WILD BOYS: in london only or everywhere?

I went to the comics unmasked exhibition recently — i have tried to unpack the comments floating around the  evidence that  Burroughs was “inspired” in writing his book “The Wild Boys” by the penny-dreadful “The wild boys of London”  (see chapter 5 of the book for the exhibition, on p. 142 (2014))  —

and i came across  this undated comment in http://www.bl.uk/collection-items/penny-dreadful-the-wild-boys-of-london

“The book (the wild boys of london) was extremely influential on the notorious surrealist writer William Burroughs (1914-1997), who called a 1971 novel The Wild Boys in tribute to the original, and who reused the characters of The Wild Boys in many other works.”

and then


Tuesday, March 25, 2008

“The Wild Boys of London; or, the Children of the Night, published by the Newsagents Publishing Company is probably the most famous of all penny dreadfuls even though few people have actually read the work.  The penny dreadful may well have been the genesis of William Burroughs Wild Boys characters in books with titles like “Naked Lunch,” “The Nova Express,” and “The Ticket That Exploded.”

Burroughs told author Robert Palmer (Rolling Stone 108, May 11, 1972)  – “in the wild boys I was really deliberately returning to older styles of writing – quite a bit of it is really 19th century”
Burroughs works were an extension of the long tradition of criminal literature that began in the early 19th Century, and he was keenly aware that there was a tradition, that it was still extant in the 20th Century, and that Beat literature (Junkie) was a part of that tradition.

= this is the updated version of John Adcock’s blog :  previously it read

“William Burroughs admitted that they were the genesis of his own Wild Boys characters in books with titles like “Naked Lunch,” “The Nova Express,” and “The Ticket That Exploded.”

and later gave a quote from Barry Miles bio. “William Burroughs: El Hombre Invisible [Paperback] page 195) and updated version (2014) on page 481 “William S. Burroughs – A LIFE”  references Robert Palmer correctly.

SO:  still not sure where this leads to = there is no specific link between WSB actually “admitting” or even less that the title “Wild Boys” was pilfered (or less) from  1866 penny-dreadful — as to the plot or otherwise of the 1866 text vs the 1972 text to WSB:  that is another matter + 1866 text is like many at the time……..as Adcock so rightly says : there is a long tradition of criminal literature ect

that fact that there is no quote from WSB directly linking the 1866 text at all anywhere:  even Eric Mottram in this 1977 book “The Algebra of Need: critical appraisals” , the definitive discussion, makes no mention……


for what is is worth (about 23 groats, actually) I prefer  that idea that the “street Arabs” is the source (he knew many in Tanger)

plus a bit of Gazelle-Boy

plus a bit of  Casper Hauser (the film came out in 1974, though early books about wild boys were around in 1963 and earlier…)

plus WSB may  have visited the Institute of Contemporary Arts exhibition “Aaargh! a Celebration of Comics” over the New Year on Dec 31st 1970 – Feb 7th 1971 and seen a cover of the penny-dreadful and indeed seen/met with Malcolm McNeil, one of the exhibitors………

and the book published in 1948 by E.S. Turner  “Boys will be Boys: The story of Sweeney Todd; Deadwood Dick; Sexton Blake et al”  which has specific mention of the title …

and of course petty crime was WSB’s forte ……..

so what is bit of title-plagiarism between friends?


as an aside btw,  this particular penny-dreadful is accused of all manner of stuff :  In Kirkpatrick:   (wild-boys) “they fight off child-molesters” page 74 (2013), whereas in Springhall page 60 described as “child-stealers” , as Turner  “Boys will be Boys”  (1948) also calls them.

ramping-up the hype ……


as to the narrative itself in “The Wild Boys of London”,  apart from the “ravishment and murder!” ect., there was a direct link as crucial plot development with a strike in the London building trade as a time when Trade Union right were developing……eg:  the revised Master and Servant 1867…….needless to say, the downfall of the family from whom the wild boys come from were striking workers………..


AND there is no problem with plagiarism anyway (it’s just cut-ups, in’nt?)


though WSB never ever linked consciously his Wild Boys with the 19th century text Wild Boys of London — neither Miles or Harris think so….








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