The Yellow Kid

The Yellow Kid was the name of a lead comic strip character that ran from 1895 to 1898 in Joseph Pulitzer's New York World, and later William Randolph Hearst's New York Journal. Created and drawn by Richard F. Outcault in the comic strip Hogan's Alley (and later under other names as well), it was one of the first Sunday supplement comic strips in an American newspaper, although its graphical layout had already been thoroughly established in political and other, purely-for-entertainment cartoons.[1] The Yellow Kid is also famous for its connection to the coining of the term Yellow Journalism.[2]

Mickey Dugan,[3] better known as The Yellow Kid, was a bald, snaggle-toothed boy who wore an oversized yellow nightshirt and hung around in a slum alley typical of certain areas of squalor that existed in late 19th-century New York City. Hogan's Alley was filled with equally odd characters, mostly other children. With a goofy grin, the Kid habitually spoke in a ragged, peculiar slang, which was printed on his shirt, a device meant to lampoon advertising billboards.[2]

Magazine to newspapers

The character who would later become the Yellow Kid first appeared on the scene in a minor supporting role in cartoon panel published in Truth magazine in 1894 and 1895. The four different black-and-white single panel cartoons were deemed popular, and one of them, Fourth Ward Brownies, was reprinted on 17 February 1895 in Joseph Pulitzer's New York World, where Outcault worked as a technical drawing artist. The World published another, newer Hogan's Alley cartoon less than a month later, and this was followed by the strip's first color printing on 5 May 1895.[4] Hogan's Alley gradually became a full-page Sunday color cartoon with the Yellow Kid (who was also appearing several times a week) as its lead character.

The Yellow Kid was not an individual but a type. When I used to go about the slums on newspaper assignments I would encounter him often, wandering out of doorways or sitting down on dirty doorsteps. I always loved the Kid. He had a sweet character and a sunny disposition, and was generous to a fault. Malice, envy or selfishness were not traits of his, and he never lost his temper.[5] -Richard F. Outcault, from a 1902 interview

Although a cartoon, Outcault's work aimed its humor and social commentary at Pulitzer's adult readership.

The Yellow Kid's head was drawn wholly shaved as if having been recently ridden of lice, a common sight among children in New York's tenement ghettos at the time. His nightshirt, a hand-me-down from an older sister, was white or pale blue in the first color strips.[6]

The strip has been described as "... a turn-of-the-century theater of the city, in which class and racial tensions of the new urban, consumerist environment were acted out by a mischievous group of New York City kids from the wrong side of the tracks."[7]


Outcault 4th ward brownies

Richard F Outcault's last Hogan's Alley cartoon for Truth magazine, Fourth Ward Brownies, was published on 9 February 1895 and reprinted in the New York World newspaper on 17 February 1895, beginning one of the first comic strips in an American newspaper. The character later known as the Yellow Kid had minor supporting roles in the strip's early panels. This one refers to The Brownies characters popularized in books and magazines by artist Palmer Cox.

1896-11-15 Yellow Kid

A year and a half later Outcault was drawing the Yellow Kid for Hearst's New York Journal in a full-page color Sunday supplement as McFadden's Row of Flats. In this 15 November 1896 Sunday panel, word balloons have appeared, the action is openly violent and the drawing has become mixed and chaotic.

The Yellow Kid's image was an early example of lucrative merchandising and appeared on mass market retail objects in the greater New York City area such as "billboards, buttons, cigarette packs, cigars, cracker tins, ladies’ fans, matchbooks, postcards, chewing gum cards, toys, whiskey and many other products".[8] Gus Hill staged vaudeville plays based on the Yellow Strip.[9] His version of McFadden's Flats was made into silent films in 1927 and 1935.[10]

In 1896 Outcault was hired away at a much higher salary to William Randolph Hearst's New York Journal American where he drew the Yellow Kid in a new full-page color strip which was significantly violent and even vulgar compared to his first panels for Truth magazine. Because Outcault failed in his attempt to copyright the Yellow Kid, Pulitzer was able to hire George Luks to continue drawing the original (and now less popular) version of the strip for the World and hence the Yellow Kid appeared simultaneously in two competing papers for about a year.[11] Outcault produced three subsequent series of Yellow Kid strips at the Journal American, each lasting no more than four months:

  • McFadden’s Row of Flats (18 October 1896 – 10 January 1897)
  • Around the World with the Yellow Kid – a strip that sent the Kid on a world tour in the manner of Nellie Bly (17 January – 30 May 1897)
  • A half-page strip which eventually adopted the title Ryan’s Arcade (28 September 1897 – 23 January 1898).[3]

