Teddy Tail, by Charles Folkard

Charles James Folkard was a British book illustrator and comics artist. He is best remembered as the creator of 'Teddy Tail' (1915-1974), one of the earliest British newspaper comics and one of the earliest "funny animal" comics made in Great Britain, along with Julius Stafford Baker's 'Tiger Tim and the Bruin Boys' (1904-1985). It's furthermore historically important for being one of the first British comics to feature speech balloons.

Illustration for Pinocchio  by Charles Folkard
Illustration for Pinocchio

Folkard was born in 1878 in Lewisham, London, as the son of a merchant's clerk. He attended St. John's Wood School of Art, as well as Goldsmith's College School of Art. He worked as a magician and conjuror in theaters for a while, while designing his own programmes with his drawings. His graphic career kicked off when magazines like Little Folks and the Tatler published his illustrations. With his illustrations for Johann David Wyss' classic novel 'The Swiss Family Robinson' in 1910, Folkard finally got noticed. He was asked to liven up the pages of other classic novels, fairy tales and fables soon after, incuding Carlo Collodi's 'Pinocchio' (1910), 'The Children's Shakespeare' (1910), 'Grimm's Fairy Tales' (1910), 'Aesop's Fables' (1912), 'Arabian Nights' (1913), 'Ottoman Wonder Tales' (1915), 'Mother Goose' Nursery Rhymes' (1919), 'British Fairy and Folk Tales' (1920), 'Alice in Wonderland and Alice Through the Looking-Glass' (1921), 'The Magic Egg' (1922), 'The Troubles of a Gnome' (1922) and 'The Land of Nursery Rhyme' (1932). Most of these books were published by A & C Black and later Dent's Children's Illustrated Classics.

One of Charles Folkard's illustrations for Lewis Carroll's 'Alice in Wonderland'.
One of Charles Folkard's illustrations for Lewis Carroll's 'Alice in Wonderland'.

On 5 April 1915 Folkard created 'Teddy Tail', a daily comic strip about an anthropomorphic mouse, which was published in the newspaper The Daily Mail. Teddy is a mouse with a permanent knot in his tail, a permanent reminder of an attempt to save his friend Dr. Beetle from a hole he had fallen into. The character was named after the creator's son, Ted. All stories take place in a forest, where Teddy's friends live, among them: Dr. Beetle, the Penny Princess, Golliwog and Snail. The narratives are usually based on fairy tales, children's nursery rhymes and occasionally refer to historical events.

'Teddy Tail' is often credited with popularizing British newspaper comics. The stories were so succesful that they were made available in book format and children's annuals. They inspired toys, biscuits, jigsaw puzzles, books, Christmas annuals, a 1920 musical play and even an official fan club, The Teddy Tail League (1933). Soon the Daily Mail made room for more comics while other British newspapers also started publishing comics. Many tried to mimick 'Teddy Tail' by also making comics starring funny animals, such as Bertram Lamb and Austin Bowen Payne's 'Pip, Squeak and Wilfred' (1919-1956) and Mary Tourtel's 'Rupert Bear' (1920).

Teddy Tail by Charles James Folkard
Teddy Tail also ran in the US newspaper The Detroit Free Press in 1919

By 1926 Folkard passed his charming comic series on to his son Harry Folkard. In 1933 'Teddy Tail' was taken over by Herbert Sydney Foxwell who remodelled the mouse as a young child. Foxwell's run also featured new cast members, such as Mrs. Whisker the mouse, Piggy the pig, Kitty Puss the cat and Dougie the duck. During World War Two, Foxwell was drafted into military service and died in 1943. In 1945 'Teddy Tail' was resurrected once more by subsequent illustrators like Arthur Potts and William St. John Glenn. The character was given another makeover and now looked more like a typical animated cartoon character from that era. His adventures continued until 1962.

After leaving the comics medium, Folkard concentrated on book illustration for the rest of his career. He passed away in Hailsham, Sussex, on 26 February 1963.

Illustration by Charles Folkard

Series and books by Charles James Folkard in stock in the Lambiek Webshop:

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