Tuesday, 31 January 2017

Ally Sloper

Ally Sloper was Britain's ( and maybe the world's, opinions differ ) first recurring comic character, originally appearing in print in 1867.
He got his name from his practice of sloping off down the nearest alleyway whenever the local debt collector came calling.
In 1976, comics historian Denis Gifford and publisher Alan Class resurrected Ally in this bizarre hybrid of fanzine, underground and mainstream comic that suddenly appeared, unannounced, on comic stands throughout the UK ( in the summer holidays if memory serves ).
Like everyone, I bought it 'cos it was a new comic, and like everyone I didn't know quite what to make of it.
Gifford had the greatest collection of British comics anyone's ever had, and often appeared on TV discussing them, almost singlehandedly trying to bring an air of respectability to the form.
If he had a blind spot, it was that he liked really old British kids comics, and he didn't really like the edgier, slightly more adult ones, like Action or 2000AD, so was much more keen on talking about ( and reprinting ) the comics of his youth.
Which, as a Merry Marvelite / groovy '70's kid, I couldn't've cared less about at the time.
Having said that, Gifford was keen on new and interesting stuff when it fit his remit, so what Ally Sloper feels like now is the equivalent of spending a pleasant afternoon round Denis' house, with him going:' Look at this! And this! And have you read this?! '
What it felt like then was: What IS this thing?
Well it was, throughout it's four issues, Frank Bellamy's last strip, Frank Hampson's new one, Hunt Emerson, Kevin O'Neill, Leo Baxendale, Raymond Briggs and on and on, a real treasure trove in fact.
Such a personal, and eclectic, comic as Ally Sloper never stood much of a chance on the newstands of '70's Britain, even with the mighty Alan Class getting it in every seaside newsagents in the land, but you have to give Gifford credit for being, in some ways, years ahead of everybody else.
Here's the complete first issue.

And here's a brief snippet of Denis surrounded by his collection. Looking at that kitchen, I can't help feeling that these days, they'd probably call him a hoarder and get social services involved.


  1. It’s great to see this again I had forgetten some of these strips like Kaptain Kween. I am sure this will look strange (maybe even a bit dull) to folk seeing this for the first time today, and to be honest it was a bit of both even back in 1976 (gulp was it that long ago?) . Saying that I enjoyed it especially Hunt Emerson’s amazing “Dogman” strip, however the juxtaposition with the then ultra-modern new strips (like Dogman) and the old (even for 1976) “Nipper” etc reprints was of little interest I am sure to your average comic buyer. But “Ally Sloper” will always have a special wee place in my comic book affections.

  2. I only ever saw this issue, which I bought but was quite puzzled by, to be honest. ( I was only 9 at the time. )I'd heard of Frank Bellamy so was interested in the examples of his work but the majority of the mag left me cold. It did however introduce me to the lunacy of Hunt Emerson, for which I'll be eternally grateful...

  3. As I intimated, I felt exactly the same way as you two about Ally Sloper ( and I was 10 at the time BTW ), and the later issues are just as alternately great / weird.
    I still think that panel where Doktor Oktor & Doktor Pus become Doktor Oktorpus is the funniest ( and creepiest ) thing Emerson ever did.
    Like Paul, Ally will always have a special place in my collection.

  4. To be fair to Gifford, I'm not sure any of us are really in a position to criticise his enthusiasm for the comics of his youth over the present:)

    Anyway, love the stylish Bellamy piece, and Hunt Emerson is always great so thanks for the post.


  5. Absolutely, Sean, since doing this post I've certainly been questioning my own personal 'Giffordness' and wondering how ancient and stinky the modern kids might find Bronze Age comics.
    Mind you I was at a comic mart recently, and there was a guy our age with his daughter of about 10/11, and she was being very specific to the dealer that she only wanted Uncle Scrooge comics by Carl Barks.
    And Ally Sloper definitely had something about it - not only did I go out of my way to buy all 4 issues on ebay and spend a day scanning them to post, but this post has had tons of views over a very short period of time.

  6. Yeah... I remember when the BBC reran Thunderbirds in the mid-90s quite a few kids seemed really into the same old repackaged Frank Bellamy TV 21 strips that I'd loved when they were reprinted in Countdown/TV Action back in the 70s.
    But that's Bellamy for you - he had the kind of stylish brilliance that never goes out of fashion.

    More generally, I reckon its easy to overrate old stuff against newer work if you have that youthful connection and history with it.
    Seems quite natural though; so long as you can keep up a bit of an open mind about the next thing (hard I know, given the dunderheads that seem to work as editors these days) I can't see theres anything wrong with, say, still loving Killraven even if it isn't quite the great literary work you might have thought it was when you were a little scrote (that's a notional "you", not you specifically Pete)

    The golden age of comics is twelve:)