[Marxism] When the Yellow Press Got Color by J. Hoberman | NYRblog | The New York Review of Books

Louis Proyect lnp3 at panix.com
Thu Jan 2 17:34:02 MST 2014

On October 18, 1896, newspaper magnate William Randolph Hearst went to 
war—not with Spain in Cuba but with Joseph Pulitzer in New York. His 
opening salvo was The New York Journal’s five-cent color supplement, The 
American Humorist, which Hearst called “eight pages of iridescent 
polychromous effulgence that makes the rainbow look like a piece of lead 

The sudden explosion of color comics had been facilitated by new 
high-speed four-color printing presses, but “lead pipe” may have been 
the operative term in Hearst’s boast. The original comics were designed 
to stun—both their startling graphics and their rambunctious antics. 
“Mit dose kids, society is nix!” an adult character says of Hans and 
Fritz, the daemonic, chortling child protagonists of The Katzenjammer 
Kids which, although inspired by the German artist Wilhelm Busch’s 
humorous picture book Max und Moritz, may be considered America’s first 
fully realized comic strip.

Borrowing that line for its title, Peter Maresca’s outsized and 
outlandish anthology Society is Nix: Gleeful Anarchy at the Dawn of the 
American Comic Strip, 1895–1915, shows just how sensational this 
newspaper art form was in its early years. The comics were the high-tech 
weapon of the great newspaper circulation war and tumult, if not 
violence, was the new medium’s stock-in-trade. The term “yellow 
journalism” itself derived from the first comic-strip star, a denizen of 
the teeming, single-image slum tableaux Hogan’s Alley, who became known 
as the Yellow Kid. This jug-eared, barefoot urchin, draped in a 
canary-colored nightshirt, was created by thirty-three-year-old magazine 
artist Richard Felton Outcault at Pulitzer’s New York World; he was soon 
poached by Hearst for his supplement’s first issue.


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