The first comic is the granddaddy of clickbait
Generally recognized as the first comic book, Mickey “The Yellow Kid” Dugan was one of the first sensationalist pieces of entertainment journalism.
Clickbait is no good even by its very name. The somewhat predatory practice of using maliciously cropped headlines and baiting images to generate clicks and ad revenue is generally described as one of the worst aspects of the internet. Between the “Panem and circusesMorals and sensationalized headlines, one could easily forget that the first clickbait is as old as comic books themselves. And for good reason: the first comic book was a clickbait.
The Yellow Kid, named after his large yellow nightgown, appeared in short comic strips and illustrations in a series of New York-based newspapers in the late 1800s. A controversial character in his own right, The Yellow Kid was the culmination of years of sensationalist entertainment-based reporting that ultimately resulted in the delegitimization of any newspaper that published his strips. Even so, the history of the practice and the character is well worth exploring.
The comics started before the syndication of the Yellow Kid
It’s pretty hard to pinpoint exactly when this so-called “comic book” would have started in earnest. If it is an image or images that demonstrate movement and action, triptychs have existed in the western world since time immemorial, and cave paintings technically work the same way. If it is a mass-published series of images, it predates movable-type printing. However, the immediate precursors to comics can probably be traced to political cartoons. From mayoral disputes to calls for revolution, cartoons appeared in American newspapers as early as the mid-1700s. Usually a single image with multiple labels to clear the joke, political cartoons continue to this day, even drawn by comic artists, but are often categorized separately from comics or books due to their single-panel nature. Where some comics have managed to avoid words altogether, political cartoons generally need them to clarify their arguments and allegories.
From political cartoon to bawdy tale
After his publication reached the public, Outcault attempted to claim the copyright of the property to no avail. Because of this, The yellow child became a comic strip used by two separate publications, and both wanted to get the public’s attention. Since controversy sells, newspapers quickly moved away from the heavy politics of the original cartoon and instead talked about a poor Irish boy whose grammar is, to say the least, poor. From cockfights to musicals, the comic has used multiple panels to explore the “fun” side of poverty in a way as bawdy as the general public could consume.
In 1897 a collected edition with a set of stories by Outcault himself was published in book form and in color, making The Yellow Kid in McFadden’s Flats the first true comic book and paving the way for big names such as Marvel and DC. Such success was indicative of the comics’ popularity, but with so many hands in the metaphorical cake, The yellow child quickly lost all semblance of political prominence and fell out of favor with the general public…but not before bringing down the newspapers in which it was published.
Both Truth and The yellow childthe other publishing journal, New York American Journal, quickly rose to prominence for publishing a full-color political comic strip that featured no politics. Since it was therefore stripped of its value, The yellow child sullied both newspapers and caused them to be branded bland and useless due to their unnecessary indulgence in a set of images for the express purpose of lowbrow entertainment. For this reason, the two journals were referred to as “Yellow Kid Papers”, a term which then spread to other journals and newspapers, eventually being shortened to “Yellow Journalism”, a term still used to refer to a vapid journalism that contains only puff pieces and controversial content. to sell copies and nothing more.
Leading to a name for an entire genre of clickbait journalism, The yellow child, perhaps unfairly, is easily credited with the origin of clickbait. Thinking back to the comic, she was meant for entertainment and never claimed otherwise after the change, making her nature synonymous with useless entertainment somewhat dated. Regardless, the first comic, like many comics since, left a lasting impact on the language and on the journalism industry as a whole. Even in a comic strip synonymous with nonsense, the artistry and influence of Outcault’s work makes it meaningful more than a century later.
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