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Early British Comics

(All the British Comics from this website displayed on one page, roughly chronological)

1700 - 1800

James Gillray (1756-1815)
'The Table's turned - Billy in the devil's claws / Billy sending the devil packing'

(from the collection of Doug Wheeler)

William Heath
White - Bait (1830)
(a four-panel comic strip with speechbaloons)

Volume 1, issue 7, page 3, July 1st, 1830, 'The Looking Glass'
(From the collection of Doug Wheeler)

Thomas Rowlandson
This is not a comic. It's not even a sequential series of images, like a Hogarthian progress, or even illustrations of a novel. But it can be seen as a milestone in comics history, because of the influence on Rodolphe Toepffer, who imitated the type of main character, the drawing style and the general atmosphere of countryfied wackyness. The use and re-use of one striking visual character, generally recognized and popular, is certainly typical of many comics to come.

In search of the

Thomas Rowlandson
In search of

Part 3 - DOCTOR SYNTAX - In Search of a Wife

Early Comics for Children

Starting off with a non-British work - I suspect there may be many more 18th century comics from Holland.

G. Oortmann
Little Red Ridinghood (De Vertelling van Roodkapje)
Dutch Broadsheet -1800

publisher: by de Erve H. Rynders - earliest Dutch broadsheet after Perrault

These comics/picture stories are from 'chapbooks'. Chapbooks were small booklets of four, (or multiples of four: 8, 12,...) pages, sold by itinerant merchants or chapmen (Old English: ceapman from 'ceap' - bargaining, trade) from circa 1500-1850. They were illustrated with woodcuts and had stories of popular heroes, folklore, famous crimes, ballads, nursery rhymes, schooltexts (ABCs), bible tales, etc, and were the main literature beside the bible for the common man and children.
Sometimes they were sold as sheets which had to be cut up and bound, DIY-fashion.
Most chapbooks did not contain comics (=picture stories), but from circa 1800 many did. Enough to constitute a genuine and influential tradition.
Some of the examples below are from American editions. I'm not sure if these were reprints, copies or original.

The Little Man & the Little Maid (Chapbook, 1807)

The Comic Adventures of Old Mother Hubbard and her Dog
(circa 1805)

The Comic Adventures of Old Mother Hubbard and her Dog
(circa 1805)

Old Mother Hubbard
circa 1805/10

(from an 1893 reprint)

Robert Branston (probably)
Old Mother Hubbard and her Dog - 1819

These English picture stories for children may have inspired German manufacturers of popular prints, (the so-called 'Bilderbogen') to include picture stories in their programm. The earliest Bilderbogen featuring comics seem to be from 1835, including the following example of a German copy of Branston's version of Mother Hubbard.

What makes this so interesting is the fact that these Neuruppiner Bilderbogen (sold in vast numbers) inspired the creation of Munich Bilderbogen around 1848, which become the stomping ground for the slapstick comics by Wilhelm Busch, who in turn became the starting point of American sequential comics, the Katzenjammer Kids.

There seems to be a direct line of influence from British children's comics 1800-1840, via German Bilderbogen 1835-1890, to US newspaper comics (from 1895) where modern comics as we know them were finally established.

Geschichte der Madam Rips und ihres Hundes Bello
(Neuruppiner Bilderbogen, 1835-40)

(Bello comes from 'bellen', to bark. Typical doggie name)

Robert Branston 'The Comical Cat' (1818)

This book contains two stories, the second one (shown below) was a new version of Branston's comical cat (1818), apart from the first picture which in turn was based on the original chapbook from 1806. The drawings are in reverse.

Old Mother Mitten and Her Funny Kitten
(circa 1825)

Huestis & Cozans, 104 Nassau Street, New York
(The original order of the panels seems to have gone astray in this version)

Robert Branston - Dame Wiggins of Lee and her Seven Wonderful Cats (1823)
More an illustrated story than a comic, because not enough of the relevant action is shown visually.
This was a favourite childrens book of the art critic John Ruskin.

The Comical Adventures of the Little Woman, Her Dog and the Pedlar (1820s)
(printed in America, possibly from British plates)

printed in Baltimore, by William Raint
(from the collection of Scott Dechaine)

There are a lot more of these wacky old-Mother-this-Grandma-that picture books.
Below examples of more conventional 19th century stories.

