On Strips: The First Crossover?

By | Friday, March 10, 2017 3 comments
I happened across a strange tidbit of comic strip trivia.

As you may know, Richard F. Outcault created the Yellow Kid in 1894. The following year, the character got his own comic and quickly became successful. Outcault took the character over to another paper in 1896, but his original publisher hired another cartoonist to continue the strip. Both strips continued until 1898 when the character's popularity faded.

Outcault did a variety of cartoons for the next few years, and then debuted Buster Brown in 1902. That also became popular. In 1906, Outcault again took the character to another paper, but his original publisher again hired a new artist to continue the strip. This time, the original strip (under a variety of artists) fell by the wayside in 1911, while Outcault's version continued on through 1921.

Now, here's the interesting bit. Twice in 1907 and two more times in 1910, Outcault's Buster Brown strip featured the Yellow Kid as another character. Not just in a small cameo either, but in a significant co-star role. In fact, in these appearances, the Yellow Kid speaks in 'standard' word balloons -- something he never did in his own strip! (Frankly, seeing him speak seems a little strange to me.) It's by far the earliest comic character crossover I've ever heard of.

Here are the first and (I think) last of these appearances...
You can see in both cases that the Yellow Kid is even given very prominent billing in the header! Also noteworthy in the first strip is the reference in the second panel to the competing versions of the characters, and the allusion to Winsor McCay's Little Nemo in Slumberland (which had debuted two years earlier) in the penultimate panel.

I'm not totally shocked as Outcault was the creator of both characters, and I can see why he might think it'd be fun to throw these two characters together. But here's (for me) the kicker: the original art for Outcault's second crossover strip still exists! It was sold at a Heritage Auction in 2005 for $25,000. It's given continuity by referencing the two characters' first meeting, and the dream state is again emphasized with the maid reciting "Now I Lay Me Down to Sleep." And will you just look at the gorgeousness of that bottom tier of panels?
I don't know for sure that this is the first crossover between two comic characters, but in getting to take a look at this original art, I really don't care. This is amazing!
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Unknown said...

While it didn't approach common practice,
crossovers and jams amongst the early cartoonists
(especially the Hearst cartoonists) are not
as rare as one might imagine.

Here, from 1901, is R. Dirks' Katzenjammers, Gus Dirks' Bugs,
Swinnerton's Beans (Jimmy's dog), and Opper's Hooligan:
A better view of that same comic as seen in Das Morgen Journal:

A year later is Schultze's Foxy Grandpa and Boys, Carr's Lady Bountiful,
Dirks' Katzenjammer company, and Opper's Hooligan and Alphonse and Gaston:

There are (relatively) many more examples of early crossovers;
maybe even some from the 19th Century.


Christina Meyer also alerted to me over on Facebook that Charles Salburg drew P. Cox's Brownies into The Ting Lings in 1894, and Outcault himself drew Alex & George from George Luks' version of Hogan's Alley into Ryan's Arcade in 1897.

Unknown said...

It was my understanding that Saalburg appropriated The Brownies
for The Chicago Inter Ocean without permission, and when Palmer
put a stop to it Saalburg created The Ting Lings as replacement.
But that may be wrong and maybe Saalburg did combine them in a cartoon.

Speaking of The Brownies and Outcault though...
The first Yellow Kid cartoon (before he was The Yellow Kid)
printed in The New York World was a take on The Brownies.
Fourth Ward Brownies first saw print in the February 9, 1895
issue of the humor magazine Truth, and reprinted in The
New York World on February 17, 1895.

hat tip: http://www.neponset.com/yellowkid/history.htm