Spectatorship and Framing in the Strips

"Juxtaposed pictorial and other images in deliberate sequence, intended to convey information and/or to produce an aesthetic response in the viewer"
--Scott McCloud, Understanding Comics
"It may be defined as a serially published, episodic, openended dramatic narrative or series of linked anecdotes featuring recurrent, named characters. The successive drawings regularly include ballooned dialogue that is crucial to telling the story. As in drama, the narrative is constructed primarily through the characters' dialogue while other sorts of text are minimal or absent.
--Bill Blackbeard, The Yellow Kid, Chapter 9
General histories of the comics typically open with a paragraph or two describing the centuries-deep roots of the medium. By defining comics in abstract formal terms, writers can establish a bloodline for the genre that goes back at least as far as the Bayeux Tapestry and often as far as cave painting. This strategy certainly has the rhetorical advantage of justifying comic art as a subject weighty enough for book-length treatment. But while it may be useful to discuss some very basic elements of the syntax of sequential art in universal terms, many of the formal properties of twentieth century comics have to do more with the cultural history of the early twentieth century than with any broader history of pictures arranged in narrative sequence. In order to illustrate this principle and to discuss the ways in which both market culture and the comics business influenced the visual language of the comics, this thread will attempt to contextualize two crucial and closely related formal elements of comic art: the frame that defines the reader's point of view in relation to a comics panel, and the narrative sequence established by this frame or by a series of such frames.

While sequentially arranged pictures may have a millenia-long formal history, in the context of the newspaper comic strip it has a more specific history as well. The challenge for the interpreter of the comics is to do justice to that more specific formal history without producing a simple chronicle of formal milestones. Take, for example, the moment widely cited by historians of the comic strip as the moment of the form's origin: October 25, 1896. Multiple panel illustrations depicting a joke or visual gag were already a fixture in humor magazines and newspaper comic supplements at this time. But the first true comic strip, the story goes, was an episode of R. F. Outcault's series Hogan's Alley (commonly known as the Yellow Kid). Although Hogan's Alley had been a regular feature since 1895 (first in the New York World and then in both the World and the New York Journal), until October 25, 1896 the feature had consisted of single large picture. For that issue of the Journal's Sunday Comic Supplement Outcault departed from the single-panel format and drew his trademark character in a series of panels. Why was this sequential illustration a "true" comic strip while previous ones were not? Because, according to historians such as Coulton Waugh, this strip presented not only a sequence of pictures, but also an individualized character who appeared regularly in the Hogan's Alley feature. This strip achieved, supposedly for the first time, the combination of regularly recurring fictional characters, sequential illustration, and word-balloon text that defines the contemporary comic strip. One could question whether this strip was indeed the first work of art to assemble these distinctive characteristics (such an assertion would depend, for example, on one's definition of a"regularly recurring fictional character"), and one could ask why it is important to identify the first instance of the genre.

As Eric Smoodin has pointed out in his review of some of the recent critical approaches to the comics, critics of the comics too often represent their history as a series of great men and moments of brilliance. At the same time, however, this sort of formal analysis is indeed more historical than the "since the dawn of time" approach mentioned above, even if it is written in the terms of canon and genius. And there is a sense in which it offers something that Smoodin's ideal cultural criticism cannot. Smoodin acknowledges that works such as Joseph Witek's Comic Books as History represent an improvement "upon a sort of comic book sociology, perpetrated by parents' groups and congressional subcommittes, that insists on a purely reflective relationship between comic books and readers" (132). I would add that we should also avoid a view that comics simply reflect history. In order to talk about the ways in which a genre participates in the production of culture, we need a formal vocabulary--a language for describing the particular tools and techniques authors use to create what Smoodin calls "a representational system that allows the individual to encounter and interpret his or her social surroundings" (132).

In an effort to take at least a few faltering steps in the direction of a critical approach to comics that addresses the interplay of form and history, I will take seriously the assertion of comics historians that Outcault's experiment with sequence in the Yellow Kid is indeed worth looking at on a formal level. I will try to show, however, that its form is interesting not simply because it assembles a list of formal elements that somehow represent the ahistorical essence of a genre that had been waiting to be born. Rather, the particular formal convention it plays with--the framing panel--meant something very specific in the context of Outcault's past cartoons, which in turn meant something very specific in the context of turn-of-the-century New York. The significance of Outcault's gesture of experimentation depends on the cultural associations invoked by the perspective and composition of his single-panel cartoons. The ways in which he and other comic artists used turn-of-the-century American notions of performance, class, and spectatorship have shaped not only the form of the comic strip, but also what certain elements of that form can mean to us.

