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CSBG Archive

Comic Book Legends Revealed #209

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Welcome to the two-hundred and ninth in a series of examinations of comic book legends and whether they are true or false. Click here for an archive of the previous two hundred and eight.

Comic Book Legends Revealed is now part of the larger Legends Revealed series, where I look into legends about the worlds of entertainment and sports, which you can check out here, at legendsrevealed.com.

This week, we’re going to have another theme week – this time around, it’s all legends involving perhaps the very first comic character ever, the Yellow Kid!

Let’s begin!

COMIC LEGEND: The Yellow Kid’s famous yellow shirt came from an experiment in yellow ink.

STATUS: I’m Going With True

Richard Felton “R.F.” Outcault was born in 1863.

His early professional career was spent working with Thomas Edison as the technical artist for Edison’s traveling shows of the late 1880s that went from town to town demonstrating the utility of Edison’s many inventions (but primarily his electrical lights).

After a few years of this, Outcault turned to cartooning in the pages of all the various major New York cartoon magazines of the day, like Judge and Truth.

It was actually in the pages of Truth magazine, not the New York World newspaper, that the Hogan’s Alley first appeared.

Here he is in a cartoon in Truth from June 2, 1894…

(Feudal Pride in Hogan’s Alley

Little Rosilla McGraw — No; we won’t come and play with you, Delia Costigan. Our rejuced means may temporary necessitate our residin’ in a rear tenement, but we’re jist as exclusive as when we lived on the first floor front and papa had charge of the pound in the Department of Canine Captivity! )

That’s a pretty awesome little cartoon there. As you can tell, it was clearly meant for an adult audience.

After a few more Hogan’s Alley cartoons featuring the Hogan’s Alley kids over the rest of 1894 and the beginning of 1895 (it was not yet a recurring feature, really, as it was about five cartoons spread out over a year’s worth of magazines), Outcault’s finally had one of his Truth cartoons reprinted in the New York World (which was owned and run by Joseph Pulitzer) on February 9, 1895, the first newspaper appearance of the Yellow Kid (and the first clear appearance of Mickey Dugan, who would become the Yellow Kid soon enough).

(Fourth Ward Brownies

Mickey, The Artist (adding a finishing touch) — Dere, Chimmy! If Palmer Cox wuz t’ see yer, he’d git yer copyrighted in a minute. )

Outcault was already beginning to get some work in the pages of The World, but really, it was not until they reprinted his Hogan’s Alley cartoon that the work became steady.

As you can see, the Yellow Kid was not yet a major part of the strip. He was just one of the various denizens of Hogan’s Alley.

The strips were initially in black and white, but Hogan’s Alley proved popular enough that by May of 1895, they were in full-page color drawings (click on all of the full-page drawings to enlarge them).

As you can see, the Yellow Kid is not even Yellow in these early cartoons.

Finally, in November of 1895, the Yellow Kid actually matched his name…

And the yellow that made up his outfit is part of a longstanding myth.

First off, for years, the story went that the Yellow Kid’s outfit was the FIRST usage of the color yellow in newspapers. That’s obviously false, heck, you can see some of these earlier cartoons even had yellow in them!

So if that’s what you’re going with “The Yellow Kid’s outfit was colored yellow because they wanted to test out the color yellow on SOMEthing,” which WAS an accepted story for years, then no, that’s incorrect.

However, I don’t think that was ever REALLY the story, but rather, I think that was a misinterpretation of the REAL story, which is that the Yellow Kid was colored yellow with an experiment IN yellow inking rather than the FIRST use of yellow ink.

It is know that at the time (1895), yellow ink did not dry as well as the other colors. You’ll notice that yellow, while used, WAS used less than the other colors.

Story continues below

Therefore, the story goes that the Yellow Kid was colored yellow (as opposed to his earlier blue) with an experimental new TYPE of yellow ink through the development of different types of chemical inks, which often involved various types of tallow (which is made up of animal fat).

THIS, to me, sounds believable.

