Joseph Ferdinand Keppler, Austrian/American (1838 - 1894)

Joseph Ferdinand Keppler

Keppler was born 1 February, 1838, in Vienna, Austria. His family's meager financial state forced him to earn money for his art studies by joining traveling theatrical companies. Keppler was both a promising artist and a talented actor. In 1856, he enrolled in the Akademie der Bildenden Künste, Vienna, where he obtained a strong education in the German style of cartoon art. Several of his cartoons were published by Kikeriki during this time.

Keppler's father had emigrated to New Frankfort, Missouri, due to his activities during the revolution of 1848. Keppler followed his father to American in 1867, settling in St. Louis, Missouri, which had a large German population. On 28 August, 1869, Keppler published the first issue of his humorous weekly, Die Vehme, Illustriertes Wochenblatt für Scherz und Ernst. After only a year it failed. However, it has the distinction of being the first American humorous journal with lithographic cartoons. Keppler's next publication was Puck, Illustrierte Wochenschrift, which first appeared in March 1871. It lasted until February 1872.

Although both publications lasted less than a year, they brought Keppler to the attention of Frank Leslie, who offered him a position in New York. By 1875, he was in charge of drawing most of the cover cartoons for Frank Leslie's Illustrated Newspaper. Keppler specialized in cartoons that attacked President Ulysses S. Grant and political graft.

In 1876, Keppler and Adolph Schwarzmann left Leslie's publications to found Puck, Humoristisches Wochenblatt. This German Puck was so successful that in March 1877 an English edition was begun which survived until 1918, twenty-two years longer than its German original. Adding color to the lithographed cartoons, Puck slowly became a newsstand eye-catcher, a political force and a magnet for aspiring cartoonists and humorous writers.

Keppler's style combined German caricature, a skillful use of line, and a keen sense of satire. These traits made his work different than that of his main rival, Thomas Nast. Keppler's drawings were generally large and contained a multitude of figures illustrating a parable. The election of 1880 catapulted Puck to the position of chief interpreter of the American scene. "Forbidding the Banns," one of Keppler's most popular cartoons, which was an indictment of James Garfield's participation in the Crédit Mobilier scandal, was a product of the campaign. At least one symbol to political history was contributed by Keppler in every presidential election thereafter. He is variously credited with creating the Tattooed Man, Uncle Sam's Whiskers, and other political symbols.

The Puck World's Fair edition, published on the Chicago fairground during the length of the 1893 exposition, left Keppler stressed and exhausted, causing damage to his health. He died in his home in New York, 19 February, 1894.

Sources:

Garraty, John A., and Mark C. Carnes, eds. American National Biography. Vol. 12. New York: Oxford University Press, 1999.

Horn, Maurice, ed. The World Encyclopedia of Cartoons. 2d ed. Philadelphia: Chelsea House Publishers, 1999.

Malone, Dumas, ed. Dictionary of American Biography. Vol. 5. New York: Charles Scribner's Sons, 1961.

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