The Sequential Art, Comics & Cartoons of Famous Artists

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Recently the page shown below from one of Vincent Van Gogh’s sketchbooks, dated 1883, made the rounds on Facebook. The reason for the interest was how much it resembled a comic page. Whether that was his intent we will never know. Certainly the form began decades earlier in Europe, created by practitioners such as Rodolphe Töppler, John Tenniel, Charles Ross, John Mclenan, George du Maurier, William Hogarth, Richard Doyle, Gustave Doré, et al, although none of that early work resembles a modern comic book page as much as Van Gogh’s. However I was ready to dismiss this as an anomaly and move on.

Page from Vincent Van Gogh’s sketchbook

That was until I visited the Baltimore Museum of Art last month. There I attended the exhibit Off the Shelf: Modern & Contemporary Artists’ Books, which is comprised of renowned artists’ books, including Pablo Picasso, Joan Miró, David Hockney, and Ed Ruscha. As I entered the room, much to my surprise, I was greeted by a Picasso comic page. Or was it? Like the Van Gogh page, on further examination it appears to be 12 thumbnails for his illustrations for the book The Unknown Masterpiece from 1931. Still, the page itself was included in the book, so it is unclear what his intentions, or influences were.

Pablo Picasso

Pablo Picasso—detail

Directly across the gallery was a book by David Hockney, Six Fairy Tales from the Brothers Grimm, 39 etchings, some with aquatint, from 1969-1970. One page clearly is intended as sequential as the character depicted deconstructs (to put it mildly).

“The Older Rapunzel” by David Hockney

Next up was Larry Rivers and his collaboration with the poet Frank O’Hara, “Stones.” Replete with word balloons the reference to comic strips appear throughout.

Larry Rivers

While not in sequential format, Joan Miro’s collaboration with writer Paul Éluard “À Toute Épreuve” from 1958 features very comic characters created out of woodblock.

Bringing the experience full circle was the book created by Dieter Roth comprised entirely of comic books pages with cutouts that exposed the pages below, creating new and unexpected relationships between the art. It was opened to a Jack Kirby “Rawhide Kid” spread.

Dieter Roth

Back to Facebook, the 1946 collaboration between Salvador Dali and Walt Disney, “Destino” (below), has also been making the rounds. In wasn’t completed and released until 2003.


Another example of Picasso’s sequential art, from DREAM AND LIE OF FRANCO, thanks to Craig Marin. Also the source of the Van Gogh image was via Ian Cachorrubu Rocha’s Facebook page.

Read more about the intersection of art and design throughout history in these articles:

  1. The Fine Art of Milton Glaser

  2. The Comic Art of Mirko Ilić

  3. Magazine Covers by Famous Artists: Dali, Picasso, Braque & More

  4. (More) Magazine Covers by Famous Artists: Warhol, Lichtenstein, Banksy, Fairey & More

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