What was the first comic/cartoon strip?

According to a recent history of comics an international board of experts chose “The Yellow Kid” as the first “true” comic strip. (That is a series of cartoons with the same character in them). Then I read someplace else that a German comic strip called “Max und Moritz” had been running as far back as the Civil War. Why isn’t “Max und Moritz” considered to be the first comic strip? Is this just one more instance of “If it isn’t American it doesn’t exist” syndrome?

I believe “Max und Moritz” was a series of illustrated children’s books, not actually a comic strip. I’m pretty sure The Yellow Kid was truly the first comic strip, not just the first American one. I’ll try and find some sites to back this up…

Hmmm. Just did a little research. Seems it’s not as simple as all that. This site lists Max und Moritz as a ‘cartoon’, a predecessor to the modern comic-strip. It was the first with a regular cast of characters, and begain in 1865.

The Yellow Kid, as it turns out, might not have even been the first American strip. The same site above mentions that there is evidence of comic strips appearing in American newspapers as early as 1892, while The Yellow Kid began running in 1896. So to answer your question… I don’t know. And it doesn’t really sound like the experts agree, either. I suppose it depends upon how you define ‘comic-strip’.

Much hinges on what you mean by a “comic strip.” In the 18th century, Hogarth made a number of artworks which told a story in sequential pictures (The Rake’s Progress, for example.) Japan had a thriving publishing industry for books of humorous pictures very early, too, but I don’t remember the date (reading about the history of Manga will get all this info for you. I believe it predated Gutenberg.)


I think the things called “comic strips” appear in newspapers. If you tell a story in a series of pictures, but it doesn’t appear in a newspaper, it’s called something else.

I believe the first comic strip was produced in Altimira. The humor is a bit obscure, though. A lot of hunting jokes.

Of couse I mean Altamira.

You wish, rodent. The first comic strip was from Slumberland.

–Yea, Hazel! The comic strip may functionally be defined as a serially published, episodic, open-ended dramatic narrative or series of linked anecdotes about recurrent, identified characters, told in successive drawings regularly enclosing dialogue or its equivalent and minimized narrative text. That definition is from John Canaday at the Smithsonian.
In the book “The Smithsonian Collection of Newspaper Comics” (Smithsonian & Abrams, 1977) Canaday says the immediate progenitor of the comic strip was probably the illustrated novel of the nineteenth century (as mentioned by posters above). These books usually featured caricature and cartoon art as intimate accompaniment to the texts of popular authors.
Narratives that were presented by means of short sets of successive drawings were largely limited to pantomimic pratfall gags and occasional simplistic political parables.
In the Outcault Yellow Kid of October 18, 1896, however, the whole point of the vaudeville gag depended on the dialogue between the Kid and the parrot, and that was the first time this had occurred in a graphic work which also met the other prerequisites of the strip form.
As much as I love Little Nemo, Winsor McCay didn’t debut him in Slumberland for the New York Herald until 1905. But I think our real Little Nemo knows that, anyway.

Correct: it depends on your definition.

There were a number of newspaper strips in the 1890s.

If we use Scott McCloud’s definition of comics, “Juxtaposed pictorial and other images in deliberate sequence, intended to convey information and/or produce an aesthetic response in the viewer”, then the history is much longer.

As mentioned earlier, the Brit William Hogarth made a six plate engraved story called, “The Harlot’s Progress” in 1731. The engravings were meant to be seen side-by-side in sequence.

Sequences of printed illustrations were done as early as 1460, eg “The Torture of St Erasumus”.

One of the earliest known sequence of images -intended to be read side by side- (in a zig-zag pattern, as it happens) are from ancient Egypt: they are over 32 centuries old.

Source: Understanding Comics, Scott McCloud

I think back in the prehistoric caveman days there was a comic called “Grog kill animals”* It starred a stick figure humanoid who would go around killing all sorts of large cats and mammoth-like creatures.

In all seriousness, I can’t honestly believe all the doodles on cave walls were meant to be historical documentation.


*Translated from caveman-speak

According to Don Markstein’s excellent Toonopedia website (http://www.toonopedia.com), the first regularly run comic STRIP was “The Katzenjammer Kids”, which debuted in 1897 and was drawn by Rudolph Dirks. TKK was an imitation of a German comic, “Max und Moritz”, which had been created by Wilhelm Busch in the 1860’s. “M&M”, however, was not a comic strip, but merely a series of illustrated poems for children. I found a website that called M&M the 19th century’s version of “Beavis and Butthead”…

Anyway, TKK were significant for not only being the first strip, but also for being one of the first to use the word balloon (also pioneered by “Happy Hooligan”).

If you’re looking for the first “comics,” meaning simply the medium of sequential art, you can find examples going back quite a long way, to the Bayeux Tapestry of the 11th century or even to ancient Egyptian works, again according to the excellent Understanding Comics by Scott McCloud.

If you’re talking about the subcategory of comic strips…that’s a tougher nut to crack. There were single-panel cartoons in newspapers (editorial cartoons, for example) much earlier than there were juxtaposed sequential panels. Do they count as “comic strips?” McCloud says no, I used to say yes…but since reading this thread I’m not so sure.

Drawings of news events used to be quite common in newspapers before it was economical to reproduce photos. For example, a story in the sports section about a baseball game might be accompanied by a drawing of a runner sliding into home for a game-winning run. Cartoon? Could be. Comic? Perhaps. Comic strip? Doubtful…but YMMV, and obviously it’s a blurry line at best.

Damn you Five! I was just about to bring up the Bayeaux Tapestry! This is my personal favorite for “first comic book”.

Of course, you can get different results with different definitions…but I have a soft spot for the Tapestry…

Wait, the Tapestry was the first comic BOOK, while the OP is asking about the first comic STRIP. Nevermind then.

Sorry, Lemur866. I’m faster than the average prosimian.

I wouldn’t call the Bayeux Tapestry a “comic book.” It’s “comics,” probably, but it’s not a “book” any more than the Rosetta Stone is a “book.” Just as all writing =/= books, neither does all comics = comic books.

This thread has become about comics taxonomy, hasn’t it?

[pulls ripcord]See ya![/pulls ripcord]


I guess it depends on your definition. Certainly single panel pictures with word balloons have been appearing since ancient egypt. Plus egyptian tomb paintings/hierogyphs tell a sequential story. (The story of the pharoh’s life.) By the way, I personally consider a “book” to be pieces of paper between two covers, therefore the first comic book was probably a reprint of “The Yellow Kid”. Truthfully a major part of today’s “comic books” aren’t comic at all. I’ve often thought we should do what the french do and call them “Graphic Novels”.

Hey if Ignatz can plug his comic strip, I can plug mine. But I’ll admit Winsor McCay didn’t write the first comic strip. But he has a good claim to making the first cartoon.

Hey, I wasn’t plugging my strip! I was merely giving credit where credit is due - Grogk of Altamira.