the Yellow Kid's reputation as the first newspaper comic
strip, the mechanics of comic strips were in use well before
the Kid's debut in illustrated magazines. Beginning in 1865,
the German comic Max
and Moritz showed an early panel-by-panel comic strip,
and serialized fiction, such as that by Charles Dickens,
often featured illustrations alongside text.1 Illustrated
New York City journals had been in existence at least a decade
before the Yellow Kid took hold, including the Police
Gazette (1876), Puck (1876; started as a
German-language publication), Judge (1871),
and Life (1883).2 Puck was
priced at 10 cents and offered colorful illustrations of
political and social commentary, one popular topic being
the Tammany Hall political machine in New York City; wordless
cartoons that showed the passage of time, such as one in
a February 1899 issue that showed a man guiding his milk
wagon when his horse gets spooked by a bull (he ends up selling
sketches of characters with the dialogue and punch line below;
a series of panel-less cartoons with dialogue underneath
the "strip," such as one 1893 episode showing a mischievous
boy trying to harm a parrot with firecrackers4;
and paneled cartoons, some with words below the panels, some
without. One of the latter demonstrates a lion attacking
an African, only to have his plot turned back against him
to meet a premature death.5 Life magazine
contained similarly formatted cartoons—and many even had
word balloons as early as 1893, well before Outcault employed
cartoons (more) offered an early version of the comic strip;
they were usually a one-panel view employing signs or words
within the drawing to help convey the picture's meaning.
One drawing by Benjamin Franklin showing a snake divided
in an attempt to unite the colonies against Britain shows
an early example of the dialogue or word balloon; as comic
historians Bill Blackbeard and Martin Williams note, the
balloons were fairly common in 18th-century caricatures,
and graphics grew common in publications by the mid-19th
a more obvious visual predecessor of Outcault's work are
the cartoons of Michael Angelo Woolf, who also drew Irish
street urchins, albeit for more gentle laughs. Woolf's drawings
first appeared in the early illustrated magazine Wild
Oats in the 1870s.7 His
drawings also later appeared in Life magazine around
the same time as Outcault began his career in freelance drawing.
One cartoon, "Gallantry," shows a street urchin
bearing a little girl on his back while the other wheeled
her across the puddle: "No, Miss, we couldn't think
of letting you cross through this dreadful mud and slush!"8 Another
shows a boy and a girl dressed as adults; the girl asks
his parents to consent to their marriage because the boy
is too "weak-livered" to ask.9 Unlike
the Yellow Kid, adulthood and gentility are not mocked, but
rather represent something worth imitating. Woolf also did
not offer a recognizable returning character with each cartoon—but
other artists did so before Outcault. Palmer Cox's "The
Brownies" appeared in the children's magazine St.
Nicholas in the early 1880s, and were later revived
in books and comic strips; the Brownie cameras were named
after them. 10 In
Chicago the Inter-Ocean's "Ting-Ling
Kids" ran from 1893 into 1897 and featured Asian children
who were, like the Yellow Kid, bald, except they had a braid
on the back of their heads. The artist who drew the kids,
C.W. Saalburg, later worked at the same newspaper as Outcault,
and may have influenced his work there.11
Richard. America's Great Comic-Strip
Artists. New York:
Abbeville Press, 1989. 20.
Thomas, Florence Weiss, and Sydney Weiss. Cartoon
New York: Simon and Schuster, 1943. 7.
One Horse Power, or a Pint's a Pound the Whole World Around."
Puck 5 Feb. 1899: 405.
Fourth of July Tragedy." Puck 28 June 1893:
Involuntary Capture." Puck 28 June 1993:
Wouldn't Buy Me a Bow-wow." Life 15 June 1893: 380.
Strips and Consumer Culture, 1890-1945. Washington and
London: Smithsonian Institution Press, 1998. 25.
Angelo. "Gallantry." Life 29
June 1893: 412.
Coming Right Down to Business." Life 18 May 1893:
10 Gordon 26-27.