When I first moved to Scotland there were two things that I was excited about. The first was that I would be living in the place where my ancestors lived. I was the first generation of my family to be born and grow up south of the border. The other was getting to live in the country that invented comic books. I envisioned, somewhat romantically, that Scotland’s history and impact in the comic industry would be proudly on display for me to immerse myself in.
But that’s not what I found. The comics I’d read as a young child, The Beano, Dandy, Oor Wullie and The Broons all came from Scotland. These were all gateway comics through which I discovered the artform and went on to read books 2000ad. Where I found work by great Scottish comic creators like Grant Morrison which led me to the more well known comic publishing houses and all they have to offer.
Where is the celebration of tis long illustrious history? I’ve seen the odd acknowledgement of it, like a small display hidden in a corner of the new V&A in Dundee and the Oor Wullie statues that were dotted around Aberdeen for charity a few ago but again I have to ask where is the celebration of it?
Initially that’s what I hope to do with this blog, explore and celebrate Scotland’s impact and importance in the comic book industry.
The First Comic Book...Ever.
In 1934 National Allied Comics was founded and this went on to become Detective Comics (DC), the home of Batman, Wonder Woman, Superman et al. In 1939 Timely Comics was started, this grew into the now Disney owned behemoth Marvel Comics. Over a hundred years before this in 1825 the world’s first comic book was released...in Glasgow.
Glasgow Looking Glass was a comic written in and inspired by the city. And it’s the earliest example of a mass produced comic book. Dr Laurance Grove of Glasgow University delivered a presentation about the comic in 2013 at a major literary conference. Explaining “Tens of thousands of copies, up to 100,000, were distributed to the drinking houses and other properties around Glasgow and then beyond.”
Figures that any comic book publisher in the world today would love to see.
The book which later became known as The Northern Looking Glass, was the brainchild of draughtsman William Heath and was published by one of Glasgow’s earliest lithograph printers John Watson. Released on a fortnightly basis the broadsheet comic was lavishly illustrated and commented on local and international news stories. While also giving humorous and anaric snapshots of life in Glasgow at the time.
Dr Grove said: “It comes out of Glasgow as a fun place, then as now – it’s accessible and affordable and the creative base is here.
“It’s the same as why Glasgow keeps producing Turner Prize winners. Glasgow does it really well. Glasgow tells stories – it’s one big storybook.”
It is widely accepted among experts that the Glasgow Looking Glass predates all other comic books and it undoubtedly was a trailblazer for the comics that we read today.
Ever wondered when speech bubbles were first used? Now you know. Ever wondered when the phrase ‘To be continued…’ was first read by a comic book fan. That’s right, it was in the pages of Glasgow Looking Glass, a hundred years before anyone had even heard the names Marvel or DC.
So, there’s only one way I can sign off this first Untitled blog.
To be continued…