A comic strip panel defines the reader's position in relation to the world of the strip: it is the window through which we view the scene. That positioning function can be used to signify, and the relation between audience and performance serves both as subject matter and as a crucial structuring principle for Outcault's early compositions. The large single panel of the early Yellow Kid cartoons gives the reader's eye room to wander and the cartoons emphasize this fact by representing complicated networks of wandering gazes within the pictures as well. One of the most striking characteristics of the ghetto as represented in Outcault's single panel illustrations is its potential as a site for spontaneous performances that disrupt the boundary between spectacle and spectator. The children of Hogan's Alley are always staging mock theatrical events. Outcault will typically represent these events as occasions for specular chaos: a variety of centers of interest compete for the attention of spectators, and several distinct audiences direct their attention at these different attractions. In "The Great Dog Show in M'Googan Avenue," for example, the dog show breaks down into a number of smaller performances with their own spectators. The couple closest to the fence turn their backs to us to admire a dog. The boy and girl in the foreground pretend to court with mock gentility while the Yellow Kid looks on. The old lady watches two dogs harass a cat, and the two children in the lower left hand corner gaze at a ferocious puppy in terror. In later strips Outcault complicates the specular relationships still further by drawing the reader into the web of mutual spectatorship. While the reader gazes at the Kid, the Kid almost always gazes back at the reader and addresses her directly.

This disruption of the line between performance and audience was an element in other late nineteenth-century American representations of urban working-class neighborhhoodsas well. In his novel A Hazard of New Fortunes, for example, William Dean Howells describes a scene that bears a close resemblance to Hogan's Alley, emphasizing the element of spontaneous dramaturgy in the spectacle.

The street was…peopled with Christian children…swarming and shrieking at their games; and presently a Christian mother appeared, pushed along by two policemen on a handcart, with a gelatinous tremor over the paving and a gelatinous jouncing at the curbstones. She lay with her face to the sky, sending up an inarticulate lamentation, but the indifference of the officers forbade the notion of tragedy in her case. She was perhaps a local celebrity; the children left off their games and ran gaily trooping after her; even the young fellow and young girl exchanging playful blows in a robust flirtation at the corner of a liquor store suspended their scuffle with a pleased interest as she passed. March understood the unwillingness of the poor to leave the worst conditions in the city for comfort and plenty in the country when he reflected upon this dramatic incident, one of many no doubt which daily occur to entertain them in such streets. [161-162]

Like Outcault's ghetto, Howell's ghetto is a place where one can be a witness to a drama at one moment and the protagonist of a drama the next.

The trope of the participant spectator was charged with real political significance at the turn of the century, in part because it carried echoes of earlier class conflicts. Styles of theatrical spectatorship served as a cultural battleground in ante-bellum America on which a newly defined working class fought with a rising bourgeoisie over the right to make or erase class distinctions. John Kasson's Rudeness and Civility makes this point well in its chapter on the history of audience etiquette in the States. Describing theatrical entertainment of all sorts in ante-bellum America, Kasson writes, "Many went to the theater not to sit passively before the performers but to enjoy one another's society, to see and be seen, to talk, and often to interact freely with the players." The ante-bellum American theater house, whether displaying a performance of Shakespeare or a melodrama, would typically be criss-crossed by a complicated web of specular relationships. Audience members did not just watch the show, they also watched each other and might try to steal the spotlight from the stage (Rudeness 219). When the rising elite of the bourgeoisie began to try to demonstrate their cultural worthiness, however, they gravitated toward a British etiquette of spectatorship, which required the audience to gaze passively, silently, and exclusively at the performance. Many theater-goers interpreted such a passive model of spectatorship as an aristocratic affront to the republican egalitarianism of participant spectatorship. Nevertheless, by the twentieth century, even arenas of popular entertainment like vaudeville houses and movie theaters cultivated the more "refined" passive model of spectatorship in order to cater to the class aspirations of their clientele (Rudeness 232-233, 249-256).