The Two Sisters (circa 1825)
From The Pretty Primer (The Juvenile Gem), Huestis & Cozans, 104 Nassau Street, New York

The Children in the Wood (circa 1825)
published by Dunigan, New York

Adventures of Little Red Riding Hood (circa 1820)
Mark's Edition - Published by Fisk & Little, 82 State-Street, Albany, New York

1840 - 1860 (post Rudolphe Töpffer, pre Wilhelm Busch)

  Alfred Crowquill (Alfred Henry Forrester) 'Pantomime, to be played at home' 1849

George Cruikshank
'The Progress of Mr. Lambkin' (1844)

A story told in 25 tableau-type pictures.

(sorry, the last page needs to be re-scanned)

George Cruikshank
'Premium Discount' (Spoof on dangerous railways)

Comparison between Cruikshank and A.B.Frost -
(Two-panel cartoon which may have been the inspiration for a famous comic by A.B.Frost, part of which is shown)

  Richard Doyle
Pleasure Trips of Brown, Jones and Robertson - from Punch, 1850

(sorry about the quality of these scans. Eventually I'll replace them with large colour scans.)
The last two pages from Punch are the start of a longer narrative, a travelogue comic through Germany and Switzerland. - Very unfortunately for Punch magazine and especially English comics as a whole, the anti-catholic stance (nasty cartoons etc) forced the catholic Doyle to leave the magazine.
He did continue with his narrative, but less experimental, more illustrative, and published the work as a large book in 1854. The sequences here are pure 'comics', but most of the book is not, although it is sequential, and despite Kunzle's reservations, one could regard it as the first graphic novel in English. (Not counting translations of Töpffer).Long narrative comics sequences in English only really started with Winsor McCay's 'Little Nemo' in 1906, half a century later (L.N. started in 1905, but at first it was just separate episodes). The type of long story that Töpffer and Busch came up with, both funny and thoughful at the same time, still is very rare today, in any language.

John Leech

(These scans were made in 2002, and will have to be redone. Still, better than nothing for the moment)
John Leech - 'Mr. Briggs'


Pleasures of Horsekeeping

By the time Mr. Briggs's horse (which suits him exactly) has recovered from his cold, a long frost sets in.

Groom. 'That's just what I say, sir; it is aggeravatin' to see a nice oss like that, sir, a doin' nothin' but eatin' his ed off!'

The Frost goes and Mr. Briggs's horse is disagreeably fresh after his long rest. He sets up his back and squeaks, and plunges at everything he meets.

Mr. Briggs, not being good at his 'fences', goes through the performance of opening a gate.

Mr. Briggs has another day with the hounds.

Mr. Briggs can't bear flying leaps, so he makes for a gap - which is immediately filled by a franctic protectionist, who is vowing that he will pitchfork Mr. Briggs if he comes 'galloperravering' over his fences - danged if he doant !

Mr. Briggs has gone to the exhibition. - A Boy holds his horse in the meantime.

(in speechbaloons) ' Come, you get off you've had your turn' -
'Go along Irish. I shan't ! Why, I aint galloped im yet'

Mr. Briggs starts on his fishing excursion.

Mr. B. won't have a man with him, as he thinks he can manage a punt by himself; and the consequence is, he is obliged to go to bed while his things are dried, having upset himself, as a matter of course.

Mr. Briggs tries (for many hours) a likely place for a perch; but , upon this occasion, the wind is not in a favourable quarter.

Minnow caught by Mr. Briggs,August 23rd 1850. - Exact size of life.

Mr. Briggs thinks of running down the day after to-morrow to his friend Haycock for a day's shooting, and has borrowed a dog to go with him. For the ninth time during the night he has been disturbed by the howling of the animal.

Mr. Briggs no sooner returns to his bed, than Mrs. Briggs says, 'My dear! There's that nasty tiresome dog again!!'

Mr. Briggs has another day's fishing.

He is so fortunate as to catch a large eel.

Triumphant success of Mr. Biggs.

Somehow or other (assisted by his little boy Walter), he catches a Jack, which, to use Mr. B.'s own words, flies at him, and barks like a dog !

Mr. Briggs has another glorious day with the hounds, and gets the brush (for which he pays half-a-sovereign - only don't tell anybody).


Mr. Briggs has backed himself to ride a steeple chase against his friend Muffins, of the St-k Exch-nge. He is going round the course just to look at the jumps.

