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The Man Who Inspired Joker

The Man Who Laughs, a novel by Victor Hugo published in 1869, is considered the most visionary and dreamlike work of the absolute father of the grotesque.

Although it is a work of the nineteenth century, it still has a great influence on the fantastic imagination that is part of our culture today. In fact, the famous character of Joker, Batman’s archenemy, is inspired by the protagonist of The Man Who Laughs.




In 1928 the visionary director Paul Leni made the first adaptation of Victor Hugo‘s 1869 novel and titled the film ‘The Man Who Laugh’. Conrad Veidt was cast as the leading actor. A perfect choice in our opinion as this actor with his great facial expressions is still one of our favorites today.

The main character of the novel is Gwynplaine, a man in whom a nature made of dualism emerges and characterized by a constant alternation between light and darkness, restlessness and mystery.



He suffers from a facial problem, which causes him a constant grimace, almost a smile that does not make him appear for who he really is. This ugly-looking character hides a naive and sensitive personality, especially when confronted with particularly fatal events.

It is precisely on the basis of these characteristics that Jerry Robinson, Brian Bolland and Bob Kane have come to define the fictional character of Joker. He made his debut in 1940 as part of the first issue of the Batman comic series.

He is a character who over time has undergone various evolutions and interpretations. Originally Joker is a psychopathic clown, villain and Batman’s enemy. But in addition to this, the different authors who have approached the character, have given him different shades.

He is often treacherous, joker, charismatic, cunning, intractable, self-centered and unpredictable. Other times, however, he is a rather harmless thief or a madman with grotesque characteristics. What doesn’t change is his madness and unpredictability, making him one of the most terrible criminals in all of Gotham City.



But even Joker, just like Hugo’s Gwynplaine, has a more fragile and hidden side. He is a man who has had to go through various difficulties in life.

A difficult family, unfavorable economic conditions and a whole life in the most infamous and dangerous neighborhoods of the city. In addition, Joker is also often characterized by an illness that leads him to laugh out loud for no particular reason. And this is where the grimace that distinguishes Gwynplaine’s face is resumed.


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