Wednesday, December 13, 2017

Reader's Diary #1684- Richard F. Outcault: The Yellow Kid Comic Strips 1895 - 1898

Many students of comic books have heard of Richard F. Outcault's Yellow Kid comic strips, but I'd venture to guess that a relative few have actually read them.

Outcault is often credited with the first comic strip, though that is debatable. Less debatable is his simple innovation that would change comics forever: the speech balloon.

I'm not sure that in itself warrants reading the comics, but the art isn't bad. Mostly depicting children from a fictional slum and home to a large immigrant population, the line work is somewhat reminiscent of John Tenniel's Alice in Wonderland illustrations. Many aren't true comic strips but rather cartoons (single panels and therefor non-sequential), but even these are filled with activity and detail. I would not be surprised to hear that they held influence on Norman Rockwell or Will Eisner as I can similarities in both.

The writing is, however, not great. I suppose some of it is lost through time. No doubt some of the satirical targets have been forgotten. But attempts at humour are not great. It's mostly people spouting misspelled phrases (trying to capture accents and grammar, I suppose) and some poorly done slapstick.

It's also racist but perhaps not in the way you'd think. While "yellow" is sometimes used by racists to refer to Asians but in this case it only refers to the colour of the kid's gown. Black people, however, are really treated poorly; as caricatures, as lower-class. The N-word is used, as is the word "coon."

UP History and Hobby who published this collection was careful to note these offensive depictions but offering the book as is nonetheless as a historical artifact. That said, they could have taken more time with the production. It's really just coloured photocopies of the originals and so, some of the text is too blurry and should have been restored. One page is photocopied twice.

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