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Wednesday, February 14, 2018

The Ally Sloper revivals of the late 1940s

Ally Sloper had a bit of a choppy history as a comic. The character, created by Charles H. Ross and his partner Emile de Tessier (AKA Marie Duval) started out in Judy, then graduated to his own comic, Ally Sloper's Half Holiday from 1884 to 1914. It was then simplified to Ally Sloper from 1914 to 1916, when it ceased. A new, short-lived series of Ally Sloper's Half Holiday then resumed in 1922 to 1923. 

Then, in 1948, the character was revived again, in an 8 page Ally Sloper comic, printed in red and black. Although intended as a series, only No.1 was published. This version of Ally Sloper turns up a lot on eBay. I bought one myself many years ago, and was told that there had been a pile of them found in an old distributor's warehouse, which had never reached the shops. Unfortunately, it's a terrible comic. 

Although the Ally Sloper of this 1948 comic resembles the Victorian character, the artwork is crude and extremely basic, and the comic completely lacks the social satire that made the original so popular. The scripting is not only childish, it's poor. Take a look at that cover strip for example (above). Ally says he wants "three coppers" (meaning pennies), three policemen turn up (coppers, see, geddit?) and throw Ally in jail. Why? Makes no sense.

The comic is most surely in the public domain now, so here's the complete thing.

It's no surprise that the 1948 Ally Sloper only lasted one issue. A year later, a different publisher had a go, reviving the full title as Ally Sloper's Half Holiday No.1. Perhaps realising that the attempt to turn Ally into a children's character hadn't worked, this time it was revived as a satirical paper for older readers. Sadly, the poor art on the cover was uninspiring, and Ally looked out of place amongst people of the late 1940s.
The contents of this 8 page comic were mostly reprints from Ally's original publication, and therein lies the problem. Whatever possessed the publishers to think that Victorian cartoons and humour would work in 1949? The world had moved on, and the art style and verbosity of the dialogue of the reprints was extremely outdated.

Unsurprisingly, this version of Ally Sloper's Half Holiday didn't reach a second issue either. 

That was it for poor Ally, until 1976, when Denis Gifford launched his own Ally Sloper comic. This time Ally looked right, but the contents were an odd mixture. The well-intentioned venture only lasted four issues. (Personally I loved this version.) 

The closest publications we have today to the original satirical Ally Sloper's Half Holiday are Private Eye and Viz, proving that even in this mad world, (or because of it) we still need good social satire. Perhaps Ally Sloper should be revived again. I'm sure he'd have a few things to say about Brexit and Trump.

Let's end by remembering what Ally Sloper's Half Holiday looked like in its heyday, with this marvellous (albeit blackly comic) cover by W.F. Thomas for the April Fool issue of 1892...

Bonus: Lonnng before the Dennis the Menace Fan Club, Ally Sloper had his own club (most probably the first comic club) and by cutting out coupons from the comic, readers could send away for a nice metal medal. I plucked one out of the time vortex recently (or I bought one on eBay, you decide) so I thought you might like to see it. It's about the same size as an old penny (31mm diameter). Each one issued had its own number stamped on the back. This one would have been owned by member number 20689, and dates from around 1902 I believe. I've cleaned it up, which apparently devalues it, but they're really not that valuable, and I don't intend selling it anyway.

You can read more about Ally Sloper here:

and here:


Peter Gray said...

You should of used this for April 1st.. we would think its a trick! :)

Roberto said...

About the 1948 Ally Sloper : the drawings aren't so bad, especially on the Ally pages, it's the character alright - only slightly modernized. I think there's just one artist for the whole magazine - the speech bubbles, inking and lettering are a giveaway. The problem - and it's a huge one ! - is the storytelling. It doesn't make any sense, I have no idea what he tried to achieve. The very worst are the Fearless Frank pages : it seems like a lazy parody, each panel doesn't seem to be related to each other. Still the inking is good to honest, too bad the backgrounds are so empty. I thought for a while I was puzzled because I'm not fluent in english - but you are and you feel the same, it seems ! A real curiosity, thank you for sharing.

Lew Stringer said...

You're right, Roberto. It's all drawn by T.O. Reid. In the 1940s and '50s there was an expansion of British independent comics because U.S. comics were no longer being imported and new publishers rushed to satisfy comic-hungry kids. Sadly, some, like this one, were not very well executed.

Yep, that adventure strip makes little sense. It's like it uses the basics of a crime story but with no idea of how to tell a sequential comic strip.

Paul Mcscotty said...

I have a new found respect for "Ally Sloper" having seen him score a goal against the "Auld enemy" - we could do with him now in our team :) .

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