Sunday, December 11, 2022

Comic Papers Between the Wars 1919-1939 by Alan Clark

One might be forgiven for thinking that Alan Clark has turned into a one-man writing factory. Having already published eight books since February 2021, he now has another two under his belt in time for Christmas.

His latest is two volumes of the same story, covering the wide variety of British comics that appeared between the Great War and World War 2, building on the successes of pre-(Great) War comics and cementing the move from an adult to a juvenile audience that had begun in the Edwardian era. The arrival of Rainbow in 1914 was the final nail in the coffin for comics aimed at adults until the Underground Comix over fifty years later.

Readers of Alan's books will be familiar with the format: rather than telling a linear history, the books are made up of twenty chapters that dip into key areas of comics' history, heavily illustrated with examples and dotted with biographies of many of the main players. Thus, a chapter on the beginnings of nursery comics dips into the careers of editor William Fisher, artists Julius Baker, Fred Crompton, Herbert Foxwell, Bertram Wymer, Joe Hardman, Harry O'Neill, Anton Lock, Fred Adkins, Tom Radford, and magazines The Rainbow, The Playbox, Bubbles, with brief stop-offs at Trapps-Holmes and Ally Sloper.

This was the era that made comic strip stars of Laurel & Hardy, Buster Keaton and Harold Lloyd and newspapers created their own stars in the shapes of Teddy Tail, Bobby Bear, Uncle Oojah, Pip, Squeak & Wilfred and the ever-popular Rupert.

It also saw the development of the adventure strip on the back pages of Puck, Funny Wonder, Larks and other AP penny black and tuppenny coloured titles under the managing editorship of Stanley Gooch. I'll confess that this is my favourite section of the two books as it shows examples of strips that are all but impossible to find nowadays.

Alan also gives plenty of space to British comics abroad. They thrived in the inter-war years, reprinted in International Editions (twice the price, but twice the size) that were shipped to the USA and the Commonwealth. Individual characters spread around the globe, from Europe to South America, so if you want to see 'Basil & Bert' in Danish, Norway's beautifully coloured version of 'Rob the Rover' (renamed Willy), or 'Tom the Menagerie Man' in Portuguese, here's your chance.

Although the focus is on the Amalgamated Press, by far the biggest of Britain's comics publishers during that period, there's space to mention rivals like Fleetway Press, Target Comics, James Henderson and the growing dominance in the north of D. C. Thomson. As the book closes we see the rise of upstart newcomers like T. V. Boardman and Gerald Swan.

Privately published, the two books can be purchased via eBay as a pair for £33.00.

Comic Papers Between the Wars 1919-1939 Book One by Alan Clark
Alan Clark [no ISBN], (December) 2022, 298pp.
Comic Papers Between the Wars 1919-1939 Book Two by Alan Clark
Alan Clark [no ISBN], (December) 2022, 298pp.

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