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Know Thy History: Ally Sloper

Horseless carriages ain't nothing but trouble, amirite fellas?

So, class, who was the first comic character?

“Superman!” you say!

No, shut up.

“Um, The Yellow Kid?” You’re getting closer. The Yellow Kid, created by Richard F. Outcault (who was also responsible for previous “Know Thy History” entrant Buster Brown) is often recognized as the first American comic character.

Oh, Ally!

However, if we include our buddies from across the really big pond into the conversation, we’d be fools not to recognize Alexander Sloper… better known as “Ally” Sloper. The guy made his debut way back in August 14, 1867, appearing in Judy magazine (which was a wordplay on the popular periodical Punch). That’s nearly 150 years ago. Or nearly 100 years before Peter Parker donned his Spidey tights.

Ally Sloper — so named after a British collloquialism for people dodging the rent collector by sloping into the alley — was created by Charles H. Ross. He initially handled the illustrations with his wife, Emilie de Tessier, doing the inking duties. Eventually, though, all art duties were handled by Ms. Tessier (who was using the pseudonym Marie du Val). As you may expect, a lady drawing a comic was practically unheard of, ESPECIALLY since comic books didn’t really exist yet. Anyway, this power combo handled the Ally Sloper property for almost two decades.

The two eventually sold the title to Judy‘s publisher, who then created an all new publication called Ally Sloper’s Half Holiday. (And, to dissect another antiquated Britishism, “half holiday” refered to Saturdays, where you’d get off of work on the afternoon — because the entire economy was apparently run by Ebeneezer Scrooge.) He was then illustrated by William Baxter and, more famously, by W. Fletcher Thomas. The comics medium had yet to evolve into something we would recognize today. Half Holiday was a mix of cartoons, strips, and text stories. (Unlike today, where webcomics are accompanied by hastily drawn side comics, character-driven Twitter posts, blogs … hey, wait a minute!) Thus, Alley Sloper is recognized as the first comic character to ever get his own magazine.

So what was Ally Sloper up to? Well, beyond sneaking out of the rent, dude was all about surrounding himself with hot Victorian ladies — and getting into (presumably sexy) fistfights with them. I wonder what his plump wife, who looked a little like Queen Victoria, thought about Ally’s womanizing shenanigans.

Your wife and kids are standing RIGHT THERE! Not cool, dude. Not cool.

You can tell by his big, bulbous red nose that he loves to drink (even going so far as defending his rights politically) and generally has a gay old time. Sometimes he was palling around with Iky Mo, a Jewish stereotype.

Ally’s not all fun and games, though. Man may be fun loving, but he’s got responsibilities. From time to time, he showed a charitable side by feeding the unemployed and saving people from burning buildings. But, man, do not get on his bad side because dude is totally hardcore.

If this sounds very Andy Capp to you, Don Markstein over at Toonopedia suspects that Ally was his inspiration. Meanwhile, Roger Sabin has one of the best Ally Sloper write-ups in the internet. He discusses at depth, for example, Ally Sloper’s early innovations in marketing (Ally Sloper relish, son!) and community building. He claims that Ally was also the inspiration of Charlie Chaplin’s The Tramp character and the inspiration for W.C. Fields in creating his stage and screen persona. Personally, I see a lot of Mr. Bean in the character, too. So while Ally Sloper may have ended during World War I (though brief revivals were attemped in the 40’s and the 70’s), his legacy lives on.

I mean, one of the building blocks of motion picture comedy? Hell of an accomplishment for a comic.

Also was responsible for the invention of the modern street sweeper.

(Links and images taken from the University of Alberta’s Ally Sloper Online Exhibit.)

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About El Santo

Somehow ended up reading and reviewing almost 300 different webcomics. Life is funny, huh? Despite owning two masks, is not actually a luchador.

Posted on November 12, 2010, in comics, Know Thy History, The Webcomic Overlook and tagged . Bookmark the permalink. 9 Comments.

  1. Y’know, I’m really getting a kick out of how interesting and witty these ‘Know Thy History’ articles of yours are, El Santo. I look forward to more, as well as your usual fare of great reviews.

    P.S. Thanks for reviewing Sam and Fuzzy; you’ve introduced me to another great webcomic! I was almost entirely unaware of its existence until you reviewed it, and soon after you did, I went on a reading binge from Book 1 to Book 5. While I do agree that the strip picked up exponentially later on, there was something quite satisfying about getting to see the characters evolve, see some of the old storylines so I could grin when they were referenced, and grin even more so when characters from past arcs were brought back into the light (like Lance and Alexa). Still, different tastes and all that. Again, thanks!

    P.P.S. I hope my extremely lengthy comment about Marilith on the Grab Bag of Delights post didn’t irk you too much. I just realized that my commenting on your review was long overdue, and for some reason, I thought to do it on a more recent post.

    P.P.P.S. How are you and the missus? God bless!

    • Hey,, DM11! The Marilith follow-up probably would’ve been better on the Marilith post. The review’s old, but you’ll be surprised how often the old reviews get accessed. I thought you made some great points, though, and I remember reading that post and slapping myself in the head over why I didn’t address them all, especially the point about how smug all the characters were.

      Glad you liked the Sam & Fuzzy review. And the missus and I are doing great!

  2. If ALly Sloper counts as a comic, then Max and Moritz () were first by any means.

  3. “because the entire economy was apparently run by Ebeneezer Scrooge.”

    ..hahahahaha oh my god you’re so awesome.

  4. Hi there i have one of these half way comic magazines dated from 1902 does anyone know were i could find out its value and possible sell thanks

  5. Thanks for the history on Ally Sloper.
    I’ve been collecting his character items without knowing his backstory. Now I can
    see the similarities with W.C. Fields persona.
    Cheers!

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