Monday, March 7, 2011

The Man Who Draws Buster Brown

The Man Who Draws Buster Brown: R. F. Outcault Makes $75,000 a Year out of his Pleasant Concert. (From Everybody’s Magazine for June.)

from Manitoba Free Press 27 May 1905

At present Mr. Outcault is working on the New York Herald, where his “Buster Brown” has run for more than four years, and has repeated the success of his “Yellow Kid.” More than any other comic supplement character, Buster has made a hit. A lawyer and two secretaries are said to be employed constantly by Mr. Outcault to keep track of the “business end” of Buster Brown, for there are Buster Brown cigars, suits, garters, stockings, belts, sweaters; there is a successful Buster Brown play. And in Buster’s every effort Mr. Outcault profits. He lives at Flushing, L.I., and has an income of some 75,000 dollars a year -- for which he has to work, remember.

While not a clubman in the usual sense of the word, Outcault is a prominent member of the Strollers, and vitally interested in the burlesque productions of that somewhat Bohemian organization. His inclinations are to the theatre, he has contributed largely to the club’s annual burlesques, and is co-author of “Buster Brown” as a stage production. He served his apprenticeship to art in Paris, and returned with the regular art student’s outfit -- a beret, or soft cap, and a velveteen painting jacket. To this day in his hours of ease, when not drawing Buster Browns or royalties there-from, he dons his cap and jacket and strums student songs on the banjo. He is preparing himself for the stage, or says he is; but is also fond of baseball, and takes his children to the wild parts of Flushing, and instructs them in the mysteries of “Three Old Cat,” as he used to play it in Ohio, when he was a “Buster” boy himself. When you see pictures of Buster Brown’s mamma, you see pen-and-ink portraits of Mrs. Outcault as her husband sees her.

Here is the story of Mr. Outcault’s first hit, the “Yellow Kid:”

About the time that he left Truth, Edward Harrigan’s play, “O’Reilly and the Four Hundred,” was running successfully in New York City. In it occurred a song, “Maggie Murphy’s Home,” which began with the words “Down in Hogan’s Alley.” Outcault had laid the scene of a little series of “comics” in Hogan’s Alley, and found that the pictures were acceptable to Truth. After some months on the World, it occurred to him that he might continue the interrupted series in the comic supplement, and he forthwith carried out his idea. Topics that held public attention were burlesqued by the dweller’s in Hogan’s Alley: the wedding of Miss Vanderbilt and the Duke of Marlborough was the first subject treated; then followed “the Defender-Valkyrie Yacht Races in Hogan’s Alley”; the Klondike was discovered there; and similar matters were depicted by Mr. Outcault. But at first the new-old series did not make a hit. It was not until the “Yellow Kid” appeared that the series took fast hold of the public.

The “Kid” came on the scene first simply as “one of the chorus,” to help fill the picture, and took no prominent part. By a happy inspiration, the man who laid out the color-scheme gave a glaring yellow to the gown (really night-shirt) in which Mr. Outcault had clothed him. Someone remarked that he was a funny little mite, an odd type of the gutter-snipe; and Outcault drew him again and again, each time the color-scheme man arraying him in yellow.

Mr. Outcault emphasized the ears of the brat, and promoted him from a “thinking” to a “speaking part” by inscribing some impudent legend on his gown; and the Yellow Kid had arrived! A “Yellow Kid” epidemic ravaged the land. The Kid appeared on buttons, on cracker tins, on cigarette packages, on fans, on show-cards; finally he was dramatized.

Top Illustration borrowed from HERE


  1. the yellow kid was said to be the kid that alfred e. neuman came from.

  2. That's true but AEN can be traced back to the 1880's. See my post on The Mysteries of Melvin.