Tuesday, September 15, 2009

Richard Fenton Outcault (1863-1928)

“Mr. Outcault deserved a longer obituary than the one which was sent out with the news of his passing,” wrote a columnist in the Ogden Standard Examiner under the title ‘Father Of “Funny Paper” Is Dead.’ Richard Fenton Outcault did deserve more than the brief note that appeared in most newspapers at the time. Few people care about “Buster Brown” these days. Outcault is usually perplexingly passed over when it comes to reprinting the old masters. Perplexing because he was one of the best pen and ink men of the period, as good as Opper and much more accomplished as an artist than Dirks, Knerr or Bud Fisher. In addition to 'fathering' the funnies Outcault also ushered in the use of comic characters in advertising and merchandise. The following piece appeared in Outcault’s hometown newspaper.


[The Lancaster Daily Eagle, Sept. 26, 1928]

The grim reaper in hiss wandering over the land has gathered within his folds another whom Lancaster was proud to lay claim to as a native citizen. We speak of Richard Fenton Outcalt, a cartoonist of national fame who died Tuesday at his home in Flushing, a suburb of New York City.

For some reason or other, when he commenced to ascend the ladders of prominence he added the letter “u” to his name and spelled it “Outcault,” but here in Lancaster where he was born and spent the earlier years of his life we knew him as “Dick” Outcalt.

But what is in a name. It is the individual that counts and as to good fellowship Dick Outcalt stood in the one hundred percent class.

We knew him as a classmate at school and so did others yet living in Lancaster. He would rather draw than do anything else and he would sketch the teacher, the scholars, and any familiar objects around the classroom, while the other scholars were studiously engaged in cramming knowledge into their brains from their spellers, their arithmetics or the other fundamentals of learning to which they were assigned.

He never had much schooling along the line of art, but it seemed to come to him. It was natural for him to draw and he loved the talent with which he was possessed.

At an early day his father established him with a studio in the old Whiley block and later in the third story adjoining the McManamy block on Main Street. But portrait painting was not to his liking. He preferred the kind of drawing that produced laughter instead of tears: amusement instead of sorrow and so he directed his pen along those lines. He obtained a position with a big safe firm in Cincinnati and drew pictures on safe doors.

About this time they were holding a world’s fair in Paris and he obtained a job on the staff of Thomas Edison, the great inventor who was making an exhibit at this exposition.

Coming home he established a residence in new York City and it was along the comic line that his talents were appreciated. He might be given the credit of being the father of the newspaper comic sheet, as it was he whom the publisher gave the privilege of producing a full page of a comic called “Hogan’s Alley,” which had a spectacular run for several years in the metropolitan papers and gave a start to a feature that in the newspaper circles has grown to wondrous proportions. He was also creator of “The Yellow Kid” cartoon and of “Buster Brown” and others* which are still remembered by many of the newspaper readers of today. He made a million dollars and he spent it. He enjoyed the gay life and he had a million friends. The word enemy was not in his vocabulary and its meaning was unknown to him. He loved the bright lights and Broadway to him was a lane of beauty. He also loved nature. The rose to him had a more beautiful color than to anyone else and the grass to him was greener.

His artistic talent ran to the line of entertaining and amusing the juveniles and among them he had millions of friends. His principal characters in the production of “Buster Brown” were his two children with which he was blessed, Richard F. Outcault Jr., who was “Buster,” and the daughter whom he designated Mary Jane. Daily and in Sunday papers he would make the kiddies laugh and when you can amuse the children you can also entertain the elders and this he did for years by his comic strips until about ten years ago he entered the advertising field in which he was quite successful.

But a big man in his particular line has gone and in our local gallery of fame we are going to hang the portrait of Richard F. Outcalt, alongside of Sherman the warrior, Ewing the statesman and Stansberry the jurist and Mike Daugherty the orator and lawyer, as one of the famous men that the good old town of Lancaster has produced and likes to call her own. You were a good old chap, Dick, and we pen these lines with sorrow and regret. You have filled a niche in this world of ours and have made history not only for yourself but to the town in which you were born.

*In 1897 Outcault left The Yellow Kid and Hearst’s employ for James Gordon Bennett’s Herald where he drew L’il Mose and Buddy Tucker. Buster Brown began May 1902 in the Herald, then, when Outcault moved back to Hearst, the Herald continued with a competing Buster Brown under different artists.

*Original “Tige” drawing courtesy Don Kurtz

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