First off, we know that new chemical inks were being invented during this time (by invented, I really mean “being mixed and matched to see what would work”).

Secondly, in his 1916 book, Training for the Newspaper Trades, Don Carlos Seitz (business manager for the New York World) repeats the “trying out a new type of yellow ink” story.

He says (thanks to Glen Cadigan for the quote):

“The ” yellow ” phase developed when William J. Kelly, the pressman, whose knowledge of color printing had been obtained printing specimen books for George Mather’s Sons, the ink Makers, complained that he could get no results from the wishy-washy tints turned out by the art department and begged for some solid colors. About this time R. F. Outcault, a clever youth from Sandusky, Ohio, who had recently invaded New York, turned in to the Sunday editor, then Arthur Brisbane, several black and white drawings, depicting child-life in a tenement district called ” Hogan’s Alley.” I carried Kelly’s kick to C. W. Saalburg, the colorist who was painting the key plate of the “Alley,” and being of quick understanding said: ” All right, I’ll make that kid’s dress solid yellow!” ,Suiting the action to the word he dipped his brush in yellow pigment and ” washed ” the ” kid.” For once Kelly was right. The ” solid color ” stood out above all the colors in the comic. The ” yellow kid ” arrived. The success of the series led to the capture of Mr. Outcault by the rival Journal newly revived by William R. Hearst, and to a fortune for the artist. The rivalry resulting, for the World’s ” kid ” was long continued by George B. Luks, since a notable American painter, and stamped ” yellow ” on an enterprise that is now common to all news-papers.”

So yeah, when Seitz says the “solid color,” he’s basically just referring to experimenting with different types of ink meant to wash better and therefore look brighter.

Thirdly, many different other books have also told the whole “trying out a new type of yellow ink” story, although few have been as detailed as the Seitz book, so I’m less inclined to give them THAT much validity.

It is clear that once the Kid WAS colored yellow, he definitely stood out in the cartoons, and soon he became the most popular character in the strip, and also, the strip became more and more juvenile and FUN, and rather than being a strip intended for adults, it seemed to be becoming a strip meant for EVERYbody. Check out this bit about the Hogan’s Alley gang discovering golf…

Funny stuff.

So anyhow, do I believe the “new type of ink” story? I’m thinking yes.

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52 Comments

This was a well-researched article, thanks! I’ve heard the legend about “yellow journalism” many times before, so it was nice to get it cleared. I think these days it’s acknowledged that the Yellow Kid wasn’t the first comic character though, as Rodolphe Töppfer’s work predates Outcault’s strip by several decades.

Thanks, Tuomas.

And don’t worry, I made sure to throw in a “perhaps” there. ;)

Travis Pelkie

May 29, 2009 at 5:46 am

Well, as we see from the image of the first newspaper appearance of the Yellow Kid, it appears Palmer Cox’s Brownies, which I believe were comics characters, were popular enough to get a winking reference, so presumably, they must have predated the Yellow Kid.

I like the Legends, but the Yellow Kid always makes my eyes glaze over. Never interested me enough beyond being the “first” comics character. That said, what I did read rather than skim, fine job as usual Brian.

Danielle Leigh

May 29, 2009 at 5:52 am

Great article! Also I feel all ed-ju-ma-cated now after reading it! ;-)

I honestly don’t know how you manage to produce these columns every week…*shakes head* it boggles the mind.

Tom Fitzpatrick

May 29, 2009 at 6:15 am

Ya yellow-ed belly bustard! ;-)

Always wanted to say that, and it did seem appropriate for this column.

Interesting piece of history there.

Call me crazy… but I always saw a definite correlation between the appearances of the Yellow Kid and Frank Miller’s Yellow Bastard — particularly the shape of the head and the ears.

Is that just me, or does anyone else see it?

By the way… great article Brian!

Great job. More of these types of legends, please–though I know they’ve got to be harder to work through than those dealing with contemporary superhero comics, they’re infinitely more interesting.

