|5/14/2008 4:07:00 PM|
"That's My Dog Tige, He Lives In A Shoe. I'm Buster Brown, Look For Me in There Too"
Most of us over 50 remember the above words very well. This was the unforgettable slogan of Buster Brown, one of America's most enduring cartoon characters. In the first half of the 20th century, Buster Brown and his dog, Tige, were as well known as Charlie Brown or Homer Simpson would be to later generations.
The creator of Buster Brown was Richard F. Outcault, one of America's first comic strip cartoonist. Outcault had gained a bit of fame in the 1890's with his comic strip "Down in Hogan's Alley." The comic was set in the dirty city tenements and back yards of New York City. The characters included all kinds of toughs and street urchins. One of the urchins was a bald-headed child in a long filthy nightshirt. Outcault eventually used the nightshirt to make social comments on the cartoon subject. In experimenting with yellow ink, printers at the newspaper used the nightgown as a test area for this hard-to-print color. The public fell in love with the character and because of his yellow nightgown nicknamed him "The Yellow Kid."
In 1896, Outcault was hired away from Pulitzer's New York World by the publisher of the New York Journal, William Randolph Hearst. Because of their fight over who would print the "Yellow Kid" comic strip, the battle between the two publishers became known as "Yellow Journalism." By the end of the 1890's, there was a great outcry from parents who felt the Yellow Kid was too vulgar. Genteel Victorian society saw this comic character as being too sordid and one who constantly got into serious trouble. The "Kid" also advertised such low class products as tobacco, cigarettes, and beer. By 1901 the strip died, and Outcault went to work on a different type of character.
On May 6, 1902, "Buster Brown and his Dog Tige," made its debut in the comic pages of the New York Herald. From its very beginning the 12-panel Sunday strip attracted a vast following of readers both young and old. The central character was a young, good looking rich boy with a blond page boy haircut, who had a sister named Mary Jane, and Tige, a talking Boston Terrier. Buster wore short pants, a little jacket, cute little Victorian shoes, a saucer-rimmed hat, and got into all kinds of harmless trouble.
Unlike the Yellow Kid who lived in the urban squalor of the city, Buster lived with his wealthy parents in a relatively comfortable lifestyle. He managed to get into trouble just like the characters in "The Yellow Kid," but it was a different, less dangerous style of trouble. Examples of this included Buster putting syrup into his mother's perfume bottle, or breaking a window with a slingshot. In the bottom right corner of each strip, Outcault used a "Resolved" panel in which Buster would always apologize and promise that he would never do it again.
Middle and upper class parents saw Buster as a nice, young boy who came from a respectable family. He often got into mischievous trouble, but always apologized for his actions. On the other hand, many of these same parents thought that characters such as the Yellow Kid were involved in more serious situations, typical of the bad children in the tenement slums. They looked down upon life among the lower classes as a breeding ground for problems. This was the time that millions of immigrants were entering America, and many middle and upper class citizens wanted little to do with them.
As he did with the Yellow Kid, Outcault continued to preach a message of social criticism with Buster Brown. He was the first cartoonist to not only make us laugh, but to make us think about issues as well. In the "Resolved" panel of each strip, Outcault would have Buster comment on the lesson to be learned. In his message, Buster would often take on some of the more controversial issues of the day such as "race suicide." This issue dealt with the anxiety by upper and middle class white Americans over the issue of birth control. These groups feared that if they practiced birth control, they would not keep up with the growth of the immigrant population. In this strip Buster goes to a zoo and helps to take care of a baby stork after its mother didn't want it. Outcault's obvious message was to value life.
Outcault loosely based Buster on a boy who lived near his home in Flushing, New York.
It is thought that he chose the name Buster based on Buster Keaton, a young vaudeville performer at that time. The character Tige was a Boston Terrier that could actually speak. Tige was the first talking animal in any comic strip. Tige served as sort of a conscience for Buster. Tige would often comment on the action taking place, but would rarely take part in it.
By 1904 Buster Brown was the most popular comic character in America. It was at this time that Outcault began to realize the enormous potential of marketing Buster to American businessmen. Outcault traveled to the 1904 St. Louis World's Fair and sat down in a small booth ready to sell a marketing license to any business owner who would be willing to pay for it. Next to the table was a full sized cutout lithographed figure of Buster Brown. This simple gimmick worked, because by the end of the fair, over 200 marketing agreements had been signed. Some of the products that Buster would be featured in included beer, socks, toys, dolls, watches, and above all shoes.
By far the most lucrative contract was signed by the Brown Shoe Company. John Bush, a sales executive with the company, persuaded company officials to sign on with Outcault. Brown Shoes then set up an innovative marketing campaign for their product. Midgets were hired to tour the country dressed in Buster Brown outfits, appearing in performances before large crowds. Trained Boston Terriers would also go out in the audience and amazingly untie non-Buster Brown shoes. Almost every shoe store in America sold the Buster Brown shoe, and storeowners would give out Buster Brown premiums and comic books to children with the store name on it. Brown Shoes also didn't forget about mom, as they advertised their shoes in magazines such as Life, Ladies Home Journal, and the Saturday Evening Post. This campaign went on from 1904 to 1930, and boosted company profits immensely. Even after the comic strip ended in 1921, Brown Shoes continued to advertise their product in magazines, newspapers, radio, and TV. The Brown Shoe Company is still in business today, and is even listed on the New York Stock Exchange.
The Buster Brown empire reached far beyond comic strips. Besides the marketing success with various products, the media also got involved. In 1904, Buster was featured in a one reel movie for the first time. In the late twenties various silent comedy shorts were produced, with child actor Arthur Trimble in the lead role. In 1943 Buster Brown Shoes created "The Smilin' Ed McConnell Show" on radio. McConnell called his cast of characters "The Buster Brown Shoe Gang." Even though a Buster Brown character wasn't in the show, it still was very popular. Eventually the show came to TV in 1950. By 1954 McConnell's health failed and Andy Devine was hired to take his place. This show featured Midnight the Cat and the mischievous Froggy the Gremlin.
The Buster Brown comic strip ended its run in 1921. Its demise was mainly caused by other rival strips such as "The Katzenjammer Kids". Outcault retired in 1921 and the lack of subsequent fresh material spelled the end of a 17-year run. Buster Brown never lost its magic however, as even to this day the name Buster Brown is still marketed worldwide. Outcault died very wealthy in 1928, benefiting immensely from his licensing efforts, and the almost 10,000 advertising ads for Buster Brown that his ad agency produced.
Buster Brown collectables are very hot on the market today. Items include many premiums such as booklets, shoe horns, blotters, pins, comic books, silver ware, toys, banks, dolls, whistles, and even kites. Here are a few of the values for Buster Brown collectibles:
Buster Brown Bread Pin $40
1907 Buster Brown postcard $5
Buster Brown pin the necktie game $250
Buster Brown 1945 comic book $54
Buster Brown comic strip 1918 $75
I would like to credit the following sources in the writing of this article:
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