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"Happy birthday, Yellow Kid!"
by Ferruccio ALESSANDRI *

Through smiles and jokes (this time it’s right to say it) one hundred years have passed as if nothing had happened. How did it start?
Well, that year, 1896, was full of important events which would mark the whole century to come. For example, just in that year Freud began to publish introductory works to a really new science, the psychoanalysis. Moreover, the cinema was born just one month before and in that year it appeared in the first picture houses. Also, there was the start of the “pulp magazines” that is to say popular magazines (so called because of the shoddy paper extracted form the wood pulp), where works by E.Burroughs (Tarzan), by Dashiell Hammett would be published later. In the meanwhile, still during that year, Henri Becquerel discovered the radioactivity of the uranium salts...
Many things happened in the far-off 1896, and (just looking at the above-named ones), those were things that would influence the way of living and of thinking in the whole century. But the ordinary citizen continued his usual routine without understanding
But, at least, for the american ordinary citizen, there was something he had to account for, since in 1896 (on January 5th, if you really wish to know it) R.F. Outcault published the first comic-plate in the world on the first Sunday supplement of the newspaper “New World”. Title : “Hogan’s Halley”. In the story there was a strange bald boy with flap-ears and with a long vest touching the ground.
The year before the main character had already appeared with the same blue vest in some funny cartoons. In those early strip cartoons (one hundred years, fellows!) he wore for the first time a yellow vest where probably the representative phrases that changed in each cartoon could be written. In the common images he became “Yellow kid”.
One hundred years, fellows. Just think about it: in the western world nobody has had a period in his life without strip cartoons. In a certain manner strip-cartoons were already perfect that way. A revolutionary way of communication (today we would say, with some willingness, “multi-media”) where the user had to follow a sequence of images and read at the same time, the text inside them. We manage to carry out this difficult work only when we are children that is to say when we are still intelligent. Even today, those who did not read strip-cartoons when they were younger, don’t understand anything of them.
What happened during these 100 years? Everything and nothing, like in any other field. Linguistic innovations for the authors (if I had some further space I would be glad to tell you about them) and publishing innovations. The most important ones: the issue of daily strips on the newspapers at the end of 20’s and the publication of independent comic books at the end of 30’s.
Only a short time ago people began to accept (not all the intellectual and political authorities, unfortunately) the general idea that it is a question of popular literature, probably the deepest in this century. I’ve read some interviews where well-known people confuse strip-cartoons with tv cartoons. The widespread opinion is that it is a question of children’s interest.
Probably, this was the general opinion also when the “Odyssey” was born. As for us who are lucky, we congratulate you and ourselves for understanding. And we celebrate. Happy Bithday, Yellow Kid!
And many many more!

* Comics Historian

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I Cartoon Fax Festival 1996

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