A new exhibition on the lower ground floor of the Aldham Robarts Library explores the origins of English illustrated magazines, particularly the comic magazines that poked fun at the politicians and establishment figures of the day. The best known is Punch which started in 1841, but there are earlier examples on display such as The Penny Magazine and Saturday Magazine from the 1830s. These were affordable journals for the time, originally with aspirations to play a role in the education of the working classes. They covered topics deemed to be of ‘useful knowledge’ illustrated by large scale, very detailed wood engravings. As printing processes developed, the images became livelier and techniques such as political parody, caricature, satire, running jokes and social commentary evolved into the comedic forms still recognisable in cartoons today.
One of the reasons Punch was so successful was the high quality of the illustrations by artists such as John Leech and C.J. Grant. The weekly issue often contained a large, simply drawn, engraved political cartoon and these are still striking to look at even though the ‘joke’ may be lost to us today. The instantly recognisable figure of Mr. Punch himself was the most popular of the humorous characters, combining qualities of the clown, the outsider, The Lord of Misrule and the friend of the oppressed, to lampoon establishment figures. Punch had many imitators, some included in the current exhibition, but none lasted as long or were so influential.
The two illustrations here show Mr. Punch on a cover from 1866 and a comic figure representing the month of September from Punch’s Almanack, a lucrative spin-off from the original journal also published by the Punch Office. These publications are on display in the exhibition which will run until 20th December. It has been curated by Professor Brian Maidment and Dr Clare Horrocks, both specialists in Victorian periodicals from the School of Humanities and Social Sciences at LJMU. They have lent magazines and prints from their private collections for the exhibition and have written a very informative illustrated catalogue to accompany it. In the Library’s Special Collections we hold a long run of Punch and examples of many other 19th century print journals, available to consult in the Special Collections and American Studies Reading Room between 10am and 4pm Mondays – Fridays.