Stonehenge, by Denis Gifford
'Stonehenge Kit'. 

Denis Gifford was a British comic artist and historian. The first half of his career was spent being part of comics history, the second half promoting and archiving it. He drew and wrote both superhero comics, humor comics, western comics and puzzle comics. Most were continuations of other artists' series, but he also created series of his own. 'Mr. Muscle' (1945), 'Streamline' (1947) and 'Tiger-Man' (1949) popularized the superhero genre in Great Britain, while his puzzle comic 'Steadfast McStaunch' (1950-1952) challenged little readers' brains. In the second half of his career, he became one of Britain's most foremost comic experts. He build up a colossal collection that took up every possible spot of his house. Gifford also established various comic fanzines, conventions and the short-lived Ally Sloper Award. He additionally laid the foundations for the Comics Creators Guild and Association of Enthusiasts. His efforts not only gave comics more respectability, but also uncovered valuable information and saved it for future generations.

Early life and comic career
Denis Gifford was born in 1927 on Boxing Day, in Forest Hill, London. From a young age, he devoured comics. He made his earliest comic strip, 'The Ragtime', when he was still a boy. At age 15, he spent his after school hours drawing the adventures of the child superhero 'Pansy Potter', originally created by Hugh McNeill, published in the British comic magazine The Beano. After a brief spell as junior cartoonist on Reynold's News, World War II broke out. Gifford was drafted into the Royal Air Force, where he spent his duty weekends drawing a superhero comic book, 'Streamline' (1947), for a Manchester publisher. Gifford created the superheroes 'Mr. Muscle' (1945), who appeared in Dynamic Comics, and 'Tiger-Man' (1949). While not the first British superheroes in history (that honour goes to Nat Brand's 'Derickson Dene' from 1939) Gifford can be credited with popularizing the genre in his native country.

Post-war comic career
After World War II, Gifford set up a studio with future comedian Bob Monkhouse, with whom, in the late 1940s, he also performed as a comedy act. Gifford produced complete comics for many small publishers and joined Knockout magazine, where he took over the popular favorites 'Our Ernie' (created by Charles Holt, 1950) and 'Stonehenge Kit the Ancient Brit'. Gifford and Monkhouse also drew and edited Fizz Comics (1949) and Star Comics (1954), which featured celebrity comics about the comedians Morecambe and Wise, Jill Day, Monkhouse himself and movie character Tobor The Great. He also created the puzzle comic 'Steadfast McStaunch' (1950-1952): a mix of puzzles, optical illusions and dot-de-dots. Together with Mick Anglo he worked on 'Space Comics' (1953-1954) and joined Anglo's studio soon afterwards. There he worked on their popular superhero 'Marvelman' and the gag comics 'Flip and Flop' and 'The Friendly Soul'. He also provided western comics such as 'Gunhawks Western' (1960-1961) and 'Our Lad' (1961) and the gag comic 'Dan Dan the TV Man'. Gifford additionally drew the daily satire strip 'Telestrip' in the London Evening News and made series like 'Simon the Simple Sleuth', 'William Wagtail' and 'Dicky Diddle'. For reasons that remain unclear, Denis Gifford was allowed to sign his work, when most of the other British and Scottish artists working for publisher DC Thompson remained anonymous to their readership.


'Steadfast McStaunch'.

Comics collecting and writing
By the early 1960s, Gifford put down his pencil and left the comic industry as an active graphic contributor. Instead, he spent most of his time collecting and promoting comics. Since childhood, he had bought hundreds of books, papers, weeklies, monthlies and advertisements with comics printed inside.  He was interested in every possible author, genre or era. Gifford also collected comic-related merchandising. Although he also bought foreign comics, he mostly concentrated on works from his home country. At a certain point, every available spot in Gifford's house had become a storage place. Even his fridge and oven! Soon his collection was officially recognized as the largest of its kind in the United Kingdom. It gave comic historians valuable insight in the history of the medium. It also helped Gifford, who wrote several articles and over 50 books about the topic.

His 'The British Comics Catalogue, 1874-1974' (Greenwood Press, 1974) was the first standard work on British comic history, followed by the price guides 'British Comics, Story Papers, Picture Libraries, Girls Papers, American Reprints, Facsmilies, Giveaways Price Guide' (Association of Comics Enthusiasts, 1982) and 'The Story Paper Price Guide' (Association of Comic Enthusiasts, 1989). He also published titles focusing on newspaper comics ('Stap Me! History of the British Newspaper Strip', Shire Publications [1971]), 19th-century comics and picture stories ('Victorian Comics', George Allen & Unwin [1974]), comics starring Charlie Chaplin ('The Comic Art of Charlie Chaplin', Hawk Books, 1989) and comics released during the 1940s and 1950s ('Comics at War' [Hawk Books, 1987], 'Super Duper Supermen! Comic Book Heroes from the Forties and Fifties' [Greenwood, 1992] and 'Space Aces! Comic Book Heroes from the Forties and the Fifties' [Greenwood, 1992]). Gifford also released compilations of comics which originally appeared in magazines such as Eagle, Girl and Boy's Own, including the book 'Cartoon Aid' (Band Aid Trust for Comic Relief, 1987), of which the profits went to a good cause.

