Know Thy History: Buster Brown

If you have ever heard of Buster Brown, it’s probably because of the popular line of kid’s shoes. But did you know that the shoes were named after a popular comic strip character, which was in turn named after an infamous child star who would become one of the silent film era’s greatest stars: Buster Keaton? It’s true!

Buster Brown was created in 1902 by Richard Felton Outcault. He started as a star of his own popular comic strip in the New York Herald , then went on to comic books, radio, and television. Here’s how Wikipedia describes him:

Buster Brown is a young city-dwelling boy with wealthy parents. He is disturbingly pretty (contrast him to The Yellow Kid, or Frederick Opper’s creations), but his actions belie his looks. He is a practical joker who might dress in a girl’s outfit and have her wear his clothes, break a window with his slingshot, or play a prank on a neighbor. The trick or transgression is discovered and he is punished, usually by being spanked by his mother, but it is unclear if he ever repents. Many strips end with Buster delivering a self-justifying moral which has little or nothing to do with his crime. For example, a strip from May 31, 1903, shows him giving Tige a soda from a drugstore soda fountain. The drink splashes, not only the front of his own clothes, but the skirts of a woman’s splendid dress. Horrified by his clumsy misadventure, Buster’s mother takes him home and flogs him with a stick. In the last panel the boy has written a message beginning, “Resolved! That druggists are legalized robbers; they sell you soda and candy to make you ill, then they sell you medicine to make you worse.”

Ah ha ha ha! So random. Some things just never change. Druggists were totally the ninjas of the 1900’s.

Anyway, his pet pit bull terrier Tige is supposed to be the first ever talking animal in comics (one that humans could not hear), which makes the comic an important milestone. (This definitely makes him a predecessor to Snoopy and Garfield, which in turn were predecessors to Sluggy Freelance‘s Bun Bun and Fuzzy from Sam & Fuzzy.) The Brown Shoe Company made Buster and Tige their mascots in 1904, and thus a legend of sensible footwear was born.

Buster can easily be distinguished by his bugged out eyes, which are…

Oh my God. Those eyes. They’re, uh, kinda disturbing. But surely this is just one instance of…

That’s red paint, right? I mean, I think it is. I HOPE it is. I would be more certain if not for that dog, who seems to have crawled out of a Lovecraftian nightmare.

Oh my God! They’re in the shoes! They’re IN THE SHOES!!!!!

(h/t to the fine folks at the Something Awful forums for introducing me to this nightmare. Happy Halloween, y’all!)


About El Santo

Somehow ended up reading and reviewing almost 300 different webcomics. Life is funny, huh? Despite owning two masks, is not actually a luchador.

Posted on October 23, 2010, in comics, Know Thy History and tagged . Bookmark the permalink. 8 Comments.

  1. This would make a good regular feature, ES. Next you should do Winsor McCay and Krazy Kat.

    • Would those be considered webcomics since you can find them online now? It’s not quite like the random page of a graphic novel posted online – there is actually a site called the Comic Strip Library where you can download high-res images of Krazy Kat and Little Nemo, since their copyrights have expired. And even though the creators are no longer alive, the site does update with more comics.

      Here’s the link

    • Thanks. I definitely had those two on my mind when I considered doing a “Know Thy History” piece. I’m also thinking of doing something on Hsu and Chan (which is recent, but I think has a big effect on webcomics) and perhaps the earliest comics I could dig up, Funny Folks, Ally Sloper’s Half-Holiday, and The Adventures of Obadiah Oldbuck.

      EDIT: Also I’ve been reading up recently on the original Lev Gleason Publications Daredevil comic, and it’s got such a twisted and bizarre history that I’d be a fool to pass it up!

  2. In those days people could by cocaine, morphine, arsenic, wacky miracle cures andopium at the corner drugstore, maybe there´s a connection with the disturbing art and bizarre humor :).

  3. Thank you for introducing Druggist ninjas to pop culture collective.

    Good pick for a comic review.

  1. Pingback: Know Thy History: Ally Sloper « The Webcomic Overlook

  2. Pingback: Know Thy History: The Yellow Kid « The Webcomic Overlook

  3. Pingback: Know Thy History: Skippy | The Webcomic Overlook

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