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Mr. Outcault



REMEMBERING

BUSTER BROWN'S ORIGIN

AND THE COMIC STRIP


by Ronald L. Smith


Here's more than you'll ever want to know about the origin of Buster Brown shoes and the creation of the Buster Brown comic strip....



In 1878, George Warren Brown and Alvin Bryan started the Bryan, Brown and Company manufacturing plant in St. Louis. Their big product was Brown Shoes, and in 1893 that became the company name. That's about as dull and plain as a brown shoe gets.

Meanwhile, in 1902, a fellow named Richard F. Outcault was launching a new comic strip in New York. The strip would offer the adventures of a sissified kid named Buster Brown. Why? Because Outcault was trying to make a radical change from his earlier comic strip, The Yellow Kid.

Back around the turn of the century, The Yellow Kid had run afoul of bluenoses, and that was interfering with Outcault earning his green. Some wordsmiths insist that the term "yellow journalism" was a derisive term referring to "the yellow papers," the newspapers sleazy enough to carry the appalling antics of The Yellow Kid.

The Yellow Kid, like subsequent blond brats Dennis the Menace and Bart Simpson, had become a great marketing item. Only instead of t-shirts, The Yellow Kid turned up hawking such adult products as beer and alcohol!

Outcault finally gave in and decided to create a new kid hero, an upscale boy with a milder streak of mischief. Think: The Yellow Kid is to the Three Stooges what Buster Brown is to The Cosby Show.

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Buster Brown was a wholesome little fellow. Yes, he sometimes got a little wayward, but he respected his elders and when he learned his lesson, he never repeated the bad behavior, he didn't, he didn't. Unlike a certain frog who, decades later, would invade the Buster Brown comic books!

Outcault journeyed to the 1904 World's Fair in St. Louis, intent on marketing the new character for ads, posters, and any other product he could find.

The fair, which had its own theme song in "Meet Me in St. Louis" was a rousing success and amid the greed and merriment Richard Outcault, Buster Brown hawker, met up with George Warren Brown, Brown Shoe maker. It was a perfect fit.

Of all the licenses Outcault sold, the one to the Brown Shoe company proved the most lucrative. The Brown Shoe Company took an aggressive marketing approach for their new Buster Brown line. They hired short people (at the time, the term was "midgets") to impersonate Buster Brown at stores and theaters.

Sometimes Buster Brown brought along his doge Tige and an entire cast for shows. That type of thing definitely brought the rubes 'a running. The idea was so successful that the idea of a grown-up Buster was continued throughout the run of Smilin' Ed and Andy's Gang on TV, Buster Brown was played not by a child, but by an adult, Jerry Narron.

For many, Jerry's squealing commercial that begins "I'm Buster Brown, I live in a shoe..." still resonates....

And many can probably sing that gently lilting Buster Brown shoe song....

DOES YOUR SHOE HAVE A DOG INSIDE??

WHAT A FUNNY PLACE FOR A DOG TO HIDE

DOES YOUR SHOE HAVE A BOY THERE TOO

A BOY AND A DOG AND A FOOT IN A SHOE

WELL THE BOY IS BUSTER BROWN

AND THE DOG IS TIGE HIS FRIEND.

AND ITS REALLY JUST A PICTURE

BUT ITS FUN TO PLAY PRETEND!

SO LOOK, LOOK, LOOK

IN YOUR TELEPHONE BOOK

FOR THE STORE THAT SELLS THE SHOE

WITH THE PICTURE OF THE BOY AND THE DOG INSIDE

THAT YOU CAN PUT YOUR FOOT INTO



The "Buster Brown" shoe line still exists, but the Brown Shoe Company rakes in $1.6 billion in sales with the help of other brands such as Naturalizer, LifeStride and Connie shoes for women.

In 2002 NPR radio's Morning Edition celebrated the 100 year anniversary of the Outcault strip. Reporter Elizabeth Blair described the series this way: "In almost every strip, Buster Brown wore short pants, a little jacket, and dainty Victorian shoes and sometimes a wide, saucer-rimmed hat. His family was rich, which appealed to upper class New Yorkers."

At the end of his adventures, Buster Brown would often insist: 'I'm sorry I was bad, I promise never to do that again, I'll be a good boy from now on.'

Yes, Froggy the Gremlin's "I'll be good, I will, I will," came directly from Buster Brown.

Today, the "Buster Brown" comic strip is an obscure memory, and "The Yellow Kid" likewise forgotten (although forgiven; he did get immortalized on a U.S. postage stamp!) Froggy the Gremlin...LIVES! He does...he does...

Thanks for taking the detour through the world of Outcault and Brown shoes. Hope you learned a few things and are now a better person for it.

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FROGGY comics yesterday and today!



When Smilin' Ed was on the radio, he not only wanted listeners to "come a' running" to listen, he wanted them to wear out their shoes doing it. Then they could go to the local Buster Brown store and buy new ones.



But kindly Ed McConnell had a surprise for the customers: a FREE comic book. And he even told the kiddies that they could just walk in and ask for a copy without having to buy anything! Watta guy.



The first dozen or so issues were strictly typical comic book fare: action and adventure stories about at the level of "Classics Illustrated." Finally, Smilin' Ed and The Gang began to get their own segment, and everyone could finally see Froggy, Midnight the Cat and Squeaky the Mouse..



The free comic books continued for over 40 issues over the years. These extended to Andy Devine's tenure as TV show host, where he was drawn (and quartered by Froggy) from about issue #36 to #43.



While not quite as subversive as he was on the TV show, Froggy was the troublemaking star of the comic book. In fact, Buster Brown, once a comic-strip star, was hardly in the comic book at all. There were a couple of adventure yarns, and the highlight: Froggy being violent, cracking wise, or...burning books! I wonder if he would've spared any of the ones I've written. No....

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Froggy in "Buster Brown Comics" stopped production in the mid 50's, but Froggy made a comeback in the late 90's via many many issues of the underground Zero Zero comic book. The Legend of Smilin' Ed and Froggy took a new twist courtesy of Kim Deitch.

Kim had emerged decades earlier along with R. Crumb, Spain, Bill Griffith and others when he was part of the underground comic scene. His wonderfully pornographic work appeared in such mid-70's underground classic comic books as "Insect Fear" and "Clean Wholesome Tales of Sex and Death."

Many years later, 1997 to be precise, he decided to create a series about Smilin' Ed and Froggy. (Although he had used "Smilin' Ed" as the name for a freak show back in a comic strip in 1970).

Up top is a typical scene where the artist fantasizes about Ed McConnell and Froggy. Don't we all. And below, a picture of Kim with Froggy, taken in 2002.

Back in 2002 the website added, "Hopefully one day all the Zero-Zero episodes involving Froggy will be anthologized. There IS a tremendous demand from millions of people. Well, from thousands of people. OK, from me..." Turns out thousands of people DID demand it, and though it took eight years, in 2010 "The Search for Smilin' Ed" was released by Fantagraphics Books, featuring the complete story as it appeared in the various issues of Zero-Zero, plus 16 pages of bonus material!

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Below: it began with Outcault's The Yellow Kid...
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the Kid gave way to Buster Brown and FROGGY

any Froggy, Buster Brown, Andy, Smilin' Ed or other input: just e-mail us. Write to CyKottick at Hotmail.Com