The Ting-Lings
'The Ting-Lings' - 'The Ting Lings Go Cycling', 1894. 

Charles W. Saalburg was a 19th-century American cartoonist, best remembered for his newspaper comic 'The Ting-Lings' (1894-1897). Together with Richard F. Outcault, he is often credited for being the earliest American comic artist. Some even argue that he preceeds Outcault and that the latter borrowed much from his graphic style. Other historians contest this claim and feel that 'The Ting-Lings' was mostly a one-panel cartoon feature, with occasional comic strip-like sequential narratives, while 'The Yellow Kid' fits our modern-day definition of a comic strip much better. Whatever the case, Saalburg still played an important role in the history of 'The Yellow Kid', since he first colored the character's gown yellow. 

Early life and career
Charles William Saalburg was born in 1865 in San Francisco. His father was the editor of the San Francisco Weekly Times, while his mother was a housekeeper of Prussian-Jewish descent. As a child he already enjoyed caricaturing teachers on the blackboard. After completing the fourth grade, he left school at age ten. He decided to become a lithographer and colourized maps in this function. After moving to New York City, he became a lithographic colour assistant for companies like Sackett, Julius Bien & Co and Wilhelms and Betzig. He eventually returned to his birth city. In 1889 Saalburg joined his fathers' lithograph and print shop Rosenthal-Saalburg Company in Ellis Street, San Francisco. He was additionally editor of the Jewish Times and Observer. The family published a Jewish calendar under their own name, in which Saalburg published his first illustrations.

Cover for The Wasp by Charles Saalburg
Cover illustration for The Wasp, 14 March 1891. 

Between 1889 and 1892 Saalburg published many early cartoons in the local weekly magazine The Wasp. The Wasp was renowned at the time for featuring colour cartoons when most other magazines still published in black and white. Among his colleagues at the time were cartoonists like George Frederick Keller, Henry Barkhaus, Solly H. Walter and Henry Nappenbach. He mostly illustrated the theatre world and people in the lecture circuit. By 1890 he was put in charge of The Wasp's art department, but left two years later over their "indecent cartoons which offended my taste."

Saalburg became a political cartoonist for William Randolph Hearst's San Francisco Examiner instead. By 1893 he and fellow cartoonist W.W. Denslow left Hearst and settled down in Chicago, Illinois. Here both men were employed as cartoonists for the local newspaper The Inter Ocean. Saalburg became chief editor of their colour supplement, The Inter Ocean Jr., making him the first cartoonist to publish a color cartoon in a newspaper.

'The Ting-Lings' from the cover of the Inter Ocean Jr. (19 July 1894).

The Ting-Lings
In early 1894 Saalburg created an unauthorized spin-off of Palmer Cox' popular comic strip 'The Brownies'. Naturally he was soon forced to give it up, but his replacement comic still betrayed Cox' influence. Just like 'The Brownies', Saalburg's comic strip 'The Ting-Lings' (1894, 1896-1897) also featured cute little men. Though in his case they weren't gnomes, but stereotypically portrayed Chinese people. The first episode was published on 29 April 1894 in The Ocean Illustrated Supplement and it initially ran until 8 July of that same year. The series was revived for the farmers' magazine Comfort in 1896-1897 and also published outside the United States in the British magazine Home Chat. The stories were additionally made available in book format by the London publisher Dean & Son. Saalburg contributed puzzles to the London magazine Pearson's as well. While 'The Ting-Lings' has faded into obscurity today and is quite racially offensive to modern audiences, it is still historically important as one of the earliest U.S. newspaper comics. Most of the time 'The Ting-Lings' was a one-panel cartoon, but occasionally it made use of sequential drawings too. The comic strip is additionally one of the earliest to have recurring title characters. Its daily publication schedule also distinguished it from most other comics at the time, which typically appeared weekly or monthly. 

