Tag Archives: comics

Little Orphant Annie

I have an endless fascination with fictional characters who experience long lives and evolutions through by being expounded upon by different artists who keep the character alive and transforming through generations. As surprising as it may seem, few characters really emulate as thoroughly as Little Orphan Annie, whose history is surprisingly longer and more interesting than you might have thought.

Little Orphan Annie

When folks think of the famous Little Orphan Annie they almost always hum ‘Tomorrow’ and other songs from the famous 1977musical. A few will point out that the musical is based off the long running and at one time enormously popular daily comic strip. However, Little Orphan Annie is actually a product of the Victorian era, although she was born in the states, in Indiana.

The original incarnation of Annie was as an 1885 poem by James Whitcomb Riley entitled The Elf Child.

James Whitcomb Riley

He based the poem on a 12 year old orphan girl who lived with him and his family while he was growing up. The girl, Mary Alice Smith, known as Allie to everyone was orphaned when her father died as a soldier in the American Civil War. Riley’s father was also a soldier in the war and when his mother discovered the poor girl’s plight she insisted the girl be brought in to live with the Rileys.

Mary Alice “Allie” Smith

Allie worked alongside the family to earn her keep and in the evenings told the other children stories. It is this image the poem centers on.

The poem gained some popularity and in 1897 for its third printing Riley decided to change the title from The Elf Child to Little Orphant Allie. However the printing house miscast the type and instead of using Allie’s name cast it as Little Orphant Annie. Riley tried to get them to change it, but the poem’s popularity was taking off and the Annie name was becoming widely known, so he let it go.


Little Orphant Annie

The poem uses a midwestern accent, one used by residents of Indiana, and indeed James Whitcomb Riley was known as the Hoosier poet for his prevelant use of this accent in his poetry.

The poem begins by introducing Allie, well, Annie now, and in the following verses she tells the children various morality tales about bad children who meet their fearsome fate.

Little Orphant Annie
Little Orphant Annie’s come to our house to stay,
An’ wash the cups an’ saucers up, an’ brush the crumbs away,
An’ shoo the chickens off the porch, an’ dust the hearth, an’ sweep,
An’ make the fire, an’ bake the bread, an’ earn her board-an’-keep;
An’ all us other children, when the supper-things is done,
We set around the kitchen fire an’ has the mostest fun
A-list’nin’ to the witch-tales ‘at Annie tells about,
An’ the Gobble-uns ‘at gits you
Ef you
Wunst they wuz a little boy wouldn’t say his prayers,–
An’ when he went to bed at night, away up-stairs,
His Mammy heerd him holler, an’ his Daddy heerd him bawl,
An’ when they turn’t the kivvers down, he wuzn’t there at all!
An’ they seeked him in the rafter-room, an’ cubby-hole, an’ press,
An’ seeked him up the chimbly-flue, an’ ever’-wheres, I guess;
But all they ever found wuz thist his pants an’ roundabout:–
An’ the Gobble-uns ‘ll git you
Ef you
An’ one time a little girl ‘ud allus laugh an’ grin,
An’ make fun of ever’ one, an’ all her blood-an’-kin;
An’ wunst, when they was “company,” an’ ole folks wuz there,
She mocked ’em an’ shocked ’em, an’ said she didn’t care!
An’ thist as she kicked her heels, an’ turn’t to run an’ hide,
They wuz two great big Black Things a-standin’ by her side,
An’ they snatched her through the ceilin’ ‘fore she knowed what she’s about!
An’ the Gobble-uns ‘ll git you
Ef you
An’ little Orphant Annie says, when the blaze is blue,
An’ the lamp-wick sputters, an’ the wind goes woo-oo!
An’ you hear the crickets quit, an’ the moon is gray,
An’ the lightnin’-bugs in dew is all squenched away,-You better mind yer parunts, an’ yer teachurs fond an’ dear,
An’ churish them ‘at loves you, an’ dry the orphant’s tear,
An’ he’p the pore an’ needy ones ‘at clusters all about,Er the Gobble-uns ‘ll git you
Ef you
After the renaming of the poem to Little Orphant Annie the poem became nationally famous. It even became a silent film in 1918. i would LOVE to post some footage of it here, but i cannot find any actual footage online.
The next true evolution of Annie occurred in 1915 however, when writer Johnny Gruelle was presented an old rag doll by his young daughter Marcella. He drew a face on it and when she asked for a name, pulled out a book of poems by Riley and saw the poem Little Orphant Annie. He thus named the doll Raggedy Ann.