Mr Muscle
'Mr. Muscle'. 

Comics promotion
As early as the 1950s, Gifford published fanzines about comics. By the 1970s, he organized several comic conventions. In 1976 he created Comics 101, a convention focused specifically on British comic artists. The same year Gifford also launched the Ally Sloper Awards, an annual prize for British comic artists. It was named after Charles H. Ross and Émilie de Tessier's iconic 19th-century comic character Ally Sloper, widely considered to be the birth point of British comics. He even tried to revive the 19th-century comic magazine Ally Sloper Magazine, but 1976 audiences didn't have particular interest for it and it folded after only four issues. The Ally Sloper Awards also sizzled out in 1982. Gifford co-founded the Society of Strip Illustration (1977), later renamed The Comic Creators Guild, an organisation for comic writers and artists. A year later, a similar organisation, but for fans, was established: The Association of Enthusiasts (1978). This society had its own newsletter, Comic Cuts, and fanzine, The Illustrated Comics Journal.

Gifford felt frustrated that comics had gained social acceptance and academic interest in the United States and Continental Europe, but were still regarded as throwaway pulp in his homeland. He made it a personal quest to warm the British population up to it. He frequently talked about comics on the consumer TV show 'On The Braden Beat' (1962-1967). Together with Bob Monkhouse, he hosted the BBC radio shows 'Sixpence for a Superman' (1999) and 'A Hundred Laughs for a Ha'penny' (1999), which chronicled the history of comics. Whenever a notable comic creator died, Gifford was usually invited by the press as an expert spokesman, or to write an obituary.

Film publications
Apart from comics, Gifford also took an interest in film. He personally made comprehensive catalogues of every British film ever made, such as 'The British Film Catalogue, 1895-1970: A Reference Guide' (1970) and one about animated films: 'British Animated Films, 1895-1985: A Filmography' (1985). Comedy, science fiction, fantasy and horror were also dear to his heart. He wrote several books and articles about people such as Charlie Chaplin, Laurel & Hardy, the Goons and Boris Karloff. Gifford also directed a handful of advertising and public information films.

cover by Denis Gifford and W.G. Baxter
'Ally Sloper' compilation book and 'The International Book of Comics'.

Controversy
While Gifford's passion and efforts mapped the history of British comics production from its earliest beginnings until the present time, he was not without controversy. He tended to see his own country as the birthplace of comics, even though other countries had similar or more ancient comic traditions. Gifford cited William Hogarth as the earliest prototypical comic artist. He named Thomas Rowlandson's 'Dr. Syntax' (1809) the first comic strip with a recurring hero and credited Thomas Hopkirk and John Watson's 'The Glasgow Looking Glass' (1825) as the first comic magazine in Europe, "perhaps in the world", since it featured early comics by William Heath. To him, 'Ally Sloper' (1867) by Charles H. Ross and Émilie de Tessier was the first comic strip in history, ignoring the much older work by Swiss artist Rodolphe Töpffer (1827) and German artist Wilhelm Busch (1865-1866). Gifford's stubbornly kept citing 'Ally Sloper' as the first comic character ever. Even when he visited the Lucca Comics Festival in 1989 and was invited to put his name under an official declaration that hailed Richard F. Outcault's 'The Yellow Kid' (1895) as the debut of modern comics, Gifford did so, but signed it as "Ally Sloper". In the same way, he advocated The Dandy (1937) as the first comic magazine in history, despite the existence of the much older Italian magazines Corriere dei Piccoli (1908), Il Giornalino (1924) and the American publication Detective Comics (1937).

Another controversial matter was his stance against adult comics. Gifford initially didn't like underground comix, which he deemed harmful to minors. When a media frenzy brook out over Tom Tully, Barrie Mitchell and Tony Harding's comic strip 'Look Out for Lefty' (1976) in the magazine Action, because it supposedly encouraged football hooliganism, Gifford jumped on the bandwagon. He expressed his outrage over these kind of violent and erotic comics, never seeming to understand that they weren't geared at children in the first place. 

Legacy
Still, Gifford's research and dedication have been of invaluable importance for comic fans and historians, despite the fact that he didn't keep a catalogue of his own archive. This made it difficult for auctioneers to get an overview of his private collection after he passed away on 18 May 2000. Even this Comiclopedia owes a lot to the outstanding work of Denis Gifford.

Denis Gifford
Denis Gifford.

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