Ally Sloper may be the most well-known comic character of the Victorian age today, but he was preceded by John Leech’s world-renowned character Mr. Briggs in 1849. Leech may have had more of an influence on the British comic strip than had Charles Henry Ross. Mr. Briggs first appeared in Punch in a single panel cartoon called ‘The Pleasures of Housekeeping’ in 1849 and thereafter appeared in two panel and full page strip cartoons (in 1851), often using word balloons. He even appeared as a character in text only appearances. It was said he was modeled in appearance on Bradbury Evans, called ‘Pater’ by all the men of Punch.
John Leech (1817-1864) had his first work published in 1835 entitled ‘Etchings and Sketchings by A. Pen, Esq.’, four quarto pages of sketches of London oddities. Some of his political and social lithographs were published by W. Spooner under the titles ‘Droll Doings’ and ‘Funny Characters.’ He contributed to the Gallery of Comicalities issued as supplements to Bell’s Life in London newspaper, and then turned to magazine and book illustration.
His first Punch contribution was published in the fourth number, August 14, 1841. ‘Mr. Briggs and his Doings’ appeared in 1860 and consisted of twelve color fishing scenes featuring the popular character. Punch itself (July 18, 1891, p.4) described Briggs as “Leech’s most delightful character, the simple-minded, sport-loving, philistine paterfamilias…”
|Grolier Club Exhibition watercolour, 1914|
George du Maurier called Mr. Briggs, “whom I look upon as Leech’s masterpiece – the example above all others of the most humorous and good-natured satire that was ever penned or penciled.” Du Maurier would go on to make many of his own character-driven cartoons with Jenkins, Mr. and Mrs. Tom Tit, and Tom Noddy (following an earlier Leech creation by the same name).