Wednesday, 17 June 2020

Tom Browne - part 1


Tom Browne was possibly the most important artist in British comics. He died in 1910, aged just 39, yet his influence on comic strips was considerable.

Born in Nottingham in 1870/72 depending on the source, and educated at a National school, he began work at the age of 11 as an errand boy in the Nottingham Lace Market. By the age of 14 he was serving as an apprentice at a firm of lithographic printers where he developed his artistic skills sketching cartoons. He also became a student at the Nottingham School of Art and sold his first professional cartoon in 1888 to Scraps. Impressed by the fee paid to him by the publisher Browne continued to moonlight for the comic papers whilst serving the rest of his apprenticeship.

At the age of 21 or thereabouts he moved to London to embark on what The Strand Magazine called "a hard struggle to obtain a foothold in London illustrated journalism". However he managed to earn a living as a comic artist, providing cartoons and strips for various weeklies. It was in one of those comics, Illustrated Chips No.298, dated May 16th 1896, where his most famous creations first appeared in a front page strip called Innocents on the River.


The protagonists of the strip, two tramps named Weary Waddles and Tired Timmy, impressed the editor G.H. Cantle so much that he asked Browne to continue them as a regular feature. Over the months the characters evolved in look as well as in name, becoming Weary Willie and Tired Tim, one of the most popular strips in British comics, running on the cover of Chips for 57 years until its final issue in 1953 (drawn from 1909 to 1953 by Percy Cocking).

Weary Willie and Tired Tim 1920s
pen and ink drawing by Percy Cocking

Tom Browne brought techniques to comics that are still being used by comic artists today. Realising that the accepted norm of fine rendering and cross-hatching would not be appropriate for the cheap standard of printing that the early comic papers used Browne developed a simpler but nonetheless detailed style of solid blacks and bolder lines. His drawings also had a lively amount of comedy to them, with his characters falling into chaotic situations and exaggerating the slapstick into what would become a much-imitated traditional comic style.

Tom Browne's popular tramps had an influence outside of comics too. They became the stars of several short British comedy films in the early 1900's, although sadly those films are now lost. However it was either these movies or, most likely, the comic strips themselves that influenced Charlie Chaplin in creating his world famous tramp character. Chaplin himself said "I started the tramp to make people laugh because those other old tramps, Weary Willie and Tired Tim, had always made me laugh."

Tom Browne was also prolific in areas other than comics. In 1897 he used his by-then considerable savings to establish a lithographic colour printing firm, Tom Browne & Co. in Nottingham. (The firm lasted until 1954 when it was acquired by the printers Hazel, Watson, and Viney Ltd.) He became a famous black and white artist and was quite a celebrity in his day, with exhibitions and events in his life being reported in the national press (such as the photograph at the top, of Browne in Geneose merchant's clothes for the Lord Mayor's Show in 1907.)

On April Fool's Day 1898, along with his fellow artists Phil May, Dudley Hardy, Walter Churcher, and Cecil Aldin, Browne founded the Sketch Club in London's Dilke Street. (The club is still going today, and for a while in the 1980s was the venue for the Society of Strip Illustration.) In 1901 Browne became a member of the Royal Institute of Painters and Water Colours.

March 10 1899 The London Sketch Club

In 1902 Browne provided 95 illustrations for the book The Night Side of London (featured below) written by Robert Machray. An insight into London of the period, it saw writer and artist journey around the city to observe and interact with society in all its forms. The most striking aspect of the book is in its depictions of the dichotomy between rich and poor. Browne's own poverty-stricken background came in useful here to convey the hardship of the characters he'd met. Due to the better printing process used in The Night Side of London Browne was able to produce some impressive grey wash illustrations as well as more detailed line work. The illustrations show his skills at caricature and figure work, and the ease in which he could capture the personality and mood of the era.