Raggedy Ann

Raggedy Ann became a sensation. First the doll was produced and then in 1918 Gruelle began writing books about the doll’s adventures. In 1920 he introduced a companion doll and book of stories to go along with him, Raggedy Andy. He went on to write over 35 books about the pair, although the exact number is contested as beginning in the 1940s it is accepted that as grulle began writing less and less Raggedy Ann and Andy books, the publishing house Saalfield would ghost write books and throw Gruelle’s name on it for authenticity.
The dolls are STILL being produced today. My sister had a Raggedy Ann and Andy doll when she was a girl and in 2012 toy giant Hasbro has signed for a new line of plush Raggedy Ann and Andy dolls.
However, a very interesting note on this, Gruelle’s daughter Marcella died at age 13 after receiving a smallpox vaccine at school without her parent’s permission.  There has been speculation that the vaccine was infected although other doctors blamed a heart defect.Gruelle and his wife blamed the vaccine. Gruelle became an outspoken proponent of the anti-vaccination movement and Raggedy Ann for years was used as an anti vaccine symbol.
We will end here for today. Thanks for stopping by, little urchins!

Posted by on June 9, 2012 in Uncategorized


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Popeye The Sailor Man

Created in 1929, this iconic character has lasted over 80 years, through many studios and permutations.

Normally i would write out a long, researched blog taking you through the history of Popeye, but the fact is:

1. I wouldn’t do nearly the fantastic job this video does. Seriously, it’s way too entertaining and informative to possibly compete with.

2. I just simply don’t have the time to write out a lengthy blog.

There’s always lots of things i’m in the mood to cover on any given day, but today is like when you get to see a film in class. Yay! Except you couldn’t click out of class if you got bored or stop the film or write the teacher back profanity laden comments AND the teacher probably actually had some shred of a clue as to what they were talking about most of the time. And instead of learning how the sun and solar system work you learn about a cartoon that eats spinach and kicks the shit out of people. So, you know, it’s kind of like that in no ways except one. There’s a film.

I’m going back to work.



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Posted by on March 29, 2012 in Uncategorized


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Franco-Belgium Comics: Bandes Dessinées

At the center of european comics is the Fraco-Belgium tradition, called bandes dessiness which translates literally to “drawn strips”.

Two of the most famous of these have even made headway in the states, Tintin and Asterix. I myself am a huge Tintin fan, having grown up with them, but only because my mother was a librarian and if you combed the libraries across Pittsburgh, you could find Tintin buried in the stacks and gradually got through most of the series, picking up a couple at one library, a few more at another. I never saw Tintin anywhere outside the libraries and know very few people who were aware of its existence.

At the beginning of the 20th century comics were of course simply run in newspapers and any sort of “comic book” was merely a collection of the newspaper strip finally put all together. In the US the very first original storied “comic book,’ Hogans’ Alley, had run in the last years of the 1800s and invented the speech balloon, a concept which quickly spread across the world and factors into the development of bandes dessinees.

In the 1920s a some franco-belgium artists took comics, which were still mostly goofy, gag related collections of newspaper strips, added the speech balloon and started running with it.

In 1925 Alain Saint-Ogan began Zig et Puce, notable for not only employing speech balloons with no outside text, but creating longer, fantastical and engaging stories. It follows the many adventures of Zig and Puce two teenagers with their pet penguin Alfred. Alfred became a legend unto himself. His name became a comic award for many decades, and Charles Lindbergh flew his famous first transatlantic flight with Alfred the penguin as a mascot.

