Skip to content

Kunzle, David

    Full Name: Kunzle, David

    Other Names:

    • David Mark Kunzle

    Gender: male

    Date Born: 1936

    Place Born: Birmingham, West Midlands, England, UK

    Home Country/ies: United Kingdom

    Subject Area(s): art theory, comic strips, comics (documents), information artifacts, Marxism, posters, and social history


    Marxist/social historian-style scholar of popular arts, the poster and comic strip. Kunzle was educated at Gonville and Caius College, Cambridge University, receiving his B.A. in 1957 with honors. After his Ph.D. from the University of London, whose dissertation he wrote in 1964 under E. H. Gombrich, he was appointed assistant professor at the University of California, Santa Barbara the following year. Kunzle was awarded a grant from National Endowment for the Humanities in 1967. In between lectureships at the California Institute of the Arts, Valencia, 1972 and 1975, he published The Early Comic Strip, the first volume of his groundbreaking multivolume work, The History of the Comic Strip in 1973. Kunzle’s book was in fact popular graphic arts including the broadside. He translated Ariel Dorfman and Armand Mattelart’s 1973 Para leer al pato Donald in 1975 as How to Read Donald Duck, a stunning indictment of the pervasiveness of Capitalism (“Imperialism” to use the author’s phrase) through innocuous cartoon imagery. Kunzle was appointed associate professor at the University of California, Los Angeles, in 1977, an art history department noted for its social-history approach to art history. He received an American Council of Learned Societies grant in 1978, advancing to (full) professor in 1981. The second volume of his History of the Comic Strip, The Nineteenth Century, appeared in 1990. In 1998, Kunzle worked on an exhibition at the UCLA Fowler Museum of Cultural History which resulted in his book, Che Guevara: Icon, Myth and Message. His From Criminal to Courtier: The Soldier in Netherlandish Art 1550-1670 was published in 2002. The same year, he issued an updated edition of Fashion and Fetishism, a social history of fashion creating body-sculpture in the West as part of the Penguin Social History Classics series.Kunzle’s Marxist methodology, like many social-history-style art historians, rankled more traditionally trained art scholars. His pointed if not combative replies to reviews of his books resulted in continual rows. He accused (in print) the Dutch scholar Josua Bruyn of being crude and malicious (Art Bulletin, December 1978). His critics chided The Early Comic Strip for examining only those images which proved Kunzle’s contention that graphic art represented popular unrest. Kunzle’s application of sociological criteria the to interpretation of prints and his unabashed political ideology rescued popular arts from the formalistic/iconographic studies to which they had been relegated. Together with Albert Boime and O. K. Werckmeister, he perpetrated the Marxist-bend art history for which the UCLA Art Department became known.

    Selected Bibliography

    The Early Comic Strip: Narrative Strips and Picture Stories in the European Broadsheet from c. 1450 to 1825. The History of the Comic Strip 1. Berkeley: University of California Press, 1973; The Nineteenth Century. The History of the Comic Strip 2. Berkeley: University of California Press, 1990.


    Kleinbauer, W. Eugene. Research Guide to the History of Western Art. Sources of Information in the Humanities, no. 2. Chicago: American Library Association, 1982, p. 141; Adhémar, Jean. [Review of History of the Comic Strip, Vol. I.] Art Bulletin 57, no. 2 (June 1975): 301-302.


    "Kunzle, David." Dictionary of Art Historians (website).

    More Resources

    Search for materials by & about this art historian: