Buster Brown (1903)

The American comics artist Richard Felton Outcault was one of the pioneers of the medium. Together with Rodolphe Töpffer and Wilhelm Busch he is widely regarded as one of the key artists in the early history of the comic strip. Famous for two popular series, 'The Yellow Kid' (1895-1898) and 'Buster Brown' (1902-1921), he is often regarded as the first genuine comics artist. 'The Yellow Kid' featured sequential illustrated narratives, complete with speech balloons. It revolved around one recurring character and was published on a daily basis. As such Outcault is seen as both the first newspaper cartoonist and the first American comics artist too. Naturally, these historic claims are debatable. There had been artists before who already published comics with some of these elements in place, even within the United States. Yet 'The Yellow Kid' brought all the hallmarks of our modern-day definition of a comic strip together. And, even more important, it was single-handedly responsible for launching the comics industry. Before Outcault only a few comics had some low-key merchandising based around them. 'The Yellow Kid' and 'Buster Brown', on the other hand, were heavily merchandized. The characters were used on every conceivable product, including the very first American comics magazine (The Yellow Kid, 1897). Newspaper sales rose because people wanted to read Outcault's comics. Soon every American paper had to have its own comics, an idea that spread to the rest of the world. Outcault proved that comics artists could be paid for their work and occasionally even make a living out of it. He was also the first cartoonist to experience the downside of being a comics artist. Outcault had to fight over copyright issues, was exploited by his publishers and discovered that overexposure of a comic strip can result in audiences growing tired of a series. He is furthermore significant for creating the first comic to regularly refer to daily news events ('The Yellow Kid') and the first to star a black character in the title role ('Poor Li'l Mose', 1900-1902). Last but not least his work inspired two eponyms: "yellow journalism" and the very term "comics" itself.

The Yellow Kid, by R. F. Outcault 1908
The Yellow Kid visits Buster Brown

Richard Felton Outcalt (a name he changed to "Outcault" in 1889) was born in 1863 in Lancaster, Ohio as the son of German immigrants. Between 1878 and 1881 he studied at McMicken University School of Design in Cincinnati, Ohio after which he became a commercial painter for the Hall Safe and Lock Company. In 1888 Outcault created mechanical drawings and advertisement illustrations for Thomas Alva Edison. The famous inventor had just patented his light bulb and wanted to promote the invention during the Centennial Exposition of the Ohio Valley and Middle Atlantic States in Cincinnati, Ohio. Edison was pleased enough with the results to send Outcault to his company's official exhibit at the 1889 World Exhibition in Paris (best remembered for the introduction of the Eiffel Tower). As the artist stayed in the French capital he studied art at the Quartier Latin. Back in the United States, Outcault continued his job at Edison Laboratories. He married banker's daughter Mary Jane Martin on Christmas Day 1890 after which he moved to Flushing, Queens, New York City. There he created technical illustrations for magazines like the Street Railway Journal and Electrical World for a while.

Hogan's Alley and The Yellow Kid
On the side Outcault also created more humoristic cartoons for the weekly magazines Puck, Judge, Life and Truth. One of them was an untitled one-panel cartoon series which debuted in Truth on 2 June 1894. The cartoon depicted street life in Manhattan, New York City. At first the series had no official characters, left alone a title. But readers still liked the feature since it was a very recognizable portrayal of New York, from the buildings to its immigrant population. Many people enjoyed looking at the illustrations to spot every possible scene-within-a-scene and comically portrayed people. One seemingly insignificant background character was present from the very first episode. It was a bald, big-eared, buck-toothed boy who always had a grin on his face. The character, later named 'The Yellow Kid', still appeared in black-and-white at the time and few would've expected at the time that this little boy would drastically change the course of comics history!


Uncle Eben's Ignorance of the City

Many people assume 'The Yellow Kid' was Outcault's first comic strip, but in reality this feature was still nothing but an one-panel cartoon. His first genuine comic strips appeared later that same year. On 16 September 1894 he created a six-panel text comic named 'Uncle Eben's Ignorance of the City' for The New York World. It follows a man from the countryside, who mistakes a fire alarm pole for a letter box. As he hopelessly tries to jam the letter inside the pole the police eventually jails him for vandalism. On 18 November of that same year Outcault drew another comic strip, 'Origin Of A New Species', this time a pantomime comic, in which a clown takes his dog for a picnic in the woods. A huge anaconda slithers drown from a tree and devours the dog whole, but the clown slits the reptile's body open so the dog can stick its paws through it and walk along home. Interestingly enough a similar gag occurs in Hergé's 'Tintin in Congo' (1930).

