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Part One

The comic strip developed in America towards the end of the nineteenth century, originally created as a tool to draw customers to the Sunday edition of the local newspaper and becoming an icon of American culture. Though many contributed to it's format and existence, there are five people directly connected to it's birth. These five men, Richard Outcault, William Randolph Hearst, Joseph Pulitzer, James Swinnerton and Rudolph Dirks are responsible for popularizing what is now a major part of American culture.

Richard Felton Outcault was a staff illustrator at Joseph Pulitzer's "The World" in 1895 when he created a one panel cartoon called "Down Hogan's Alley". Within the panel of the first Hogan's Alley is a homely, bald little boy dressed only in a frock.

Click the image for a biography of Yellow Kid creator R.F. Outcault.

Shortly after he first appeared, the World's engravers were experimenting with color inks and in a test yellow was added to his frock (the strip was at first only black & white) and the gap toothed urchin was named the "Yellow Kid" and would go down in history as the first comic strip.

Not very long before the Yellow Kid made his first appearance, William Randolph Hearst's "Journal American" featured a large panel called the "Little Bears", drawn by the 25 year old James Swinnerton. Later on kids were added to the strip and later still tigers. Eventually Swinnerton would transpose his little tigers into the enormously popular "Mr. Jack" featuring a philandering tiger bachelor.

Though both features were the direct progenitors of the American comic strip it would be another cartoonist who would create what is recognized as the first modern comic strip.

It was Rudolph Dirk's "Katzenjammer Kids", which appeared on December 12, 1897 in the Journal American. Previously, cartoon panels had no in-panel dialogue, but in the Katzenjammer Kids dialogue was directly applied within a "word balloon" indicating the speaker. Also, until then no strip had ever consisted of more than the one panel format of the editorial or political cartoon. The Katzenjammers combined both the aspect of internal dialogue and panelized continuity, and in the process designed and solidified the form of the modern visual narrative strip.

With these three innovative strips and the progress of the printed paper now able to print comic strips in four color (printing in black, red, yellow & blue) the seeds were sown, and newspapers across the country clamored for artists requesting creation of every kind of humor strip imaginable. Hearst & Pulitzer began the famous "Yellow Wars" hiring each others artists and editorial crew en-masse to gain circulation.

Some artists were so imaginative they created numerous strips, some of which appeared in the same papers simultaneously to whet the voracious appetites of readers. George McManus, George Herriman, Frederick Burr Opper, James Swinnerton and Winsor McCay were some of them, but there are dozens of lesser known creators as well. Nor was there any shortage of artists and creators. By the early 1900's there were over 150 strips in syndication, in addition to many strips that never saw publication in more than a local paper.

Throughout the childhood of the comics, the main ingredient was humor. Each daily or Sunday installment was a singular episode and no reference was ever made to yesterday's strip. The medium would remain relatively unchanged for almost thirty years.

Winsor McCay deviated from that with his marvelous "Little Nemo in Slumberland" that appeared from 1905-1911 in the New York Herald and then as "In the Land of Wonderful Dreams" which ran from 1911-1914 in Hearst's Journal American. The strip was centered on the dreamt adventures of a small boy named Nemo and his friends. Wild concepts were a mainstay but another ingredient was introduced in this exquisitely illustrated offering. Frequently Nemo's adventures extended through several weeks, serialized into something of an adventurous fantasy and even sometimes mild soap opera. But serials did not otherwise take hold for almost two more decades. (Nemo was so popular that in 1908 it was made into a musical play with a score by the famed Victor Herbert.)

April 1924 would bring yet another wrinkle to comic strips. Roy Crane was just 22 years old when he created "Washington Tubbs II". The main character of the strip was a teenage boy named George Washington Tubbs II. Later shortened to Wash Tubbs, Crane's strip became enormously popular when on August 8, 1924 Wash embarked on a search for buried treasure. Readers were enthralled by the harrowing movie serial cliff hangers.
The adventure strip was born. Continue to Chapter 2

A Pictorial History of Sequential Art from Cave painting to Spider-Man

The History of Comic Art

A Chronological History of Comic Art in America

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