The bald, big-eared, bucktoothed Yellow Kid took a swipe at the hard-knock life in Gilded Age New York for the working-class readers of Joseph Pulitzer’s New York World. Creator R.F. Outcault introduced the Kid, aka Mickey Dugan, to the World on February 17, 1895, and the imp in the bright yellow nightshirt led eager fans through the tenements of Hogan’s Alley, his Irish immigrant neighborhood. The Kid and his cohorts slyly poked fun at class stereotypes, often decking themselves out in the trappings of high society. Outcault papered the tenement walls with ads for everything imaginable, skewering the crass consumerism of the day. Ironically, the Kid himself was shamelessly merchandised, his goofy likeness hawking everything from cigars to stationery to cookies. Pulitzer’s nemesis, William Randolph Hearst, hired Outcault away for the New York Journal in 1896. Pulitzer enlisted another artist to draw the Kid for the World, and the media titans ran competing versions of the comic. These “Yellow Kid newspapers” tantalized readers with shocking, fact-optional stories, much like modern supermarket tabloids. The upscale press looked down their noses and dubbed the over-the-top reporting yellow journalism.
Originally published in the April 2011 issue of American History. To subscribe, click here.