Monsieur Réac, by Nadar
'Mr. Réac'.

Nadar was a French photography pioneer, who immortalized many 19th-century celebrities. He was the first artist to make a photo interview, aerial photographs and to take pictures in catacombs. Yet earlier in his career he also made text comics, cartoons and caricatures for La Revue Comique. Several lampooned specific French politicians, while others were more straightforward humor comics. His signature work, 'Mossieu Réac' (often correctly spelled as 'Monsieur Réac', 1848-1849) was a more subtle political critique which didn't target any particular person in power. Easier to understand and enjoy by modern-day audiences 'Mr. Réac' has therefore stood the test of time much better. 'Monsieur Réac' is furthermore historically important for being one of the earliest newspaper comics. Equally interesting is Nadar's comic 'Les Aventures de M. Barnichon L' Aéronaute' (1852), a satirical look at ballooning, which also appeared in book format. While Nadar's cartooning career rests in the shadow of his photographic achievements few artists can claim to have been a pioneer in both photography as well as comics. 

Early life
Nadar was born in 1820 in Paris as Adrien Gaspard-Félix Tournachon. He originally studied medicine but after his father's passing he lacked the money to continue these studies. In 1848 Le Charivari published his first written pieces and caricatures under the pseudonym "Nadar". The nickname was a result of his habit to end certain words with the sound "dar". His friends called him "Tournadar", which was eventually shortened to "Nadar". In the revolutionary year 1848, when unexpected socialist/communist uprisings occured in various European countries, Nadar was drafted in the Polish army. He was taken prisoner of war, but allowed to return to Paris after the unrest died down again.

Comics career
Inspired by the political climate of his day Nadar founded his own humor magazine, La Revue Comique à l' Usage des Gens Sérieux, which featured cartoons and illustrations by him and other artists, such as Bertall. The magazine frequently lampooned Louis-Napoléon Bonaparte, nephew of the famous Napoleon, who would later call himself Napoleon III. Nadar drew a text comic about him, 'Les Aventures Illustrées du Prince pour rire' (1848), which ridiculed the Swiss born prince as a weakling unfamiliar with French culture. The joke grew sour when Louis-Napoléon won the 1848 elections and became the next French president. Nadar made a follow-up story, 'Vie politique et littéraire de Viperin, journaliste et industriel' (1848), a thinly veiled attack on the journalist Émile de Girardin, whom he blamed for making the general public vote for Louis-Napoléon. In the story Girardin is depicted as a literal viper, poisonous to everyone in his environment, until he is finally crushed under a boot.

Journal Pour Rire

Monsieur Réac
Nadar's next installment, 'Vie publique et privée de mossieu Réac' (1848-1849), was less direct and spiteful in its satire and far more clever. The comic strip ran in La Revue Comique à l'Usage des Gens Sérieux between 3 March and 25 May 1849. It features the adventures of a hypocritical opportunist, Monsieur Réac, who always changes his political ideology for self-profit. He doesn't even shy away from recycling horse manure into food and supply these to hospitals. In one episode, Réac visits Louis-Napoléon, a golden opportunity to mock the new president once again. Unfortunately Louis-Napoléon became increasingly dictatorial and La Revue Comique was censored as a result. In December 1849 the final issue rolled out. While 'Monsieur Réac' only lasted a year and one month, it was historically important for introducing a new way of publishing comics: in the press instead of books. More than a century later, in 1977, all episodes of 'Mossieu Réac' would be published by Pierre Horay under the title 'Vie Publique et Privée de Mossieu Réac'.

Lapp & Pipps
The censorship of La Revue Comique prompted many cartoonists in France to focus more on apolitical subjects. Nadar was no exception. Between 3 March and 25 May 1849 La Revue Comique published another serialized humor comic: 'Les Aventures Divertissantes et Non Politiques de Maître Lapp et de son Apprenti Pipps'. The comic was plagiarized from Carl Reinhardt, who drew this story about master Lapp and his assistant Pipps in 1848 for the German magazine Fliegende Blätter. An unknown artist in La Revue Comique redrew the images and added a French translation. The drawing style is very reminscent of Nadar and this plagiarist was almost certainly him. 


'Ma Maison de Campagne et Mon Architecte' (1849)

Ma Maison de Campagne et Mon Architecte
In issue #341 of L' Illustration, dated 8 September 1849, Nadar drew another comic strip, 'Ma Maison de Campagne et Mon Architecte' (1849). Spread over two pages, this text comic stars a couple from the big city who decide to move into a country house. Yet their stay is met by all kinds of accidents and unforeseen trouble, causing them to eventually return to the city. Interestingly enough the comic strip is signed 'Nadard', rather than 'Nadar'. 

