal and visual intensity. And about the minimalist illustrations: “Simple drawings of this description can be made to illustrate poetry, stories, or interesting events in the life of the class or school, too difficult to make use of in the French lessons without some help.”


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2 thoughts on “Vive les Stick Figures

  1. mkf

    Long, LONG — some four decades — ago, Ted Geisel (Dr. Seuss) and I co-authored a book called “Because A Little Bug Went Ka-Choo!” And all that long ago, LONG before these “language” people purloined the name “Rosetta Stone,” we stole it first as our nomme de plume — because it amused us. It was a Beginner Book, designed for beginning readers, and indeed, “…the sentences [were], therefore, as short and closely allied to the illustrations as possible.” I had the fun of doing those illustrations, and as I recall, everyone — cows, a chicken, cops, elephants, even the bug — had plenty of meat on ’em. Take THAT, Steven Heller!
    PS– It’s still in print.

  2. Karen

    Pierre’s a bad boy. He gets in fights and he’s late to class. He hides behind the door in the gym so his teacher can’t find him unless he puts on his glasses. Later, Pierre seems happy as he leads his female cousin to the woods…Pierre is an interesting fellow… 🙂