As for the Yellow Kid legal issue, people may be confusing it with real court decisions that resulted in split rights. I know that when Rudolph Dirks left “The Katzenjammer Kids”, Hearst continued without him and a lawsuit led to Dirks being allowed to syndicate “The Captain and the Kids” while “Katzenjammer” continued with Hearst. I also thought that when Winsor McCay joined Hearst to do “In the Land of Wonderful Dreams”, “Little Nemo in Slumberland” continued being published without him because of a lawsuit, but I can’t find confirmation on that right now.

True, great article. While I still prefer it when you do varied Legends instead of related ones, the research done here was just awesome! I love to discover new stuff, and all this Yellow Kid material was certainly new to me. :)
Also, look at that art, dammit! I’ve seen modern comic books that PALE by comparison! Plus, the whole poor-life-from-children’s-POV thing has a moving charm of its own.

“Hardman found the idea of mixing cartoons with real news highly offensive’ Heh, good thing he didn’t live in modern times. Things like Bloom County would have given him a heart attack. :D

Dr. Empirical

May 29, 2009 at 8:49 am

Although Palmer Cox’s Brownies does predate the Yellow Kid, as seen in the first cartoon, they weren’t reall comic strip characters. They didn’t have individual names, and as far as I know, they weren’t published on a schedule. They were the first characters to be syndicated and merchandised. Brownies dolls, toys, games, dishes, furniture and other merchandise were everywhere in the post civil war era. Steve Geppi has a nice collection of them in his museum in Baltimore.

So while the Brownies weren’t the first comics characters, they’re important to comics history for other reasons.

Wow, those Yellow Kid strips are F-ing hilarious! Her brother died? Watch out, Garfield!

…So where does Yellow Submarine fit in all this?

Interesting. I always thought that the term yellow journalism was an insult because the yellow inks from the comic would rub off on hands and turn the other pages yellowish.

Neat!

I also was told (in a high school history class–imagine it being wrong!) that ‘yellow journalism’ was derived from the cheap yellowish stock that sensational papers were printed on.

Great one Brian, one of your best, which is no mean feat as they’re always top-notch.

The way that guy writes dialects makes me wonder if he was a big influence on Chris Claremont.

A lot of US humour from around this time and a few decades after plays a lot with dialect, so it’s not a particularly unusual feature here.

When did the criteria for determining whether or not something is true become whether or not someone “thinks it sounds believable”? That’s hardly what I’d call significant research.

Columns on the X-Men or whatever might get the bigger comment threads, but it’s columns like these that really excite me.

When did the criteria for determining whether or not something is true become whether or not someone “thinks it sounds believable”? That’s hardly what I’d call significant research.

Since Column #1, Legend #3, which relied upon me believing Kurt Busiek to call a legend true.

Come on now, looking at various sources and figuring out which ones seem credible is the basis of roughly 80% of all legends featured, so to make a complaint about it now like it is some new thing is odd.

fine job as usual Brian.

Great article! Also I feel all ed-ju-ma-cated now after reading it!

Interesting piece of history there..

great article Brian!.

True, great article.

Neat!

Great one Brian, one of your best, which is no mean feat as they’re always top-notch.

Gracias, folks.

Great job. More of these types of legends, please–though I know they’ve got to be harder to work through than those dealing with contemporary superhero comics, they’re infinitely more interesting.

Columns on the X-Men or whatever might get the bigger comment threads, but it’s columns like these that really excite me.

Yeah, sadly, in general, whatever the quality of these pieces may be (and I do tend to believe that they’re pretty strong pieces), these old school columns are read a LOT less than the ones about more mainstream, modern characters.

Nice article Brian. Your work is truly amazing.

Peace.

Yeah, sadly, in general, whatever the quality of these pieces may be (and I do tend to believe that they’re pretty strong pieces), these old school columns are read a LOT less than the ones about more mainstream, modern characters.

Well count me among the group who prefers your “old school” columns — plus, I feel you can adapt this material to contributions for signficant scholarly research, which is always a good thing for the ego. Truth is, your assessment of the origin of “Yellow Journalism” could set a few history professors right.

