Frye Art Museum
photo by Jill Berarducci
Children of the Yellow Kid
Sept. 18-Nov. 8, 1998
This fall the Frye Art Museum invites a few dozen characters to Seattle in a comprehensive exhibition on comic strip art, Sept. 18 through Nov. 8, 1998. Many familiar characters, from The Mole to Dagwood, are represented in over 130 original drawings which create a pictorial history of American newspaper comics. Organized by the Frye Art Museum, Children of the Yellow Kid traces both the artistic and social evolution of the "funnies" over a 100 year penod.
The first modern comic strip was created by artist Richard Outcault for Joseph Pulitzer's New York World in 1895. With the Yellow Kid, a new narrative medium was created, with multiple panels and speech balloons as defining elements. Guest Curator Robert C. Harvey, a leading authority and author of two books on the history of comics, selected examples from American public and private collections ranging from the KatzenjammerKids (1897) and Happy Hooligan (1900), through Dick Tracy (1931) and Steve Canyon (1947), to Doonesbury (1971) and Mutts (1994). Most of the works are original drawings, from which the printed versions were made. Originals are generally larger than the printed version and often contain preliminary drawings notations, and corrections not visible when printed. They offer an insight into the methods used by the artist to achieve the effects seen in the printed strip. In some cases, where no known original exists, a vintage printed version has been located.
Outcault's Yellow Kid was a scruffy urchin with a gap-toothed grin and a yellow nightshirt. As the popularity of the Yellow Kid grew to national proportions, the character became the object of intense rivalry between newspaper titans Pulitzer and William Randolph Hearst (and the term "yellow journalism" was coined). The Yellow Kid's popularity ultimately paved the way for future newspaper comic strips in the United States.
Since their inception, the comics have mirrored American mores, manners and enthusiasms. Gasoline Alley (1918) for example, became popular just as the automobile was increasingly available and valuable to every family. Later, the popularity of movie serials was mirrored in comics with continuing adventures such as Flash Gordon, Terry and the Pirates, and Secret Agent X-9. With the growing independence of American women, comics like Polly and Her Pals (1912) were created for female audiences. Soon, women artists entered the arena, writing long-lived and popular strips such as Cap Stubbs and Tippie (1918) and Brenda Starr (1940).
In the years after World War II, storytelling gave way to the joke-a-day gag strip. Charles Shultz's Peanuts (1950) revolutionized the medium and became one of the most popular strips ever created. Schultz initiated a new simplified drawing style. With the success of Pennuts and other strips such as Beetle Bailey (1950) and B. C. (1958), gag strips became the norm.
Richard West, executive director of the Frye Art Museum explains, "Although it has its roots in medieval and rennaissance storytelling, the modern comic strip is a unique and valid narrative art form in its own right. I'm especially pleased that we can display original drawings, which so clearly show the artists' way of working."
A comprehensively illustrated book, Children of the Yellow Kid.- the Evolution of the American Comic Strip, with text by Robert Harvey, is being published by the Frye Art Museum in conjunction with the University of Washington Press.
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