While Outcault's cartoons were slowly catching on, many newspapers started adding more daily cartoons and comics to their pages. Joseph Pulitzer's The New York World had published an illustrated cartoon section since 1889. On 23 June 1892 the Chicago newspaper Inter Ocean launched a Sunday edition with illustrations and cartoons in full colour, modestly titled: The Illustrated Supplement. Readers liked this novelty and on 21 May 1893 Pulitzer introduced his own Sunday colour supplement in The New York World. Staff member Morrill Goddard was placed in charge of the Sunday editions and published one of the earliest American newspaper comics in its pages: Charles Saalburg's 'The Ting-Lings' (1894-1897), though this was often more an one-panel cartoon than a comic strip. As such the long tradition of a newspaper comics supplement on Sundays, nicknamed "The Sunday Funnies", was born. Since many of these drawings were comical in nature people started naming them "funnies" or "comics" and thus a new literary genre finally received a proper name. Yet the true revolution only came about on 13 January 1895 when Outcault's still unnamed cartoon series appeared in The New York World too. On 5 May of that same year it was titled 'Down in Hogan's Alley', inspired by the opening line of the song 'Maggie Murphy's Home' from Edward Harrigan's play 'Reilly and the Four Hundred' (1890). The same day it was also published in colour, still a novelty for most newspapers at the time. The Yellow Kid still sported a blue, sometimes grey gown in those days. Yet one day Charles Saalburg, who was in charge of the colour prints, got the bright idea of colourizing the gown yellow. This was still an experimental given at the time, since yellow ink didn't dry properly. Nevertheless, on 5 January 1896 'The Yellow Kid' was finally born! Thanks to his brightly coloured shirt he instantly stood out in the daily crowd drawings. Even in the newspaper stand and in the paper themselves, readers' attention was instantly drawn to the comics supplement. He became more prominent in the series, eventually becoming the main character. Contrary to popular thought, The Yellow Kid did have a proper name, Mickey Dugan, but it never quite caught on. The series itself on the other hand did!


First appearance of the Yellow Kid in his yellow shirt, 5 January 1896 (Source: San Francisco Academy of Comic Art Collection, The Ohio State Univeristy Cartoon Research Library)

In the 1890s cartoons picturing street children, like those by Michael Angelo Woolf, were quite popular in the United States. Outcault just followed the popular trend. He also got a lot of inspiration from just looking around in New York City. Modern audiences might not realize how many scenes in 'The Yellow Kid' weren't drawn from fantasy, but based on reality. Many European and Asian immigrants walked around in their native clothing. Poor people could be spotted everywhere. African-American people hung out in the streets. Outcault just caricatured them. Even the Yellow Kid himself wasn't an unusual sight at the time. Children were often so poor that they wore cut-down nightshirts or dresses previously worn by an older sister. Head lice were a serious problem and to avoid it parents often shaved all hairs on their children's heads. Outcault illustrated everything in beautiful artwork which perfectly captured the atmosphere of late 1890s NYC city life. Amidst all the mayhem, The Yellow Kid often provided witty commentary to everything that went on in the background. No matter what happened: he saw the fun in it, which he expressed with his signature line: "Hullygee!". This was the first instance of a catchphrase in comics history. Another first was The Yellow Kid's tendency to reference recent news events. Political cartoonists had done this as early as the late 18th century, but in comics this was still a novelty. Most earlier comics only appeared on a monthly or weekly basis , which made topical jokes less inviting to do. But in a newspaper, daily events could be far more easily referenced, particularly since readers could look up more information in the paper's articles. Outcault took full advantage of this novelty and in that sense he was a precursor of later political-satirical newspaper comics like Al Capp's 'Li'l Abner', Marc Sleen's 'Nero', Walt Kelly's 'Pogo', Wally Fawkes' 'Flook', Quino's 'Mafalda', Peter van Straaten's 'Vader en Zoon', Garry Trudeau's 'Doonesbury', Matt Groening's 'Life In Hell', Steve Bell's 'If...', Philippe Geluck's 'Le Chat', Berkeley Breathed's 'Bloom County', Lloyd Dangle's 'Troubletown', Pol Medina Jr.'s 'Pugad Baboy', Tom Tomorrow's 'This Modern World', Aaron McGruder's 'The Boondocks', Jean-Marc van Tol, John Reid and Bastiaan Geleijnse's 'Fokke en Sukke', Pieter Geenen's 'Anton Dingeman' and the comics of Ted Rall.