It’s come to a point where I not only look forward to Fridays for the fact that it’s Friday, but because I know Comic Book Legends Revealed will be posted. It really is one of the best sources of comic book scholarship on the Internet.

Well, when I first read that the column was going to feature the Yellow Kid, I thought about passing on it… the character never really excited me. But as I delved into the column, you presented enough “infotainment” that I was hooked. I even went as far as looking up information on Li Hongzhang (or Li Hung Chang as pictured in the cartoons) to find out why they were making such a big deal out of him.

As far as the term “Yellow journalism” goes, I am not sure if the answer to that is as cut-and-dried as you make it seem. As you mentioned, there were two papers featuring The Yellow Kid, one owned by Hearst, and the other owned by Pulitzer. As their circulation wars continued, both papers started using even more sensational headlines, articles with questionable content, and even nudity (relax, that was by 19th century standards) to draw in readers– so it was the staff of other newspapers, who were trying to remain objective in their reporting, who referred to the stories printed in the Hearst/Pulitzer newspapers as “Yellow Kid journalism”, since both printed Yellow Kid comics.

Of course, even the above explanation is too simplistic, as there are usually a variety of factors involved. I once heard that ‘yellow journalism’ came from a lot of anti-Chinese sentiment that dominated the thoughts of people at the time– that U.S. newspapers decried the ‘invasion’ of the U.S. by the Chinese ‘hordes’. That is why the picture of the cartoon with Li Hongzhang really interested me– because one purpose for Li’s trip to the U.S. was to address the laws that had been established against Chinese immigration.

Jeremy Henderson

May 29, 2009 at 3:01 pm

It’s weird, though I’ve known of the Yellow Kid for years and seen a few small strips, I don’t know that I’ve ever taken the time to look at the bigger full page cartoons. I really had no idea they were so beautifully drawn and genuinely funny.

Keep in mind that whatever money Outcault may have lost after failing to copyright the Yellow Kid, he made a fortune with his later creation, Buster Brown.

I even went as far as looking up information on Li Hongzhang (or Li Hung Chang as pictured in the cartoons) to find out why they were making such a big deal out of him.

Hah…same here. Also the Brownies. So this column was educational about topics it didn’t even cover!

Interesting. I always assumed that the term “yellow journalism” meant “cowardly journalism”, realating to the phrase “yellow-bellied”.

Yeah, sadly, in general, whatever the quality of these pieces may be (and I do tend to believe that they’re pretty strong pieces),

Why is that a little bit of healthy self-promotion I see from our normally humble blog host? ;)

Why is that a little bit of healthy self-promotion I see from our normally humble blog host? ;)

Ha!

Self-promotion is linking to Legends Revealed and the book’s Amazon listing every week! :)

to paraphrase Dr. McCoy: Dammit Jim, I’m a Physicist, not a Historian!

Another week – another excellent Urban Legends column. In a weird fit of synchronicyt, I just returned from the book store with my freshly purchased copy of Was Superman a Spy? I wanted to double check some points as I’m going over edits for the Spectacular Second Edition (that’s what it is officially called) of THE PHYSICS OF SUPERHEROES. Available November 2009 (who says this isn’t the Marvel Age of Shameless Plugs?)

And then I swing by to see what this week’s column is about, and I see that I’m being debunked! At least the timing is great, as I can easily fix this for the second edition. In my defense, I had consulted a series of books on the history of comic books, and the Yellow Kid/Yellow Journalism connection was in one of them. I was unaware of Campbell’s book and clearly did not consult it.

My goal in the Introduction was to provide some background history of the genre, leading up to speculations as to why the Silver Age comics seemed to have so many correct uses of physics principles. I’m not a Historian, so I’m not surprised that I goofed here or there. I’m grateful to have the chance to correct it in the next edition.

And have you ever addressed the Urban Legend about Captain America’s shield being an alloy of Vibranium and Adamantium? This one I got right – and I confirmed it with Mark Waid and Kurt Busiek.