For the newspapers that used the Yellow Kid and other comics to boost circulation, this complex of cultural associations could be used to craft a market image. The yellow papers in which the comics found their home defined their position in the market by deflating the bourgeois pretension of publications like The New York Times and competing humor magazines. In an ad for the New York World's comic supplement we see that the Yellow Kid played a crucial role in the construction of this image: the unruly urchin disposes of the World's competitors by rolling them up in a snowball.

Rowdiness defined both the Kid and the Yellow press, and a defiance of disciplined spectatorship constituted a crucial element of that rowdiness. The players in a Hogan's Alley baseball game endure stray dogs, bricks lobbed from the stands, and acrobats in the outfield (April 12, 1896). A member of the audience for the "First Grand Coaching Parade of the Season in Hogan's Alley" lobs a live cat into the midst of the procession (June 7, 1896). Compared to these exhibitions, "The Opening of the Hogan's Alley Roof Garden," seems tame: the audience obeys the sign reading "DONT TROW TINGS AT DE ACKTERS" and contents itself with heckling and blowing horns (June 26, 1896). In all of these cartoons, the carefully constructed chaos pulls the reader's eye in many directions and thus prevents the cartoon itself from becoming the sort of disciplined performance the Hogan's Alley kids delight in disrupting.

George Luks used rowdy spectatorship at least as heavily as Outcault in his own competing Yellow Kid cartoons. In his "St. Patrick's Day in Hogan's Alley," for example, the Kid's mischief interrupts the parade. A web of intersecting gazes undergirds the composition of "A Seeley Dinner in Hogan's Alley" and disrupts any orderly separation of audience from performance: the figures in front of the stage watch the show, the policemen look in at the window, the kids under the table look at the police, the reporters in the gallery at the upper left watch everything, and the diminutive reporter in the middle of the action writes it all down.

It is worth noting that by placing the child reporter in the center of the network of participant spectators, Luks suggests a connection between the strip's model of spectatorship and that of the urban reporter. Michael Schudson quotes a Chicago journalist who asserts that the good reporter should not be an uninvolved spectator, but instead should be "a participant who spits on his hands, rolls up his sleeves, and jumps into the fight." According to Schudson, along with the ideal of the participant observer goes what Dreiser called the "pagan or unmoral character" of reporting (85). As in the cartoon, participant spectatorship involved a sense of transgression for some reporters. As members of this culture of rough-and-tumble journalism comic strip artists often cultivated a similar bad boy, "unmoral" image, and the transgression of the boundary between audience and performance proved as useful a tool for the artists as it did for their characters. In the anecdote at right, for example, Frank Willard (author of the strip Moon Mullins) uses a heckler persona to position himself in opposition to the authority of the employer: Similarly, in an anecdote related by Evening Journal photographer Harry Coleman, cartoonists TAD and George Herriman delight in disrupting a play they have been assigned to cover for their paper. Knowing that the star of the play, a former boxer, is bald, TAD steals his wig between the acts. As Coleman tells it, the denuded star returns to the stage wearing a hat, fully aware of the identity of the thief: "It appeared to us that, at any moment, he might step out of his dramatic role entirely and climb into our midst, even though he was a practical joker of reputation in his own right." These artists seem to have taken pride in using irreverent humor to reveal the truth of a bald head or an inflated ego, and performance transgression provided a particularly appropriate mode of irreverence.

I worked for a syndicate manager once who got everybody in the place together once a week and jumped on a desk and gave us "pep talks." He didn't give us ideas, but, oh boy, how worn out we were after those pep talks. The guy that applauded the loudest got the most money, and I didn't get much as he found out who it was who gave him the bird. --Frank Willard, as related in Sheridan (75)

The mischief of sports cartoonists transported easily to their work, for the active sports spectator is essentially a heckler. Just as TAD poked fun at the boxer on the stage, he poked fun at countless athletes on the field. In this respect he participated in a culture of sports spectatorship that grew increasingly important as cities grew and filled with immigrants. As Gunther Barth points out, "The magnetism of the ball park pulled together crowds of strangers who succumbed to a startlingly intense sensation of community created by the shared experience of watching a baseball game" (191). By sharing a common spectacle city dwellers could feel connected to thousands of people with whom they would probably never speak. In this sense sports strips served a function similar to news stories about public figures and the illustrations which accompanied the news. But while few city-dwellers would ever see a J. P. Morgan in person, let alone interact with him, every baseball fan could yell at or for the players on the diamond. There is no place for disciplined spectatorship at the stadium, and the participatory flavor of noisy watching can only enhance the community-building function of sports spectatorship noted by Barth.