Hogan's Alley by RF Outcault
Hogan's Alley of 13 September 1896

In order to let readers carefully look at every detail, Outcault was allowed more and more space. By 24 May 1896 new episodes were published on an entire newspaper page. This practice was soon copied by other papers. By the end of the century and particularly the first half of the 20th many newspaper comics artists were able to express their graphic and lay-out skills on full-colour pages. Classic artists like Winsor McCay, Lyonel Feininger and George Herriman may otherwise never have gained their chance to shine. As 'The Yellow Kid' became the very reason why many people bought copies of The New York World, Outcault was eventually bought away by William Randolph Hearst, owner of the rival newspaper The New York Journal, to star in their Sunday colour supplement: The American Humorist. On 18 October 1896 The Yellow Kid appeared in its first issue. Since Hearst couldn't legally use the name 'Hogan's Alley' the series was now renamed 'McFadden's Row of Flats'. New episodes of 'Hogan's Alley' kept appearing in The World, but these were drawn by George Luks. 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 cartoonist so popular that newspapers actually tried to outbid one another to have him sign an exclusivity contract with them.


The Yellow Kid and his Phonograph (25 October 1896)

Still, 'Hogan's Alley', or 'The Yellow Kid' as most people called it, was not yet quite a comic strip in those days. All episodes were one-panel gag cartoons and the dialogue didn't appear in speech balloons but written on the kid's gown. The big transition only occurred on 25 October 1896. That day an episode named 'The Yellow Kid and his Phonograph' was published. It told a gag in five separate scenes. Even though the kid's dialogue is still printed on his gown most of the time he does use speech balloons here and there. It's therefore that historians have cited this day as the "official birth of comics". In 1996 this date was also chosen to celebrate the medium's first centennial. Outcault would make more use of the comics format from that moment on, even though he still used speech balloons rarely and mostly reserved them for the background animals. The Yellow Kid apparently preferred communicating through "talking T-shirts".

Naturally, the status of 'The Yellow Kid' as the "first comic strip in history" is contestable. Denis Gifford famously claimed Marie Duval and Charles Henry Ross' 'Ally Sloper' (1867) was more deserving of that title. Others point to Wilhelm Busch's 'Max und Moritz' (1866) or the even older 'Histoire de M. Vieux Bois' (1837) by Rodolphe Töpffer. While all of them are significant series in the history of the medium, they were in essence text comics, with the story and dialogue written underneath the images. This is not to say that Outcault pioneered speech balloons: these had been around since the Middle Ages in various paintings, engravings and book illustrations. The earliest artist to use them and sign his name underneath them was Francis Barlow in 1672 with the one-shot cartoon 'The Cheese of Dutch Rebellion' and his combination of a text and balloon comic: 'The Horrid Hellish Popish Plot' (1682). Various late 18th and early 19th century cartoonists like Richard Newton, James Gillray, George Cruikshank, Isaac Cruikshank, Isaac Robert Cruikshank and Thomas Rowlandson often used speech balloons, but rarely in a sequential narrative. George Cruikshank's 'The Preparatory School' (1849) is one of the few exceptions. Even in the 19th century most cartoonists made text comics with only a few using speech balloons, like Charles Jameson Grant and Charles Keene. But even they created just one-shots. All comics artists who used recurring characters, like George Cruikshank, Rodolphe Töpffer, Gustave Doré, Félix Nadar, Charles Henry Ross and Mary Duval, Wilhelm Busch, Léonce Petit, Palmer Cox, Georges Colomb and Jimmy Swinnerton hardly used speech balloons either. The only comics before Outcault to use sequential narratives with speech balloons based around recurring characters are Arthur Racey's 'The Englishman in Canada' (1893-1894) and Charles Saalburg's 'The Ting-Lings' (1894-1897). But only 'The Ting-Lings' lasted quite long. In that regard Outcault's 'The Yellow Kid' was the first comic strip to be published with speech balloons, narrative sequences, a clear recurring protagonist and to appear on a daily basis for nearly four years straight. None of the elements on their own were innovative, but the sum of its parts was. Last but not least, it was the first comic strip to spawn an industry.