Cheers,

Your Friendly Neighborhood Physics Professor,

Jim

Ha! I honestly don’t consider it a debunking of you, Jim. You just happened to be the guy that Michael quoted when he sent in the e-mail (three years ago!). He could have quoted any number of people who made the same exact statement. It’s a very popular belief and it’s repeated in a number of books, even, so it’s not unreasonable to believe it to be true (especially pre-Campbell’s book on the subject).

And good news about the new edition! I got the first edition when it came out! Be sure to drop me a line when the book is nearing release – we can do a bit on the blog about it!

“Infotainment”

There’s the word you were looking for.

-Dave

“As you can see, the Yellow Kid (real name Mickey Dugan) is not even Yellow in these early cartoons.”

That’s because it’s not Mickey Dugan. It’s just a bald kid.

A lot of historians make the mistake of looking at history in reverse (and I’m not singling you out here, Brian. You’ve just done what everyone else has done before you). They start with a confirmed appearance of the Yellow Kid and work backwards from that. They have concluded that the first time Outcault drew a bald kid, it was Mickey Dugan. Well, just because later appearances of a bald kid were identified as Mickey Dugan, that doesn’t make ALL appearances of a bald kid retroactively Mickey Dugan, especially the ones that don’t even look like him. What about the times when there were MORE than one bald kid in the same cartoon? Were they all Mickey Dugan? How would that even be possible?

The first time Outcault drew a bald kid, he was just drawing a bald kid. He also drew girls with pigtails. He also drew boys with hats. He was just drawing the different types of kids that he saw on the streets himself. Every time he drew a girl with pigtails, it wasn’t the same girl. Every time he drew a bald kid, it wasn’t the same bald kid. There was more than one bald kid in New York at the time, as shaving their heads due to lice was commonplace. It’s a mistake to assume that every bald kid he ever drew was the same character, and a lot of people make it. Outcault wasn’t thinking that far ahead.

As far as why the shirt was colored yellow, Don Seitz told the story himself in “Training for the Newspaper Trade” (http://www.archive.org/stream/trainingfornewsp00seitrich/trainingfornewsp00seitrich_djvu.txt) in 1916. He said,

“The ” yellow ” phase developed when William J. Kelly, the pressman, whose knowledge of color printing had been obtained printing specimen books for George Mather’s Sons, the ink Makers, complained that he could get no results from the wishy-washy tints turned out by the art department and begged for some solid colors. About this time R. F. Outcault, a clever youth from Sandusky, Ohio, who had recently invaded New York, turned in to the Sunday editor, then Arthur Brisbane, several black and white drawings, depicting child-life in a tenement district called ” Hogan’s Alley.” I carried Kelly’s kick to C. W. Saalburg, the colorist who was painting the key plate of the “Alley,” and being of quick understanding said: ” All right, I’ll make that kid’s dress solid yellow!” ,Suiting the action to the word he dipped his brush in yellow pigment and ” washed ” the ” kid.” For once Kelly was right. The ” solid color ” stood out above all the colors in the comic. The ” yellow kid ” arrived. The success of the series led to the capture of Mr. Outcault by the rival Journal newly revived by William R. Hearst, and to a fortune for the artist. The rivalry resulting, for the World’s ” kid ” was long continued by George B. Luks, since a notable American painter, and stamped ” yellow ” on an enterprise that is now common to all news-papers.”

So there you have it, right from the horse’s mouth, that horse being Don Seitz, the inventor of the Sunday “comic” (as in comical, not necessarily illustrated) supplement. C.W. Saalburg, incidentially, was another comics pioneer, having invented the Ting Ling Kids years before in Chicago, a feature which is credited by many as containing the first reoccurring comic/cartoon characters in newspapers, preceeding the Yellow Kid by years. The Yellow Kid’s reputation as being the first was cemented (inaccurately) by Coulton Waugh when he wrote The Comics in 1947, and it has been repeated and accepted as the truth ever since, even though it isn’t.

