Early Strips in Full Color
By Richard F. Outcault with an introduction by August Derleth (Dover Publications)
Richard F. Outcault is credited with being the father (fans and historians are never going to stop debating this one, but Outcault is one of the prime-est contenders) of the modern comic strip with his creation The Yellow Kid for Joseph Pulitzer’s New York World in 1895 (the feature was actually entitled Hogan’s Alley). He was legendarily fickle and quickly tired of his creation, and of the subsequent features he created for William Randolph Hearst in the New York Journal during that period of bitter newspaper circulation warfare that gave rise to the term “Yellow Journalism”.
In 1902, he created a Little Lord Fauntleroy style moppet called Buster Brown, but the angelic looks concealed a boy perpetually wedded to mischief, pranks and poor decision making. Once again he quickly became bored and moved on, but this strip was another multi-media sensation, which captured public attention and spun off a plethora of franchises.
Buster was a merchandising Bonanza. By a weird circumstance, Buster Brown Shoes became one of the biggest chain-stores in America, and in later years produced a periodical comic book Premium (a giveaway magazine free to purchasers) packed with some of the greatest comic artists and adventure stories the industry had ever seen. Outcault may have dumped Buster, but the little darling never quit comics.
In this reproduction of a collection from 1904 entitled Buster Brown and his Resolutions, featuring fifteen glorious full colour strips from the first two years of the run, we meet the seemingly angelic Hellion and his faithful dog Tige, and see that if unfortunate happenstance doesn’t create chaos in the ordered and genteel life of the well-to-do Mr. and Mrs. Brown, little Buster is always happy to lend a hand. Each lavish page, rendered in a delightfully classical, illustrative line style – like Cruickshank or perhaps Charles Dana Gibson – ends with a moral or resolution, but one that is subversively ambiguous. As Buster himself says “People are usually good when there isn’t anything else to do.”
Historically pivotal, Buster Brown is also thematically a landmark in content, and a direct ancestor of the mischievous child strip that dominated the family market of the 20th century. Could Dennis the Menace (“Ours” or “Theirs”), Minnie the Minx or Bart Simpson have existed without Buster or his contemporary rivals The Katzenjammer Kids? It’s pointless to speculate, but it’s no waste of time to find and enjoy this splendid strip.
© 1974 Dover Publications. All Rights Reserved.