The First Interview by Richard Newton
'The First Interview' (1797). 

Richard Newton was a late 18th-century English caricaturist who, despite his short life, still managed to have an impact on the history of cartooning and making comics. Some of his cartoons make use of speech balloons and sequential narratives, solidifying Newton as a comic pioneer.

Early life and career
Born in London in 1777, he published his first cartoon when he was 13 years old. He would continue to make one at least once a week for the rest of his life. He worked for publisher William Holland in London, where he produced several political cartoons, including several criticizing slavery. When Holland was jailed in Newgate Prison for the crime of sedition in 1793-1794, Newton took over his shop.

'Treason' (1798). John Bull farts at a picture of king George III, while Prime Minister William Pitt the Younger shouts: "Treason!"

Satirical cartoons
Much like his contemporaries James Gillray, Thomas Rowlandson and George Cruikshank, he mocked fashions, clergymen, stage actors, politicians and king George III, often combined with toilet humour. A prime example of this is 'Treason!!!' (1798), which features the British national personification John Bull farting in front of a picture of king George III, while Prime Minister William Pitt the Younger accuses him of treason. In the same vein there is 'The First Interview, or, an -Envoy from Yarmony to Improve the Breed' (1797), poking fun at the king's obesity by having a black slave supporting his enormous belly. A carpenter has sawn a hole in the dining table for the king to reach his meals and comments: "How the king will reach [the Queen] God only knows? Perhaps he has some German method?" All characters in this cartoon make use of speech balloons.

Sketches in a Shaving Shop
'Sketches In A Shaving Shop' (1794).

Prototypical comics
Newton drew in a loose, caricatural style which already reminds modern-day observers of a comic strip. His work 'Sketches In A Shaving Shop' (1794) is notable for showing 12 images in three rows of four, ridiculing men who want their facial hairs trimmed. Each image has handwritten sentences floating above the characters' heads to indicate what they are saying. A similar work is 'Samples Of Sweethearts and Wives' (1795), which mocks drunk women in eight panels, accompanied by handwritten text above their tipsy faces. Both satirical works shares a resemblance with comics, but don't follow a real narrative. They are basically a series of humorous incidents built around one comical premise, but involving different characters.

Samples of Sweethearts and wives
'Samples of Sweethearts and Wives' (1795).

A better example of a narrative sequence in Newton's work can be found in 'Progress of A Player' (1793), which tells the rise of a young man who becomes a stage actor. His story is told in eight images, with informative descriptions written beneath each frame. 'Progress Of A Woman Of Pleasure' (1794) is a series of 18 images juxtaposed in three rows of six. It centers around a woman who starts off as a newly-hired servant, but eventually gets caught on the lee-shore when alcoholism forces her to become a prostitute. Every image is accompanied by handwritten sentences above her head.

Progress of a player by Richard Newton
'Progress Of A Player' (1793).

Less of a story, but also a sequence is Newton's 'Contrasted Husbands' (1795), which shows a bullying husband beating his wife in the left image and a henpecked husband begging his dominant wife for mercy in the right. From the same year there is 'Clerical Alphabet' (1795), which satirizes the Church in 24 sequences (the letters "E" and "I" are not portrayed for unknown reasons). Each letter receives a humorous rhyme and is accompanied by a humorous drawing of bishops, vicars and other religious professions.

Clerical Alphabet
'Clerical Alphabet' (1795).

In Newton's 'A Going! A Going!' an obese physician sarcastically assures an emaciated patient that he has "no doubt that at my next visit I shall find you entirely cured of all of your earthly infirmities". The cartoon was popular enough to be completely copied by Thomas Rowlandson in 1809. 'An Undertakers Visit' has an undertaker visit a man in the hope of gaining a new client. Both cartoons make use of speech balloons and give a good indication of Newton's macabre sense of humour. He made several cartoons depicting undertakers or the Grim Reaper arriving to take people away, among them 'Giving Up The Ghost, Or One Too Many' and 'Undertakers In At The Death' (1794).

Art by Richard Newton
Untitled cartoon.

The most significant and historically interesting proto-comic Newton made also features Death. The actions of the Grim Reaper are visualized in three sequential drawings, all of which feature him as a recurring character. The dialogue between him and his victims appears in handwritten sentences, floating above the characters' heads. Ironically enough, the artist himself was visited by Death soon after. In 1798 Newton caught tyfus and died from it in Covent Garden at the age of only 21. The promising caricaturist left behind a legacy of nearly 300 prints and over 80 book illustrations. Among the novels he illustrated were Henry Fielding's 'Tom Jones' and Laurence Sterne's 'A Sentimental Journey Through France and Italy'.

Books about Richard Newton
For those interested in the man's life the book 'Richard Newton and English Caricature in the 1790s' (1998) by David S. Alexander is a must-read.

A Going Going
'A Going! A Going!'.

Series and books by Richard Newton you can order today:


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