Wednesday, May 13, 2015

Review- THE YELLOW KID


THE YELLOW KID (Kitchen Sink Press, 1995; Hardcover)

Collects the Hogan's Alley, McFadden's Row Of Flats, and Around The World With The Yellow Kid strips originally printed in the New York World from 5/5/1895, 5/19/1895, 7/7/1895, 9/22/1895, 11/10- 24/1895, 12/15/1895, 1/5/1896, 2/16/1896, 3/15/1896, 3/22/1896, 4/12/1896, 4/26/1896, 5/3/1896, 5/17/1896-4/4/1897, 4/18/1897, 5/2-30/1897, 9/25-12/12/1897, 12/26/1897- 1/23/1898, 2/2/1898, 2/20/1898, 3/27/1898, and 5/1/1898

Writer and Artist: R.F. Outcault

I am completely enamored with the “Platinum Age” of comics. These strips are not just quaint snapshots of a bygone era, they are culturally and historically significant documents of America in the late 19th century. This book is as much a history book as it is a collected edition. In the lengthy 140+ page introduction there are many pre-Yellow Kid Outcault political strips, albeit reproduced so small that they are difficult to enjoy.


The Yellow Kid got his start in the Hogan's Alley strip. In his day he was the most licensed character, with his image on everything from cigarettes to you name it. There was nothing Outcault wouldn't slap his character on to make a buck. The phrase “yellow journalism” can trace its origins to the character. It was also one of the first nationally syndicated strips. I learned a lot not only about the strip but about the history of New York City and the class structure of the city at that time as well.

While the character is an Irish immigrant stereotype, all ethnicities are represented in an equally unfavorable fashion. Given the large immigrant melting pot aspect of New York City at this time this sort of thing actually helped readers identify with the strip. It's hard to imagine in this politically correct, hyper-sensitive world, but the generalizations about Black, Irish, etc., didn't bother folks then as much as it does now. Indeed, anyone who believes that race relations are the same as they were during the era of Jim Crow laws need look no further than material which was actually released during the time frame. Many folks screaming racism and discrimination nowadays should feel ashamed of themselves, especially if you look at the portrayal of minorities during the era that this strip was originally published in. Things are better today. Not perfect, but much better than they were 100 plus years ago. Maybe folks in 100 years will look back at modern comics and recoil in horror. My kids will find out.


There are a handful of strips of Outcault's other famous creation, Buster Brown, in the back of the book. I would be all over a comprehensive reprint of Buster Brown strips, but given the current political climate and the relatively small audience for this type of material I would say that chances are slim to none that it will ever happen, which is a damn shame.

The Yellow Kid was a political satire strip, championing the cause of the poor and the downtrodden all the while poking fun at then-modern conveniences like alarm clocks and the New York City subway project. The importance of this material cannot be stressed enough. More comic fans should be interested in the history of the artform. You can't know where comics are going if you don't have a clue where they've been.
Junk Food For Thought rating: 5 out of 5.

 
The OCD zone- While this book is big, it is nowhere near large enough to do the material justice. Every single strip is shrunk down in size, being difficult to read at best and impossible to read at worst. I swear, there are times where you almost need a magnifying glass to read this, and I have 20/20 vision as of my appointment in December of 2014.
Linework and Color restoration: While the scans are of good quality, the strips are shrunk down so much that it is a moot point. Sad, considering that there is no way that this entire run will be reprinted ever again. The colors are original and/or yellowed with time, for better or for worse.
Paper stock: Matte coated stock with a slight sheen.
Binding: Smyth sewn binding with double fan adhesive. Book is a little creaky at times 20 years later due to the weight of the book block. There is one spot where the super (or crash) has a split maybe 1/8 of the way up. It doesn't effect the durability of the book per se, I am merely reporting this stuff as fairly and honestly as possible. It should be noted that this is a fairly worn second hand copy. It has been read more than once, and likely not by someone as insanely anal retentive careful as me.
Hardback cover notes: The image is printed on the casewrap, which, while having an excellent thickness lamination, has significant shelf and cover wear 20 years and who knows how many owners later. It should be noted that I could have spent a lot more for a nice copy (they made a ton of these) but I went for a solid mid-grade copy.
 

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