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Monday, February 05, 2018

Ally Sloper goes digital!

Recognised as the first recurring comic strip character, Ally Sloper was created in 1867 by Charles H. Ross and his partner Emile de Tessier (under the pseudonym Marie Duval) for the magazine Judy. The character later graduated to his own weekly publication in 1884 called Ally Sloper's Half Holiday, and acquired a new artist in William Baxter. When Baxter died in 1888, W. Fletcher Thomas took over until the end of the 19th Century, superseded by C.H. Chapman, who drew it until the closure of the comic in 1916. 

Like most early British comics, Ally Sloper's Half Holiday was aimed at adults. The publication was full of social satire and humourous commentary, cartoons and short strips. (The closest equivalent today would be Private Eye.) Ally became hugely popular in the UK, with three films (long since lost) and various items of merchandise based on his likeness, including jugs, tobacco jars, pipes, candlesticks, cast iron doorstops, and more. The items are very collectable today. Here's a few photographs of some of them currently on offer on eBay for example...
Match case.
Ally Sloper jug.
Tobacco jar.
Door stops.
The character was revived a few times, most recently by Denis Gifford in 1976 for four issues, but never reached the same level of popularity again. His time had gone. Now, The British Newspaper Archive has put 635 issues of Ally Sloper's Half Holiday on its website in digital form to preserve this significant comic for current and future generations. The issues run from 1885 to 1896, and the scans have been done with OCR (Optical Character Recognition) for text, and the artwork is somewhat muddy in places but it's still a great way to see these rare publications. There is a subscription service though, so although three pages are free to look at when you sign up, you'll have to pay for the rest. 
Ally Sloper lives again! A character too important to the history of comics to leave in limbo forever!

You can read more about Ally Sloper in a couple of old blog posts of mine here:

Just for fun, I had an attempt at drawing Ally Sloper myself a few weeks ago...

If you want to find out more about Marie Duval, the co-creator of Sloper, there's an excellent archive of her material here:

...and next month there's a new book being published about her. See the review on the Down the Tubes blog here:


My thanks to Garen Ewing for bringing the news of digitised Slopers to my attention. (Garen's a long-established comics artist himself and you can check out his work at his site here:


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