Since 1895

Today’s Mother Goose and Grimm, celebrating the history of the comics:


The cartoon takes Outcault’s Yellow Kid to be (in some sense) the first comic strip. This is disputable, but Outcault certainly deserves recognition.

Previous discussion of The Yellow Kid (with images) on this blog in section 2 of a 5/6/14 posting. Now, on Outcault (pronounced like outcallt), from Wikipedia:

Richard Felton Outcault (January 14, 1863 – September 25, 1928) was an American comic strip writer-artist. He was the creator of the series The Yellow Kid and Buster Brown, and he is considered the inventor of the modern comic strip.

And on a blog by Richard D. Olson, “R. F. Outcault, The Father of the American Sunday Comics, and the Truth About the Creation of the Yellow Kid”:

Who is the Yellow Kid and why is everybody making a fuss over him? The answer is that he was the first successful comic strip character to achieve a popularity so great that he not only increased the sales of newspapers carrying him, but he was also the first to demonstrate that a comic strip character could be merchandised profitably. In fact, for these two reasons, the Yellow Kid and his creator, R. F. Outcault, are generally credited with permanently establishing the comic strip and making it a part of American society.

… Exactly when the Yellow Kid first appeared in the newspaper seems to vary according to the sources that a given author uses, thus perpetuating existing errors. To avoid this problem, I have personally reviewed the microfilm of The New York World for 1894 and 1895, and the Yellow Kid’s appearances are very clear. I am now going to list the first ten appearances of the Yellow Kid in the newspaper.

17 February 1895 “Fourth Ward Brownies” [reprinted from Truth]

10 March 1895 “The Fate of the Glutton” …

That gets it back to early in 1895 and stresses the cultural significance of the strip, rather than simple chronological priority.

In Monte Beauchamp’s recent survey of classic cartoonists (posted on here), a different, and much earlier, candidate for First Cartoonist appears. From Wikipedia:

Rodolphe Töpffer (31 January 1799 – 8 June 1846) was a Swiss teacher, author, painter, cartoonist, and caricaturist. He is best known for his illustrated books, which can be seen as the earliest European comics.

Paris-educated, Töpffer worked as a schoolteacher and ran a boarding school, where he entertained students with his caricatures. In 1837, he published Histoire de M. Vieux Bois (published in the United States in 1842 as The Adventures of Obadiah Oldbuck). Each page of the book had one to six captioned cartoon panels, much like modern comics. Töpffer published several more of these books, and wrote theoretical essays on the form.

… On 14 September 1842 the Histoire de M. Vieux Bois was first introduced to a United States audience as The Adventures of Mr. Obadiah Oldbuck. It was published in comic book form as a supplement to that day’s edition of Brother Jonathan, a New York, New York newspaper published by author John Neal (25 August 1793 – 20 June 1876). It has come to be considered the first American comic book and, according to several Robert Beerbohm articles published in Comic Art and the Overstreet Comic Book Price Guide, the inspiration for an entire U.S. genre of nineteenth-century graphic novel.

One pane from Obadiah Oldbuck:


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