Indeed, Bud Fisher's famous character Mutt, of Mutt and Jeff, owes his origin to the appeal of sports as a vehicle for interactive spectatorship. As the evolution illustrated at right shows, Mutt's history is the history of an artist's increasing fascination with the sports spectator, almost to the exclusion of the spectacle itself. As Mutt becomes more and more involved in sporting events, he becomes the subject of Fisher's sports cartoons. He first appears in several strips from August, 1907 as a dispassionate, uninvolved observer labeled with a tag that reads "fight fan." In one of his earliest appearances he hovers on the edge of the strip, obviously of secondary importance to the fighter in the center. Six days later he appears in a more central position, but he still plays the role of a passive spectator. Confronted with a series of fight promoters drawn as carnival barkers hawking their fights, he is unable to choose which "show" to attend. By November, however, he is beginning to behave much more like the Mutt of the daily strip. In a strip about gambling addiction he appears as an oversized figure in the center of the picture, occupying the position filled by sports celebrities in earlier strips. Most importantly, he adopts an active pose, pretending to ride his pick as he addresses her emphatically. In the final stage of Mutt's birth, the reader watches Mutt rather than the sporting event as Mutt tries to become actively involved in the event through his compulsive wagering. And because the reader learns about real race results by following the results of Mutt's bets, Mutt's participation in the spectacle of the races becomes the reader's participation.

The image of rowdy spectatorship thus served many functions in the early comic strip: it helped newspaper publishers cultivate a working-class image, it helped comic strip artists portray themselves in similar terms (sometimes in opposition to their publisher bosses), and it played into a culture of participatory mass spectatorship that helped make a community out of a city of strangers. The large single panel format that dominated both versions of the Yellow Kid lent itself especially well to representing scenes of rowdy spectatorship, letting the reader's eye wander free from the tight focus of disciplined spectatorship and letting the characters' eyes wander within a spacious cartoon world.

But however well this format worked, it was wrapped up in a conflict that would facillitate its transformation, a conflict brought to the surface by the competition between Outcault and his imitator George Luks. As long as there was only one Kid, the artist and reader could pretend to inhabit his world and, to a certain extent, his class position. The large panel invites the reader into the chaotic world of the ghetto as one spectator among many, and the artist gains some of the credibility of that world by providing this transparent gateway. But when two Kids began competing for the attention of readers, both the Kid and the artists began to acquire some of the bluster of carnival barkers. This representation's status as a commodity became harder to ignore. As their competition brought the authenticity of both artists into question, both artists abandoned the notion of placing the reader in the position of a participant and began to create compositions that focused the attention of the reader more sharply.

In the early stages of this competition, each artist visually smeared the other by placing him in the position of a passive spectator separated from the authentic Hogan's Alley by a pane of glass. In one of Outcault's last cartoons for Pulitzer's World, a caricature of Luks hovers outside of the lair of the Hogan's Alley gang. Luks's ghostly figure, identified by his signature, floats above the scene, looking down on the Hogan's Alley kids as if through a skylight. The layout portrays Luks as an unreal, voyeuristic outsider to Hogan's Alley and so implies that Luks' version of the strip will be a mere copy of "the real thing." Luks used a remarkably similar composition in a "Hogan's Alley" cartoon printed on January 10, 1897, less than three months after he had replaced Outcault as the Hogan's Alley artist for the New York World. He shows a feminized Outcault in a storefront hawking cheap "copyrighted" sketches of the Kid while the "real" Kid stands in the crowd watching the show.

