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Today on site, R.C. Harvey joins us for an in-depth look at R.F. Outcault and the Yellow Kid.

Had Outcault’s cartoon been the first of its kind, it would, indeed, have been the origin of a new species, namely the comic strip. Newspaper comics had been cropping up for several years. Mostly, they were single-panel cartoons, but in the early 1890s, comic strips occasionally appeared—as they had in humor magazines intermittently for years. The first comic strip to be published in a newspaper was, to the best of my knowledge, published on October 1, 1893, a year before Outcault’s “Origin of the Species.” I’ve never seen the strip, but those who have say it was “a non-political narrative sequence of comic pictures” by Tom E. Powers. It appeared in the Inter Ocean.

In the World, the first comic strip in color was published in the January 28, 1984 edition of the Sunday supplement; it was by Mark Fenderson, and a scan of it appears near here. Both of these firsts precede both of Outcault’s.

For the next 13 months, Outcault produced cartoons for weekly publication in the Sunday supplement. He exploited two subjects, both well-trod ground in the cartoons of the day, both familiar to him from the work he’d done for Truth. According to Richard D. Olson, an Outcault scholar, in his online essay “R.F. Outcault, the Father of the American Sunday Comics, and the Truth about the Creation of the Yellow Kid,” Outcault focused on African-Americans living in the imaginary town of Possumville or Irish children living in New York City tenements in which, it is estimated, half the city’s population lived. I haven’t seen any of the Possumville cartoons, but Outcault’s street kid comics are plentiful.


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