This paved the way for Tintin, the grandfather off all franco belgium comics. It should be mentioned, we use the term franco-belgium because french is the dominant language in a significant part of belgium and even some of switzerland. The readership and artists working in the tradition are therefore a mixture.

Herge for instance is from Belgium and created Tintin, who actually deserves his own post. Tomorrow let’s say. But in short, Tintin was begun in 1929 and continued until the 1970s, with the 1950s being the most productive period.  The entire adventures of Tintin are collected in 24 volumes.

During WWII the Nazis occupied France and Belgium, and all outside comics and animation were banned. What was produced was carefully censored and after the war strong communist sentiment kept this sort of thing going. Thus Franco-Belgium artists continued the development of their own style.

In the 50s the industry took off. Herge went into full Tintin production mode and other magazines were produced which jump kicked a creative golden era. Spirou et Fantasio was a major player. Though it had begun in 1938, it stopped during the war and wasn’t until after the war when Andre Franquin took over that the tales stopped being silly gags and started tackling long, complex plots with reoccurring characters.

Spirou has had a very long and prestigious career which has spanned  decades and continues to this very day. Numerous teams have written and drawn the adventures of Spirous, Fantasio and the pet squirrep Spip through many ups and down of publishing.

The magazine Pilote became a giant of the industry in the late 50s. It ran serials of several different artists and introduced not only the wildly popular, Redbeard, Moebius’ first hit Bluberry, but the world famous Asterix.

Asterix is of course the 2nd most likely comic to be known across the pond. Asterix and Obelix are two Gauls resisting roman occupation. There have been 34 books in all, several animated movies and even a couple live action movies.

Heroic-Albums is worth mentioning for the fact that they were the first magazine to insist on printing complete stories in their issues. All others printed numerous serialized installments.

The last of these i’ll name is Vaillant. Vaillant was flat out published by The French Communist Party. It began during WWII occupation, published illegally. After the war, the communists in France were quite strong and the entire comics industry felt their power. Herge of Tintin fame had to defend himself against them, as did numerous other comic artists.

Vaillant was the only western comic allowed to be distributed in the Soviet Union. Eventually, in 1965 Vaillant was renamed Pif, due to the popularity of the main character, a dog named Pif. Over time after this change, the continuing serials faded, the content slid, and by the end of the 70s it was on its last legs.

With the late 60s and 70s, just like in the west, franco-belgiuim comics started really freaking out, growing more experimental and vastly more mature. The original Heavy Metal magazine, Metal Hurlant, of the which the american version is said to be only a pale imitation was spawned to great success in 1975.

However, preceding Metal Hurlant was the visionary L’Echo Des Savanes,  pioneering daring, mature work and along with many bold new Franco-Belgian artists such as Moebius, featuring internationally known names such as Neal Adams, Robert Crumb, Wallace Wood, Dick Giordano, Alejandro Jodorowsky, and Bernie Wrightson. It  took inspiration and hired artists from the American underground comix scene of the late 60s. As such it was always racier and more outrightly sexual then Metal Hurlant, which is actually really saying something.

 By the mid 80s there was unquestionably an outright overdose of sex and violence, misogyny style . However, since the 90s science fiction/fantasy stories have flourished especially in graphic novel format, boasting extraordinary art and creative storytelling. In recent years, just as Japanese manga has swept the rest of the world, their are currently many mergings of the two styles. The fact is, the bandes dessinees is directly responsible for the graphic novel as it exist today, influencing american comic publishing as well as being a giant of european graphic storytelling.

 I leave you with a cover for the greatest comic that never was:

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Posted by on March 15, 2012 in Uncategorized


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The second creative death worth noting this last week was that of French comic artist Moebius, 1938 – 2012.

Moebius was a key figure in bringing comic art out from a juvenile market and into a more sophisticated artform, worthy of appreciation beyond adolescence.

His style and background is very European. European comics are rooted in a French style that spans French speaking Belgium and Switzerland as well as France and has played a pivotal influence on the rest of Europe. We’ll get into this in greater detail tomorrow, but suffice to say that during and after WWII American comics were either banned or extraordinarily difficult to get for many years, and so a completely different style emerged.

