On Strips: Outcault vs McCay

By | Friday, August 22, 2014 2 comments
Richard Outcault is frequently given credit for "inventing" the modern comic strip. That's not really an accurate claim, but he did do some innovative work in the field and deserves some credit for that. I've always been more partial to Winsor McCay, who worked not only in the same field in the same time frame, but also for the same employers. In fact, both Outcault and McCay ran in to legal issues with publisher William Randolph Hearst with regards to who owned the comics they drew, and both artists went on to other publishers taking the essence of their strips, if not the original title, with them.

It was pointed out to me today, though, that McCay in fact drew one of Outcault's strips for a time. From 1906-1908, McCay worked on "Buster Brown" after Outcault left the New York Herald, where he first developed the strip in 1902. There's several things to be fasincated by in this, but the thing that immediately struck me was how we can directly compare the two arists' work as they were working on the same material. Here's a panel of "Buster Brown" from each of them...
While Outcault takes a more illustrative approach with his linework, his figures are stiffer. McCay's are more fluid and cartoony. McCay also utilizes a greater variety of line widths, while Outcault's lines are more uniform. Additionally, McCay's composition feels more pleasing, directing a reader's eye across the panel in a swooping motion. By contrast, Outcault's is more rigidly horizonttal and doesn't make any use at all of the top quarter of the panel. McCay's figure seem to run into and out of the panel, while Outcault's are trapped within its borders.

This isn't to say Outcault was necessarily an inferior cartoonist than McCay, but I would easily posit that McCay was a better artist. I would've said so before, but having the direct and immediate comparison of having had both of them work on the exact same strip, the comparisons are even more inevitable than before.

Now I'm going to have to track down reprints of McCay's "Buster Brown" comics! (h/t Peter Sattler)
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Anonymous said...

I've set up as a vendor (comic books)at Wizard World Chicago and C2E2 each of the last 3 years, as well as WW St. Louis, Minnesota and Louisville this year. Ever since its inception, I've felt C2E2 was a better show. Even though I work the show, I still look at it from an attendees perspective. I think the selection of comics is better. I only remember one vendor at WW this year with 50 cent books. Most didn't even have $1 or $2 books. Aritst alley at C2E2 the past couple years has blown away Wizard World, largely due to the fact that Wizard World has almost no relationship with Marvel or DC. The two biggest comic book companies have no presence at WW shows. The cost to get in, for attendees and vendors, is ridiculous. The weekend pass at C2E2 this year was only $5 more than the Saturday ONLY pass for WW. They do almost nothing to decorate the room. As you said, it has a very flea market feel to it, while C2E2 feels like an event to me. I live in the west suburbs, so travel to Rosemont is easier than to McCormick place, but even then, I'd rather make the drive downtown. River Rd. becomes an absolute mess when the show lets out because of the off ramps from the expressway. However, being able to park in the Metra lot, walking distance from the the DES for $5 a day is a perk. Speaking as a vendor now, I am also not a fan at all of how they've had the show split between rooms the last two years. It was better this year, since you only had to cross the lobby to get from room to room, but last year, with the show split between floors, was an absolute disaster.

Mike Rhode said...

This is awesome. i had no idea McCay did that. When you find all of his strips, Kickstart a book. I'm in!