Sunday, April 30, 2023

Harmsworth's Comic Paper Rivals by Alan Clark

The ever-prolific Alan Clark has another book out on the early history of British comics. This volume concentrates on the publishers who rivalled the innovative Alfred Harmsworth, whose Harmsworth Publications would become Amalgamated Press. His Comic Cuts was the template for dozens of papers, a mix of cartoons, jokes, short sketches and proto comic strips. Within weeks of its launch in May 1890, it was selling 300,000 copies per weekly issue... the kind of numbers that attracted copycats and rivals.

First out of the trap was Trapps-Holmes, whose Funny Cuts arrived just two months later in identical style, size and price (½d.). For George Trapps and Sydney George Holmes, it was a runaway success, and it ran for 1,566 issues; along with Larks!, World's Comic, The Halfpenny Comic and others. To Trapps-Holmes goes the credit for publishing the first weekly colour comic, The Coloured Comic, which ran for 415 issues, although only the first 18 months were in full colour.

The company struggled during and after the Great War, and George Trapps  went missing in 1919, leaving behind debts, although he left a large estate when he died the following year.

Trapps-Holmes neighbour was James Henderson, a Scot who launched newspapers in Glasgow, Manchester and London, who published Our Young Folks Weekly Budget in 1871 and Funny Folks in 1874, pre-dating Harmsworth's papers, but priced at 1d. by the time Harmsworth released his budget halfpenny titles. The former published the stories of Roland Quiz and, most famously, the original serialisation of Treasure Island by Robert Louis Stevenson.

Gilbert Dalziel was the publisher of Ally Sloper, the first regular British comic character, so popular that his Half-Holiday title was selling 500,000 copies a week at one point.

C. Arthur Pearson and George Newnes were more substantial rivals to Harmsworth, especially in later years in the women's magazine market. Pearson published The Big Budget, which ran for over a decade, The Scout story paper, which ran for almost 60 years, and Dan Leno's Comic Journal, the first title based on a real person. Newnes made his fortune from Tit-Bits, but was also a publisher of the high class boys' paper The Captain and the long-running Enid Blyton paper Sunny Stories.

Throughout, as usual, Clark dips in and out of various titles, all heavily illustrated, and highlights many of the top creators who worked on them, ranging from the hugely prolific story writer Charles Hamilton (Frank Richards, Martin Clifford, etc,) to big names of the Victorian and Edwardian comics era, Tom Browne, Frank Holland, Warwick Reynolds, Julius Baker, Jack B. Yeats, and many etceteras. T. Murray Ford kicks off a section at the back that rounds up a number of small outfits who published with mixed success, and a gallery of magazines and books from some of the rivals.

If you have bought any of Alan's recent books you'll know exactly what to expect. Newcomers will enjoy the scrapbook style of telling the history of these fascinating publicaitons.

Privately published, the book can be purchased via eBay for £25.00. You'll find a few earlier titles still available at the same link.

Harmsworth's Comic Paper Rivals by Alan Clark
Alan Clark [no ISBN], (April) 2023, 314pp.

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