Class conflict and tensions in The Yellow Kid ranged from the grim to satires of the middle classes to pokes at violence and pretension among the emigre classes themselves. As I work through his strips I am impressed by the range of his sympathies and diverse perspectives on the city, poverty, violence, race and social class. The Dec. 15 1896 “Merry Christmas Morning in Hogan’s Alley” is a painfully ironic depiction of the holiday among Alley-ites. A “Deer Santy Klaws” letter on the fire escape instructs Santa to use the nearby ladder because there is no chimney. Another chortling boy holds his Merry Christmas sign above a drunk passed out at the foot of a tenement. Somber faces stare into the mayhem of the street. Two mothers shake their fists at each other in the background, a child taunts a foreign missionary asking for donations and handing out tracts. A ruffian uses a pea shooter on another child trying to celebrate in paper hat and drum. The one child in the scene with a gift is an obviously middle class child (in Lord Fauntleroy haircut) hugging her dolly tight as street children look on, some numb-faced, others smirking. The entire scene is framed in the foreground by a cherubic girl holding her hand out to the viewer in search of alms.
It is a biting, scolding view of class disparity and how some commonplaces of the growing middle class are out of reach of Outcault’s urchins.
Credit: From Blackbeard, Bill, R. F. Outcault’s The Yellow Kid: A Centennial Celebration of the Kid Who Started the Comics. Northampton, Mass.: Kitchen Sink Press, 1995. Located at UVA xRoads