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May 28, 2011
Contents:
  1. Intercultural and Literary Aspects
  2. Rapid Shift
  3. The Honorable Merchant – Between Modesty and Risk-Taking | SpringerLink

Women cartoonists' signatures are less visible, or disguised, partly because the profession was seen as less-than-respectable. There's a lot of work for historians to do in uncovering their output. These cartoonists could be pretty promiscuous in terms of who they worked for - their work can turn up in several titles at once, as your survey makes clear, but also on book covers, on advertising, in theatre designs, in event programmes; basically anything to make a shilling.

They had to be great artists, but they also had to be funny - to have an 'adequate grasp of the ridiculous', as Lemmy used to say. That was not always a natural combination then as now. It's pretty obvious that one of the reasons the less polished creators like Duval and Ross could 'get away with it' was because they were great comedians. That went for Yeats, as you imply, but also for Browne and W. Thomas for many years the Half-Holiday cover artist. They lived comfortable lives, and Browne was a minor celebrity.

Intercultural and Literary Aspects

There is some evidence of bidding wars pushing up fees - Funny Cuts carried a weekly advert boasting that it paid better than its rivals. But mostly the work in comics was drudgery, undertaken by a body of pauperised freelancers, feeding the readers' insatiable habit for 'fun' every week. Not much has changed, I'm sure. Okay, so what is there to say about the British comic strip in the final decades of the 19th century and into the early 20th? Firstly, whereas the strip in America evolved principally in the context of the newspaper and the Sunday supplement, in the UK strips came in the context of publications like Comic Cuts , The Funny Wonder and The Jester , which were much more specifically oriented around laughs, thrills and entertainment.

One of the most striking characteristics of the British comics of this era is their variety of content. I think you can see the chaotic arrangement of elements on the page, all vying for the reader's eye, as a kind of metaphor for the intense vitality of urban life at the end of the century. The comic strip is just one component in amongst this jumble- though it would become increasingly dominant over the course of the s, and would come to define these publications into the new century.

A big influence on this form were the hugely successful text-based publications like George Newnes's Tit-Bits and Alfred Harmsworth's Answers to Correspondents , both of which were stuffed with easily digestible factoids, anecdotes, historical tales, scientific curiosities, amusing trivia and early examples of celebrity gossip, in an apparently random flow of information, aimed at a mass readership.

Some of this kind of material made it into the comics too, alongside pages crammed with humorous graphic imagery in the form of strips, but also single panel cartoons, many of which were lifted, without permission, from other sources, including American and European periodicals.

Almost all of the comics also featured literary serials- with dramatic, and occasionally lurid, illustrations, linking the comics to the penny dreadful that preceded them, but also to contemporary forms of popular fiction- tales of crime, espionage, mystery and adventure.

A lot of these illustrations, in a realist rather than a cartoony style, justify the cover price on their own! The strips themselves often riff on the tropes associated with these genres and there is an intertextuality at work with formal and narrative references to a wide array of contemporary media and entertainment, including the circus, music hall the UK version of vaudeville , popular theatre and, from the mids, cinema. We obviously share a love of the speed-freak bonkers-ness of these publications, and I agree with everything you've said, but would like to problematise it in two ways.

First, strips were around a long time before Comic Cuts et al.


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I know you wouldn't disagree with that, but I'd like to give a shout-out to people like Heath, Cruikshank, Doyle, Leech, Tenniel, Ross and Duval, who were tickling people's funny bones with sequential panel narratives right through the 19th century. Second, if we base our discussion of British comics around 'strips', then isn't that trying to fit them into a particular box? Isn't it more helpful to think of them as miscellanies, as you expertly describe?

So, for example, Brian Maidment has tracked the history of humorous miscellany-style magazines in the early s, and we can go from there to Punch and the Punch rivals Judy, Fun, Tomahawk , etc. I guess this is a question - or series of questions - about history. Yes, there was an evolution towards the UK comic as a strip-based publication if we take The Beano - founded - as our standard British reference point.

But that's only one trajectory: an obvious counter-example might be something like Private Eye founded which is a satirical miscellany in the old tradition and which nobody calls a comic. All that leads us to the question of the moment at which there was 'genre consciousness', i. I presume from the above that you might choose the s, with Comic Cuts being the archetype, and I might take things back to the s with the Half-Holiday and its copyists.

Either way, there's the question of 'strippy-ness', and I know that both of us are interested in aspects beyond strips e. If we get too focused on just one thing, then we miss That's a critique that could be levelled at comics studies as a whole, I think. One thing we do seem to agree on is that the explosion of these publications was a product of circumstances having to do with the unique status of the UK at that time.

Victoria's empire was the most powerful the world had ever seen, and by London was the largest city in the world. The infrastructure for what we might call modern entertainment capitalism was there early-on and was sophisticated compared to other parts of the world. I'm not making any kind of nationalistic point here; just indicating that when you look over to the US, and start to make comparisons, that might not be germane because urbanisation and entertainment capitalism were taking different forms there.