The Yellow Kid, 27 December 1896 (Source: San Francisco Academy of Comic Art Collection, The Ohio State Univeristy Cartoon Research Library)

Previously Thomas Rowlandson's 'Dr. Syntax' (1812/1820/1821) already inspired some small-key merchandising, but this was nothing compared to the commercialization of 'The Yellow Kid'! The grinning infant appeared on countless objects, from buttons, key-rings, statuettes, chewing gum to cigarettes and household appliances. In March 1897 the character received its own magazine published by Howard, Ainslee & Co. Before this only Ross and Duval's 'Ally Sloper' had received that honor with 'Ally Sloper's Half Holiday' (1884-1916), though this magazine lasted much longer. The Yellow Kid magazine ran for nine issues, and was then renamed to The Yellow Book. Although it ran only a few cartoons and strips, with Outcault's character appearing only in the first six issues, The Yellow Kid is often cited as the launch of the US comic book industry. The publication date of the first issue, 20 March 1897, is therefore generally coined as the start of the "Platinum Age of Comic Books". The industry would peak during its Golden Age in the 1940s and the Silver Age in the 1960s. Gus Hill adapted the 'The Yellow Kid' into a series of vaudeville plays, which were further adapted into the silent slapstick films 'McFadden's Flats' (1927 and 1935, respectively). No other comics character before had ever been subject of so much media adaptations and commercial products! It proved to many people that comics had commercial potential. Many newspapers now had to have their own comics supplement, especially on Sundays. Hundreds of cartoonists suddenly received a chance to publish their own comic strips. Most of them directly copied Outcault's drawing style, lay-out and use of speech balloons. By the time the 20th century rolled along most American comics had adapted the balloon format. Text comics were almost wiped out of extinction.


Around the World with the Yellow Kid, 14 February 1897 (Source: San Francisco Academy of Comic Art Collection, The Ohio State Univeristy Cartoon Research Library)

Between 14 November 1896 and 7 May 1897, Outcault had his own illustrated column, 'A Leaflet From The Yellow Kid's Diary', which featured supposed pages from the Yellow Kid's diary. Most of the stories directly related to events that were in the news back then. Between 18 October 1896 and 10 January 1897 the character also starred in a cartoon feature called 'McFadden's Row of Flats'. On 20 January 1897 The Yellow Kid travelled to Europe for four months and kept readers informed with daily updates in the series 'Around the World with the Yellow Kid'. In one episode he even met Queen Victoria. The idea to send The Yellow Kid to another continent came from Hearst, who wanted to popularize the comic strip elsewhere in the world too. The editor of The American Humorist, Rudolph Block, even travelled to Europe to make local newspaper owners more interested. Block's own travel diary was published next to The Yellow Kid's daily escapades. Unfortunately, 'The Yellow Kid' never caught on outside the United States. One explanation might be its use of speech balloons, which were still an unusual phenomenon in Europe and not fully understood by most readers. Another reason was probably its "couleur locale". 'The Yellow Kid' is very New Yorkian in atmosphere. All characters speak the local dialect, which is written phonetically, and all backgrounds are clearly set in local streets and hoods. This didn't translate well with European audiences. Most people at the time associated the United States with cowboy stories and New York City with skyscrapers and the Statue of Liberty, rarely much else. As such 'The Yellow Kid' always remained an American phenomenon. This was fine as long as the series remained popular, but 'The Yellow Kid' soon became the first heavily commercialized comic strip to succumb under audience fatigue, resulting in its eventual cancellation.


