The Yellow Kid on the Paper Stage
Introduction Origins of the Kid Class Warfare on the Urban Stage Race and Ethnicity Selling the Kid The Death of the Kid
"An Old-Fashioned Fourth of July in Hogan's Alley."
"A Christmas Sermon."
"Golf—The Great Society Sport as Played in Hogan's Alley."
"The Day After 'The Glorious Fourth' Down in Hogan's Alley."
"First Championship Game of the Hogan's Alley Baseball Team."
"First Championship Game of the Hogan's Alley Baseball Team."
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Class Warfare on the Urban Stage


In the pages of the New York World and New York Journal, the problems facing urban slums became entertainment as well as information, through which upper and middle classes might wade into and emerge happy to be so well off. Beginning in the 1890s, historian Keith Gandal has argued in The Virtues of the Vicious: Jacob Riis, Stephen Crane and the Spectacle of the Slum, the poor started to "serve as a resource for the ethical revitalization of a middle-class culture that had begun to doubt itself, its faith in automatic material progress, and its moral discourse—and that had begun to react against its 'stifling atmosphere of bourgeois materialism' and Victorian morality.1 Gandal argues that by turning an examination of slum life into entertainment, or spectacle, a new form of urban tourism was created.2 The rich or middle class would imitate the travels of reporters like Stephan Crane, this time in search for excitement. The readers of the Yellow Kid could get the same spectacle without getting dirty, and working class readers could likewise be entertained and learn about upper-class habits as well:

"In essence, a general pursuit of the picturesque in the slums (not limited to crime reporting and political muckraking) was institutionalized in the city newspaper in the course of the 1880s, and in the 1890s the large dailies responded to the craze for the strenuous life most obviously with the introduction of the modern sports page and a jingoistic reporting of the Spanish-American War: and these innovations had much to do with turning journalism into a big business. . . . Either way one looks at it, the crucial condition is that the newspaper was encouraging such a mixture of formerly separate activities."3

Gandal notes that Crane's slum characters are also fascinated by spectacle—their only escape from their miserable living conditions.4 As a result, we see "the old demand for virtuous restraint is sacrificed to the new objective of excitement."5 The Yellow Kid clearly offered an alternate glimpse of the tenement realm as a place of excitement and danger, and was perhaps able to satisfy poor audiences looking for escape and rich audiences looking for the spectacle of the slum. The cartoon strains traditional Victorian morality with its language and violent content, yet notably it is very popular.

McFadden's Row of FlatsOutcault's drawings work on many levels as a spectacle of slum life and slum fantasy; they reference real-life spectacles, such as vaudeville and dime museums, and even commercial spectacles, such as billboards and modern advertisements. They cater to the spectacle of violence, with kids being beaned by golf balls and other projectiles, a horse getting his nose singed by an errant child in "Moving Day in Hogan's Alley" (World, May 3, 1896), and one child getting a golf ball in his eye in "Golf—The Great Society Sport as Played in Hogan's Alley" (World, Jan. 5, 1896). The series may be one of the early examples of "cartoon violence"; a grandchild perhaps of violent European fairy tales in which children are almost—but not quite—eaten alive. Seemingly the violence would appear more real and abhorrent to adults if children are showcased, yet the opposite has historically been the case, perhaps because adults' fears are projected on children, creating a mismatch of horror and subject. One frequent theme of the series was a kid falling from a balcony—a very real and not infrequent tragedy at the time, likely to be reported on in the same papers in which the Kid appeared.6 Yellow Kid historian Bill Blackbeard said the children who fall in the comic are never harmed, but we do see the evidence of real harm befalling children in at least one cartoon. "The Day After 'the Glorious Fourth' in Hogan's Alley" (July 7, 1895) pictures the children as the walking wounded, complete with slings, missing arms, bandaged heads, and crutches. Here the violence of spectacle and the spectacle of violence seems all too real. The July 4 cartoon a year later, "An Old-Fashioned Fourth of July in Hogan's Alley" (July 5, 1896) notably offers the day-of activities of firecrackers; in an unhappier subtext, the people in the background are fleeing a fire likely caused by the festivities. Still, viewers are not shown the aftermath of slum violence and chaos. Perhaps because the violence cut too real, the Yellow Kid grew more fantastical, using "cartoon violence" set in unreal situations, or decreasing violence altogether, as we see in the Around the World series in 1897, where the children are more likely carousing than hurting each other in a any real way familiar to New Yorkers."A Fourth of July Tragedy."
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1 Gandal, Keith. The Virtues of the Vicious: Jacob Riis, Stephen Crane and the Spectacle of the Slum. New York: Oxford University Press, 1997. 10.

2 Gandal 17.

3 Gandal 16-17.

4 Gandal 82-83.

5 Gandal 86.

6 Blackbeard, Bill. Introduction. R. F. Outcault's The Yellow Kid: A Centennial Celebration of the Kid Who Started the Comics. Northampton, MA: Kitchen Sink Press, 1995. 52.