Alex Fitch

Creating, Distributing and Marketing Ally Sloper – Comics’ First Multimedia Superstar

Ally Sloper was the first British comic multimedia sensation, a character who featured in a popular satirical periodical (Judy) and a variety of his own titles between 1867 and 1916. Created by Charles Henry Ross and greatly developed by Marie Duval, Sloper was also credited as the author of some of his own strips, adding a playful intertextuality between the fiction and authorship. Beyond the page, Sloper was advertised through collectables including watches, pocket knives, greetings cards, condiment bottles, walking sticks and tie pins. Sloper puppets, masks and performances were seen on stage in music halls, comedy revues and pantomimes by the late 19th Century, and on the cinema screen between 1898 and 1921. With an artist of French heritage, and Sloper himself fictionally sent to other continents to report back on the British Empire, the strip was also international in influence and outlook. Early adventures from Judy magazine were reprinted in what might be seen as the first graphic novel: Ally Sloper: A Moral Lesson (1873). Further to this, the performative nature of Sloper in print helped the character to break out into other media, as actors and puppeteers brought him to life on stage and screen, which in turn influenced comedic performances by Charlie Chaplin and other silent movie personalities. Recent interest in the character’s co-creator Marie Duval has seen three books (academic, coffee table and graphic novella) on the cartoonist produced by Simon Grennan and other collaborators over the last three years, and the launch of the online Marie Duval archive by the University of Chester. This paper will explore how the creation and production of Ally Sloper was enormously ahead of its time, invoking proto-feminism and proto-transmedia distribution of the character, anticipating similar phenomena related to comics in the 20th and 21st Centuries.

Alex Fitch has been published on the subjects of comics and film by the University Press of Mississippi, Intellect, McFarland, Strange Attractor, and University of Michigan Library. He has presented a variety of radio shows on these subjects for the Arts Council Radio Station – Resonance 104.4 FM – in London, has previously been an assistant editor of Electric Sheep Magazine, and a co-curator of Cine Excess. He is currently pursuing a PhD on the Representation of Architecture in Comic Books at the University of Brighton.

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