First comic character

Ally Sloper, created and drawn by the husband-wife team of Charles Ross and Émilie de Tessier, was the first recurring comic strip character.

Ally Sloper
Charles H. Ross / Public domain

Comic strips emerged out of a wide array of influences and precursors, which means that there’s a lot of debate about the origin of comics as we understand them today. Is the Bayeux Tapestry a comic strip? It has pictures and captions, after all. How about The Glasgow Looking Glass, which was published between 1825 and 1826 and featured illustrations with accompanying text in such amazing adventures as “The History of a Coat”? (Thrilling.)

Rodolphe Töpffer’s 1837 book Histoire de Mr. Vieux Bois was re-published all around Europe and the United States. Richard F. Outcault’s strip The Yellow Kid, beginning in 1895, popularized the comic strip in the States and introduced innovations such as word balloons. (It also was the source of the term “yellow journalism.”)

The Yellow Kid was a recurring character, but he wasn’t the first one. In 1867 the English magazine Judy introduced a comic strip with the character Ally Sloper. He was a quintessential Edwardian / Victorian rogue, created by Charles Ross and illustrated by Émilie de Tessier (under the name Marie Duval).

(Judy, by the way, was a competitor magazine to the venerable Punch; the name was a deliberate allusion to the earlier magazine – “Punch and Judy shows” – in much the same way that Cracked was derived from Mad.)

Unlike the one-off characters in contemporary comics, Ally Sloper kept coming back, and even spun off into his own magazine called Ally Sloper’s Half Holiday in 1884. It was hugely popular, and the magazine kept going until 1916… plus a few unsuccessful attempts at revivals in 1922, 1948, and 1976. Sounds like we’re about due for another one.

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