Comics and cartoons are well-loved because they’re funny. Most of us think of them as a break in the monotony of a working day, a light moment, a chuckle over our morning coffee.
But for some, mirth is money. Those people tend to take their comics more seriously.
Take, for example, the reaction to “The Yellow Kid” drawn by Richard Outcault in his “Hogan’s Alley,” one of the first comic strips in the U.S., which emerged during the New York newspaper wars around the turn of the last century. Here’s the Yellow Kid in his characteristic baggy yellow garment.
The Library of Congress has many editions of early newspapers in its “Chronicling America” online collection and examples of early newspaper comic supplements in its Prints & Photographs online catalog, where this item was found.
In “Park Row,” Allen Churchill’s book about the newspaper wars between moguls Joseph Pulitzer and William Randolph Hearst, he notes that “New York went wild” over Hearst’s “Yellow Kid,” although writers from competing papers disparaged the character.
Quoting Max Nordau, Churchill wrote: ‘The Yellow Kid is the exact and ultimate expression of degeneracy. Notice the bald head (on a boy), the two teeth, the abnormal head and abnormal feet, the formless shirt of yellow – color of decay.’”
Comic strips and kids will be also be the subject of a talk at noon on Thursday, March 29 in the Library’s James Madison Building Dining Room A. In “Sketching the Secret Tracts of the Child’s Mind: Theorizing Childhood in Early American Fantasy Strips,” Lara Saguisag will discuss her research at the Library into such comics as “Little Nemo in Slumberland” and “Wee Willie Winkie’s World.”
Of course we still value a good cartoon today – what would The New Yorker magazine, or your favorite newspaper (or graphic novel) be without them?
And newspaper wars over cartoons are not quite yet submerged in the mists of time.
Consider this photo, taken late in 1989 in Denver. It records a caper carried out by five pranksters from the Denver Post staff, showing what they thought about the Rocky Mountain News taking the comic strip “Garfield” away from the Post and then rubbing it in through a Christmas display. (Thanks to John Leyba – prankster No. 5 — for the photo.)