Thursday, January 14, 2010

Richard Felton Outcault: The American Comic Strip is Born!

Born this day in 1863, today is the 147th anniversary of Richard Felton Outcault -- the Great-Grandaddy of ALL American Comic Strips!

Outcault was a spot illustrator for Joseph Pulitzer on his New York World when Pulitzer acquired one of the first color printing presses. Outcault did full page drawings of New York slum life with lots and lots of activity in them, in the foreground was a small Irish boy in a nightshirt named Mickey Dugan. On this nightshirt would be Dugan's commentary on the scene in question. Pulitzer's printing press colored that shirt bright yellow. And so the American comic strip was born as a color Sunday feature on May 5, 1895 with the color debut of "Hogan's Alley"!

The strip is responsible for another infamous first, when Outcault was offered more money by Pulitzer competitor William Randolph Hearst and went to work for the New York Journal instead. Pulitzer kept running the strip in The World done by other cartoonists and a copyright battle ensued. It ended up in both papers..."Hogan's Alley" by whoever in The World, "The Yellow Kid" by Outcault in The Journal...and the term "Yellow Journalism" got it's name.

Here's a couple of samples of the strip from later years after it took on page panels, word balloons and other conventions of the modern comic strip...and shows an example of another innovation...the "Spin-Off". Turns out Mickey Dugan's cousin is a well-to-do little boy named Buster Brown.

That's right. Outcault also pioneered in franchising his characters. The Buster Brown above is the very one that we all know as the character used by the shoe manufacturer in marketing their kids shoes. Mary Jane was Buster's sister.

The Yellow Kid appeared in novels:

Sheet music of a popular song written around him:
Picture puzzles:
Pin-back buttons:

And even periodicals like this one, a fore-runner of the comic book:

Here's Buster Brown
He lives in a shoe
Here's his dog Tige
He lives in there too:

Not only is this probably the first example of a product using a cartoon character to market itself, it may be one of the most successful. You can still buy Buster brown shoes over a century after most folks even remember that it was a comic strip first!

Buster was a mischievous boy, who after every cataclysm, would make a resolution...usually with his fingers crossed and a wink to the audience.

Being bad is so much more fun than being good!

These are both a couple of early masterpieces of the comic strip. And ones that laid a path for over 100 years of fun on Sunday mornings!

Thanks Richard, for paving the way!

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