How the Victorian comic book magazine was born

Samantha PillingUncategorised


Comic Cuts was the first comic to be created in Britain. It went on to inspire a host of other comic publications by rival publishing companies. Then reporter, Alfred Harmsworth, was its creator and he used the comic to grow his small publishing firm into the largest periodical publishing company in the world, Amalgamated Press.

Story papers, known as Penny Dreadful’s had been the mainstay in entertainment for British children. These one Penny papers were serialised stories, published on a weekly basis and often were padded out with extraneous information, to help extend the instalment quantity.

ComicCuts_001Reporter, Alfred Harmsworth had his finger on the needs of the British reading public. He had already produced his first newspaper, Answers, Harmsworth wanted to produce some cheap and successful periodicals. Assisted by his brother Harold, Comic Cuts became one of their resulting first periodicals and was aimed at the semi-literate working-class reader. With its rather appropriate tagline: amusing without being vulgar, it initially featured a working-class man who got into all sorts of mischief, often suffering as a result.

The first edition of Comic Cuts was published on 17 May 1890. Originally, it was full of reprints from American publications, often without their permission, but it went on to become a firm British favourite. Each comic consisted of a change from the traditional Penny Dreadful papers – instead of having lots of text with few (if any) illustrations, they were in illustrated cartoon strips with little text. The broad term ‘comics’ pays homage, in part, to early titles such as Comic Cuts. It also nicely describes the type of content typical inside these periodicals – humorous content.

comiccutsOver the next thirty years, the face of comic books changed, as publishers realised that the children’s market was a far more lucrative audience. By 1914 most comic book magazines had changed their publications target market accordingly – aiming at eight to twelve-year-olds.

With 3006 issues published, Comic Cuts became one of the longest running comic books in history. It also enabled Alfred Harmsworth to use the profits from it to launch The Daily Mail on 4 May 1896 and The Daily Mirror in 1903.

Comic Cuts ended it’s comic book run when it became merged with Knockout, another popular British comic magazine. Comic Cuts final publication was on 12 September 1953. Meanwhile, Knockout survived another ten years, before its final publication date of 16 February 1963.

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