Outcault vs McCay

By | Friday, October 15, 2021 Leave a Comment
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 recently, 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 horizontal 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)
Newer Post Older Post Home