Friday, December 10, 2010
News of Yore 1928: R.F. Outcault in Memorium
Richard F. Outcault, 65, generally known as "Father of the American Comic Strip," died at his home in Flushing, N.Y., Sept. 25. His creations, "The Yellow Kid" and "Buster Brown," became popular among newspaper readers all over the world and made Mr. Outcault a fortune. He retired ten years ago, but continued to receive royalties from his work through the Outcault Advertising Company of Chicago, of which he was president until his death, and of which his son, Richard F. Outcault, is vice-president.
The son survives him as does his wife, formerly Miss Mary Jane Martin of Lancaster, O., and a daughter, Mrs. Frank E. Pershing of Flushing, wife of the nephew of General Pershing.
Mr. Outcault was born in Lancaster, O., the son of J.P. and Catherine Davis Outcault. He received his art education at McMicken University. His early years were ones of struggle. While he sold some pictures to the comic weeklies, he pieced out his income by painting landscapes on burglar-proof safes for a Cincinnati firm. But so great was his success later as a comic artist that before he was 45 he was able to take his family on tours of the world and to work at his easel only when he felt so disposed.
Several comic artists, including Frank [sic - Jimmy] Swinnerton and "Bud" Fisher have claimed to be the creator of the first comic strip. Mr. Outcault's claim dates it to 1894. In November of that year the New York World, having purchased a new four-color press, brought out the first colored "funnies." Morrill Goddard was the Sunday editor and prevailed over others who wanted to use the new press to print colored fashions. Mr. Outcault, then a draughtsman for the Electrical World, offered the daily a comic showing a clown and a wolfhound as characters. This was the first Sunday comic.
Mr. Outcault was also a news artist for the World, drawing black and white sketches to illustrate news and feature stories. A copy of the World from December 1895, consulted this week, revealed four drawings with the famous Outcault signature. These drawings typified the sense of humor of the man who later developed the "Buster Brown" series with the humorous "Resolutions" with which for years each comic was ended. One was of a "rocking bath tub" to be installed in the home to provide its user with surf bathing in winter. Another pictured New York street beggars on duty and the sub-heading told that it was "drawn from life at Number 9 Brewery." The other two Outcault pictures in this issue of the World illustrated news stories of the day, one a Japanese facial contortionist visiting the country, and the other a butcher's war during which rival shop owners hired brass bands to lure customers away from each other.
Not long after the World had given Outcault prominence in its colored section, William Randolph Hearst offered the artist more money to join the New York Journal. On the Journal "Hogan's Alley" which later became "The Yellow Kid" was started in 1896.
The name "Yellow Kid" developed from a joke, according to A.T. Crighton [sic - Crichton] who is now on the staff of Editor & Publisher, was on the staff of the Journal as an artist with Mr. Outcault in those early days.
The gutter-snipe character of "Hogan's Alley" that grew to be the "Yellow Kid" always appeared clad in a nightgown. In the first of the series this nightgown was left white. One day, however, Gus Thom, engraving room foreman in charge of selecting colors for the comics decided, as a joke, to print the nightgown in yellow. It immediately caught the public's fancy. The editor ordered this color continued, and eventually the "Yellow Kid" outlived the fame of the original "Hogan's Alley."
"The Yellow Kid" was not popular with all readers. Because of his antics, and particularly because of the nightgown he wore, frequent letters were received from Journal readers asking the editor to reform this character who was corrupting the flaming youth of the '90s. Obligingly, Outcault drew an extra piece on his character's nightgown, letting it fall almost to his ankles.
This first comic flourished in the days of sensational news reporting and the term "Yellow Journalism" grew out of "The Yellow Kid," the connotation that it was the bad boy of journalism.
"Hogan's Alley" and "The Yellow Kid" soon made their debut on the stage and for several years manufacturers in almost every line, from ginger snaps to wearing apparel, paid royalties for the use of the famous character as a trade mark.
"The Yellow Kid" continued appearing in the Journal during 1896 and 1897. In 1901 Mr. Outcault left newspapers for the humorous magazines and his character "Pore Li'I Mose" was created for publication in Judge.
Mr. Outcault told one of his old friends that he lost most of the money he had made from "The Yellow Kid" in Wall Street and that he created "Buster Brown" to recoup his fortune. "Buster Brown" appeared first in the New York Herald in 1902.
The birth of that famous comic was based on Oulcault's son, Richard, and his daughter, Mary Jane, and their bulldog. John Golden, the theatrical producer, gave Richard, Jr., a brindle bull pup and when the dog arrived at the Outcault home, the artist had an idea. He decided he would build his next comic around a Little Lord Fauntleroy, but make the lad mischievous and, although Buster Brown was the antithesis of the "Yellow Kid" he became even more popular. "Buster Brown" was a success on the stage and in almost every line of trade as well. The royalties again began pouring in.
As "Buster Brown" grew in popularity on the Herald other editors in different sections of the country wrote in to purchase rights for publication in their territory, and it was syndicated. In those days the syndicate idea was new, and the artists were not as well taken care of as they are today. William Reick, James Gordon Bennett's right-hand man on the Herald of 1903, handled the syndication. Mr. Outcault appealed to him for more pay.
