Peeps coverAmid the ongoing research into all things pop and paleo, I’ve gathered a few Punch tearsheets and postcards of E.T. Reed’s popular 19th Century Prehistoric Peeps over the years. These fascinate me as being among the first ongoing series of cartoons dedicated solely to prehistoric men and animals, albeit in antic satiric scenes.

I tried like hell in 2007 to engage Eddie Campbell in some sort of email dialogue about Reed’s work, since I know Eddie snagged a full set of Punch back in the 1990s (ah, that From Hell windfall afforded the luxury), but damned if I could coax more than a couple of blustery replies, all of which dwindled to nothing. C’est la vie: Eddie had more to say about R.C. Harvey than E.T. Reed, then asked me not to reveal what he’d said about Harvey since he and R.C. (a fine fellow, by my experience) had resolved any previous differences at some point, so I was once again left to my own devices.

So, without further ado, I can tell you only that Edward Tennyson Reed (1860-1933) contributed lots of cartoons to Punch Magazine beginning in 1889, and reportedly was a fixture of the magazine’s lineup until his death. I have found a reference to Reed “retiring as parliamentary caricaturist” the very year Sir Arthur Conan Doyle’s The Lost World was published (1912), by sheer happy happenstance. I’ve tracked down a copy of this marvelous book, Mr. Punch’s Prehistoric Peeps (1894), which I’d argue is the first-ever ‘dinosaur comic’ ever published.

Peeps 1

Though little has been written about Reed in any of the histories of British humor or Punch tomes in my collection, he was a prolific contributor, though his work evidently resonates with few and fell out of favor sometime after his death, since Punch rarely reprinted his work in later collections. For my money, Prehistoric Peeps alone elevates Reed to the ranks of premiere pioneers of the paleo comics scene, but hey, that’s just me.

Reed also regularly contributed a feature called ‘Tails with a Twist’ to Punch, and those were collected into book form in 1898, though I’ve never seen a copy myself.

Peeps 2

The Peeps enjoyed a healthy life while they lasted, and were popular in their day. The above cartoon featuring cavemen in ‘pantomime’ dinosaur costuming approximates how the special effects were done for the Prehistoric Peeps movie version (!).

Yep, a one-reel (564 feet, less than 5 minutes) live-action Prehistoric Peeps movie was produced by the British Hepworth Manufacturing Company in 1905, whose silent era output began with Two Fools in a Canoe (1898) and ended with Gaston Quiribet’s two-reeler (then about 25 minutes) mockumentary The Death Ray (1924). Between those two titles, Hepworth ground out over 900 films! Rescued by Rover is by far the best known and most-seen today of all the Hepworth films (it’s featured on a number of silent film compilations on vhs and DVD, most prominent among those Kino’s The Movies Begin DVD set), which was one of the ten films Hepworth produced and self-distributed in 1905; it featured early use of cross-cutting to create suspense in its tale of a kidnapped baby, and sports the studio mogul Cecil M. Hepworth himself as the put-upon poppa.

I’ve never seen Prehistoric Peeps, though I’d love to; the National Archive has preserved a 35mm print, and the British Film Institute has a copy available for viewing, so next time I’m in the UK, I know what I’ll be doing for at least a half hour or so. Lewin Fitzhamon directed, just one of the over-200 films Fitzhamon directed, including Rescued by Rover, making him one of the most popular directors in early British cinema. His last film was made in 1914, though Lewin lived until the ripe old age of 92 (departing this earthly plane in 1961).

The cast included Wordsworth Harrison as an ‘Apeman’, W. Young as a ‘Giant,’ and Sebastian Smith as (ahem) the Osteologist, all of which sounds very promising.

The film boasts what are reportedly the first live-action dinosaur special effects in screen history, reportedly fabricated in the manner of Chinese parade dragons — or the Prehistoric Peeps cartoon above. By my viewing experience, the first ambitious ‘construct’ live-action dinosaur was the herbivorous Ceratosaurus built for D.W. Griffith’s Man’s Genesis sequel Brute Force (1914), aka In Prehistoric Days, Wars of the Primal Tribes, The Primitive Man, etc., and Georges Melies fabricated his share of full-size monsters for his innovative special effects films in the Paris Star Films studios, but Prehistoric Peeps may indeed hold the record for the first live-action dinos on film.

More on Reed’s Prehistoric Peeps down the road, but this seemed a nice way to kick off the week for Myrant readers.

Discussion (6) ¬

  1. James Robert Smith

    Interesting stuff, especially considering how early they are concerning the subject matter. It’s always funny to see how the folk of that era interpreted the newly emerging knowledge being presented by paleontologists of the day.

    I don’t think you’d get much out of Campbell. He likely considers your tastes in art rather constricted. Plus his contempt of all things “horror”.

  2. David Berona

    Great stuff, Steve. I’ll have to investigate this a little more myself…those silent films look like another avenue for me to look at as well.

  3. srbissette

    Thanks, James and David — and hey, David, I just got my copy of your new book, which is GREAT! I’ll be writing it up here; more on that later.

    James, I love Reed’s cartooning, and however inconsequential this peculiar genre may be to others, it’s one of the threads that keeps life interesting to me.

  4. James Robert Smith

    “James, I love Reed’s cartooning, and however inconsequential this peculiar genre may be to others, it’s one of the threads that keeps life interesting to me.”

    Oh, yeah. My interests keep me going. And inspire my creative work.

  5. rosanna

    i just acquired some prints or lithographs from someone , 3 of the to be exact of some of these cartoons.. i have no idea if they are legit or not. does anyone out there know how i can find out and should i be worried about the value if they are ? right now they are just sitting out not framed or protected by anything.. i can send photos too

  6. srbissette

    Rosanna, I’ve tracked down many of these prints. They’re not overly valuable; if you like them, and they look genuine, frame ‘em up is my advice! Most ‘prints’ of these gems are actually pages removed from the book (which is fine; if someone dismembered a copy in the past to sell them as prints, so be it), but they’re worth just framing and your ‘drawing’ pleasure from them for what they are.

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