Sunday, January 30, 2022

Comic Papers of the Platinum Age

Alan Clark is putting us all to shame, and has just published his seventh book in just over a year, his latest a 282-page look back at the Platinum Age of comics, which he dates as falling between 1874 and 1914, straddling the Victorian and Edwardian ages. This was the era of  Funny Folks, the first recognisable weekly comic, Ally Sloper, the early Harmsworth comics (Comic Cuts, Illustrated Chips), a rash of titles from James Henderson and Trapps-Holmes, and early examples of tie-in comics (Dan Leno's Comic Journal) and even full colour comics (The Coloured Comic).

Clark begins with the story of how comic strips evolved from satirical prints to satirical papers, published widely across Europe. Many of these 19th century publications were political, and Clark sees these as precursors to the true comic, Ally Sloper's Half-Holiday, with Henderson's Funny Folks the bridge.

Examples of the work of John Proctor, John Stafford and Julius Baker appear early, as do W. G. Baxter, W. F. Thomas and C. H. Ross, of Ally Sloper fame. Along the way there are brief peeks at the work of little know artists like Will Spurrier and Oliver Veal, which make me wish there was a way of gathering some further examples of these artists' work together in a larger format. Who wouldn't want to see further examples of battleaxe Aunt Tozer and the generous gentleman, Mr. Benjamin Bumchowder?

There are some fascinating and unique items on display, including Harold Garrish's "Notes For Artists", sent out by one of the director's of the Amalgamated Press to artists in the early 1920s, in which he notes: "Brevity is the soul of wit and likewise of successful comic drawings."

Garrish also said: "A sketch must be funny, quite apart from the joke illustrated, otherwise it is quite superfluous." This does open up a can of worms in my notion that there should be reprints of some of this old stuff—a lot of the cartoons and jokes are just confusing and simply not funny any more. We don't have the context of the era that they were drawn and read in. Satire only works well if you know what is being satirised.

Comic strips have survived the years far better, since much of the humour is slapstick and that is eternal. The book's cover, for instance, comes from a front page of Comic Cuts starring Chokee Bill and Area Sneaker dating from 1897, and you can still tell what is going on.

But back to the review! Some of the strips published on the covers of Comic Cuts, Lot-o'-Fun and the like, are extraordinarily beautiful in their design and execution, especially those celebrating holidays — often published as "double numbers".

Clark spends some time looking at Big Budget, published by C. Arthur Pearson, introducing editor Arthur Brooke and art editor Ralph (Yorick) Hodgson, and well illustrated with examples from some of the paper's best artists, Frank Holland, Jack B. Yates, George E. Studdy and reprints of Rudolph Dirks and Fred Opper.

"Well illustrated" does, of course, describe the whole book, which is full of Larks and lots o' fun. If you have enjoyed Alan's earlier books, this one will be a welcome addition to your already groaning bookshelf.

Privately published, it can be purchased via eBay.

Comic Papers of the Platinum Age by Alan Clark
Alan Clark [no ISBN], (January) 2022, 282pp, £25.00. Available via eBay.

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