Thursday, May 18, 2023

On The Queen's Service, A Tale of Many Lands –

 By J.J.G. Bradley

Now,” said the Foreign Secretary, “I have one more instruction to give you, and it is this: you will travel armed to the teeth, and defend your despatches with your life, for their loss may lose England the Crimean War. Travel night and day, sleep, even in your diligence, with one eye open, for perils will beset you every inch of your way – perils the magnitude of which you cannot guess…

There have been very few reprints of 19c penny bloods and dreadfuls, so it is a pleasure to have James Skipp Borlase’s (using the pseudonym “J.J.G. Bradley”) 1878 serial On the Queen’s Service, a Tale of Many Lands brought back to light in an affordable edition by Steve Holland through his imprint Bear Alley Books. It is a handsomely printed paperback, printed on very nice cream paper, with all of the original woodcut illustrations by Warwick Reynolds, who, in addition to his Boy’s Standard illustrations, contributed strips and cartoons to Judy; or, The London Serio-Comic Journal, Funny Folks, and C.H. Ross’s Variety Paper.

In the introduction Steve Holland describes Borlase story as written “clearly and straightforwardly,” true, and an ominous overlay of supernatural doom, mystery, and unreality hangs over Harry Dunbar’s hellish journey to the thick of the fighting in the Crimean Peninsula. The tone is unsettling, to this reader at any rate. 

One strange example is a fixation on the number 3. On his journey Dunbar picks up a traveling companion named Louis Foucarte. Their footsteps are dogged by Russian spies in groups of three, armed with double-barreled guns, and affecting a variety of nationalities; German, French, and Greek, fresh faces every time. Foucarte saves Dunbar from the Germans by bawling out “Potorogna! Brichka! Potorogna!” while holding forth a small square piece of wood painted with a double-headed eagle and bearing the words he had just uttered.

In addition, Foucarte has two doppelgängers, adding up to a trio: Frenchman Louis Foucarte, Kakalogg, a Russian noble, head of all the Russian spies in Europe, and Eugene Polacki, a Polish Count. Many years ago, when the serial was being discussed on the Yahoo Bloods and Dime Novels group one member compared it to Polish Count Jan Potocki’s massive, weird occult book The Manuscript Found in Saragossa (c. 1814). They are not that alike, but I can believe that Borlase quite possibly read the novel and adapted the tone, the idea of a strange and picaresque journey, and much more from that novel.

“A piercing scream, and a woman rushed out of the door, almost naked, with a bleeding shoulder, and in her arms a headless babe.

The passing ball had decapitated it.”

On the Queen’s Service is certainly the most curious penny dreadful Borlase ever penned. It was what collectors of penny dreadfuls described as “fierce bloods,” those serials containing the most blood, gore, flogging and nudity. Borlase was most obliging to those fans, supplying startling and horrible scenes in all his penny romances, and I think only the author of Jack Harkaway (Bracebridge Hemyng) ever surpassed him – in Jack Harkaway Out West Among the Indians.

I would highly recommend On the Queen’s Service, a Tale of Many Lands. As far as penny dreadfuls go it was the perfect choice for a reprint, a classic example of the genre, authored by one of the best of the penny parts novelists of the 1870s. All the Boy’s Standard/Hogarth House titles by J.J.G. Bradley are well worth the reading. It leaves me wanting more of the same, particularly when they are presented as attractively as this title, with the care and attention that they deserve. The book was sent by LULU well packaged, with square corners, no dents, fresh off the press. I think it says a lot that several people, no doubt attracted by the cover, who asked me what I was reading, have expressed interest in borrowing the volume. Next!

Details and Ordering Information can be found HERE.
Available in paperback, Kindle, and, in the UK and USA in hardcover.


Wednesday, May 3, 2023

Harmsworth's Comic Paper Rivals –

Cover: From an oil painting of comic publisher James Henderson, age 50, 1873

Alan Clark continues his dynamic paperback series covering early comic history in the UK by taking a step back in time to the late Victorian and Edwardian era of comic and story papers. (The last two volumes covered Comic Papers Between the Wars 1919-1939). The first issue of Comic Cuts, Harmsworth's first comic paper, was issued on May 17, 1890. It was a halfpenny eight page weekly and he followed up that same year with Illustrated Chips. Although he later distanced himself from the boys’ story papers he published, he was always proud of his comic publications.
At this time he came up with something called the ‘Schemo Magnifico.’ This was a written plan to overwhelm the competition with loads of periodicals featuring ‘bad paper and cheap printing.’ He published For-Get-Me-Not, aimed at ladies and shop-girls, and in 1892, the Funny Wonder. A new comic, Funny Bits: or Roars of Laughter, was registered but never published.

Like its predecessors Harmsworth's Comic Paper Rivals is a comic horn of plenty overflowing with rare photographs, images, history and biography of publishers, journalists, comic artists and story paper authors. The fascinating drawings and photographs include the known and the not-so-well-known, among them Charles Henry Ross, Dan Leno, Frank Richards, Derwent Miall, W.G. Baxter, Jack B. Yeats, John Proctor, Oliver Veal, &c., &c., &c.


[1] Alfred Harmsworth
[2] Trapps Holmes
[3] James Henderson
[4] Gilbert Dalziel
[5] C. Arthur Pearson,
[6] George Newnes
[7] T. Murray Ford
[8] Hits and Misses
[9] Rivals Gallery

Steve Holland's Bear Alley goes into much more detail HERE.

Alan Clark
Harmsworth's Comic Paper Rivals
A Half-Holiday Publication
First Edition 2023

Harmsworth's Comic Paper Rivals and other titles by Alan Clark are available HERE.


Monday, May 1, 2023

Adolph Christian Fera –


[1] LA HERALD, Feb 1, 1913

[2] LA HERALD, Dec 18, 1912

[3] CHICAGO EXAMINER, Sept 21, 1908

[4] LA HERALD, Feb 19, 1913

[5] LA HERALD, Jan 2, 1913

[6] LA HERALD, Feb 24, 1913

[7] LA HERALD, Nov 15, 1913