They have traditionally fallen between critical stools, but surely the most obvious scholarly home for them is within the warm embrace of an expanded comics studies. The Oliver Dawney one above is a fine example of the noble art. There is a self-consciousness around comics as a specific publishing category, which emerges a bit more fully during the s, and is then pretty much consolidated by the turn of the century.

Outcault, which definitely had an influence on British cartoonists, such as Julius Baker below. He would go on to have great success as a media mogul, establishing the Daily Mail and the Daily Mirror for example, but he achieved his earliest successes with comics. A corollary of this is that, as elsewhere, the pages often contained ethnic and racial stereotypes that reflected the Imperialist world view predominant in British popular media at the time.

Rapid Shift

Hundreds of thousands of copies were purchased every week, far outstripping the readership that had existed for humour periodicals during the previous decade. Harmsworth also saved a lot of money by skimping on ink and printing quality, and by using very low-grade paper. This has meant that surviving copies are often in pretty poor condition- tiny shards of brittle paper litter the table after even the most careful perusal through library volumes.


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  • There is an urgency around the archiving and preservation of this material. It would be great to see a comics-specific archive of material from this period. Oh, I agree about cartoons - so overlooked, and so fascinating. Once again, there's no linear evolution. The word 'cartoonist' only enters the Oxford English Dictionary in I also agree about American influence. By a certain point in time, it's everywhere. But, as you say, it's often in hybrid form - a little bit like in the s when bebop came over and was reimagined by London musicians.

    I also agree about Harmsworth. What is interesting about him, in retrospect, is the way he changed everything from the bottom up. As you say, there's his obsession with cheap ink and paper, etc. He revolutionised distribution as much as anything. Harmsworth would put dozens of titles out there to see which ones survived, and would launch comics tactically to destroy rivals. So although the 'Harmsworth Bros' started out as a family firm, this model very soon morphed into something more aggressive, and faster.

    That had big consequences for the content of the comics, I think, and not just in obvious ways like the kinds of characters that were foregrounded, and the 'borrowing' of stuff from the US. For example, I'm interested in the turn against world-building. Whereas previously the Half-Holiday attempted to build a universe i. The Half-Holiday had also built a world outside of itself - with Sloper merchandising and stage shows, which were then referenced in the comic - and this idea, too, was pretty much ditched in favour of print-focused speed and immediacy ' Laughs for a Halfpenny!

    Some of the new comics paid more attention to editorial branding and direction than others, it was true. But the idea of the 'classic' interchangeable, cheap-and-cheerful, British comic was pretty much an s thing. Oh, and on your final point, I know what you mean about archiving these comics. I was in a library looking at an historically important title called Illustrated Bits , and it literally fell to bits. However by the s circulations had fallen drastically, and very few titles made it out of this decade. The collapse of the industry and the cancellation of popular titles like Misty was likely due to a number of factors.

    Publishers also abused their readership, as the merging of titles was a common practice. Although each title had a distinct look and identity, it was the fate of most to be merged into each other in pursuit of profit. While new titles always sold well on launch, after sales hit a certain low the comic would be merged with another title so their combined circulations would be taken into account: often devastating readers who may have followed one of the titles for years. By 26 September Tammy had reverted to its original title in readiness for the merger of Tammy and Jinty on 28 November , and Misty herself had all but vanished from its pages.

    Reprints of Misty stories continued to appear worldwide: initially in the UK it continued in the annuals and a Best of Misty Monthly 8 issues, The Internet gave those who remembered British comics a new voice, and at the start of the millennium, many fan sites and blogs began to emerge focusing on these titles and begging for the return of comics like Misty. The rights were then sold to Rebellion Publishing, who have released three collected editions to date , , , along with new material in two Scream! It was a about a girl who was not very pretty.

    She was given a magic mirror and told it would make her beautiful if she followed its instructions correctly. And it worked! But as she got more lovely she also became mean and vain, and one day she did something wrong with the instructions and when she woke up the next day and looked in her mirror her beautiful face was shattered and warped.

    I threw the comic away, but I never forgot that story I remembered the final page and line nearly verbatim, for over thirty years. When I found it during my archival research it was a pretty emotional moment. But once I started researching Misty I discovered tons of other stories that also hit and haunted me. I loved its alluring host with her poetic words, its dramatic tales of horrifying fates and karmic justice, and its incredible artwork and striking layouts.

    The Honorable Merchant – Between Modesty and Risk-Taking | SpringerLink

    For me, studying Misty has revealed a lot about the nature and dominance of Gothic horror for girls. It is also the first full-length critical history published on any single British comic. It brings together a wealth of primary research taken from archival visits, creator interviews, and online discussions with past readers, and reveals a great deal about the hidden history and production practices of the comics industry in this country.

    Many of the writers, artists, editors and associates I interviewed have never previously spoken about their work for British comics. Their recollections give a fascinating picture of how the industry operated — one that is in danger of being entirely lost due to a lack of records and the ephemeral nature of these publications.