The R. F. Outcault Reader - vol. 8 no. 4

The Whole Truth: The Chronicle of an Amazing Magazine

by Richard Samuel West


During its 25-year existence (1881-1905), Truth, in contradiction to its name, was ever changing. In fact, it had seven distinct incarnations. It is remembered today for two of them, when it was a weekly lithographic humor magazine from 1891 to 1897 and when it was a sumptuously illustrated monthly from 1899 to 1901.

Its first incarnation lasted nearly four years, from 1881 through 1884, as a gray weekly of no particular import or distinction. After a year's suspension, it was back in early 1886, this time poised as a competitor to Col. William Mann's scandalous society sheet, Town Topics. As such, it was full of newsy gossip about New York's first 400, amateur sports events, the stage, and other aspects of upper class life. It fared little better in this second incarnation than in its first, however, and after five years of decline, looked decidedly unlike a publication that would be welcomed into the homes of New York's high society.

At the end of 1891, backers were secured to transform the weekly a third time. This new Truth modeled itself after two other successful magazines of the period, combining all of the vigor and eye-catching color of the mighty political cartoon weekly Puck with the more refined and less partisan orientation of the comic weekly Life. The result: a beautiful and lively 16-page, small folio magazine, built around three full-color lithographic cartoons in each issue, and ornamented with small black and white cartoons, short stories, theatre reviews, gossip, and jokes. Blakely Hall was the editor. He seemed determined above all that this new Truth not be dull. Central to that mission were Truth's cartoons. While Truth's three lithographs could have issued from the same presses that printed Puck and Judge each week, they looked decidedly different. First of all, Truth's cartoons almost never featured a caricature of a famous person from any profession, be it politician, industrialist, impresario, or actor of note. Secondly, they almost never had any connection to current events. So, instead of a colorful broadside aimed at President Cleveland's monetary policy or a somber memorial to the late General William T. Sherman, Truth's cartoons concerned themselves with more timeless matters: the rituals of courtship, the change of seasons, racy glimpses of a Broadway backstage, matrimonial discord, social hypocrisy, the first blush of young love, etc. Among the artists who limned these eternal subjects were Charles Howard Johnson (who would die young in 1895), Archie Gunn, AB Wensell, W Granville Smith, and Thure de Thulstrup. The back page cartoon, usually more comic in nature, was drawn by Syd B Griffin, George Luks, or Hy Mayer, among others.

Editor Hall was no intellectual, but he had taste enough to recognize genius. He published several early short stories by Stephen Crane when no "respectable" publisher would touch him. He also published a goodly number of entertaining pieces by the under-appreciated James L. Ford. His most famous discovery was comic artist Richard F. Outcault, who introduced the Yellow Kid (before he was known as such) in the pages of Truth on June 2, 1894. Less than a year later, Outcault would be working full-time for the New York World and the Yellow Kid would be making journalism history as the kid who started the comics. In 1896, after Hall's departure, the graceful drawings of a young Missouri woman named Rose O'Neill began appearing regularly in Truth. A little over a decade later, O'Neill would invent the Kewpies, securing her place in history as the first successful female cartoonist.

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Richard D. Olson, Ph.D., 40 Infinity Drive, Poplarville, MS 39470-9006 (601) 795-4838

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