The wartime Big Comic

Inflation moved pretty slowly until the Second World War. A penny bought you one of the earliest Penny Dreadfuls in the 1830’s and could still have bought you one of the cheaper comics almost 100 years later, too. Towards the end of the 19th century, as Alfred Harmsworth was making waves with his “Halfpenny Dreadfullers”, he was doing so on the back of a series of halfpenny humour comics.


While most of the adventure story papers (such as Union Jack and The Boys’ Friend) went up to a penny and gained pages in the early 20th century, the humour comics stuck to a halfpenny, so children could afford them. The Boys’ Realm Sports Library was one exception, being an all-text story paper of 24 (very thin) pages which still cost a halfpenny in 1911! Once the First World War came around, prices began to rise due to shortages and increased taxation. Many smaller publishers went to the wall, swallowed up by Amalgamated Press. In 1918 even that juggernaut was forced to increase it’s penny comics to a “War Time Price” of 1½d.

bcom03But the shortages didn’t stop a publisher called James Henderson & Sons launching their tabloid-sized Big Comic in “1917” (see below). Priced at a halfpenny, it consisted of just 4 pages (or one sheet of paper folded over). The pages were packed full of single-panel cartoons and strips of no more than 6 panels in length. There was also a text adventure serial about Buffalo Bill, a real Wild West “character” who later started a famous travelling show. Of course, all the adventures he was later ‘credited with’ in story papers from both sides of the Atlantic would have filled about 10 lifetimes!

According to the UK Comics Wiki, Big Comic began in 1917, however this issue, from late 1917, is No. 204, meaning it should actually have started in late 1915, surely? The Wiki goes on to say that James Henderson & Sons were bought out by Amalgamated Press early in 1918. Big Comic was merged with another Henderson comic called Sparks, after a run as Big Comic and Sparks it was renamed Sparks and Big Comic. Presumably the Big Comic logo then quietly faded and Sparks continued alone.