I recently ran across an Irish idiom that was in use at least as far back as the late 1800s: “The eyes were leaving his head, he was in such amazement.” This is such a common trope in animated cartoons I barely even noticed it at first:
But the book I saw it in was published around 1890, thereby predating the invention of animated cartoons by a decade or more.
So I started to wonder if Eyes Popping Out = Amazement was a trope of newspaper/magazine comics of the 19th century. And did this idiom develop as a result of said comics, or did the comics get the notion from the idiom? Or was it a case of independent, simultaneous invention, and the one did not influence the other?
I’ve seen a lot of cartoon illustrations from the 1800s featuring agog, wide-eyed people, but very few where the eyes were being rendered as literally coming out of the head, as per the above Tex Avery example.
However, I did find this illustration, by none other than Charles Dana Gibson, published in LIFE in 1893:
This level of exaggeration is quite atypical for Gibson, who worked in the hyper-realistic style that was trendy in magazine cartooning throughout the second half of the 19th century.
The fact that this is so uncharacteristic of Gibson makes me wonder if he got the idea from somewhere else.
Before about 1850, cartoon illustration tended towards more exaggerated caricature, and this goes back at least to the 18th century. See, for example, James Gillray, who features many a bulgy eye. So it’s certainly possible that an earlier cartoonist who influenced Gibson did something with a literal eye pop. But I haven’t, in my admittedly limited search, found any earlier examples. YET.