Mr. Reick laughed at the artist.
"You ought to thank us for printing that stuff of yours," he said.
Mr. Outcault threatened to resign.
"Go Ahead," challenged Mr. Reick. "I can get any number of men to draw your Buster Brown."
Mr. Outcault did resign, but first he saw to it he had another job with Hearst at more salary. The Outcault "Buster Brown" began appearing in the Hearst newspapers, and Mr. Reick employed other artists to continue the "Buster Brown" in the Herald and other papers to which the comic had been sold. A court battle resulted which ended in the Herald keeping the name of "Buster Brown." Outcault had to call his strip "Buster and His Dog Tige" and "Buster and His Friends." For many years two "Buster Browns," drawn by different artists, appeared in American newspapers. William Lawler drew the Herald's "Buster Brown" for many years.
While he had not reserved for himself the newspaper rights to his character, Mr. Outcault had business acumen enough to provide that he would own all other rights. When he saw the financial possibilities in his work he formed the Outcault Advertising Company which deals in various kinds of picture advertising today, but which originally sold rights to the Outcault characters.
The New York World, in an editorial Thursday said:
"To say that the late R. F. Outcault was the inventor of the comic supplement is of course to ignore the social factors that lead up to all inventions. There were the comic pages of Puck and Judge, often colored; the immense enlargement of the newspaper-reading public demonstrated by Joseph Pulitzer; the birth of Sunday journalism, and its 'features'; the development from Nast and Kepler [sic - Keppler] of the newspaper cartoon; and the improvements in metal etching and color printing. But it is due Morrill Goddard, Sunday editor of the World, to say that he saw in the early nineties that the time was ripe for 'comic art', and it is due Mr. Outcault to say that his talent made the most of the opening. The Kid of Hogan's Alley, which Mr. Outcault soon made famous, was as genuine a creation as Chimmie Fadden. The creation is said to have been derived from a chance drawing of some dirty urchins rehearsing the Duke of Marlborough's wedding; and, at any rate, every one recognized the street gamin of New York—impudent, clever, somewhat diabolic, and always diverting.
"Our generation finds the comic strip or cartoon in almost every newspaper and has seen it capture half the English press. It is hard now to understand the fierceness with which staid observers denounced it in the nineties, the contempt with which foreigners spoke of its 'childishness.' Vulgar and banal it often was. But the critics failed to realize that there might be an evolution from the early crudity. Mr. Outcault's Buster Brown, which marked a step up, consoled millions of youngsters for the boredom of Sunday without doing them any harm. Today the powerful Katrinka, the Toonerville Trolley, the shrinking Mr. Milquetoast, the affairs of Gasoline Alley and Mr. McCutcheon's country-boy pictures are followed the country over. Some of them are merely amusing, hut others are more; they reflect cleverly and good-naturedly some phase of American life or character which deserves pictorial record."
[Allan's note: the above article is full of factual errors, questionable assertions and fanciful bits of history. Take it all with a grain of salt. I refrained from making any edits except to correct obviously wrong names]
Labels: News of Yore
In 1900 Outcault was the head of the household at 453 155th Street at St. Nicholas Avenue in upper Manhattan. He had been married for 10 years to Mary and had two children, Richard Jr. and Mary. His occupation was "Artist". The American Art Directory, Volume 3, 1900, had the same address. In 1904, "Who's Who in New York City and State" was published. It included a short biography of Outcault who lived in Flushing, Long Island, New York, and had an office at the New York Herald Building.
The 1910 census had the Outcault home address as 245 Madison Avenue in Flushing. He was an "Artist" making "Comic Drawings".
Father and son were in business together in the 1920 census. Their occupation was "General" in the "Advertising" trade. The census and the American Art Annual, Volume 24, 1927 had the same address, 245 Madison Avenue. That street name no longer exists. Using present-day street names, Outcault lived on 41st Avenue just east of 147th Street. The neighborhood is now part of the so-called Flushing Chinatown in Queens. Outcault passed away on September 25, 1928.
On September 28, 1928, the Brooklyn Daily Eagle published this item:
PRIVATE SERVICES HELD FOR RICHARD F. OUTCAULT
Funeral services were held privately last night in the Gibson Apartments,
1400 Northern blvd., Flushing, for Richard F. Outcault, creator of "Buster
Brown," "Yellow Kid" and other characters for the comic supplements.
Only relatives and a few friends of the cartoonist were admitted to the
service. Mr. Outcault died Tuesday night, in his 65th year. The body will
be cremated today.
An article in the Springfield Republican, September 27, 1928, had the address as "148-09 Northern boulevard". The Gibson apartment building was located on the northwest corner Northern Blvd. and 149th Street. It was about three blocks north of Outcault's former residence.
When Outcault's wife died in Los Angeles, they were interred in the Forest Lawn Memorial Park Cemetery in Glendale, California. (www.findagrave.com/cgi-bin/fg.cgi?page=gr&GRid=10336)
On March 23, 1975, the New York TImes reported on the Queens Historical Society's proposal to the United States Postal Service for a stamp commemorating Outcault on the 50th anniversary of his death, coming in 1978. Although the proposal was turned down, Outcault's Yellow Kid got his stamp, on his 100th anniversary, in 1995.