Meant to add that it’s pretty amazing that Saalburg not only created the Ting Ling Kids, but is the reason why the Yellow Kid is yellow. That’s like having the same guy create both Superman and Batman.

Hey, Brian, I’m just slightly concerned that your information on “new journalism” could accidentally confuse your readers. What is commonly, modernly accepted as “New Journalism” or “The School of New Journalism” consists of the literary non-fiction/journalistic experimentations by a number of writers, reporters, and journalists that began in the 1960’s. Writers most associated with the movement (which was not really a concerted movement per se, but a simultaneous series of attempts by individuals authors to create their own unique narrative styles for writing non-fiction literature and journalistic pieces) are Truman Capote, Tom Wolfe, Gay Talese, Hunter S. Thompson, and Norman Mailer. The basic concept of New Journalism is “borrowing” the techniques, styles, and story-telling devices used by fiction writers and using them to write non-ficiton articles, stories, and novels.

In fact, this is the first time (I think), that I’ve ever read the term “new journalism” in reference to anything but this movement. Can you confirm some sources on this information involving the earlier use/coining of the phrase? Also, I think it would benefit your readers greatly if you at least briefly point out the difference between the “new journalism” that you mention and the “New Journalism” that I am discussing. I’m concerned that people may end up using your information about Yellow Journalism and incorrectly connecting to the works of Mailer, Capote, et. al. Thanks, and thanks so much for a great article!

Sure, Dreggor! I’ll edit it into the piece above.

That’s because it’s not Mickey Dugan. It’s just a bald kid.

A lot of historians make the mistake of looking at history in reverse (and I’m not singling you out here, Brian. You’ve just done what everyone else has done before you). They start with a confirmed appearance of the Yellow Kid and work backwards from that. They have concluded that the first time Outcault drew a bald kid, it was Mickey Dugan. Well, just because later appearances of a bald kid were identified as Mickey Dugan, that doesn’t make ALL appearances of a bald kid retroactively Mickey Dugan, especially the ones that don’t even look like him. What about the times when there were MORE than one bald kid in the same cartoon? Were they all Mickey Dugan? How would that even be possible?

I think that there is a recurring bald kid that eventually becomes “The Yellow Kid.” You can typically tell by his nightshirt. And since Outcault called him “Mickey Dugan” when he named him, it’s most likely that he’s referring to the bald kid who appeared in one of the early strips with his parents, also named Dugan. So I think Outcault did have the future Yellow Kid in mind as a distinctive character, just not as a character who was any more special than the other characters (except perhaps he was more fun to draw!).

That said, sure, it’s a good point to note for the record that there were plenty of bald kids who were NOT meant to be Dugan, such as the very first Hogan’s Alley strip.

And thanks for the full Seitz quote! I edited that into the piece!

Meant to add that it’s pretty amazing that Saalburg not only created the Ting Ling Kids, but is the reason why the Yellow Kid is yellow. That’s like having the same guy create both Superman and Batman.

Yeah, that definitely IS quite impressive!

A few years ago I picked a book “The Yellow Kid” by Bill Blackbeard (1995 Kitchen Sink Press) & he addressed these same issues.

On “The Yellow Kid’s famous yellow shirt came from an experiment in yellow ink” issue he felt it was false as an improved yellow ink had been tested in the July 28, 1895 paper in particular a cartoon about a Farmer Oatcakes with a yellow background.

Blackbeard figured that yellow was a good choice because it made reading the text on the Kid’s shirt easier than another color would.

As for “The Yellow Kid led to the term “Yellow Journalism.”” he said the first use of the term “Yellow Journalism” was by Ervin Wardman* of the New York Post in a September 2, 1856, editorial about Hearst’s papers covering a Hearst sponsored national bicycle marathon. The bicyclists were dressed all in yellow (Yellow Fellows).

* The similarity of the name to the Elvin Hardman you list makes me wonder about a possible typo in the book.