Influence on 'The Yellow Kid'
There are strong indications that 'The Ting-Lings' influenced Richard F. Outcault's 'Hogan's Alley' (1895-1898), better known as 'The Yellow Kid'. In fact, Saalburg and Outcault were at point colleagues at the same newspaper. In July 1895 The Inter Ocean was sold to another publisher, which motivated  Saalburg to move to New York City. There he became chief editor of Joseph Pulitzer's colour pages in his newspaper The New York World. 'Hogan's Alley' ran in this paper since 1895 and in colour since 5 May of that same year. At the time, Outcault's comic was still a one-panel cartoon series, depicting street life in New York City. A bald, gap-toothed, grinning young boy soon rose from side character to the feature's protagonist. He wore a gown, originally colored grey, sometimes blue. On 5 January 1896 Saalburg suggest to color the character's costume yellow. Back then, yellow ink didn't dry properly, which made it difficult for printing. But once a more print-friendly yellow ink made its introduction, the problem was solved. Since yellow is an eye-catching color, the child character instantly grabbed readers' attention and was dubbed 'The Yellow Kid'. 

Saalburg's choice for the color yellow may have been influenced by the characters in his own series 'The Ting-Lings'. His characters also wear yellow costumes and have stereotypical Asian features like a bald head (albeit with ponytails), squinted eyes, buck teeth and a short size. From these visual characteristics, the 'Yellow Kid' may have been directly derived. 

Puzzle feature by Saalburg from The World Sunday, 11 September 1904.

First comic strip?
It has often been argued whether Charles Saalburg's 'The Ting-Lings' or Richard F. Outcault's 'The Yellow Kid' is the first comic strip in history? Technically, 'The Ting-Lings' is older and also used sequential illustrated narratives long before 'The Yellow Kid' did. Originally 'The Yellow Kid' was a pure one-panel cartoon series. It didn't use more panels until the episode 'The Yellow Kid And His Phonograph', printed on 25 October 1896. In that episode, a gag was told in five separate scenes, with speech balloons. Yet, 'The Yellow Kid' was subject of a more massive merchandising campaign and therefore enjoyed a far bigger commercial success. It practically launched the modern-day comic industry and influenced far more (U.S.) newspaper comic artists. But nobody can deny that Saalburg played a significant part in the commercial breakthrough of 'The Yellow Kid'. And one can't ignore the aggressive marketing campaigns by William Randolph Hearst and rival publisher Joseph Pulitzer, which also helped the comic strip grow into a cultural phenomenon. The most correct observation may be that 'The Yellow Kid' launched the modern-day comic strip as a genre, but 'The Ting-Lings' was the earliest regular appearing U.S. newspaper comic. 

Cartoon for the New York World (1890s)
Cartoon for the New York World (1890s).

Comics in The Wonder Supplement
In 1896 Saalburg left The New York World, but kept creating one-shot cartoons, puzzles, cut-outs and short-lived features for the newspaper and its Wonder Supplement until the early 20th century, such as 'The Chinks' (19 August - 29 November 1896), 'The Dinkies' (8-15 August 1897) and 'Hottentots' (12-19 June 1898). In December of 1896 he worked in London for the Acme Art Company. While in Europe, Saalburg also published in the French magazine Le Petit Journal.

Final years and death
On 21 December 1898 Saalburg moved back to San Francisco. A year later he co-founded the Lithotone Colortype Company in Chicago, which prided itself being able to print in three colours. Within a decade this was expanded in a genuine company: The Van Dyck Gravure Company, located in East Orange, New Jersey. Saalburg kept perfectionizing and patenting new printing techniques. He was part owner of the Animated Pictures Company and the Prismatone Company in New York. Charles Saalburg passed away in 1950. His sons Leslie and Allen Saalburg became illustrators in their own right.

Charles Saalburg by William Kelly, illustrating an article about Saalburg's return from Europe (The San Francisco Call, 21 December 1896).

Charles W. Saalburg on John Adcock's blog

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