Buster Brown was a comic strip character created in 1902 by Richard F. Outcault. Adopted as the mascot of the Brown Shoe Company in 1904, Buster Brown, his sweetheart Mary Jane, and his dog Tige, an American Pit Bull Terrier, were well-known to the American public in the early 20th century. The character’s name was also used to describe a popular style of suit for young boys, the Buster Brown suit, that echoed his own outfit.
The character of Buster Brown was loosely based on Granville Hamilton Fisher, a son of Charles and Anna Fisher of Flushing, New York. Fisher’s physical appearance, including the characteristic pageboy haircut, was copied by Outcault and given to Buster Brown. The name “Buster” came directly or indirectly from the popularity of Buster Keaton, then a child actor in vaudeville.
The character of Mary Jane was also drawn from real life, as she was also Outcault’s daughter of the same name. In Outcault’s own words—and his daughter’s—she was the only character drawn from life in the Buster Brown strip, although “Mrs. Brown” did resemble Outcault’s wife.
The comic strip began in the New York Herald on May 4, 1902. Outcault left for William Randolph Hearst’s employ in 1906, and after a court battle, Outcault continued his strip, now nameless, in Hearst papers, while the Herald continued their own version of Buster Brown with other artists. The latter lasted until 1911 or so, and Outcault’s version until at least 1921.
The character of Buster Brown inspired many imitators, including Perry Winkle from the Winnie Winkle newspaper strip, and the Bobby Bumps animated film series.
The series was translated into Portuguese and published in the Brazilian children’s magazine O Tico-Tico (where Buster Brown was known as Chiquinho); its stories were loosely adapted by Brazilian writers.
Buster Brown is a young city-dwelling boy with wealthy parents. He is disturbingly pretty (contrast him to Outcault’s own 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.”
Mary Jane is Buster’s sweetheart.
Tige is thought to be the first talking pet to appear in American comics, and, like that of many of his successors, his speech goes unnoticed by adults.
36 strips 1903
55 strips 1904
53 strips 1905
52 strips 1906
52 strips 1907
45 strips 1908
9 strips 1909