George Cruikshank
On 14 February 1851, in issue #4 of Le Petit Journal, Nadar presented a reprint of the English comic strip 'The Tooth-Ache' (1849) by Horace Mayhew and George Cruikshank, under the translated French title 'Le Mal de Dents, Molaire arrachée à Cruickshank'. The humor comic features the six pages long ordeal of a man suffering from toothache. The original drawings appear to be redrawn by Nadar, who at least gave the original artist credit, albeit misspelling his name in the process. 


'Le Mal de Dents, Molaire arrachée à Cruickshank' (1849)

L'Eclair
In 1852 Nadar created three comics for the magazine L'Eclair. 'M. Classique', printed on 20 March 1852, is a humorous tale about a scholar in classical arts. 'En Ballon' was serialized between 21 August and 11 September 1852 and stars two balloneers, Mr. Barnichon and Mr. Vagissel, who make a flight with disastrous results. The three-part comic was long enough to be compiled into a book: 'Les Aventures de M. Barnichon L'Aéronaute' (1852). The comic strip shows a lot of images drawn from a bird eye's perspective, which would've been quite special for most readers at the time, who never took a balloon trip themselves and usually hadn't seen much aerial photographs either. Nadar would later become a pioneer in aerial photographs, for which he took many trips by balloons. On 20 November 1852 the artist furthermore drew 'En Omnibus', which ridicules the discomfort of travelling by omnibus. The story provides a satirical look on the trips themselves and funny characterisations of the passengers. 'En Omnibus' offers an interesting historical look at the subject too, proving that people have always complained about public transport. 


'En Omnibus' (1852)

Caricaturing
Nadar's comics career somewhat petered out around 1850, but he kept creating caricatures long after this date. In 1851 he started an ambitious project called 'Musée des gloires contemporaines', in which all the celebrities of his time were invited to pose for him and have their caricatures drawn. Other illustrators aided him with this task as well. More than a 1,000 people were inducted in his personal "Panthéon Nadar". He had enough self-mockery to give his own features the same treatment. In 1856 he drew a cartoon called 'Une théorie photographique par Nadar', in which a woman asks him to make a portrait of her late husband who died two years ago in Buenos Aires, but says that she heard that photographs have a better resemblance than painting. By 1856, he was also the editor of the weekly humor magazine Le Petit Journal pour Rire, and he was chief editor of Le Journal Amusant in the 1860s.

Cartoon by Nadar
'Une Théorie Photographique', published in issue #20 of Petit Journal Pour Rire. The caption reads: "Sir, it's about the portrait of my husband who died two years ago in Buenos Aires: I want to paint a memory of him, but people told me that photographs resemble better than paintings." 

Photography
However, Nadar's fame as a photographer has largely eclipsed his cartooning career. He took countless photographs of the rich and famous, including politicians (various French presidents and members of parliament), novelists (Victor Hugo, Jules Verne, Oscar Wilde, Alexandre Dumas,...), composers (Jacques Offenbach, Gioacchino Rossini, Claude Debussy, Giuseppe Verdi,...), painters (Eugène Délacroix, Gustave Courbet, Edouard Manet,...) and actors (Sarah Bernhardt,...). These images are still used in books, encyclopedia's and documentaries as the best available portraits of these 19th-century celebrities. Nadar was furthermore the first to make aerial photographs, which he did with the aid of a hot air balloon. Honoré Daumier made a famous lithography of him and wrote beneath it: "Nadar elevates photography to art." At the time, Nadar's ballooning was so famous that he inspired Jules Verne's 1863 novel 'Cinq Semaines en ballon' ('Five Weeks in a Balloon'). In 1867, he published the first magazine for people with interest in air travel: L'Aéronaute. He also used his ballooning expertise during the Siege of Paris (1870-1871), when the city was occupied by Prussian troops. Nadar made sure that the besieged citizens still received information about what happened outside their city. This made him the first airmail servant.

Selfportrait by Nadar, 1865
Revolving self-portrait, made by Nadar in 1865.

Nadar was also the first photographer to take pictures below the ground, more specifically in the Parisian catacombs. In 1886, he and his son interviewed chemist Michel Eugène Chevreul and took photographs while asking him questions. This was the first instance in history where the text of an interview was illustrated with photographs of the interviewed person in question. In old age Nadar had more trouble to make ends meet. He had a final triumph in 1900 when his entire work was exhibited at the World Exhibition in Paris. He passed away in 1910.

Legacy
His name lives on in the annual photography prize Prix Nadar and the term "Nadar barrier", which is used in Belgium to describe a crowd control barrier (Nadar used these devices to keep the crowd at a distance when he landed his balloon in Brussels in 1864.)

Nadar in his balloon

Töpfferiana.fr about the comics of Nadar (in French)

Series and books by Félix Nadar in stock in the Lambiek Webshop:

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