Monday, February 26, 2024

Comic Papers, Music Hall & Early Cinema by Alan Clark

In a brief foreword, Alan Clark notes that "It seems that comic papers and the stage have always been intertwined. What appeared on the 'boards' was soon seen on the pages of the comic weeklies." It was not a one-way street, as comic characters soon made their way into the theatre... so, while Ally Sloper would visit Augustus Harris's pantomimes in Drury Lane every year, Sloper himself was being depicted by actors on the stage.

As with all of Alan's books, this is one to dip into, the story he wants to tell built up in brief pieces on characters, on comics, on artists and, given the subject matter, actors who were depicted in comics or who played them on stage. Dan Leno (the star of the book's cover) covers the whole gamut of entries, as a star, as the subject of his own comic (Dan Leno's Comic Journal), and a look at artist Tom Browne.

The two main sections cover the theatre up to the Great War, although the cross-over into comics was at its height during the Edwardian era. The largest section covers the post 1920 launch of Film Fun as comics became enamored of the movies as much as the ticket-paying public. Charlie Chaplin was one of the biggest stars and his history in comics straddles the music hall and cinematic theatres, with Chaplin first appearing in Funny Wonder in 1915, although some of the illustrations are from the very scarce Charlie Chaplin Fun Book, which appeared two months after his Funny Wonder debut.

In theatreland you'll meet Marie Lloyd and Sir Henry Irving - as Ally Sloper did -- and mysterious (well, they were to me) cover stars of Merry & Bright and Firefly, Harry Tate, Nellie Wallace, Little Titch, Phil Ray, George Robey and T. E. Dunville.

At the flickers, you'll find the stars of Film Fun and The Kinema Comic and dozens of names from the days of silent comedy, from Harold 'Winkle' Lloyd to Fatty Arbuckle, and forgotten stars like Snub Pollard and Louise Fazenda, both immortalized in The Kinema Comic alongside Syd Chaplin (Charlie's brother).

There are biographical sketches of many of the artists involved in this work, from the well-known Tom Browne, to the little-known Tom Radford, all written in Alan usual breezy and informative style.

Privately published, the book can be purchased via eBay directly from the author, who also has a few of his other books still for sale.

Comic Papers, Music Hall & Early Cinema by Alan Clark
Alan Clark [no ISBN], (February) 2024, 314pp, £36.

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