Rediscovered comics genius celebrated in a new book and book tour

Posted on 2nd February 2018

The first book showcasing the extraordinary work of pioneering Victorian comic strip artist and stage actress Marie Duval and featuring the work of a University of Chester academic will be published next month.

Dr Simon Grennan
Dr Simon Grennan

Duval was a popular actress on the unlicensed stages of London and the South, who also drew one of the UK’s first comic strip ‘superstars’ and developed drawing techniques that are universally used in comics today.

One of the book’s co-authors is Dr Simon Grennan from the University’s Department of Art and Design. Simon is a Post-Doctoral Research Fellow in Art and Design, is an internationally acclaimed contemporary artist, comics scholar and author of over 40 comics and artists’ books.

The new book, titled Marie Duval, aims to present Duval’s achievements and make available a selection of her best work for modern audiences. The authors of the book, Simon and Dr Julian Waite, Senior Lecturer in Performing Arts and Professor Roger Sabin of Central Saint Martins, received an Arts and Humanities Research Council grant of almost £200,000, to discover Duval’s extant work and bring it together in a free public image archive (available at <>  <> ).

The book is the latest of a number of activities by the authors, aiming to highlight Duval, including an academic book with Manchester University Press and an exhibition, which has toured to London and Berlin. Simon will also be touring the new book to literary festivals up and down the country, including guest appearances at Hexham, Penzance and Gladfest in Hawarden.

Marie Duval brings together a selection of 120 of Duval’s drawings, chosen from over 1,400 now known to exist, recreating the oddball thrills, slapstick humour and keen pleasures of observation that mark Duval’s uniquely drawn brand of visual comedy, and which prove her to be one of the founders of British comics.

Simon said: “The slapstick and vigour of her drawings became her signature comedic device, communicating the exciting, disposable and even daring character of a comic strip world of physical comedy. The readers of the weekly papers of the 1860s, 1870s and 1880s, in which she drew, absolutely loved this style of delivery. It helped that Duval also acted in popular plays, to which her readers would have gone to see her perform. She famously subverted gender expectations by playing the roles of leading men on stage, adding to the excitement.

“However, as with many women artists, Duval’s work was actively stolen and revised, and her signature was erased from re-prints. After her death in 1890, the most successful London serial publisher of the time, Dalziel, even claimed that she had never made any drawings at all!”


The book is available at