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William Giles Baxter, caricaturist, illustrator and strip cartoonist, was born in 1855 or 1856, probably in the south of Ireland, where his English parents had moved to set up a business making starch from potatoes. The business failed and the family moved to America and then to Manchester. His father had died by the time the family settled in Buxton in Derbyshire. After leaving school, Baxter was apprenticed as a technical draughtsman to Alfred Darbyshire, a Manchester architect.
In 1875-6 he drew a series of lithographs for a local newspaper, which were later published as a book entitled Sketches and Scenes from Buxton in 1879. He gave up his architectural work and joined a new weekly Manchester-based comic paper, Comus, launched in October 1877, and relaunched as Momus the following year. His cartoons and caricatures were a large part of the magazine's success. In 1881 he wrote and illustrated a two-part account of his family's trip to Antwerp, and created the character of Silas E. Choodle, whose adventures he wrote and illustrated in subsequent issues. He also drew a series of illustrations of characters from Shakespeare and Dickens, which were published as a book, Studies from Shakespeare and Dickens, by Cartwright & Rattray in 1885.
Baxter moved to London in 1882, and Momus folded not long after. After a period illustrating Christmas cards for cartoonist Alfred Gray, his cartoons started appearing in Judy, the home of C. H. Ross's popular comic character Ally Sloper, from 1883. The following year the publisher of Judy, Gilbert Dalziel, launched Ally Sloper's Half-Holiday, and Baxter began contributing to it from issue 10 with a caricature of Randolph Churchill as a black minstrel. He first drew Ally Sloper himself three weeks later.
While following Ross's spindly, big-nosed prototype, Baxter gave Ally the battered hat, umbrella and shaggy dog, Snatcher, that became his trademarks. He also introduced the Sloper family - his wife, Mrs Sloper, their showgirl daughter Tootsie Sloper, and their naughty son Master Alexander Sloper - and a broad supporting cast, including Bill Higgins, Dook Snook, Lord Bob, the Hon. Billy, and Ally's drinking pal Mr McGooseley. He drew the strip on a semi-regular basis, alternating with other artists, until December 1886, when he went to work for the illustrated newspaper The Graphic. In 1887 he joined a new paper, C. H. Ross's Variety Paper, contributing a variety of cartoons and lllustrations and reviving Silas E. Choodle from Momus, but it closed less than a year later. A few months after that, Baxter died of tuberculosis in St. Pancras, London, on 2 June 1888.
- Alan Clark, "W. G. Baxter", The Sloperian No 1, Summer 2012
- Denis Gifford, ‘Ally Sloper group (act. 1867–1923)’, Oxford Dictionary of National Biography, online edn, Oxford University Press, Sept 2004, accessed 20 Aug 2010
- Simon Houfe, The Dictionary of 19th Century British Book Illustrators, Antique Collectors' Club, 1996, p. 57
- Walter G. Strickland, A Dictionary of Irish Artists, 1913