Ryan's Arcade, 26 December 1896 (Source: San Francisco Academy of Comic Art Collection, The Ohio State Univeristy Cartoon Research Library)

The first signs that the popularity of the series was waning occurred on 30 May 1897. That day 'The Yellow Kid' suddenly disappeared from Hearst's papers, without any explanation. On 25 September of that same year the comic strip made an equally unexplained comeback, this time in a half-page strip called 'Ryan's Arcade'. Yet its return didn't change much. On 23 January 1898 the final episode appeared in print. Interestingly enough, Luks' 'Hogan's Alley' also briefly disappeared from Pulitzer's papers in August and September, only to return one week after The Yellow Kid's comeback. But 'Hogan's Alley' was even less popular than 'The Yellow Kid' and vanished from the papers on 5 December 1897. There are a few reasons why Outcault's once so popular comic strip suddenly ran its course. It had attracted far too much publicity within the past few years. Due to Hearst's aggressive commercialisation the character appeared everywhere which eventually tired many people. Since the comic strip was only successful in the U.S. it also meant that once it lost its popularity there it was doomed to fade away. Last but not least Outcault's creation had also attracted negative publicity. First of all, Outcault's portrayal of vulgar street kids from the New York slums got much criticism from the local elite establishment. When The New York World and The New York Journal used sleazy and screaming headlines to promote "their one and only official version of 'The Yellow Kid'" people began to refer to such marketing and journalism techniques as "yellow journalism." The association stuck since cartoonists in other papers who satirized Hearst's lack of ethics often caricatured The Yellow Kid within the same drawing. And thus the same force who was responsible for the Yellow Kid's success now tainted it beyond repair. Today the term "yellow journalism" is still in use, even among people who have no idea of its origin. Another bad association was American con man Joseph Weil, who was nicknamed 'The Yellow Kid' during his lifetime. The whole affair was socially embarassing for the artist, who therefore lost his interest in his creation.

Casey's Corner by R.F. Outcault
Casey's Corner (13 March 1898)

Other creations
In February 1898 Outcault made a remarkable return to Pulitzer's New York World, for which he created a new comic strip, 'Casey's Corner' (1898), which appeared from 13 February until 8 April 1898. The series featured stereotypically portrayed black people who were bossed around by a strong black man referred to as "The New Bully". It directly referred to the Spanish-Cuban War and had Casey's group of military volunteers prepare themselves for battle. When the series was transferred to The New York Evening Journal on 9 April both its title as well as its format changed. From now on the comic strip was named 'Huckleberry Volunteers'. Each episode featured an one-panel cartoon with text on rhyme underneath the illustrations, written by staff member Paul West. Once again Outcault broke new ground by making each panel part of a continuous narrative, published on a daily basis. In order to understand the story readers had buy each issue and keep yesterday's issue nearby. The series was abruptly ended on 21 April, when president William McKinley ordered the blockade of Cuba, whereupon the United States entered the Spanish-Cuban War. Mocking a real-life war seemed less funny and Outcault brought back The Yellow Kid to lead the troops in his cartoons. The cartoons became more patriotic in tone and had little to do with the previous storylines, making it a completely different series. By 1898 Hearst had also appointed Outcault as editor of the New York Evening Journal's comics section. The artist furthermore created two installments of 'The Evening Journal's Private Asylum' on 3 and 17 June 1898. The feature was revived by Jimmy Swinnerton between 1900 and 1902. Outcault continued to work for the World as well, creating the screwball panel 'Kelly’s Kindergarten' (16 October 1898-6 August 1899), as well as the short-lived 'Persimonville (With Rastus)' (13 August until 26 November 1899) and 'Gallus Coon' (10 June until 1 July 1900). Some of these features were also distributed to other Pulitzer newspapers like the St. Louis Post Dispatch.

Kelly's Kindergarten by RF Outcault

Outcault created comics and cartoons for other papers as well, like The Philadelphia Inquirer where the short-lived Sunday panels 'The Country School' (1898) and 'The Barnyard Club' (1898) appeared in print. In The New York Herald 'Buddy Tucker' (1899) also had a short lifespan, though the series is notable for being the first comic strip to star a bellhop, almost 40 years before Rob-Vel created 'Spirou' (1938). Another significant series was 'Pore Li'l Mose' (1900-1902), which starred a little black boy who enjoyed playing pranks but always became the hoist of his own petard. His best friends were a bear named Billy, a cat named Pussy and a monkey simply named Monkey. The series debuted in The New York Herald and continued until August 1902. 'Pore Li'l Mose' goes down in history as the first comic to star a black character. Black people had been featured in American and European comics before but usually as side characters, like Outcault's own 'Casey's Corner'. Unfortunately 'Pore Li'l Mose' hardly broke any racial barriers. Its stereotypical portrayal of a black person merely confirmed prejudices. Black children were also the subject of 'Shakespeare in Possumville' (1899-1900), a series of twenty drawings by Outcault for Judge magazine, which reflected black interpretations of the plot and language of William Shakespeare. Other creations for the New York Herald were 'Nixie' (18 March until 23 September 1900) and 'Budd and his Aunt Becky' (28 October until 30 December 1900).

