Richard Felton Outcault was one of the great comic pioneers, and often credited as the inventor of the comic strip. Coming from Lancaster, Ohio, Outcault was a graduate from the McMicken University in Cincinnati, who studied art in Paris, and eventually settled in New York. After doing illustration work for publications like The Electrical World, Life and Judge, he was hired by media tycoon Joseph Pulitzer to come and work for the New York World in 1894.
For this newspaper, Outcault made series of often crowded cartoons set in certain quarters in Manhattan, which eventually resulted in the feature 'Down in Hogan's Alley'. Being one of the first continuing series with a regular cast, one character stood out. At the time, it was still difficult to use yellow ink in color printing, since it didn't dry properly. When one of the World's foremen of the color-press room wanted to experiment with a new type of yellow ink, he used the shirt of one of Outcault's characters as a test area. 'The Yellow Kid' was born.
The Yellow Kid had great success, and it generated the first comic merchandising ever: there were Yellow Kid key-rings, statuettes and a lot of other related paraphernalia sold. The character and its creator also became a pivot in the newspaper battle between tycoons Pulitzer and William Randolph Hearst. Hearst overbid Pulitzer and Outcault went to work for his New York Morning Journal. A lawsuit followed, which resulted in Outcault being able to take his cast of characters over to the Journal, but the name 'Hogan's Alley' remained with Pulitzer. In the World, 'Hogan's Alley' was continued by George Luks, while Outcault made new features under the title 'McFadden's Row of Flats' for the Journal. Eventually, both titles appeared under the name 'The Yellow Kid'. With two rival 'Yellow Kids' appearing in the two newspapers, a new phrase in the American newspaper vernacular was born, "yellow journalism".
When the interest in 'Yellow Kid' cooled down around 1901, Outcault created new features, such as 'Lil' Mose', the first strip with a black person as its principal character, in James Gordon Bennett's New York Herald. Then in 1902, R. F. Outcault created 'Buster Brown', another classic which would have even more success than The Yellow Kid. It too had lots of merchandise available, even including a popular line of kid's shoes by the Brown Shoe Company. The character was also used to advertise for cigars and whiskey. And again, Hearst bought Outcault away from the rivaling newspaper, which was followed by a lawsuit and resulted in two separate Buster Browns appearing in the Bennett's Herald and in Hearst's American.
Outcault continued the adventures of Buster Brown, his sweetheart Mary Jane and his dog Tige until 1921, after which the papers turned to reruns. In addition, he had created other features, such as 'Tommy Dodd' and 'Aunt Ophelia' in the New York Herald (1904), as well as 'Buddy Tucker', featuring a side-character from 'Buster Brown', in 1905. Richard Outcault died in Queens, New York in 1928, at the age of 65.