For Luks, this sly jab proves to cut both ways. In his subsequent cartoons the Kid himself comes to resemble the store-window Outcault, becoming a sharpster who profits from his ability to discipline the attention of a passive audience. A cartoon from March 7, 1897 shows the Kid using fireworks and scary masks to frighten the neighborhood kids with a "Ghost Show." In a marked departure from the kind of spontaneous performance illustrated by Outcault's "Dog Show" cartoon, the Kid is concealed from the neighborhood audience by a curtain, and his friend Baldy Sours charges admission. Luks draws the line between audience and performance much more clearly here than Outcault did in the "Dog Show," portraying a Kid who will deceive to make money. While the "Ghost Seance" preserves a modicum of participant spectatorship by revealing to the reader what the curtain conceals from Hogan's Alley, even this form of spectator participation disappears in his later strips. The composition of "The Greatest Show on Earth in Hogan's Alley" (published on April 4, 1897) suggests that the reader, like the neighborhood audience, is separated from the show by an L-shaped fence following the walls of a cul-de-sac. The audience has disappeared entirely from two strips printed on January 16 and 23, 1898 which depict, respectively, an "incubator show" (based on an incubator for human babies displayed at Coney Island) and a "street parade" to advertise the attraction. Just as a pane of glass separates the incubator show's audience from the spectacles inside the incubators, spectators are carefully excluded from the space behind the cartoon's frame. Ultimately Luks' cartoons grow to resemble his caricature of Outcault, becoming mere window displays.

Outcault's cartoons after and immediately prior to his move to Hearst's Journal display a similar simplification of spectator relations. The shift is most notable in Outcault's use of the placards that decorate walls and buildings in Hogan's Alley. A typical Journal Outcault Hogan's Alley drawing contains six or more mock advertisements, notices, or other text-bearing signs scattered throughout the composition, generally presenting self-contained gags. Immediately after the "Athletic Club" cartoon ridiculing Luks, however, Outcault begins to concentrate the text in his compositions into more tightly defined areas and to focus their subject more tightly on a performance that forms the centerpiece of the picture. Almost all of the text in "The Amateur Dime Museum in Hogan's Alley" (October 4, 1896) centers around the barker for the "Dime Museum" and advertises the Museum's attractions. "Receiving the Returns in McFadden's Row on Election Night" (a November 1 cartoon from the Journal) organizes most of its text into a series of signs falling into a neat arc, facillitating left-to-right reading. "The Season Opens with the Horse Show in McFadden's Row of Flats" (November 15) places five of its ten signs adjacent to each other on the fence that forms the backdrop of the show, and the "Turkey Raffle" drawing from November 22 follows a similar pattern. In effect, the cartoonist has become much more of a barker himself, drawing the reader's eye to the cartoon's central performance.

This increased emphasis on showmanship is further heightened by the appearance of four incongruous showgirls in the Kid's world. Dressed in frilly dance outfits, these girls make their debut in the October 25, 1896 Journal. This is Outcault's second Yellow Kid cartoon for Hearst's paper, and the first to take place in "McFadden's Flats" (Outcault's first cartoon for the Journal having metaphorically portrayed the move from the World to the Journal as a move from Hogan's Alley to this new neighborhood). The dancing girls quickly become a fixture in the strip, so that the cartoons Outcault does for Hearst come to seem more like a fanciful stage show than a realistic representation of a ghetto. If this element of theatricality seems inobtrusive in the cartoons, it cannot be overlooked in the cover illustrations that depict the similarly improbable frolics of the Kid with illustrator Archie Gunn's full-figured glamour girls. The battle between Hearst and Pullitzer, Outcault and Luks, has highlighted the Kid's value as a pure specatacle, so that the Kid has dropped any pretense to spectacle-deflating and has given himself over to the show.

The comic supplement containing the debut of the dancing girls also contains the famous sequential strip "The Yellow Kid and His New Phonograph"--identified by most historians of the comics as the first "true" comic strip, as I have discussed above. Like the dancing girls and Archie Gunn's cover girls, this strip sacrifices all traces of participant spectatorship in order to focus the reader's attention on the spectacle of the comic supplement. The chaos of the cityscape has completely disappeared here, and we see the Kid listening respectfully as a phonograph tells him (and the reader) why "de Sunday Journal's colored supplement [is] de greatest ting on earth." Rather than a jumble of textual fragments that can be read in any order, we are presented with an essay to be read in a prescribed sequence. Like the concentration of placards in Outcault's large single-panel cartoons from this period, this ordered text serves an advertising campaign's efforts to guide the attention of the reader away from the rival Sunday comic supplement.

