Ally Sloper and Women
Though George Cruickshank's work was popular, Ally Sloper represented the
humorous working-class male icon in Victorian England.
Sloper was drawn by Charles Bell in his first appearance in Judy magazine in 1867. Two years later Bell married Emilie de Tessier,
who worked under the pseudonym Marie Duval.
David Kunzler's archaeology of attributions, "Marie Duval: A Caricaturist Rediscovered," notes that
Duval's signed cartoons appeared that same year.
She and her husband collaborated on stories about
Ally Sloper, each signing individual works.
Duval is now acknowledged for her
development of the Sloper character from 1869 until rights to the character were sold in 1883.
After this time, Duval's work was reprinted inside Ally Sloper's Half-Holiday with other
illustrators (Baxter, followed by Thomas) creating new cover drawings.
Ross was long credited with the Sloper drawings, while Duval was relegated to inker until the current reality, as
opposed to the Victorian one, made
it possible to imagine that a woman could have innovated within the realm of graphic art.
Duval's inventiveness included use of lines to indicate motion or vibration, comic "pre-cubist" renderings of human figures and, when
Sloper was contained within a border, characters that existed both in and outside of the visual frame.
Though Sloper's initial drawings are sketchy and raw, Duval was capable of traditional drawing and worked on
fashion illustration as well.
In an era in which any occupation other than mother was oftentimes viewed as akin
to prostitution, Marie Duval is an image of a woman who collaborated and
independently produced work that is now considered among the most culturally important
graphic art of the Victorian century.
Historians of comics mark Ally Sloper's
appearance as the genesis of British comics as a separate form of illustration with its own defining characteristics.
Sloper appeared in Judy, a conservative (by its own proclamation) humor magazine geared toward the working-class female.
This humor began with names. Sloping down an alley was a dodge from the rent collector, an "alley sloper," while
a "judy" was slang for female.
Sloper's initial appearances were often accompanied by a Jewish stereotyped figure called Iky Mo (for Issac Moses.) The two would
bumble their way through a series of scams and schemes that never quite turned out as expected. Iky Mo was later
replaced by Sloper's wife as his most often-used foil.
In Victorian Comics, Dennis Gifford notes that Sloper "was the first to appear in comic book format...
a paperback reprint collection...the first to have his own comic paper...and was the longest lived [character] in
After the Dalziel brothers took ownership of the Sloper character in 1883, they made Sloper a precursor to the
ubiquitously marketed comic figure exemplified by Mickey Mouse in the televised era. Sloper had his own fan club membership and had mass reproductions in a
varity of formats available for purchase. Additionally, his image was used to market other products.
In People and Print: 1819-1851, Louis James notes the calendars and almanacs that were so popular during this
time, and which Sloper satirized in the Comic Kalendars, descended from calendars included in books of
hours containing medieval illuminated miniatures, astrological data and saint's days.
Thus illustrations for
these calendars also continue this tradition, albeit with a much-changed aesthetic, format and intent.
Detail. Ally Sloper's "Seasons."
Sloper played the fool while his wife represented the long-suffering (or sometimes exasperated) comedic foil.
Their relationship could embody a "tale type" recalled in The Decameron or The Canterbury Tales or
Mr. and Mrs. Partridge in Tom Jones.
His direct descendants could be Charlie Chaplin and W.C. Fields.
Roger Sabin, in "Ally Sloper: First Comics Superstar?," notes that Chaplin biographers recall Chaplin's statement that the
Little Tramp character evolved from the comics of his childhood. Sabin also notes the similarities
between Sloper and W.C. Fields' comedic personae.
When Sloper appears with women, he is bashful or in a blissful dream fugue whose wordplay images are still bawdy.
Yet he appeared too emasculated by drink to threaten the virtue of middle-class ladies, and too enfeebled by intoxication to
agitate for political
and economic reforms, unlike unruly nationals on the continent still fomenting revolution and counter-revolutions.
Sloper was the unofficial ambassador for the British working class in his "reportage" of world events -- court jester to
power. Again, as Sabin noted, Sloper was a faithful supporter of Queen and Empire.
Sloper's return home as "Lushington," in the Kalendar image to the right, also provides a stylized view of the arrangement
of homes of the period.