Monday, September 29, 2008

Comic Cuts

The British newspaper cartoon had its origins in the Sunday sporting newspaper Bell's Life in London and its supplemental Gallery of Comicalities. Bell's example was followed by the penny press in such publications as Cleave’s Gazette and Cousin’s Penny Satirist. The Odd Fellow was a weekly satirical newspaper which lasted from 5 Jan 1839 - 10 Dec 1842. The publisher was Henry Hetherington, a radical pressman famous for his Poor Man’s Guardian.

The cartoons appeared always on the front page of the Odd Fellow and were hung up in bookseller’s windows to feed the interest of passers-by. While today we would describe such fare as ‘single-panel cartoons,’ in 1839 these woodcut caricatures were known as ‘cuts,’ sometimes ‘comic cuts.’ The cartoons of the later Punch followed a well-worn trail, basing their publication on the penny Figaro in London, and their cartoons on the popular front-page caricatures of the penny press.

The Editor wrote a mission statement in the first issue of the Odd Fellow;

“We are determined to be an Odd Fellow: and, though it may appear strange to cut a friend, yet we are determined to give our readers a cut every week; but, at the same time, desire them to understand that we wish them to laugh at our designs. We shall not attempt to set the Thames on fire, as we intend to have no match.”

Each number was “illustrated by wood-cuts, characteristic of the ups and downs of the Political World and the manners, customs, and foibles of society.”

The earliest publications containing comic cuts I have found was The Original Comic Magazine: No. 1, With Seven Cuts which cost 6d and was published by another radical pressman, J. Duncombe in 1832. The famous penny blood publisher Edward Lloyd published a penny paper called The Weekly Penny Comic Magazine; or, Repertory of Wit and Humour, edited by Thomas Prest and featuring the cuts of the prolific C. J. Grant, also in 1832.

Comic cuts were soon being published on newspaper sized broadsheets with single and multi-panel cuts similar to the stories issued in comic albums by the Swiss caricaturist Rodolphe Töpffer, although it is doubtful that many of the cartoonists for the radical press would have been familiar with his name or work.

One example of the broadsheets featuring comic cuts was Cleave’s Comicalities, of 1844, advertised as LOTS OF FUN FOR ALL CLASSES One Hundred and Fifty Comic and Humourous Cuts For One Penny. “Each number of this “gallery” is a full-sized newspaper sheet, filled with laughter-provoking caricatures and comic hits.” These popular collections were sold in Fleet-street, Manchester, Glasgow, and Birmingham.

The comic cuts tradition had a long life. Even after the innovations of the coloured American comic supplements with experiments in continuity and the use of word balloons, the old caption strip style continued to be in use into the early days of the 20th century and survives to this day in the form of the modern gag cartoon.

*I'm inclined to credit the illustrator of some of these cuts to C. J. Grant although his work was usually signed CJG. Note also the use of a recurring character in "Joey," a cove with an impressive hat.

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