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It's a wonderful coincidence that one of the early practitioners of the comic strip, Richard Felton Outcault, should have been born on the same day, today, in 1863, on which The Simpsons animated television show would premiere, over a century later, in 1990. And it's even more synchronistic when you consider that both featured, as their main character, a yellow kid. Outcault's Yellow Kid was part of a gang of scruffy Irish and other immigrant children who inhabited Hogan's Alley, one of those grim corridors of New York City's "Fourth Ward." The kids were a multi-ethnic chorus that quipped about the comings and goings on in the neighborhood -- arugments, evictions, parades, politics, races, deaths, holidays, circuses.
The bald-headed, jug-eared, gap-toothed, always cheerful Yellow Kid got his name from the oversized yellow nigthshirt that he started to wear in 1896, when the cartoon was a year old and the newspaper, The New York World, where it was appearing, had figured out how to dye the shirt that eye-catching color. Outcault used the Yellow Kid's nightshirt as a dialogue balloon for his remarks -- which were often simply his famous exclamation, "Hully Gee." But the Kid also carried jingoistic slogans that fanned the fires for the Spanish American war and led to the name, "yellow journalism." The comic became so popular that it grew from a small cartoon only a few inches long to a complex, full-page picture -- and it became one of the first cartoons ever to generate wide-spread merchandising tie-ins.
It was, however, primarily a comic for adults, like the animated cartoon program, The Simpsons, that gave us our other Yellow Kid in the form of the outrageous, incorrigible Bart, the brainchild of Matt Groening, whose famously vulgar phrases at the time lit up the pop culture lexicon. The Simpsons began as what was called a "bumper" or fill-in spot on the Tracey Ullman comedy show and was so popular that Groening was asked to come up with an idea for a regular program. In the fifteen minutes he had to wait to see the producer, he dreamed up this archetypally atypical American family and their satiric involvement with the comings and goings on -- the politics, social events, people, and beliefs of their community. And, like that first Yellow Kid, the Yellow Family, which premiered ten years ago today, has a vast audience of fans, merchandise galore, web sites, and even a couple of CDs of their music. The more things change, the more Simpsonic they remain .....
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Copyright 2007© John Cech
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