As for the people commenting on The Yellow Kid not being the first comics character I believe they are confused. IIRC the Kid is famous because he appeared in the first COMIC STRIP (sequential panels in which the balloon dialogue & art are necessary to understanding of the comic) which first appeared October 25, 1896.

As for the various bald kids in the cartoons, that’s because shaving a kid’s head was the easiest way to deal with head lice at the time. Eeeeeew! ;-)

Thanks for editing that in there! I compliment your excellent research and articles; they get better and better from week to week. I always look forward each week to being more informed, thanks to you.

KAM, Blackbeard’s piece on “yellow journalism” was debunked in Campbell’s book. Campbell even contacted Blackbeard while doing his book and they both basically agreed that it was incorrect (Blackbeard was simply given an incorrect source that he was told was no longer available for him to check on his own, so he believed it).

As for the whole “yellow was better for writing on it,” while that’s certainly true, if you note above, the Yellow Kid’s early yellow appearances had no writing on them. I will allow, though, that the term “better ink” is a bit of a nebulous term here, in the sense that I am using it to mean basically any improvement in the colored ink, whether it be brighter, less smudgy, etc.

No problema, Dreggor, I’m glad you dig it.

Robert Martinez

May 30, 2009 at 1:14 pm

You know what? Color me as one of those folks who would have initially passed on this week’s column. The Yellow Kid never tickled my fancy and yet I’ve always been a fan of Legends in it’s various incarnations. Even when the material seems to have no particular pull for me I find myself reading and enjoying your work, Brian. This week’s installment seemed especially jam-packed with delicious bits of history and well-thought out supposition. Keep up the great work! This old fart is always happy to learn something new every week!!

“So yeah, when Seitz says the “solid color,” he’s basically just referring to experimenting with different types of ink meant to wash better and therefore look brighter.”

Sorry, Brian, but that’s not what he’s saying at all. I don’t interpret Seitz’s quote as trying out a new kind of ink, but a different color, which is not the same thing. Saalburg requested the same yellow ink that the paper was already using. Then, like until recently, cartoons were colored by hand using watercolor dyes and those color guides were given to the men at the presses to interpret. William J. Kelly was complaining about the wishy-washy tones that the color department (Saalburg) was giving him because Kelly knew the limitations of the physical press, and that it was hard to reproduce those tones. Then, like now, they would have to mix the different primary colors (or water them down) to produce the HUES that the color department was asking for. He was requesting solid colors because it was easier for the presses to reproduce them. In a fit of “I’ll show him,” (my words, not Saalburg’s), Saalburg simply chose the brightest solid color available in order to solve the problem. It wasn’t a question of trying out a new kind of yellow ink: it had nothing to do with the chemical composition of the ink whatsoever. It was a question of the color department understanding that the printing technology wasn’t capable of reproducing subtle shades of existing colors and picking one solid color that the presses could handle. That color just happened to be yellow. If Saalburg was in another mood, it could have just as easily been blue.

As far as the evolution of the character itself goes, I repeat that Outcault did not consciously set out to create a character called either Mickey Dugan or the Yellow Kid. He drew a series of unrelated cartoons connected only by theme (poverty), and on occasion, when the mood hit him, he drew a bald kid(s) instead of some other visual shorthand. The fact that he used the name Dugan in one of them doesn’t mean much: it was just a name that popped into his head. When he used it again, it just popped into his head again, much like the name “Hogan’s Alley” did because it came from a popular song. There’s a cartoon (“Fistic Carnival of the Cherry Hill Athletic Club”) where Mickey Dugan’s name is listed on a poster on a fence along with Chames Fallon, Patsey Quinn, Rosey Googleheimer and others. There is no Yellow Kid depicted in the cartoon; Outcault just needed names to fill out the poster and used whatever came to mind. Months later, when he needed to identify the character in a caption, he just recycled the name “Mickey Dugan.” Until he did, the name had no more permanence than Patsey Quinn. (In fact, imagine if he had randomly chosen “Patsey Quinn” instead of “Mickey Dugan.” It could have just as easily have happened!)