Jean Giraud, or Moebius began working the 1950s, when comics were still oriented solely towards a youth market, although stand outs like the wonderful Tintin were an inspiration to show the medium could be far more than silly gags and simple, plodding stories.  Moebius’ first stories in the 50s were Westerns. Eventually in 1963 Moebius and writer Jean-Michel Charlier created the very successful Western character Blueberry. During his work on Blueberry through the 60s Moebius’ techniques grew in leaps in bounds and by the 70s he was ready to branch out and stretch his wings.

In 1975 Jean Giraud stopped being Jean Giraud and became Moebius, a pseudonym he had used briefly in 1963. It was the name under which he would do his science fiction and fantasy work which would explore and push the boundaries of panelled storytelling. He and a group of other comic visionaries began the famous Metal Hurlant (Heavy Metal) magazine which blew the confines of the medium wide open during the second half of the 70s and into the 80s.


American readers may be familiar with Heavy Metal magazine. However, it must be stated strongly, that the American version is not completely identical with the French. The American one was started several years after the French one when publisher  Leonard Mogel saw Metal Hurlant in Paris and begged them to let him publish a licensed American version. At first the American one published mostly reproductions of the French version, but soon went its own way and became quite a different entity in terms of style and content.

Many fans of Metal Hurlant are dismissive of the US Heavy Metal or at least it’s later 80s incarnation, and while at first the US counterpart was a major breath of fresh air in the US market, the magazine grew a bit base and overindulgent in being “adult” vs. excellence of story and art. Heavy Metal did spawn Marvel comic’s absolutely astounding Epic magazine, which was more in the spirit of what the French version had been trying to do and featured vastly more inventive comics, including plenty of selections from Moebius himself, which is where i first stumbled across him.

Moebius went on to produce a long stream of sci-fi/fantasy graphic stories. His work is enormously influencial on all European comics that have come since. Euro-comics are far more sci-fi, fantasy based, with elements of visual surrealism and nary a superhero in sight.  Much like Moebius’ signature work.

He did storyboards for several big movies including Aliens, Tron, The Fifth Element (always really liked that movie, ever sure why it doesn’t get more respect) and The Empire Strikes Back.

Farewell Moebius. You float through a surreal landscape now. Let’s sit back and enjoy a bit, shall we?

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Posted by on March 14, 2012 in Uncategorized


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Spring Heeled Jack: The 1st Super Villain?

One character who was an early fixture of penny dreadfuls was Spring Heeled Jack. He would leap in out of nowhere, slap you, cop a feel, or rip your dress and then leap away. He could leap over tall shrubbery, spit blue fire, and was impervious to bullets.

If this sounds anywhere between interesting and mildly ridiculous, the character was in fact a real life legend. There was indeed a Spring Heeled Jack who leapt around London,  assaulting women, slapping men, breathing blue fire and dodging bullets. This is his story.

In 1808 a letter to the Sheffield Times recounted how in their neighborhood existed a legend about a ghostly figure referred to as The Park Ghost or Spring Heeled Jack who could make enormous leaps and enjoyed frightening passers by.

All well and fine. Fast forward to September, 1837. A man reports he was walking outside a cemetery when a muscular male with devilishly pointed ears and glowing red eyes leapt over the cemetery fence, landed in front of him, then leapt away.

Shortly thereafter a barmaid named Polly Adams and two other women were walking outside Blackheath Fair when a man with the same description leapt in out of nowhere, tore Ms. Adam’s dress, felt up her boob and then scratched her stomach before bounding off again.

One month later, in October, a young servant girl named Mary Stevens was walking to work when the same character leapt in, grabbed her, and began kissing her face while ripping her clothes. She screamed and off he went.

The next day the same guy leapt into the middle of the street causing a carriage to swerve and tip over. Witnesses claim the perpetrator then jumped over a 9 foot wall laughing maniacally. A few days later, same dude appeared again, but this time left deep tracks in the mud from which the police concluded he had leapt from a substantial height. One investigator noted the tracks hinted to some gadgetry being used in his shoes, such as a compressed spring.

