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 Richard Felton Outcault  (1863 - 1928)

About: Richard Felton Outcault
 

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Lived/Active: New York/Ohio      Known for: cartoonist

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BIOGRAPHY for Richard Outcault
Facts/Data
Birth
1863 (Lancaster, Ohio)
 
Death
1928 (Flushing, New York)

Lived/Active
New York/Ohio

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This biography from the Archives of AskART:
Richard Outcault, regarded as the father of the comic strip, was one of the earliest newspaper comic artists, who created two of the fields most important characters. He introduced the Yellow Kid in 1895, and Buster Brown in 1902. He pioneered not only in the developing of the Sunday funnies, but also in the merchandising of comics characters.

Richard Felton Outcault was born in Lancaster, Ohio, on January 14, 1863. Having an early talent toward the arts he enrolled at McMicken University in Cincinnati, majoring in art, and also studied art in Paris. After graduating, he moved to New York City and secured work doing cartoons and illustrations for various newspapers, as well as Judge and Life magazines.

He was later engaged to do technical drawings for Electrical World magazine in New York. Thomas Edison hired him on the basis of his drawing ability. His free-lance work led him to a contract with Pulitzers New York World, where his work began to appear as early as September 1894. Included among these early panels were several that depicted life in the mainly Irish slums of Manhattan. From this came the Hogans Alley series that introduced the Yellow Kid.

At the time Outcault's first panels were being published, newspapers were experimenting with four-color inks. Quite a bit of experimentation is required to get proper colors and when an engraver for the New York World wanted to try a new yellow he chose to spot it in the coming Sunday's paper on Outcaults Kid's frock, and the Kid became known as The Yellow Kid.

When William Randolph Hearst decided to start his Sunday Comic Supplement, in competition with Pulitzer, he raided the latters staff. Outcault was one of those hired away, and his work appeared in the first issue of Hearsts The American Humorist, on October 18, 1896. His Alley series, under the new title, The Yellow Kid, began the following Sunday. The fact that the "Yellow Kid" became a hotly contested property among rival publishers further attests to its success.

After Outcault accepted a lucrative offer to continue the comic in Pulitzer's rival's paper, William Randolph Hearst's New York Journal; a lawsuit ensued which awarded the title "Hogan's Alley" to the World, and "Yellow Kid" to the Journal. As a result, the papers boasted two "Yellow Kids" for a period of months, one by Outcault and one penned by George Luks, who later gained fame as a founder of the "Ashcan School". The legal squabbles that ensued led to the creation of the term "Yellow Journalism" centered as it was on the Yellow Kid.

In 1898, Outcault returned to the World and over the next three years he drew four new series, including Kellys Kindergarten/Kelly Kids and Gallus Coon. In 1898, he also turned out two short series for the Philadelphia Inquirer called The Country School and The Barnyard Club. By early 1900, Outcault was contributing to the New York Herald, whose publisher James Gordon Bennett was also active in the newspaper comics competition. Here, Outcault tried three series before achieving success with Buster Brown, which began on May 4, 1902.

Restless, Outcault again responded to an offer from Hearst in January 1906, and took Buster and crew to the Hearst newspapers. The page lasted at least until December 11, 1921. More of a humorous illustrator than a cartoonist, his work never lost its 19th-century magazine illustration look. By the third decade of the 20th century, it appeared quite old-fashioned.

Outcault grew tired not only of Buster Brown, but also of comic art in general. He left the field in the early 1920s to found an advertising agency.
Outcault's work in "Hogan's Alley" and later comics like "Poor Lil Mose" and "Buster Brown" popularized some innovations in comics and served as a precursor to others. Although he did not invent dialogue balloons or panel strips, his incorporation of these techniques promoted them as the standard for the "funny pages". While he borrowed characters others had sketched out, the graphic and verbal ingenuity with which he animated them helped establish the archetypes which dominated comic strips for twenty years, and which served as the foundation for comics to the present day. It is easy to discern echoes of his pioneering work in the contemporary panels of "Peanuts", "Doonesbury", and "Calvin and Hobbes".

Of all cartoonists in history, Outcault is recognized as the father of the comic strip. Most certainly his creation of the little kid in the yellow shirt is one of the seminal moments of the comic strips evolution in America, contributing heavily to our culture and entertainment.

He died in his home in Flushing, New York on September 25, 1928.




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