The comic strips of The Graphic and The Illustrated London News: an announcement by Thierry Smolderen, author of Naissances de la bande dessinée.
I've been holding this (more or less) secret for the last six months, but I guess now is the time to announce the big news: hundreds of comic strip stories of the highest artistic quality, published between the 1850s and the first World War, have been completely ignored by historians and scholars despite the fact that they were published in the leading illustrated British weeklies of the second half of the 19th century (1).
I know the claim sounds quite preposterous — indeed, I scarcely believed my own eyes when this material progressively came to light, after a serendipitous find in an antiquarian bookshop in Wales. I now have about 200 tear sheets in my possession.
I'll present the results of my research Saturday the 28th, at 14:00, in the auditorium of the CIBDI, in Angouleme, and in an extensive and fully illustrated article on “Neuvieme Art 2.0” at the end of this month.
Here's a little foretaste of what I've found:
The publication of comic strips started early in the Christmas supplements of the Illustrated London News (the first example I was able to find appears in the Christmas supplement of the Illustrated London News in December 1852).
Two major illustrators, Frederick Barnard (known for his illustrations of Dickens' works) and Harry Furniss (known for his illustration of Lewis Carroll's Sylvie and Bruno), started publishing magnificent large format pages in the Christmas supplements of the Illustrated London News in the late 1860s.
The ILN's big rival -- The Graphic -- started publishing great stories in colour in their own seasonal supplements from the 1870s on: Randolph Caldecott, William Ralston, J.C. Dollman, Reginald Cleaver, A.S. Boyd,H.M. Brock, Tom Browne, are amongst the best of the artists who published comic strip stories in colour in these supplements.
But that's only the least surprising part of the discovery, because during the 1870s, the two large periodicals also started publishing more and more regularly, in their standard issues, some extraordinary pieces of “comic strip journalism” that shed a completely new light on the role of the comic strip form in the emergence of modern visual mass media.
Their regular contributors (Harry Furniss, A.C. Corbould, Joseph Nash, William Ralston, Reginald Cleaver, George Durand, Robert Barnes, A.S. Boyd, Mabel Ince, and many others) combined the light humoristic tone and the flexible graphic imagination of the comic strip artist with the reportorial skill of the visual journalist, to produce sophisticated news stories (in true comic strip format) about sporting, military, or other special events that they personally witnessed (snowstorms, balloon races, naval manoeuvres, exhibitions etc.). Dozens and dozens of news stories of the kind appeared in the pages of the two weeklies.
But the reportorial output of the Graphic took a whole new dimension when the periodical started accepting, from all corners of the British Empire, sketches describing “interesting incidents” (as the editors put it), sent by readers and special correspondents. From the sketches and short description sent by the readers, the artists of the Graphic produced mind boggling comic strips, in one or two pages, reporting (always with a smile) all kind of traveling incidents, some at home (excursions, hunt, etc.) but most of them reflecting the civilian and military life in foreign countries, expeditions in Africa, pleasure cruises on the Mediterranean, transcontinental passages on military ships etc.
Sometimes surprisingly realistic but most often comedic -- and always inventive and surprising -- these forgotten comic strips are bound to change our view on the historical evolution and artistic range of the comic strip form.
(1) The Illustrated London News and The Graphic were clearly the most interesting in terms of circulation and quality, but The Illustrated Times also published comic strips in their supplements in the 1850s, and comic strips were also frequent in a fourth London illustrated weekly, The Illustrated Sporting and Dramatic News.)
1) “An Unfortunate Huntress”, Reginald Cleaver, The Graphic, Xmas supplement, 1899
2) “An Eastern Imbroglio”, A.S. Boyd and Arthur M. Horwood, The Graphic, Xmas supplement, 1896
3) “Tommy Atkins, first interview with an Octopus”, W. Ralston, The Graphic, 06/16/1894
4) “Red Shirt and Broncho Bill invited in Hertfordshire”, A.C. Corbould, The Graphic, 11/12/1887
5) “A Midnight trip to Brighton”, A.C. Corbould, The Graphic 12/31/1887