Comic archivist Alan Clark has just released another great-looking book about British vintage comics, The Laughs of a Nation, focusing on the comics by Gerald G. Swan, the market trader turned publisher behind numerous independent comics of the 1930s to 1950s.
If you’ve already been buying Alan’s books, you should need no persuading to head over to eBay and pick up a copy of this 294 page tome – but if you haven’t, then you most certainly should! Alan’s dedication to charting the history of British comics in his limited edition, non-profit books, is absolutely astonishing, the resulting books an absolute delight.
Gerald Swan was a street trader turned publisher who, from the late 1930s until 1960, issued scores of titles, many of them comics. Born in South Tooting, Wandsworth, London on 23rd January 1902, in 1921 he borrowed thirty shillings (£1.50) from his mother to start his own market stall trading in books and magazines. For many years that stall was at London’s well-known Church Street Market; it was here that he stamped all his stock with the imprint of a Swan.
He became a publisher when World War Two started in 1939, taking the opportunity to start his own line in comics. Having seen how popular the American comic books had been when they arrived in England by various means, sometimes as ballast on cargo ships, he gave his new titles a pronounced US flavour.
Although he established his publishing company before the war, Swan stockpiled his books, rather than distributing them, and thus had a supply of paper when it was rationed during the war. He virtually cornered the magazine market as a result, released hundreds of publications in all fields of fiction.
The first was New Funnies (February 1940); then, in rapid succession, all in 1940, came Topical Funnies (April), Thrill Comics (April), War Comics (May), Slick Fun (June), Fresh Fun (June) and Extra Fun (July).
All initially modelled on the American format they were a huge success and Swan expanded his publications to include all manner of titles, all covered in this book.
British creators who worked on his titles included Harry Banger, perhaps better known for drawing strips for Amalgamated Press titles such as Comic Cuts and Illustrated Chips, and “Koko the Pup” for DC Thomson’s The Magic Comic; the hugely imaginative and versatile Bert Hill; Denis Malcolm Reader, creator of “Cat Girl”, Murdock Stimpson, William Ward, and others.
“Gerald Swan, apart from a small but dedicated cognoscente of collectors and aficionados, is an unsung hero,” Alan argues.
“Not only is he the man who brought American-style comic books to the UK, he’s the publisher who gave artists and writers an essential life line during the darkest of dark times in the Second World War.”
“Moreover, he paid on acceptance of creators’ work instead of on publication, as the big publishers did. That too was an innovation. On the back of that he started a successful – even booming! – business in a time of war; an almost unheard of thing to do. And he did this while providing the morale-boosting philosophy of ‘Laughitoff’ to a population under daily attacks from bombing and the threat of invasion.
“The laughs and thrills in his publications provided much needed temporary light relief to a stressed population,” Alan feels. “As well, Swan gave his creators near total freedom to create scores of interesting characters which you’ll find within these pages. The purpose of this book is to draw readers’ attention to this not so well-known publisher, his output, and the creators he gave space to. Above all, it is a salute to the most remarkable Gerald Swan.”
These wonderful guides to vintage British comics sell out very quickly, with only Ally Sloper and Comic Papers of the Platinum Age still available, in limited numbers of his other enjoyable books, so do check out this new title soon!