Ally Sloper - the first comic strip?

Have you ever wondered what was the first comic strip? Well the one often cited as the earliest is Alexander “Ally Sloper”, first published in a British satirical magazine called “Judy, or the London serio-comic journal” on August 14 1867. As you might discern from its name (one half of the comic duo Punch and Judy), "Judy" was set up as a rival to the magazine "Punch" with similar content and a slightly lower price. Ally Sloper was a lazy ne’er-do-well who was always trying to outsmart his creditors and landlord with a new scheme. His name indicates his propensity for “sloping” off down the nearest alley to dodge those trying to catch up with him. In fact, many of Sloper’s antics have quite a resonance for today. Has nothing much changed in almost 150 years? The first cartoon depicts Ally starting up a loan sharking business advertising loans with no security, but ultimately running into trouble.

First Ally Sloper cartoon strip

First Ally Sloper cartoon strip (courtesy of Gale's 19th Century UK Periodicals)

Sloper was created by Charles H. Ross and was at first inked, and later fully illustrated by his French wife Emilie de Tessier under the pseudonym Marie Duval – quite a rarity for a woman at that time. Ally became so popular that several collected editions of Sloper cartoons were published in the 1870s. We hold one of these called Some playful episodes in the career of Ally Sloper : late of Fleet Street, Timbuctoo, Wagga Wagga, Millbank, and elsewhere ; with casual references to Iky Mo. Interesting that it refers to “Wagga Wagga in the title!

Title page of Ally Sloper collection

Title page of Ally Sloper collection

As usual, Ally's get rich quick schemes range far and wide, and always get him into strife!

Another scheme fails

Another scheme fails

In fact, Ally became so popular that he was the subject of a play that was performed in Melbourne in 1894  to much acclaim. There was also a famous Tasmanian bred steeplechaser named Ally Sloper – not a good omen I would have thought! However he apparently met with much more success than his namesake, winning several important races