Friday, June 3, 2011

George M. Woodward and the Comic Strip

by John Adcock

“A caricaturist in a country town, like a mad bull in a china-shop, cannot step without noise; so, having made a little noise in my native place, I persuaded my father to let me seek my fortune in town.” -- G. M. Woodward related by Henry Angelo.

Henry Angelo, author and fencing master, included a sketch of Woodward in his Reminiscences;

“It appears that the caricaturist came not to London, like many another wit, pennyless; his father allowed him an annuity of first fifty, and augmented the sum to a hundred pounds. With this income, and what he obtained by working for the publishers, he was enabled to enjoy life in his own way; and might be met, with a tankard of Burton ale before him, seated behind his pipe, nightly at Offley’s; or, if not there, smoking the fragrant weed at the cider-cellar, the Blue Posts, or the Hole in the Wall. Latterly, his rendezvous was transferred to the Brown Bear at Bow-street, where he studied those peculiar species of low characters, the inhabitants of the round-house, and the myrmidons of the police.* Enamoured with the society of these able physiognomists, he ultimately took up his quarters at the Brown Bear, and there, to the lively grief of those tender-hearted associates, one night died, in character, suddenly, with a glass of brandy in his hand.” (*Bow-street runners)
Very little notice has been taken of the caricaturist and illustrator George Moutard Woodward in contemporary or modern histories of caricature, yet, following the example of Hogarth, he was one of the earliest practitioners of the comic strip form in England. There is confusion about his middle name which is spelled ‘Murgatroyd’ by some and ‘Moutard’ by others. He was known to his contemporary’s as ‘Moutard.’

Henry Angelo said of Woodward that ‘The inventive genius of one burlesque designer was exhaustless….” And then goes on to say he was “commonly designated by his merry associates ‘Mustard George.’” Angelo dabbled in caricature as well. He recalled exhibiting his own caricature of the dandy Soubise, titled the ‘Mungo Macaroni,’ in Darley’s shop-window…

Woodward’s exact date of birth is unknown but most sources give it as the year 1760. The Derbyshire Record Office, which has a collection of 500 or so of his drawings and prints (they call him ‘Murgatroyd’ by the way) states he was born ‘in around 1865’ and grew up in Stanton by Dale. Thomas Wright wrote in History of Caricature and Grotesque in Literature and Art;

“There was much of Bunbury’s style in that of Woodward, who had a taste for the same broad caricatures on society, which he executed with a similar spirit. Some of the suites of subjects of this description that he published, such as the series of the Symptoms of the Shop, those of Everybody out of Town, and Everybody in Town, and the specimens of Domestic Phrensy, are extremely clever and amusing. Woodward’s designs were also not infrequently engraved by Rowlandson, who, as usual, imprinted his own style upon them.”
Woodward was not an engraver, he drew in pencil only and his work was finished by many engravers including Isaac Cruikshank, Richard Newton, Thomas Rowlandson and Isaac’s son George Cruikshank. Woodward began his career ‘in around’ 1790 and published popular prints for most of the major publishers; Allen, Holland, Fores, Ackermann and Tegg.

One Tegg print ‘The Art of Walking the Streets of London -- Plate 1st’(1818) was engraved by George Cruikshank from Woodward’s design and 4 rectangular boxes, or panels, with vignettes of the passing crowd seen from a fixed point as though from a moving carriage, even as the background changes. You can look this plate up in Vic Gatrell’s indispensable densely illustrated book City of Laughter (2006) Fig. 13, page 49. It could be argued that ‘The Art of Walking’ is not a comic strip, nonetheless it is a ‘strip’ by design, and has many of the elements of the modern comic strip.

Even closer to a comic strip is the print ‘SIX of the most approved methods of appearing ridiculous on the Ice!!’ from 1797, published by Allen & Co., and reprinted in Woodward’s book ‘Eccentric Excursions’ in 1798 from the same publisher. This print, seen above in a poor copy, follows one figure in six vignettes as he skates to a disastrous fall on his head. It anticipates the photographic studies of motion carried out by Eadweard Muybridge in 1878 and foreshadows stock slapstick comic strip situations of the future. The only thing different from today’s strips is the absence of the speech ‘bubble.’ Woodward was very familiar with balloons but this example was judged perfect without.

Woodward may not have been the only caricaturist, or even the first, drawing sequential prints but he seems to have acted as a gag-man and designer for others. The Richard Newton prints HERE all seem to have been done by Newton to Woodward’s design. Woodward drew many popular prints featuring ghosts. It seems likely that comic strips of the 1820's and 1830's by C. J. Grant, John Leech and George Cruikshank were all influenced by the earlier example of G. M. Woodward.

*Update: This cartoon from this page is provided by Leonardo De Sá


  1. Perfect indeed! Found some other nice examples at Wikipedia Commons:

    ("born ‘in around 1865’"--> 1765)

  2. I'm getting into pre-cinematic forms of slapstick and have found your whole site awesome, this post in particular.

    I like my hotdogs with ketchup and Murgatroyd!