Friday, July 4, 2014
Larks! No. 1 (1893)
Back in 1893 Gilbert Dalziel, who had made his name launching Ally Sloper's Half Holiday in 1884, added a sister comic to his lineup. It was called Larks, and was boasted as "the best of the halfpenny comics", an early comic that was part of the "comic boom", started by Alfred Harmsworth when he launched his halfpenny Comic Cuts in 1890. The cover stars are of huge historical importance. Illustrated by George Gordon Fraser the strip is entitled The Ball's Pond Banditti and they are the first regular child stars of any comic. Sure, children had appeared before but only as one-off characters and almost always as troublemakers who were frowned down upon by readers, but The Ball's Pond Banditti showed a bunch of children having fun. They even smoked and carried guns, two things that would never be allowed today, unless the gun was a water pistol of course. It was a brave move by Dalziel to put them on the cover, especially as Larks, and all comics of the time, were aimed at adults. Perhaps he did consider it a mistake, for they were removed from the cover the following year.
Inside, the paper starts off with an introductory letter from Gilbert Dalziel himself. In it he freely admits that Larks is almost identical to Half Holiday, and that in nine years he hopes that they will each sell as many copies per week. At half the price for the same content it seems surprising at first that Larks wasn't as popular as Half Holiday, but of course it didn't have Ally Sloper's iconic figure backing it up.
As was standard with comics of the time, Larks is eight pages, four are mostly text and four are mostly pictures, the front, back covers and the centre spread having the pictures and the rest the text. Besides the letter the text probably isn't of much interest to readers here so instead I shall skip to the centre spread. There's nothing particularly special on it, just one-off cartoons or strips, but here's a few examples.
Although dated Monday 1st May 1893, Larks actually came out on Friday 28th April, and every Friday from then on, dated for the Monday. It revamped in 1902 and folded on 29th December 1906, after 701 issues had been produced. Amalgamated Press published another comic of the same name from 1927 - 1940, but the two comics are unrelated. I do have an issue of this version which I'll show some time in the next week or so.
This is probably the rarest comic in my collection. Besides the one in the British Library, I know Denis Gifford had a copy that may have been the one sold at auction in 2005, meaning that there are three, maybe four, copies known to exist.