Glasgow publication claims to be first ever comic book


INVENTORS of the television, penicillin and the telephone, Scots may now also be able to claim the comic book too.

The billion dollar comic book industry has been traced back to an early 19th century Glasgow publication, The Glasgow Looking Glass.

According to a documentary due to be broadcast later this year, Scotland’s Amazing Comic Book Heroes the colourful book paved the way for Our Wullie and Spiderman.

The Looking Glass, founded by John Watson made a number of innovative developments including the use of “To Be Continued” – which according to experts is essential to any comic strip – it was also responsible for adding “word balloons” to the format.

This Glasgow publication has a strong case to claim the place in history as the world’s first comic book, a view that was supported by esteemed comic book historian, Denis Gifford.

The first edition was printed on 11 June, 1825, 16 years before London’s Punch, another contender for the title of ‘father’ of the comic book.

While America is famous for bringing super heroes to the world through comics, the earliest cartoon publication from across the Atlantic was The Monthly Sheet of Caricatures in 1830.

John MacLaverty is the producer and director of the forth coming documentary which looks at how many Scottish cartoonists, such as Mark Millar, Grant Morrison and artist Frank Quitely became some of the most influential names in American comics.

The programme’s producer and director said: “I think Glasgow’s role in the invention of the comic book should be much better known.  There should be a tourist industry around it.  Glasgow has a long history of literary innovation and this is one of the earliest cases.”

John McShane, founded AKA Books & Comics in Glasgow which was once a favourite haunt of Morrison and Millar.  In the documentary he said: “John Watson was the originator of what is the first regular comic magazine in the world.  It’s time for a plaque to one of Glasgow’s greatest sons.”

At the time The Glasgow Looking Glass was produced, Watson worked for Thomas Hopkirk, a Justice of the Peace from Dalbeath who owned a lithographic press and ran a Glasgow based printing press.

The characteristic words “to be continued” were first used in the second issue of the Looking Glass, dated 25 June 1825.

It was the tenth issue of the publication when the first artist linked those famous three words into a comic strip this was William Heath with his story Life of a Soldier.

By issue 13 the publication was renamed The Northern Looking Glass, expanded circulation to Edinburgh and introduced word balloons.

Unfortunately the lifespan of The Looking Glass was short and it folded in June 1826.  A letter housed in Glasgow’s Mitchell Library states that Heath left the city two year later.  The letter says that Heath found “little encouragement in Glasgow” and “left that city and remo0ved to London in 1828, where he is now the most popular caricaturist of the present day”.

Heath re-launched the publication in London on January 1 but this lasted just six months and Heath died aged 55 in 1840.

Millar was named by Time magazine as the global comic book writer of the decade and created the comic book which was the basis for the popular film Kick-Ass.  He was thrilled that Glasgow was so integral to the comic book form.

He said: “I have to point out that I’m a proud Coatbridge guy and not actually a Glaswegian.  But Glasgow is my adopted home and if the comic book really did start here it pleases me no end.  It’s something I can lord over all the American writers and artists I work with, along with the phone, television, penicillin and Tarmac.

“It also explains why there’s such a disproportionate number of comic book creators from Scotland with Glaswegians producing all the biggest books for Marvel and DC in New York.  I guess it’s in our blood.

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  1. Hello: Looking Glass had early short comic strips, but there is no way it can claim to be “the first comic book” in a modern sense. That honor falls to Rodolphe Topffer, Geneva, who drew and published long sequential story telling art in book form beginning in 1828. There are numerous google searches one can make to verify such.

    Looking Glass is seminally important in the development of the comic strip, to be sure, and had very early usage of word balloons, yes indeed. The earliest examples I have seen from Looking Glass have just 6-8 panels on just one part of a page.

    For years ego-centric Americans touted the Yellow Kid as “the first comic strip” and serious research has revealed it is not the first of anything. Nationalism should not play a role in factoring the concept of the “first” comic book which began to kick into a higher gear as lithography was developed in the 1820s.

    In 1999 I founded a discussion group called PlatinumAgeComics on yahoogroups exploring the early origins of the comic strip and comic book. There are over 24,000 archived posts there one can peruse which already traces all this stuff.

    Robert Beerbohm

  2. Hi John thanks for the beer. Blast away your Past. A.K.A Michael Smith

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