Buddy Tucker, by R.F. Outcault 1905
Buddy Tucker

Buster Brown
It took until 1902 before Outcault created a comics character with the same staying power as The Yellow Kid: 'Buster Brown' (1902-1921). Once again the hero was a little boy, but whereas his predecessor was a street kid, Buster had wealthy parents. He and his parents lived in a beautiful mansion, with their own butler and maids. Little Buster dressed accordingly too. He wore a long hat, a bowtie and a fancy pink suit, all directly borrowed from the title character in Frances Hodgson Burnett's classic children's' novel 'Little Lord Fauntleroy' (1886), as well as a little boy the artist used to know named Granville Hamilton Fisher. Buster Brown's sweetheart, Mary Jane, took her looks and name from the cartoonist' own daughter. Buster's pitbull Tige was a more innovative character. The little mongrel usually commented on everything that happened. While readers could read his opinions, all other characters apparently didn't, as they never reacted to what he said.

Buster Brown merchandize, 1905

First published in James Gordon Bennett's The New York Herald on 4 May 1902, 'Buster Brown' was an instant success. Each episode featured the title character playing a prank on someone and getting punished for it. At the turn of the century such characters were very popular in juvenile literature, given the success of series like Wilhelm Busch's 'Max und Moritz' (1866) and the direct rip-off 'Der Katzenjammer Kids' (1898-2006) by Rudolph Dirks. The main difference was that 'Buster Brown' still had a very clear moral. After being punished Buster usually addresses the audience and tells them what he has learned from his ordeal. Oddly enough some of his morals don't always directly refer to the prank in question, but are more general life lessons. And to the close observer it becomes clear that Buster rarely means what he says. His facial expressions and comments give his true intentions away. Outcault knew that the censors would never inspect his drawings that closely and thus he got away with this subversive streak time and time again. 'Buster Brown' may also be the first instance in comics history of two characters from different series making a crossover. The Yellow Kid paid Buster a visit four times, twice each in 1907 and 1910.

Buster Brown, by Outcault
Buster Brown

Despite being quite preachy, 'Buster Brown' far outlasted 'The Yellow Kid' in terms of enduring fame and longevity. In 1904 the artist made a deal with the Brown Shoe Company to use Buster Brown as their mascot. This marks the first instance in history of a comics character being commercialized by a company with no ties to the publishing world. The firm toured across the United States so that salesmen could promote their shoe products, while dwarf actors appeared dressed up as Buster and - in a dog suit - as Tige. Several shoe stores gave away copies of 'Buster Brown' comics as premium to customers. The comic strip also boosted the sales of belted, double-breasted jackets with straw hats, round collars, floppy bows and knickerbockers shorts. Many parents bought them for their infant sons and the suit in question was quickly nicknamed "Buster Brown suit". It won't surprise anybody that mothers loved these outfits more than the kids who had to wear them. Except for one: Eugene Jacques Bullard, who one decade later would become America's first African-American military pilot during the First World War. As a child he was such a fan of the comic strip that he saw it as an honour to wear these costumes. Another piece of clothing inspired by the series were a type of girls' shoes named "Mary Janes". 'Buster Brown' was also used to advertise raisins, cigars and whiskey. In 1905 the comic was adapted into a Broadway play, followed by two live-action slapstick films in 1925 and 1929. In 1943 it became an audio play broadcast on the radio and was adapted to television seven years later. Such was its impact on popular culture that it inspired a few American playground rhymes.

Buster Brown by RF Outcault

'Buster Brown' also had a significant influence on other comics. J.R. Bray's animated series 'Bobby Bumps' (1915-1925) featured a mischievous boy and his dog directly inspired by Buster Brown. Martin Branner modelled Perry Winkle in 'Winnie Winkle' (1920) on Buster, while Frans Piët's 'Sjors van de Rebellenclub' (1936) in the Netherlands was further derived from Winkle. In Brazil 'Buster Brown' appeared as 'Chiquinho' in the children's magazine O Tico-Tico, where local artists like Luís Gomes Loureiro often loosely adapted the stories. The idea of a talking pet commenting on events while characters in the comic strip ignore him can also be found in the dog Snowy (from Hergé's 'Tintin'), the squirrel Spip (from Rob-Vel's 'Spirou) and the horse Jolly Jumper (from Morris' 'Lucky Luke').

