sophisticated comic strip
The qualifying word “possibly”, above, is important because defining the qualifications for being considered a “surrealist strip” is difficult. The epithet “surrealist” can have different meanings. It has been a label applied to strips of vastly different kinds – particularly examples about dreaming, or featuring unexpected juxtapositions, but also strips about psychedelic or hyperreal consciousnesses. In terms of more scholarly taxonomies and typologies, definitions have tended to emphasise formalist qualities, such as an aesthetic that is “anti-narrative”. Also, the notion of a “first” is controversial, and dependent on context and definitions (added to which, there may have been other examples of surrealist comic strips that this writer is not aware of).
The picture is complicated by the fact that certain fine artists working in a surrealist tradition have produced sequential narratives that might be considered “comics”. Max Ernst, for example, produced his A Week of Kindnessin 1934: a “visual novel” in five booklets done in the form of a collage. It may count as the first surrealist comic, depending on definitions, though it was not “anti-narrative” and many surrealists would have derided its novelistic aspirations on the basis that the notion of the novel was bourgeois and redundant.
These caveats aside, this essay will concentrate on the intentions behind Wokker, which means looking in detail at the biographies of its creators. This approach itself is questionable, and acknowledgement is duly made to the warnings of Roland Barthes and his followers about “the death of the author” (Barthes, 1977, p.142-148). Rather, what is at stake here is a verifiable connection between Wokker and what was going on in Paris in the 1920s, and the way in which its mode of expression can be traced to the tenets of the original French surrealists.
Wokker typically appeared in stories told in four or five panels, and was designed as an open-ended series. Wokker trundles round his environment on wheels, but is no kid’s toy. Sometimes he takes on the personality of a mischief-maker, sometimes an ingénue, and sometimes a cynical observer. His frustration level is low, and he is apt to exclaim “Wokkit!” when things don’t go his way. His adventures follow a logic of their own – which sometimes means no logic at all. Created in 1966, Wokker’s publication history is complex. After its high point as a weekly strip in the Times Educational Supplement (hereafterTES), it appeared in three less well known magazine publications – Knuckleduster Funnies (1985-86), The Truth (1987-89) and The Whistler(1995-99).