It’s one thing to track the evolution of the creation of a character, but it’s another thing to work in reverse and say that’s what the creator had in mind all along. I repeat that when he threw a bald kid into a strip, he was just drawing a bald kid, and not necessarily the same bald kid. The dirty handprint on the shirt was just another visual shorthand that he saw in real life and reproduced in his artwork. I doubt if he kept a running account in his own mind of his previous cartoons and saw them all as being connected, at least not until he started putting the term “Hogan’s Alley” into consecutive captions. Until that point, they were one-offs and disposable, so to say that he kept bringing the same character back and back again is viewing the past through the lens of the present. There was no such thing as continuity back then, and he was just working from cartoon to cartoon. When the facial features evolved to the point that they were both distinctive and repeated, then an argument can be made that he was consciously drawing the same character over and over again, but until that moment, my argument is that it was a different kid every time out, and nobody, especially the artist himself, was keeping score.

For my money, every “appearance” of the Yellow Kid before “Golf – The Great Society Sport As Played In Hogan’s Alley,” should be viewed as a prototype. From that point onward, the kid had the same facial features, the same yellow shirt, and the same dirty handprint. Whether Outcault kept reusing the character because it was his idea or because (as has been reported) people kept asking for the paper with “that yellow fella in it” is something we’ll never know. If it *was* due to reader demand, that only further debunks the idea that Outcault was consciously plotting a trajectory with his character. If the former is true, then he would have been reacting, not planning ahead.

Great column as always Brian.

Here’s another potential story for you. Paul Cornell apparently originally planned to feature an “evil” cameo by real-world politician and leader of the Conservatives (Britain’s largest opposition party) David Cameron in his “Vampire State” crossover in Captain Britain and MI13.

The story is that, in contrast with the heroic depiction of the current British Prime Minister (and Cameron’s rival) Gordon Brown which was shown in early issues of the series, Cameron would be shown as a craven opportunist, making a deal with Dracula to help him rule a vampire-dominated Britain.

Obviously such a partisan story was nixed somewhere along the line, and Cameron’s role in the story was apparently replaced by Doctor Doom, which probably worked to the series benefit in terms of sales, as it allowed it to tie in with “Dark Reign”.

There is at least some truth to this story as Cornell commented on the plotline to Wizard a few months back. Rich Johnston had previously reported the rumour in one of his columns. Cornell seems pretty forthcoming with fans’ inquiries – for instance he a query on his website about an apparant David Tennant/ Doctor Who cameo in a recent MI13 issue in less than a day (it was just the artist messing around), so e-mailing him about the story might be worth a try. It would be interesting to find out who killed the cameo and whether any British political operatives got involved.

Fantastic piece, Brian. I’m puzzled, though, by the ref high up to Mickey, who will become the Yellow Kid. The caption says Mickey is the artist, so that would be the lad with the brush. The proto-Kid is beside him, so it seems Mickey never became the Kid. No?

I think Glen is spot on, Martin, in the sense that Outcault likely did not have the name officially picked out when he began choosing that one bald kid to continue to pop up, so when he has a kid named “Mickey” as the painter he is, as Glen mentions, just using a common name for the time and setting.

So later on, he chose settled on Mickey Dugan as being the name for the Kid.

[…] took the idea for Enemy of the State from Chris Claremont’s original Wolverine plans. #209 – The Yellow Kid’s famous yellow shirt came from an experiment in yellow ink. When Outcault left The World with the Yellow Kid, a lawsuit ensued with the result being that The […]

Where could Outcault have gotten a photograph of Li Hung Chang for his cartoon?

[…] was shortened from “yellow kid journalism”). However, there IS a connection, as reported by Comic Book Resources. “Yellow journalism” referred more to the fancy new yellow ink that the new newspapers […]

[…] For more information about the Yellow Kid and the origins of Hogan’s Alley, check out Brian Cronin’s INCREDIBLE blog at CBR here: http://goodcomics.comicbookresources.com/2009/05/28/comic-book-legends-revealed-209/ […]

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