Dickens: a Debt to Cartoons

Cartoon historian Mark Bryant looks at the origins of some of Dickens’ best-loved characters, and finds clues in the work of cartoonists of the novelist’s youth.

Many political cartoonists have also been book illustrators. An obvious example is John Tenniel, who both worked as the main political cartoonist on Punch for nearly forty years and also drew the illustrations for the first and best-known versions of Lewis Carroll’s ‘Alice’ books. In most cases, as the words usually come first and the pictures later, very few artists have actually been the originators of literary works.

However, in the nineteenth century two distinguished cartoonists claimed, on separate occasions, that the same young journalist – a parliamentary reporter for the Morning Chronicle – had stolen their ideas to produce his first two novels. Both books subsequently became bestsellers and turned their author into an international celebrity in his own lifetime. The artists were Robert Seymour and George Cruikshank. The then unknown writer was Charles Dickens and the books were Pickwick Papers and Oliver Twist, respectively.

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