The Yellow Kid emerged as the lead character in Hogan's Alley, drawn by Richard F. Outcault, which became one of the first Sunday supplement comic strips in an American newspaper, although its graphical layout had already been thoroughly established in political and other, purely-for-entertainment cartoons.
The Yellow Kid was a bald, snaggle-toothed boy who wore a yellow nightshirt and hung around in a ghetto alley filled with equally odd characters, mostly other children.
With a goofy grin, the Kid habitually spoke in a ragged, peculiar ghetto argot printed on his shirt, a device meant to lampoon advertising billboards.
Magazine to newspapers
Outcault drew four black-and-white, highly detailed single panel Hogan Alley cartoons for Truth magazine in 1894 and 1895. The character who would later become the Yellow Kid had a minor supporting role in these panels. The fourth cartoon, Fourth Ward Brownies, was reprinted on 17 February 1895 in Joseph Pulitzer's New York World where Outcault worked as a technical drawing artist. The World published a new Hogan's Alley cartoon less than a month later and this was followed by the strip's first color printing on 5 May 1895. Hogan's Alley gradually became a full-page Sunday color cartoon with the Yellow Kid as its lead character, which was also appearing several times a week.
The strip has been described as "... a turn-of-the-century theater of the city, in which class and racial tensions of the new urban, consumerist environment were acted out by a mischievous group of New York City kids from the wrong side of the tracks." The Yellow Kid's head was drawn wholly shaved as if having been recently ridden of lice, a common sight among children in New York's tenement ghettos at the time. His nightshirt, a hand-me-down from an older sister, was white or pale blue in the first color strips.
The Yellow Kid's image was an early example of lucrative merchandising and appeared on mass market retail objects in the greater New York City area such as "billboards, buttons, cigarette packs, cigars, cracker tins, ladies’ fans, matchbooks, postcards, chewing gum cards, toys, whiskey and many other products".
In 1896 Outcault was hired away at a much higher salary to William Randolph Hearst's New York Journal American where he drew the Yellow Kid in a new full-page color strip which was significantly violent and even vulgar compared to his first panels for Truth magazine. Pulitzer, who had retained the copyright to Hogan's Alley, hired George Luks to continue drawing the original (and now less popular) version of the strip for the World and hence the Yellow Kid appeared simultaneously in two competing papers for about a year. Outcault produced three subsequent series of Yellow Kid strips at the Journal American, each lasting no more than four months:
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