As 'Buster Brown' became a commercial success, Hearst once again bought Outcault away on 31 December 1905 so he could publish this hit series in his own newspaper, The New York American (named The American by then), from January 1906 on. This led to a lawsuit and by court decision 'Buster Brown' was allowed to run in both papers. Yet The New York Herald could only keep the title and as such a different artist was hired, William Lawler, to redesign the characters slightly but keep the overall concept intact. Other artists contributing to this version were Winsor McCay, Wallace MorganNorman Jennett and Worden Wood. Meanwhile Outcault's version continued in The New York American under the new title 'Buster and Tige'. While Lawler's imitation already ended in 1911, Outcault's original continued well until December 1921. He even hired assistants to help him out, such as Penny Ross and Doc Winner. Like with the Yellow Kid, Outcault also created a text feature around his character. 'The Autobiography of Buster Brown' appeared from 25 March 1906 until 13 January 1907. Between 1945 and 1959, new 'Buster Brown' stories were produced by Custom Comics in commission of the Buster Brown Shoe Stores. Reed Crandall, Dan Barry, August Froehlich and Fred Kida were artists for these premiums.


Buster Brown, 16 August 1903

Later life and legacy
Later in his career Outcault only created two other short-lived comics series for The New York Herald named 'Tommy Dodd' (1904) and 'Aunt Ophelia' (1904). In 1910 he even founded his own eponymous advertising agency, The Outcault Advertising Company, to oversee the merchandising related to 'Buster Brown'. Although Outcault never actually owned the copyright to his own work, this didn't prevent him from frequently suing anyone who violated it. Richard F. Outcault spent his final years painting, while reprints of 'Buster Brown' continued to circulate in newspapers as late as 1926. The artist died in 1928 in Queens, New York, at the age of 65.

For a long while Outcault sank away in oblivion, only remembered for 'Buster Brown' since its run lasted much longer. While he had a strong impact on many late 19th-century and early 20th-century American cartoonists like J.R. Bray ('The Quality Kid', 1913), Lank Leonard, George McManus, Frank H. Ladendorf, Martin Branner and Walt Disney, his stature diminished after his death. Particularly 'The Yellow Kid' was almost forgotten. Yet in 1956 Norman Mingo created a mascot for Al Feldstein and William M. Gaines' Mad Magazine named Alfred E. Neuman, whose grinning face, buckteeth and Dumbo ears had a lot in common with The Yellow Kid. Still it took until the early 1960s before 'The Yellow Kid' was rediscovered and revaluated by historians. Many books, articles and documentaries now cited it as the first comic ever, particularly in the field of newspaper comics and U.S. comics. As noted before this claim is up for debate, but Outcault is certainly one of a select few who had a key influence on the history of the medium. It's virtually impossible to imagine comics history without him. And nobody but him can claim to have single-handedly launched the comics industry. Today Outcault's name and his two signature creations 'The Yellow Kid' and 'Buster Brown' are booked for the ages, never to be forgotten again. The Yellow Kid is still instantly recognizable to many comics aficionados. The character was one of many to have a cameo in Mort Walker and Jerry Dumas' self-reflexive comic strip 'Sam's Strip' (1961-1963). In 1970 the Italian city Lucca organized an annual comics award festival named the Premio Yellow Kid ("The Yellow Kid Awards"), which lasted until 2005. In 1994 Tom Heintjes and Rick Marshall named their magazine for fans of comics and cartoons Hogan's Alley, even using the Yellow Kid as their official mascot on every cover. When the 100th anniversary of comics was celebrated in 1996 'The Yellow Kid' naturally received a lot of media attention again. In 2008 Outcault was posthumously inducted in the Will Eisner Comic Book Hall Of Fame.

Richard F. Outcault

R.F. Outcault Society's Yellow Kid website

The Yellow Kid on the site of the Ohio State University Libraries

Series and books by Richard F. Outcault in stock in the Lambiek Webshop:

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