The YELLOW KID Journalism Challenge

The Penn 24Hour Comic Jam


“Yellow  journalism, or the yellow press, is a type of journalism that presents little or no legitimate well-researched news and instead uses eye-catching headlines to sell more newspapers.[1] Techniques may include exaggerations of news events, scandal-mongering, or sensationalism.[1] By extension, the term yellow journalism is used today as a pejorative to decry any journalism that treats news in an unprofessional or unethical fashion.”

The Oxford English Dictionary says:

3. (orig. U.S.) Applied to newspapers (or writers of newspaper articles) of a recklessly or unscrupulously sensational character.
A use derived from the appearance in 1895 of a number of the New York World in which a child in a yellow dress (‘The Yellow Kid’) was the central figure of the cartoon, this being an experiment in colour-printing designed to attract purchasers.

-In the American tradition, comics began proliferating as a form of expression with the advent of the daily printing press; i.e. the history of American comics is tied to the changing history of journalism. Early comic strips and editorial cartoons often tended to be caricatures; they would use broad, gag humor, and relied on racial stereotypes to reach an increasingly visual culture and increase sales. But what was funny, charming, popular and perhaps innocent in the past can look harmful, seditious and even disgusting to some modern sensibilities. While these early newspaper narratives like Richard Outcault’s THE YELLOW KID provide us with a window into the editorialized expression of artists at the turn of the 20th century, there is some embarrassment to be found in how cartoonists have presented the real-life troubles of the world around us in the past. Can we learn from this past? Can we use the powerful tools of visual story-telling to more accurately and fairly depict issues like poverty and youth homelessness today?

This experiment in comic-making is intended to tackle these questions head on.

This exercise is an early taste of what we hope will become part of an on-going lab assignment in our Spring course at Penn. We are going to be looking at youth homelessness and poverty issues in America, at how they are experienced by individuals, and how we can tell those stories in comics. We’ll be working with services and institutions here in Philadelphia to collect personal accounts of youth homelessness and give cartoonists an opportunity to interact with these agencies in the hopes of telling truer, more accurate stories of a culture in crisis, and consequently spread the word–and the image.

What does the Yellow Kid of our generation look like? How do we depict youth homelessness and poverty without sliding into caricature and racism?

Frankly, none of us are sure. But here’s how we plan to start;

For a team of cartoonist or writers, the goal here will be to create a comic that honestly depicts the problems faced by real American youths experiencing homelessness. The team will choose one of a set of short personal stories of homelessness (these will be provided), and they will get the opportunity to work directly, with youth advocates from Philadelphia toward an honest reporting of the problems.

Although most of the experiments here in the Penn 24Hour Comic Jam are open to six-person teams playing with a theme of formal comic-making, our goal here is to connect concerned and interested artists and writers with researchers, caseworkers, and advocates trying to create an honest depiction of youth homelessness and poverty in a medium that is both accessible to young readers and still capable of conveying journalistic accuracy. Most of the stories will be auto-biographical and the goal here will be to find ways to present them honestly, as “facts,” without an abundance of sentiment, but with respect.

The team on this experiment will have the constant support and insights of homelessness advocates while working on their pages; a friendly ear and set of eyes for help in doing the stories a factual justice that cartoons rarely present.

Those interested in this challenge should be forewarned that it may be the toughest of our comic challenges, but it may also prove to be the most rewarding learning experience. The interaction between artists, writers, and a group of youth homelessness professionals represents an ideal opportunity to establish a working “studio method” to comic-making. To that end, we will present shortcuts and systems along the way that will model studio-work situations.


– Ideally, a team of four (artists, writers and/or cartoonists) will meet and work directly with a youth homelessness advocate who serves as an editor/advisor to the comic. Together they’ll select a short personal story to illustrate and discuss issues that arise from how the story is to be depicted. Each member of the team (artist, writer or advocate) will generate sketches of the story’s main characters and compare notes on what feels most accurate.

Based upon some of these sketches, the notes taken during this pre-production stage, and the overall interaction of the team, a lineup of tasks will be set for its members; figures, backgrounds, panel and narrative design, production design, etc. Throughout, we will work to fashion an appropriate studio model for everyone involved.


-moderate and above. We will be selecting a four-man creative team for this project that will interact with advocates and caseworkers to choose a manageable story from a small selection  of possible entries, so having some background in comics is necessary.


-this experiment is more of a seminar than the others. Participants will need to be on-hand for the full day Saturday.


-a selection of first-person stories of youth homelessness will be provided for the team to choose from in order to create a single collaborative comic

-throughout the development of the comic the team will have the resources of caseworkers and youth homelessness advocates to speak with, onsite, about depiction of the narrative and how it might be useful for outreach to others experiencing the problems of youth homelessness 

-access to a laptop and large format (11X17in) scanner that utilizes Comiclife and photoshop (some hands-on assistance provided in using each of these programs)

-Layout bond paper for generating thumbnails


-11X17in bristol board for finished artwork

-inking materials that are comfortable to the cartoonist. All work for this experiment will be in black & white

-it is strongly recommended that you bring your own sketchbook for this experiment, but layout bond paper will be provided for those who need it

-a more detailed list of suggested materials, and how to keep it cheap, can be found HERE


This image is from Richard F Outcault’s YELLOW KID and, though I may’ve seemed to speak disparagingly about the work above in terms of race and class issues, it is a seminal and vital work of American cartooning both formally ground-breaking and insightful. More of it can be seen HERE so that you might judge for yourselves.


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