Hogan's Alley, by George Luks
Hogan's Alley (31 May 1896)

George Luks was a late 19th-century, early 20th-century American painter, best known for his realistically drawn paintings of New York City life. But he was also a comics artist for a brief while, continuing the comic strip 'Hogan's Alley' (better known as 'The Yellow Kid', 1896-1897) in The New York World after original creator Richard F. Outcault was bought away to join rival newspaper The New York Journal. This also marked the first instance in comics history of two newspapers battling over one comic strip.

George Benjamin Luks was born in 1867 in Williamsport, Pennsylvania, as the son of a physician/apothecary. He enherited his artistic gift from his mother, who was a painter and musician. In 1872 the family moved to Shenandoah, in the south of the state. Originally Luks was interested in vaudeville and he and his younger brother thus actively performed as stage actors while still in their teens. In 1882 they had a stage act named 'Buzzey & Anstock' and toured throughout their state and as far as New Jersey. Yet eventually he liked painting better and studied at the Pennsylvania Academy of Fine Arts. Luks only stayed for about a month, though, and decided to study art through self-study. The college dropout moved to Europe where he studied at the Düsseldorf School of Art in Germany. Among his graphic influences were Diego Velazquez, Francisco Goya, Frans Hals and Edouard Manet.


Hogan's Alley from 18 October 1896. The Nipper Twins appear on the bottom right

In 1891 Luks returned to the United States where he created illustrations for magazines like Puck, Truth, The Verdict, Music and Drama. In 1893 he became an illustrator for the Philadelphia Press. During this period he also travelled to Cuba as war correspondent during the Spanish-American War. Afterwards he moved to New York City, where he joined Joseph Pulitzer's newspaper The New York World. In 1895 the paper acquired a popular cartoon feature named 'Hogan's Alley', drawn by Richard F. Outcault. The series would eventually be dubbed 'The Yellow Kid', named after its breakout character. Unfortunately Outcault was bought away by rival newspaper owner William Randolph Hearst to star in the rival paper The New York Journal, where 'The Yellow Kid' continued under the name 'McFadden's Row of Flats', since Hearst couldn't legally use the original title. Outcault's final Yellow Kid cartoon for The New York World appeared on 4 October 1896. To fill up the void left behind Luks was asked to continue 'Hogan's Alley' in The New York World using similar characters to those in Outcault's original. The first episode appeared on 11 October 1896.

It has often been claimed that this spawned the first court case over the publishing rights of a comic strip. In reality there was never a court case, only a legal decision on behalf of the Treasury Department and advised by the Librarian of Congress to inform the New York Journal that only the comic strip's title was copyrighted, not the character itself. It was issued on 15 April 1897. But it is true that Outcault was the first example in history of a comics artist so popular that newspapers actually tried to outbid one another to make him sign an exclusivity contract with them.


Mose the Trained Chicken

As 'The Yellow Kid' basically only had one main character, Luks only had to copy The Kid, but draw him with more flappy ears. He also introduced the sidekicks Baldy Sours and Alex and George, nicknamed 'The Little Nippers'. Alex and George were tiny toddler twins who looked exactly like The Yellow Kid, down to their yellow gowns, but it was never clear whether they were related to him? Luks signed all his work with the name "Geo B. Luks". As always, a copy is never quite as popular as the original and Luks' 'Hogan's Alley' only lasted from 1895 until 1897. Interestingly enough both comics series gradually lost the general public's interest in the same year. On 30 May 1897 Outcault's 'The Yellow Kid' suddenly disappeared in Hearst's papers for several months, without any explanation. In August of that same year Luks' 'Hogan's Alley' also vanished from The New York World without any official reason. On 25 September 'The Yellow Kid' suddenly made an equally unexplained comeback. One week later Luks' 'Hogan's Alley' also returned. Yet in both cases the comebacks didn't change much. The final episode of 'Hogan's Alley' appeared on 5 December 1897. Outcault's 'The Yellow Kid' only lasted one month longer, with the final episode published on 23 January 1898.

Luks made only a couple of other comic strips. Between 25 July and 5 September 1897 the World also printed his Sunday panel 'Kalsomine Family'. Luks' 'The Little Nippers' appeared in their own Sunday page between 12 September 1897 and 15 May 1898. 'Mose the Trained Chicken', also known as 'Incubator Mose' (1897-1898) was a gag comic about stereotypically portrayed African-Americans who enjoy to steal chickens. From 1898 on Luks focused on his more lucrative career as a painter, which eventually overshadowed all his other graphic activities in the public consciousness. He gained fame for his brutally realistic scenes of urban life and working-class people. Among his best known paintings are 'The Spielers' (1905) and 'The Wrestlers' (1905). Luks was furthermore a teacher at the Arts Students League in Manhattan and later established a school of his own: the George Luks School of Painting in Manhattan. Sadly George Luks suffered from alcoholism and on 29 October 1933 he got involved in a barroom brawl, which cost his life. He was 66 years old.


The Spielers

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