In Luks's work the association between disciplined spectatorship and sequential panels presents itself in the depth of field and perspective of his drawings. In the process of simplifying the dynamics of spectatorship in his cartoons, Luks also simplified his use of depth, paving the way for the division of the cartoon into sequential panels. His early Hogan's Alley cartoons offer a relatively panoramic view which make it possible to show doorways, streets and alleys receding toward the back of the pictorial space. The indoor setting of the first panel of Luks' cartoon for April 25, 1897, however, portrays a much more enclosed space. "A Wedding in Hogan's Alley" presents both an unprecedented living room scene and an experiment in sequential panels. The reader of "A Wedding in Hogan's Alley," like the audience of temporarily well-behaved children in the background, focuses her attention on the dialogue taking place between the Kid and the Prince on this drawing's simplified stage. The eye's motion from drawing to drawing can then replace its wandering path from attraction to attraction within a more complicated single drawing. Thus the development toward representing a more stylized pictorial space within the fictional world of the cartoon facilitated the creation of a reader with a more studiously disciplined eye. Although they do not use sequential panels, the 1898 incubator show cartoons (the "Street Parade" and the Incubator Show itself) continue this trend by organizing the composition along a strict horizontal axis, guiding the reader's eye from left to right or from right to left. The simplified backgrounds provide two dimensional screens against which the spectacles of the show and the parade are displayed. Draw a series of squares on these simple backdrops to frame the horizontally progressing action and you would have a composition that approaches the form of the full-fledged comic strip.

In a sense this framing style is more appropriate for the mass medium the yellow papers were rapidly becoming: neither the comic supplement nor the other features in the paper could offer much in the way of real cultural participation. At most they provided an interesting show to watch. In the light of this fact we could easily read the transition from single-panel representations of rowdy spectatorship to sequential panels and disciplined spectatorship as the inevitable result of the commodification of culture by a nascent culture industry. This narrative would, however, over-simplify the conflicts and contradictions addressed by the early comics. Outcault and the comic strip artists who followed him did not simply fall from a state of democratic grace, but instead tried to use their medium to resolve the contradictions inherent in that medium. Even as sequential panels become the norm for comic strips, artists found ways to adapt the rowdiness of the large Yellow Kid drawings to the new formal terrain. Indeed, the first sequential Yellow Kid strip illustrates this process of adaptation. As Bill Blackbeard points out, the revelation of the parrot in the final panel deflates the phonograph's pronouncements through "the reversal of the social level of the voice's source, from influential speaker to McFadden's Flats parrot; the change in the nature of the praise from objective evaluation to the Kid's and the Journal's own puffery, prated back by the parrot; the commentary on recording technology itself, equated with a parrot" (71).

In spite of the association between sequential panels and the disciplined spectatorship of advertising, the deflating of an over-inflated performance becomes a standard punchline for sequential-panel strips. One of Frederick Burr Opper's Happy Hooligan strips plays out a common script. The protagonist crosses the broad yellow boundary that separates the house of lords from its audience, and as a result he winds up in the hands of the police. An episode of Swinnerton's Little Jimmy follows the same pattern: the dog attacks a symphony orchestra during a performance, and an onlooker warns, "Dat dorg'll get arrested yet!" In each case the transgression results in a flurry of motion that is too quick or too chaotic to be sorted out into an orderly sequence of panels. Opper represents Hooligan's tumble down the steps as a circular blur of multiple heads. As Little Jimmy's dog disrupts the concert, Swinnerton creates an impression of pandemonium by superimposing images of multiple characters in a single panel. This sort of blurring or superimposition has become such a familiar visual shorthand by now that those of us who have grown up with comic strips and their animated cousins are likely to read it as a transparent, obvious, or natural way to represent motion, overlooking the fact that as an artistic convention it has a cultural history. The superimposition of multiple frames can only represent chaotic motion if the convention of sequential panels has already been established; in the context of comic strips, blurred motion derives its meaning from the fact that it transgresses the panel convention. It should come as no surprise, then, that the blurring convention consistently accompanies the transgression of the protocols of disciplined spectatorship in early strips. Through their ritualistic violation of their own panel convention, comic strips replay and contain the conflict between modes of spectatorship that stands at the heart of their formal tradition.

