The First real Comic Character – The Yellow Kid
The Yellow Kid was the creation of Richard F. Outcault and is considered to be the first American comic book character. This ‘Bart Simpson’ of the 1890’s was a street urchin named Mickey Dugan, and was the main star of the comic strip ‘Hogans Alley’.
The strip was first published in 1894 with only 4 issues printed in black and white for the ‘Truth’ magazine, before being snatched up by the ‘World’ and printed in colour when the publication got hold of a colour press.
In the era between 1890 and 1900, over 42% of the population were foreign born and uneducated.
The hero of the ‘Alley’ is shown wearing a nightgown probably handed down from an older sister, with a newly shaven head (common sight in the tenements due to lice) plastering statements on his nightclothes addressing current issues with racism, class distinction and the consumerist environment speaking on behalf of those from the wrong side of the tracks. The Yellow kid became a voice for a large percentage of the population who went previously unheard, it also brought some humour and light to their situation.
The sheer popularity of The Yellow Kid ensured it became an overnight success, starting a competitive bid between publications to possess it. At times it was published in multiple publications simultaneously. The design layout, the content and the fact it was in colour started a new trend of controversial comic artworks. The competitive race for sales fostered by this series, coined a new phrase ‘Yellow Journalism’, which describes the nature of two newspapers editorial practices of using ‘ sensationalism and profit to attract readers and increase circulation as priorities in journalism ‘without any regard for truth or fiction. ‘
Here is an awesome radio podcast talking about his. Have a listen.