In 1838, the Lord Mayor, Sir John Cowan publicized these events and was soon flooded with a barrage of letters all describing similar shenanigans. The mysterious figure was officially dubbed Spring Heeled Jack.

He had two more publicized appearances in 1838, one where Jane Alsop received a knock at her front door from a man claiming to be a police officer, needing a light for “we have caught Spring-heeled Jack here in the lane”. She brought him a candle at which point he threw off his cloak and vomited blue flame at her face, His eyes, as usual were glowing red and he wore a big helmet. He grabbed her and tore at her clothes with his claws. She screamed and tried to get away. He proceeded to tear at her neck and arms but her sister appeared and away he leapt.

Also in Feb 1838, 18 year old Lucy Sales and her sister were passing along Green Dragon Alley when a figure suddenly spat blue flames her. She was blinded and suddenly dropped to ground having a violent fit that ended up lasting for hours (seizure?). When this happened, the figure turned and quickly walked away.

Spring Heeled Jack became a darling of the penny dreadfuls. Tales of his evil exploits abounded for years and his face gradually acquired a devil-mask that had never existed in the reports prior. After many, many years, as the dreadfuls were cleaning up a bit and catering to a youthful audience, Jack became a good guy, leaping in to save damsels in distress.

As to who he was, Polly Adams claimed among other things that he looked a great deal like the Marquis of Waterford, which was notable since rumors were consecutively flying that the Marquis had agreed to a bet put forth by several friends one night while they were drinking. The Marquis, a known dickhead with a terrible reputation regarding women had bragged he could create a notorious character as a way of “getting even” with police and women in general.

The Marquis of Waterford was in fact frequently in the news in the late 1830s for drunken brawling, brutal jokes and vandalism, and was said to do anything for a bet. His shenanigans and his contempt for women earned him the moniker the Mad Marquis, and it was indeed established that he was present in the London area when the first Spring Heeled Jack incidents took place.

He was a major suspect. However, after 1838, confirmed Spring Heeled Jack sightings dried up until 1843 when a new wave suddenly appeared. However, by this time, the Marquis was married and living in Ireland.

Spring Heeled Jack had some appearances in 1843, in the 1850s and the last confirmed incidents throughout the 1870s. The very last confimred sighting in 1877 is interesting. Spring Heeled Jack leapt into the midst of a squad of soldiers and “slapped one soundly”. One of the soldiers claimed to have shot Spring Heeled Jack and heard a hollow, metallic sound, at which point Jack belched blue flame at him and leapt away perfectly unharmed.  A few days later a mob caught sight of Jack, and laid chase. Though they too claim to have shot him, he never slowed, and jumped right out of the area.

Unconfirmed sightings of jack have continued into the 20th century. There was spree in the 1970s and a sighting in 1986. By the late 20th century demonic ghosts were no longer in fashion and so of course out comes the UFO speculations, claiming that he was/is an extraterrestrial.

If you ask me, most likely he began as the Marquis, but subsequent persons have picked up the prank. Certainly some sightings are probably imagination and embellishment. My bet is every so often some strange lad decides to take his turn as Spring Heeled Jack and delights in a notorious small spree .

Or it’s a demonic alien ghost. Hell, i don’t know. But there you have it, the Legend Of Spring Heeled Jack.


Posted by on February 18, 2012 in Uncategorized


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Penny Gaffs

From 1830 to 1870, the exact time the macabre and violent incarnations of the penny dreadful were being published, otherwise known as penny bloods, a complementary form of theater was also taking place, Penny Gaffs.

The penny gaff alludes to attending a cock fight for a penny, but the actual penny gaff had lost the chickens and put bawdy performances in their place. The penny dreadful and the penny gaff entwine in many ways, beginning with the obvious; both cost a penny.