Some strips replace this transgression of the boundary between frames with a transgression of the boundary between the fictional world of the strip and the real world of the reader. The history of the strips is full of characters who "step out" of the strip in order to address the reader or comment on their own nature as drawings. Outcault's Yellow Kid is, as usual, a pioneer in this respect. At the right of his January 3, 1897 cartoon for Hearst's Journal, we see one of the Kid's friends posing inside of a picture frame and pretending to be a painting. By pretending to jump into the picture, this character suggests that the act of disrupting a stage performance can be adapted to a painting. The scene in the lower lefthand corner takes this suggestion to its ultimate conclusion: a goat rips a painting, and the figure in the painting reacts with dismay. Similarly, in a sequential strip from February 14, 1897, a portrait of "Liz" in the backgroud reacts when an alarm clock goes off. Outcault's development toward more tightly focussed compositions is fully accomplished in this cartoon, but he has adapted the mishchief of the old rowdy spectatorship to his new style through this act of metafictional transgression.

George Herriman's Krazy Kat is particularly adept at this sort of metafictional transgression, as we can see in a strip from 1922. This episode provides an illuminating contrast with the Yellow Kid. While Krazy begins the strip by addressing the reader directly after the fashion of the Kid, instead of drawing the reader into a community of participant spectators she announces her aloneness. Only when she begins to read her own strip in the comic section of a newspaper does any sort of community appear. Instead of creating the illusion of a three-dimensional urban reality extending back through the page, Krazy's actions emphasize the fact that the world of the strip exists on a flat piece of newsprint. As in Luks' development away from a network of transgressive spectatorship, Krazy Kat flattens the spectacle of the strip and draws a line between itself and the reader. Given this sort of spectator construction we might be tempted to conclude that Herriman has abandoned the transgressive dimension of the strips and the class identification typically associated with transgressive spectatorship. It would be more accurate, however, to say that Herriman has reconstructed transgressive spectatorship in an attempt to reconcile it with the tradition of the commodified spectacle. Krazy may draw a line between spectator and performance, but she blurs the line between fiction and reality.

The anti-authoritarian nature of metafictional transgression is undeniable in many Krazy Kat strips. The bad boys of the Yellow Kid have simply been transformed into talking animals. As the principle heir to the comic strip's tradition of rowdiness in Krazy Kat, Ignatz Mouse is the most common agent of metafictional transgression in Herriman's strip, and he usually uses it to defy the authority of Officer Pupp--much in the same way that the Yellow Kid's rowdy spectatorship allows him to frustrate the attempts of the police to impose order. In a 1923 strip Ignatz disposes of an incriminating brick by hiding it in a hole he has ripped in the fabric of the drawing. A later (1940) cartoon shows Ignatz using a similar technique to hide himself. While Krazy and Officer Pupp seem to be alone in a typically abstract Coconinan landscape, in the second panel Ignatz reveals that the scene is a false backdrop that conceals an equally abstract second landscape. He lifts the scenery just long enough to lob a brick before slamming it back down. The sequence makes no visual sense as a representation of physical space, for the road on which Krazy and Officer Pupp are standing disappears when Ignatz raises the curtain; they are standing in the fake scene rather than in front of it, so that Ignatz seems to have power not simply over a physical backdrop, but over the composition of the comic strip itself.

In simplifying the chaotic, rowdy compositions of their large single-panel drawings, Outcault and Luks both confronted the contradiction between their visions of transgressive spectatorship and their participation in a circulation war that depended on the disciplined spectatorship fostered by advertising. Rowdy spectatorship connoted a certain authenticity and working-class allegiance that served the interests of the yellow papers, but it could not comfortably accomodate a world in which two rival Kids tried to seize the attention of readers. The formal experiments of early cartoonists carry the traces of their attempts to work through this contradiction, and thus so does the formal vocabulary of twentieth-century comics.