British Comics at the Fin de Siècle

Ally Sloper

“Some of the Mysteries of Loan and Discount,” Ally Sloper (1867)

Artist: Charles Ross

Published in Judy in 1867, this inaugural strip of Ally Sloper was far ahead of its time, featuring an interesting amalgam of image-text relationships. The opening four panels are word-specific. The first depicts Ally and Iky Mo conversing, and the text tells us what they are conversing about: “As Iky Mo and Ally Sloper could raise no more money on their own account, what was more natural than that they should start a Loan Office, and lend money to others?” The words provide all the relevant information, and the picture serves as decoration. The second, third, and fourth panels stay in that vein, with the illustrations offering partial or faithful representations of the text.

Then come three consecutive gag panels, all dependent on the commixture of image and text. In the first of these panels, which serves as a template for the next two, the text reads, “This is a ‘Meeting of the Board,’” and the image shows Ally and Iky smoking and drinking in a pub. There is an ironic, humorous tension between the picture and the text, implying that meeting at a bar is the closest Ally and Iky come to having an actual board meeting. The reader is invited to laugh at their incompetence in matters of business. In order to create this effect, image and text must work together. However, this panel stands alone, not forming a narrative with the next two. All three are individual, one-off gags. While Ross successfully uses interdependence in a single panel, much like Sullivan does in “The Guy of the Session,” he has not yet cultivated interdependence as a sequential narrative strategy.

In another similarity to Sullivan’s work, Ross uses illustration as a vehicle for characterization. Ally Sloper and Iky Moses embody social and ethnic stereotypes that the Victorian reader would recognize. Sloper, with his bulbous red nose and tattered clothes, is the typical lower middle-class rapscallion – clumsy and not exactly smart, but clever enough to pull off the occasional scam. Moses represents the money-grubbing Jew, perhaps a more offensive stereotype to modern readers. His exaggeratedly Semitic name and nose give him away immediately. These two well-worn character types, culled from a tradition of ethnic caricature going back to Hogarth and Rowlandson, would have placed the average reader on terra firma. This piece of the familiar, placed in the novel context of sequential art, must have been crucial in winning over wary readers.

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