Spectator (to Mr. B) 'Oh no, sir! - This ain't the Big One. The Big One is after you get out of the lane and afore you come to the brook.

Mr. Briggs Rides his Match

Mr. Briggs is weighed, of course.

His friends recommend him a little jumping powder.

Here he takes a preliminary canter, and puts his horse at a flight of hurdles.

and gets over very cleverly.

Some time after the start, Mr. Briggs goes on the wrong side of the flag, and is obliged to go back, which, as the ground is rather heavy, 'takes it out of old Blunderbuss considerably'.

who, in consequence, makes a mistake at the next fence.

However, Mr. Briggs is not hurt; and after some exertion, remounts.

Mr. Briggs as he appeared, coming to the brook. In the distance may be observed his opponent, who has a nasty fall, but fortunately tumbles on his head.

Mr. Briggs, as he appeared in the brook.

As he appeared when he came out of the brook.

Portrait of Mr. Briggs Winning the race. - N.B. The dense crowd is cheering him.

Mr. Br - ggs (We suppress the Gentleman's name for obvious reasons) thinks he will go to Hampton Races.

On his return from the races, he assures his man that he's a most 'ekshellent servant' - that the mare never carried him better. He also tells him to make the mare quite 'comf-able', and to be 'very caref-l of hish candle' because there's so much straw about!

Mr. Briggs, anxious to become a 'complete angler', studies the 'gentle art' of fly-fishing.

Mr. Briggs goes out. His chief difficulty is, that every time he throws his line - the hooks (of which there are five) will stick behind in his jacket and tr-ws-rs.

Mr. Briggs goes grouse shooting.
9 A.M. His arrival on the moor. - Mr. Briggs says that the fine bracing air makes him so vigorous that he shall never be beat. he also facetiously remarks that he is on 'his native heath', and that his 'name is Macgregor!'
The result of the day's sport will be comunicated by Electric Telegraph.

Mr. Briggs grouse shooting.

11 a.m. Mr. Briggs begins to show symtoms of distress. He finds his 'native heath' a very different thing to his native Flag Stones.

12 a.m. Total prostration of Mr. Briggs.

Mr. Briggs is off again shooting.

Portrait of 1855 (in watercolours)

(Before and After) 1855

The Best Preventive against Sea Sickness, 1855

The Removal of the Snow, 1855

Noddy 1, (Mr. Tom Noddy's first Day with the Hounds after the long Frost) 1855

Noddy 2, (At the Seaside) 1855

Mr. Popplewit, - How Mr. Popplewit enjoyed a day's Rook Shooting, 1855

John Tenniel
(the illustrator of Alice in Wonderland, 1864)

Mr. Piper (1853)

How Mr. Peter Piper Enjoyed a Day's 'Pig-sticking'
Near Burhampoor, Bengal

How Mr. Peter Piper Tried his Hand at Buffalo-shooting
Near Burhampoor, Bengal

How Mr. Peter Piper Was Induced to Join in a Bear-hunt
Near Burhampoor, Bengal

How Mr. Peter Piper Accepted an Invitation
From the Rajah of Rhubburddubdub to Hunt a 'Royal Bengal Tiger'

John Tenniel - Mr Spoonbill 1855
This was published in three installments, in Punch. Nine years later Busch created his famous 'Eispeter' (Peter falls into the same type of hole in the ice and turns into an iceblock). As Busch had already copied Cruikshank's toothache, he possibly found some inspiration in this story as well.

Randolph Caldecott

Click to see full size of the long third panel

George du Maurier
'The Philosopher's Revenge' (Punch 1866)

Chas May

Un sac, un homme, un chien & un tonneau (from 'Album Noel', 1900)

Chas May
Dans la cave (from 'Album Noel', 1900)

Photo Comics
Saluting the Flag - 1912

Hunter and Dog - 1899
'Penny Pictorial Magazine'

Charles Ross & Marie Duval
'Ally Sloper' (magazine pages rearranged for an early reprint in bookform. Original appearance of the strips in the magazine Judy from 1867, this reprint from 1873)

To read the whole book, click on these:

James A. (Affleck) Shepherd

Parrot and Dog (Boys' Own Paper 1891) (uses plot-relevant speechballoons)

Les Grenouilles et le héron (from 'Album Noel', 1900)

James Francis Sullivan

Copyright © 2014 by Andy Konky Kru