Abstract for Christina Meyer’s talk at the symposium “Imagining Media Change” (June 13, 2013, Leibniz Universität Hannover):
Technology – Economy – Mediality: Nineteenth Century American Newspaper Comics
In my talk I will focus on one of the first serialized, colored comic figures of the late nineteenth century, which appeared in two competing New York newspapers (The World and the New York Journal): Mickey Dugan, better remembered as the Yellow Kid. This kid was one of the first successfully marketed, iconic comic figures to which the public was introduced, and whose adventures it encountered over a 5-year period (1893-1898). The Yellow Kid had not only a place, and served diverse functions, within the Sunday comic supplements – as a protagonist in the comic pages, as a want-ads promotional device, and as a front-page filler – but also ‘outside’ of them, in the form of all kinds of merchandise products, advertising, poster and billboard ‘sign,’ and as a name-giver for, or rather protagonist in, songs and theater plays (among other things). The Yellow Kid was a commodified ware to be purchased and collected in all kinds of forms. There were, among other things, Yellow Kid candy, chewing gum pets, Yellow Kid pin-back buttons (often giveaways distributed by tobacco companies that used the Yellow Kid to introduce and sell a new cigarette brand), wooden cigar boxes, numerous tins (in different sizes, and designed for all kinds of purposes), puzzles, dolls, and many more things. What interests me about the Yellow Kid, and what makes this comic figure a relevant research topic for this symposium, are precisely these ‘border-crossings’ or transitions, from one (carrier) medium to another and the effects these changes generate. One line of argumentation I wish to pursue in my talk is that the merchandising of the Yellow Kid is a narrative moment in itself, which is also, self-reflexively, commented upon in the Yellow Kid newspaper comic pages.