British Comics at the Fin de Siècle


“The Pup – What Will He Become?” (192_)

Artist: G.L. Stampa

Published long after the fin de siècle, this strip shows what British comics became after the innovations of that era. The creator, G.L. Stampa (who also went by Giorgio or George Stampa), followed the examples of Tom Browne and Charles Ross in making a career for himself. His first drawing for Punch appeared in March 1894, but another six years went by before he became a fulltime cartoonist. He made a living by selling illustrations to periodicals such as Bystander, Humorist, Graphic, Strand Magazine, London Opinion, Moonshine, Pall Mall Magazine, Sketch, Tatler, Windsor Magazine, Cassell’s, and others.* Even though comics had become popular, comics creators still had to toil in the industry of the illustrated periodical. The medium had not yet moved away from home.

However, it had grown artistically, developing a more sophisticated image-text vernacular. Stampa’s “The Pup – What Will He Become” maintains an interdependent strategy throughout its narrative. The text is short, just a single sentence split up by dashes

“(1) When I bought him as a puppy and the man said – (2) he would grow – (3) into a very – (4) fine house-dog – (5) I forgot to tell him – (6) I live in a very small flat.”

In contrast to the shortness of the sentence, the pictures cover a large expanse of time, as the dog grows from a small puppy into a beast that dwarfs his owner. Thus, the pictures move through time at different pace. While the woman could finish the sentence in a few seconds, the pictures take place over the course of several years. In order to understand the strip, the reader must maintain these two threads concurrently to grasp the overall effect.

This sort of extended, sophisticated play between words and pictures was unheard of only a century earlier. But after the innovations of the fin de siècle, artists like Stampa continued to wed text and image more and more intimately together, trusting that readers would be able to keep up with them.

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