A cheery character by all accounts Tom Browne was also a popular artist of comic postcards, which gave him the opportunity to work in colour. Again, using an economy of line and spotting his blacks carefully, Browne's style was ideal for this format and the cards are still highly collectible today. Postcards featuring Dutch characters became a popular fad of the early 20th Century and Browne also illustrated many of those. Landscapes were another subject he painted although it was his character studies and figure work in which he excelled. Other publications included Tom Browne's Comic AnnualTom Browne's Cycle Sketch Book and The Khaki Alphabet Book.


After a long illness Tom Browne died of throat cancer at his home in Westcombe Park near Greenwich on Wednesday March 16th 1910. At his funeral at Shooter's Hill, his fellow soldiers from the T.A. fired a salute over his grave as tribute. From humble beginnings Tom Browne left over £18,000 in his will to his wife and children, - a considerable fortune by 1910 standards.

This is part 1 of 9 parts on the works of Tom Browne:


Not dated (early)
postcard
Courtship

Not dated (early)
postcard
Love at first sight

Not dated (early)
postcard
Market Day
Not dated (early)
postcard
Rest
Not dated (early)
postcard
Skating

Not dated (early)
postcard
Sunday Morning

Not dated (early)
postcard
The Milk-Seller

1898 "Donkeys I Have Met."

1898 Raleigh Cycles for 1898
colour lithograph poster 31.6 x 42.8 cm
Victoria & Albert Museum, London

1898 Raleigh Cycles for 1898
detail

1898 Raleigh Cycles for 1898
detail

1898 Untitled

c1898 Ride Swift Cycles
colour lithograph poster 96.8 x 63.4 cm
Victoria & Albert Museum, London

October 1899 The Poster 
An Illustrated Monthly Chronicle 
Cover by Tom Browne

December 1899 The Poster
An Illustrated Monthly Chronicle
Cover by Tom Browne

The Sketch
December 13 1899
"The Public Pulse"

1900 Little Red Riding Hood
The Sphere magazine
Christmas 1900

1900 Savage Club Menu
October 20th 1900

1900 The Sketch magazine
"Our local plumber is laid up"
"Really! What complaint?"
"None. Everybody delighted."

1900 The Sphere
The Dublin Horse Show

c1900 Sunlight Soap advertisement

1901 The Sketch
"Rival Bloomers": A Brittany Sketch

1901The Eccentrics Club
Eleventh Annual Dinner at the Hotel Cecil
November 24th 1901

1902 The Sketch
The Seven Ages of a Dutchman No.1

1902 The Sketch 
The Seven Ages of a Dutchman No.2

1902 The Sketch 
The Seven Ages of a Dutchman No.6

1902 The Tatler
"Pulling His Leg"

1903 The Sketch
untitled

1903? The Tatler magazine
Scene outside Public-House. Notice in window: Ping Pong between 2 p.m. and 6 p.m.

Highway Robbery.

In a Tram-Car

1901 The Sketch. "In the days of their youth." 

1901 The Sketch
"In the days of their youth."
No.1. - Mr. Phil May.

1901 The Sketch
"In the days of their youth."
No.II - Sir Henry Irving (Masters Toole and Terry)

1901-2 The Sketch
"In the days of their youth."
No.III - Sir Thomas Lipton.

1901-2 The Sketch
"In the days of their youth."
No.IV - Mr. Hall Caine.

n.d. Eminent Men in their Youth
Mr.Hall Caine.

1901-2 The Sketch
"In the days of their youth."
No.V. - Paul Kruger.

1902 The Sketch
"In the days of their youth."
No.VI - "Joey" Chamberlain.

1902 The Sketch
"In the days of their youth."
No.VIII. - Kitchener.
1902 The Night Side of London

1902 The Night Side of London
by Robert Machray

1902 The Night Side of London 
by Robert Machray

1902 The Night Side of London 
Coffee Stall in Oxford Street

1902 The Night Side of London

1902 The Night Side of London
A night at the Sketch Club.
The "Bousa" Band.

1902 The Night Side of London
A story by a member of the London Sketch Club.

1902 The Night Side of London
Bounders Club

1902 The Night Side of London
Down goes the drunken man flat on his back.

1902 The Night Side of London
Immaculate shirt fronts were covered with drawings.

1902 The Night Side of London
Supper at The Carlton

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