Ally Sloper, Friend of Man

identifier: 2014057 ALLY SLOPER [SOLD]

Wandering through the British Library exhibition ‘Comics Unmasked: Art and Anarchy in the UK’ last week, I was delighted to see on display an ancient, boy-sized ventriloquist’s dummy of Ally Sloper, ‘The Friend of Man’, together with a selection of comics featuring the blustering, lazy schemer. It took me back …

One day in 1976 I was crossing Cambridge Circus in London when I spotted Denis Gifford, champion of British Comics (and British films), comic artist and writer. I accosted him, asking for his autograph on my copy of the first issue of his new magazine, Ally Sloper, a compendium of strip art old and new. “Where did you get that?” he asked, surprised, “I haven’t even see it yet!” I’d just bought it from Dark They Were and Golden Eyed (I seem to remember), the comics and science fiction bookshop that I haunted for some years. He signed it, adding, “First today,” and then – “First ever!” That historic copy recently passed into the collection of a young comics enthusiast.

Denis’s mag was named after the character in Ally Sloper’s Half Holiday, a British comic, first published on 3 May 1884. Wikipedia says: ‘It has a legitimate claim to being the first comic magazine named after and featuring a regular character. Star Ally Sloper … often found “sloping” through alleys to avoid his landlord and other creditors….The “half holiday” referred to in the title was the practice in Victorian Britain of allowing the workers home at lunchtime on a Saturday.’

Originally appearing in print 1867 in Judy, Mr. Sloper settled into his own penny weekly magazine very successfully, sales supposedly pushing 350,000. On 23rd November 1889, Ally Sloper printed a cartoon entitled ‘The quality of Mercier is not strained’ (Shakespeare and Sloper). In January 1889, British newspapers reported:

THE ‘ALLY SLOPER’ LIBEL CASE. A libel case, which has been occupying the attention of the Courts for some days, was on Wednesday brought to a conclusion. It was an action by Mr St. Vincent Mercier, Secretary of St. John’s Hospital for Diseases of the Skin, against Mr Gilbert Dalziel, the proprietor of “Ally Sloper,” for defamation of character. “Ally Sloper” apparently accused the Secretary of appropriating money belonging to the Hospital, and witnesses were called on both sides to prove that this was and this wasn’t so. Mr Mercier seems to have had a very ramshackle way of managing the finances of the institution, but it seems to have been all right, as the jury found for him in a verdict of £300 damages. Mr Dalziel, by the way, refused a few months ago a sum of £100,000 for “Ally Sloper”, so that the verdict should make little difference to him.’ [This version from The Press (New Zealand) 18 March 1889].

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Cheekily, Dalziel used the case as the subject for front-page cartooning. Ally Sloper No.250, February 9th 1889 (Vol.VI.), showed ‘A. SLOPER’s DEFENCE FUND.’ Ally was depicted as a pavement artist, bearing a sign ‘PITY A STONE BROKE LIBELLER’. The pavement art featured BARON POLOK [the judge Sir Charles Edward Pollock], – LOKWOOD [prosecuting counsel F. Lockwood] – and GUY [?], plus the 12-man jury. Ally’s dog is collecting with a chipped mug, ‘A Present from Margate’, and a young Sloperesque character (Tootsie?) is collecting coins in Sloper’s hat, but the crowd seem more keen to throw vegetables and dead-looking cats than money.

The same issue’s cartoon Portrait featured MR. F. LOCKWOOD, Q.C., M.P., F.O.S. [Friend of Sloper?] … ‘We regret to say that the subject of our portrait this week is Mr. Lockwood Q.C. … We do not know how long Mr. Lockwood has followed his present occupation, nor do we care, nor do we know at which of the Billingsgate Board Schools he learnt the gentle lingo which, until recently, we thought was particular to the festive fisherman of that district..’

Evidently the periodical Truth had also been sued by Mercier. The issue of Ally Sloper for 13 April (Vol.VI. No.259) featured a follow-up cartoon, ‘OH LOR’! OH, LOR’!!

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TOOTSIE provided the caption: ‘Papa and Mr. Labouchere spent a very pleasant afternoon last week congratulating one another on the result of the Libel Actions brought against them by Saint Vincent Mercier. As a compliment to Mr. Labouchere, Papa posed as the figure which appears on the front page of Truth, and as a mark of respect to Poor Papa, Mr. Labouchere asked Augustus Sala to be present with his notebook. Papa seems awfully puzzled why he should have to pay £300 damages, while Truth was fined only Forty Shillings. As Herbert Campbell says, ‘No wonder he’s peevish.’ TOOTSIE.

Artwork for both cartoons was by W.F. Thomas. (Augustus Sala was a prolific commentator on society and the arts. Truth, known for its investigative journalism, had been founded by the Liberal politician Henry Labouchère. Herbert Campbell was a popular music hall comedian.)

What’s being offered here are two 1889 issues of Ally Sloper’s Half Holiday, as described above. Each comprises two large folded sheets, forming an 8-page comic, page size 276 x 377mm. With cartoon illustrations by several unnamed artists, jokes and funny stories. They have survived well, being printed on quality paper, and extracted from a bound volume. Some foxing, minor staining, folds, small tears. Some front edges reinforced professionally some time in the past, and one issue has centre folds recently reinforced with Japanese tissue.

Price for both together: [SOLD] Contact:

Lots more about Ally Sloper here:


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