As such they were clearly for the lower, barely or non educated classes. Penny gaffs even more so, because you at least needed to be literate to read a penny dreadful. The gaffs being a live event didn’t even require that. It was especially  popular amongst a younger crowd; 20 somethings, teenagers, even many poor children would attend. Because of the high number of underage attendees, there was no price reduction for age otherwise it would cut drastically into the profit margin. Large or small you paid your penny and went in.

You might go into a shop which doubled as a temporary theater at night, or the backroom of a pub, where some makeshift stage had been assembled. The idea was to emulate the popular music hall that the middle classes were enjoying. In the poor areas of London there might be 20 penny gaffs going on in a 5 mile radius.

Each performance would last and hour and a half to 2 hours, then everybody OUT and the next round in and the next show is on. You would pay your penny, go to a room to wait for the performance area to clear, then be herded in.

A Master of Ceremonies of sorts would appear to warm up the audience and introduce the acts. The humor was overwhelming raunchy and low brow. Some singers would sing, often bawdy or patriotic, jingoistic song, some clowing would ensue and short plays and vignettes would be performed.

The short plays are where we find another connection with the penny dreadfuls. They were most often about the same highwaymen, robbers and criminals which appeared the dreadfuls. In fact both the dreadful and the gaff took their criminal protagonists from the same source.

The Newgate Calender was one of the most popular periodicals of the 18th and 19th centuries. It was originally a monthly bulletin of executions. Biographies of some of the executed criminals would appear and by the mid 19th century it was fully of immensely embellished anecdotes about criminals who became infamous and the stars of the penny gaffs and penny dreadfuls.

The Newgate Calender contained heavy handed lessons about the horrors of Catholicism, foreigners,  and every manner of vice while practically bursting into loving tears over the subjects of Protestantism, patriotism, capital, punishment and royalty. Just in case you think things are any different today than they’ve ever been.

The plays and vignettes would feature the exploits of some famous criminal like Dick Turpin or Jack Sheppard. Some would retell and dramatize the incidents of a famous bloody crime, the more Manson-like the better.

The crowd would eat it up. Between the raunchy sex and the violence it was enormously popular amongst both young men and women of the lower classes. The shows were roudy affairs, although with a large degree of patriotism thrown in whenever possible.

Naturally the more puritan aspects of British society considered the penny gaffs to be a hotbed of vice and criminals and labored for years to have them banned.

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Posted by on February 15, 2012 in Uncategorized


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Penny Dreadfuls II: From Blood To Boys

For decades, since their conception in 1832, Penny Dreadfuls, 8 pages of lurid tales printed on cheap paper and sold for a penny, specialized in highly gruesome material.

For the first 10 years or so there was a fair amount of romance mixed in as they initially attempted to rip off gothic novels, but the fact is, the horror and crime titles are what sold and they eventually dominated the penny dreadful landscape. In fact, another name for Penny Dreadfuls were Penny Bloods.

The typical reader of the dreadful was barely literate. The 8 pages were not dedicated to character development and layered themes. The point was to get to the action. Often a literate working class man at the pub would read the latest installment of Sweeney Todd and his murderous shenanigans to a table of his illiterate mates.

However more and more children were becoming literate too. In 1866 Edwin J Brent began publishing The Boys Of England, which featured tales of adventure with schoolboys as the heroes. It introduced the character of Jack Harkaway, who became beloved by an entire generation of british boys, and Boys Of England soared to record sales.

Thus penny dreadfuls began the shift to the youth market. Sweeny Todd and Varney the Vampire continued to sell well and heaven knows, boys ate their adventures up with great relish also, but despite everyone’s assumption that the working class youth was out of their minds with lust for the high gore content of the penny bloods, the truth was that they perferred high adventure and heroism with protagonists they could identify with over the murderous content that had thrilled their fathers.

As far as their fathers went, as the 1800s rolled on more and more periodicals began to be printed cheaply for a working class audience. Newspapers were a little expensive and difficult to read, but sure enough, tabloid press started to appear, culminating in the Daily Mirror and the Daily Mail, the father of tabloid rags, still around today.