With the Yellow Kid's merchandising success as an advertising icon the strip came to represent the crass commercial world it had originally lampooned, and publication of both versions stopped abruptly after only three years in early 1898, as circulation wars between the rival papers dwindled. Moreover, Outcault may have lost interest in the character when he realized he couldn't retain exclusive commercial control over it.[12] The Yellow Kid's last appearance is most often noted as 23 January 1898 in a strip about hair tonic. On 1 May 1898, the character was featured in a rather satirical cartoon called Casey Corner Kids Dime Museum but he was drawn ironically, as a bearded, balding old man wearing a green nightshirt which bore the words: "Gosh I've growed old in making dis collection."[13]

The two newspapers which ran the Yellow Kid, Pulitzer's World and Hearst's Journal American, quickly became known as the yellow kid papers. This was contracted to the yellow papers and the term yellow kid journalism was at last shortened to yellow journalism, describing the two newspapers' editorial practices of taking (sometimes even fictionalized) sensationalism and profit as priorities in journalism.[14][15][16]

The Yellow Kid appeared now and then in Outcault's later cartoon strips, most notably Buster Brown.[17]

Word balloons

Outcault's word balloons in the Yellow Kid influenced the basic appearance and use of balloons in subsequent newspaper comic strips and comic books. Word balloons containing characters' speech had appeared in political cartoons since at least the 18th century, including some published by Benjamin Franklin.[18] Their origins can be traced back to speech scrolls, painted ribbons of paper which trailed from the mouths of speaking subjects, depicting their words. These were in common European use by the early 16th century and similar devices had appeared in Mayan art between 600 and 900 AD.[citation needed]


The Yellow Kid made an appearance in the Marvel universe in the Joss Whedon written Runaways story (volume #2, issue 27).[19] On this take of the character, he exhibits superhuman powers.

See also


  1. Wood, Mary (2004). The Yellow Kid on paper and stage, Contemporary illustrations. Retrieved on 2007-10-17 from
  2. 2.0 2.1 Quimby, Rachel (12 June 2009). "The Adorable Origins of Yellow Journalism". Back Story: The American History Guys (Virginia Foundation for the Humanities). Retrieved 25 January 2012. 
  3. 3.0 3.1 The Yellow Kid. The Ohio State University Libraries. Retrieved 1 December 2007
  4. Olson, Richard D. "Truth About the Creation of the Yellow Kid.". Retrieved 17 October 2007. 
  5. The Yellow Kid on paper and stage, Origins of the Kid, retrieved 23 March 2011
  6. The Kid From Hogan's Alley, John Canemaker, New York Times Book Review. Retrieved 16 October 2007
  7. The Yellow Kid on paper and stage, Introduction. Retrieved 17 October 2007
  8. Wallace, Derek (2005-07-18). The Yellow Kid. Virtue Magazine, Volume 1, Issue 14, 18 July 2005. Retrieved on 2007-10-16 from
  9. Slide, Anthony (2012). "Gus Hill". The Encyclopedia of Vaudeville. Univ. Press of Mississippi. p. 239. ISBN 978-1-61703-250-9. Retrieved 2014-05-12. 
  10. "Gus Hill". IMDb. Retrieved 2014-05-12. 
  11. Gordon, Ian (1998). Comic Strips and Consumer Culture, pp. 31–32. Retrieved on 2013-07-09 from [1]
  12. The Yellow Kid on paper and stage, Death of the Kid. Retrieved 17 October 2007
  13. The Ohio State University Libraries, Casey Corner Kids Dime Museum. Retrieved 11 December 2007
  14. The Yellow Kid on paper and stage, Selling the kid. Retrieved 17 October 2007
  15. The "New" Journalism, W. Joseph Campbell. Retrieved 16 October 2007
  16. Richard D. Olson,, R. F. Outcault, The Father of the American Sunday Comics, and the Truth About the Creation of the Yellow Kid. Retrieved 11 December 2007
  17. Wood, Mary (2004). Over the Bounding Main (Buster Brown Postcard). Mary Wood, from the R. F. Outcault Society's Yellow Kid Site, 10 December 2003. Retrieved on 2007-10-17 from
  18. The Yellow Kid on paper and stage, Contemporary illustrations. Retrieved 17 October 2007
  19. Prada, Luis. "6 Important Things You Won't Believe Were Invented in Comics". Retrieved 2013-12-21. 

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