Thus the adult audience drifted away and the youth audience drifted in. From the 1870s to 1900 penny dreadfuls became cheap adventure serials for boys. (We’ll touch on what on earth girls had to bloody well amuse themselves with, although Victorian society being victorian society the content is not nearly as interesting and indeed was mostly morality and virtue lessons.) Dreadful after dreadful started throwing the word ‘Boy’ into every title.

Boys could not often afford the penny to buy their favorite dreadfuls, especially if they wanted to follow more than one. And thus the great tradition of the Boys’ Club came to the rescue.

Men form clubs. Boys form clubs. Groups of boys would pool their money together to buy their favorite dreadful(s) and pass them around.

New stars emerged.  Tom Wildrake, Jack Harkaway, Tom Merry, Billy Bunter… Tom Wildrake, introduced in 1870 was particularly influential on the genre as it established certain tropes most later heroes followed. The story goes through the hero’s school days after which he gets on a boat and sets sail for some exotic location, like the Wild West or the Orient and of course high adventure ensues.

By the 1880s the transition was complete. Penny dreadful were entirely youth based and many groups concerned with the corrupting infulence of the penny dreadfuls on their children were publishing their own versions, with careful morality tales always built in.

Dime novels were big in the states. They were the cheap mass market paperbacks on the 1800s and they would be imported to England and serialized in the dreadfuls.  The American West was in fact a source of never ending fascination and gave rise to characters such as Deadwood Dick, an immensely popular wild west outlaw who, along with Sexton Blake, lived long past the end of the dreadfuls. Deadwood Dick not only found himself the subject of many pulp adventures but starred in movie serials in the 1930s. He was so well known, that a number of actual American men living in infamous Deadwood, South Dakota adopted the name to increase their notoriety.

As the 20th century hit, perdiocals featuring adventure tales were being put out which were longer, featured more stories, and cost a bit more. Thus the transition to pulp books began.

The moral watchdogs of Victorian society had been decrying the dreadfuls for decades. Interestingly, the transformation of the penny dreadful from lurid to youth entertainment had done nothing to silence the critics. Indeed, the most vocal elements against them were opposed to escapist fiction of any type, especially for the the young. They blamed escapist fiction for juvenile crime utterly ignoring such petty reasons as poverty and prostitution. Actually, at the height of the storypaper boom juvenile crime went down.

In 1893 published Alfred Harmsworth took it upon himself to end the penny dreadful market and its corrupting influence upon the young by publishing story rags at a HALF penny, but with well written, highly moral tales. He began The Union Jack. The Union Jack story is quite famous as within a few years the Hamrsworth publication had resorted to the exact same level as the penny dreadfuls he was trying to run out. The creator of Winnie The Pooh, A.A. Milne was quoted as saying “Harmsworth killed the penny dreadful by the simple process of producing the ha’penny dreadfuller.”

Leading up the WWI another change that signaled the end of the penny dreadful was the invention of the comic. Basically, the cheap rags that were the penny dreadful started becoming devoted to reprinting comic strips and eventually serialized comics, which attracted the young and the barely literate formally wooed by the dreadful. Adventure tales moved to pulp magazines and with the paper drives of WWI the era penny dreadful was well and truly finished. Afterwards it was comics and pulps.

By the late 20th century of course the comic book had become dominant and people such as myself grew up reading the fantastic, serialized adventures of mighty heroes battling nefarious villains in fantastic and often cosmic settings. Comic books combined what had been the comic and the pulp.

As for the literate once catered to by the pulp, in recent years there has been a sudden explosion in the market for childrens and young adult books. Spurred on by Harry Potter the young adult book market occupies a place the penny dreadful and the pulp novel once did. Supernatural elements, gothic romances, adventure stories, fantastical heroes, it’s all there. Hell, VAMPIRES! Remember the runaway success of the Varney the Vampire penny dreadful? Well….vampires, still around. Still selling. Still dominating the same market.  And even better, the writing of young adult fiction, while not always pulitzer prize winning, is consistently better then many of the predecessors AND is quite friendly to the female market, offering girls also fantastic and imaginative adventures.


Posted by on February 13, 2012 in Uncategorized


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