You know how our grandparents’ Halloween costumes are chilling for the wrong reason these days? Some kid’s rabbit mask was cute in the Depression, but looks like the hotel-ghost of a serial killer now. That was Buster Brown. He was early 20th century’s first go at a gleeful twerp, but modern eyes have seen enough internet obscenities to recognize a psychophage. I don’t know why we’re making horror movies about lovable teddy Winnie the Pooh when Buster’s been the creepy giggling coming from the public domain attic for years.
Created in 1902 by R.F. Outcault as a reversal of his popular slumrat The Yellow Kid, Buster was an apple-cheeked rich kid whose beauty belied his insufferable antics. He assuredly grew up to be the jerk who tosses women into the pool at Gatsby’s parties. Buster’s sidekick was his Cheshire dog Tige, and there were a bunch of other characters we don’t care about, because none of them is seventeen poltergeists fighting to animate the corpse of a drowned child.
Not counting that one nightmare you keep having, the Yellow Kid is most recognizable these days as the inspiration for Sin City’s sexually undeterrable Yellow Bastard. Let me tell you the original kid, aka Mickey Dugan, was way more prone to racism, considering he was an Irish stereotype whose appearance barely qualified as human:
These two imps first appeared together on a 1904 postcard, but by that token, Batman and Superman first teamed up for a World’s Fair cover even though they never dueled over Martha within its pages. So it wasn’t until 1907 that Buster and Mickey met in a dream-tale that is likely comics’ first crossover and also its first homage to Little Nemo in Slumberland.
If you only read the normal comics, you’d think Buster was just a fancy Dennis the Menace. But by 1907 the comics would be the last way to encounter him, because Buster was the Garfield of his day. Pick five random Buster Brown comics, and six of them will advertise Buster products and productions. See, speaking of the World’s Fair, Outcault had spent 1904 in St. Louis at the peak of its “Meet Me in…” popularity, where he sold Buster out as an ad mascot to 200 licensees.
As 1-900-HOTDOG’s own Lydia Bugg conclusively proved, cartoon licensing scours a mind of sanity. For every one of these products, Buster’s glazed stare says chloral hydrate, but his wicked grin says cathinone to the grave. Whatever they dosed him with to move product, it opened The Red Door. Buster in the strip is drawn as a normal kid, but Buster in ads looks like the meat-stuffed gunny sack you give to a couple mourning a misplaced reborn doll. Whereas The Yellow Kid had dots for eyes in his goblin pug-mug, Buster was a perfect child, and therefore bore the smooth features of White God Himself: pert jowls, the least amount of nose possible, and huge, expressive eyes.
In fact: too much expression and eyeball for comfort. First stop: the famous Buster Brown Shoe Co.!
Is Buster tweaked out of his gourd or do these shoes come with a free case of Graves’ disease? If his eyes open any wider they’re going to turn into hyperspheres, yet they’re sunk so deep in their sockets time slows down near their surface. It’s almost like the devil-skeleton inside can’t grow his flesh past the age it possessed him. There’s nothing here but stretched skin and glazed jelly.
To avoid selecting for bias let’s start with a control: Wikimedia files. This is a crowdsourced series of exemplary images measuring Buster’s life and crimes. Leaving aside the strip where he talks about dead souls, there are eight gallery images:
Right out of the gate comes this…well, I guess you can’t call it a threat, since once you’ve seen it nothing can save you. Relax: the violence is already done, the chaos egg laid within your brain. Close your eyes while their lids still work. You’ll see his leering face slowly become your own. You’re a vector for Bustration now. See that flesh-colored wall behind him? Nobody ever said he was bursting through plaster lathe.
Oh. Okay, this is pretty normal. This is just a comic strip about a boy and his talking dog mailing out party invites. Hey, do me a favor real quick: start enumerating people who talk to a dog that only they can hear?
I made that list in under a minute and 75% of it was murderers, 2.5 of whom were satanically motivated. Behold their Gilgamesh. Still: this being a strip and not an ad, it’s not explicitly terrifying.
Maybe I spoke too soon! Ma’s face twists with revulsion: no! No, not a second one! What if it grows up to be the antichrist to Buster’s splendid blond beast? Or worse, what if it’s normal but one day, her attention slips long enough to leave it alone with…this elder thing? Too late! It has seen the bundle at the door. “I’ll take care of her,” the unchild tells her, attempting to calm her in as much as it can understand human emotions. After all, it wouldn’t do to have the neighbors making note of her increasing instability. Not yet. No, not until the blood-moon eclipse. But still: the phrasing is deliberately ambiguous.
I don’t care what time, place, or culture—anyone who came home to find this dripping down the walls would understand too late what the iron scent in their nostrils had already warned them about: Buster has breached the circle of salt, and now we comprehend why so many corpses around Murray Hill have been found with their hearts removed.
“I’m not a Pinhead” is EXACTLY what a Cenobite would say, and Hellraiser II already proved they’re not above recruiting kids for their prog rock album.
And just like that we’re back to normal, even if Buster still hasn’t grown a nose. It’s nice that this victim of the world’s first acid-on-baby attack still loves Christmas—perhaps because the soft, twinkling lights are easier on his vision? It takes his eyelid muscles ten times the force you humans use to blink.
Honestly? This is the best one. It’s a sweet picture of three friends sharing a laugh. Unless that kid in the porter’s uniform is weeping. Why? I don’t know, maybe his parents were found with their eyelids gnawed off by two sets of dental prints, one canine, one human. These are the possibilities.
This looks like a menu but it’s the French cover to one of the earliest comic books, a collection of Buster’s mischief (painting resolutions on walls). Please note that size and scale have no meaning, because reality breaks in the Demon Tige’s personal distortion field.
Okay, with that baseline, let’s study the clearest scans from image search:
Tige’s wordplay can’t distract from this child with an elephant gun. Buster is barely old enough to read. His mother still dresses him in dandywear. How did he get this rifle? What is he going to kill? This pun only works if Buster will be shooting within range of Jack, or the police will get involved. Nothing about this is okay.
Buster grins maniacally at you, patient zero of a laughing disease that ends with you drowning in your own tears.
“Oh, hello! I didn’t see you there. Why yes, this marvelous red liquid blackens as it dries! It’s the first of seven riddles that will unseal my true father’s prison when the submind corrupts itself to comprehend them.”
Most real-life productions either give normal Buster with sex-party Tige, or normal Tige with David Lynch’s Buster Brown. When they cast an actor without proptosis, proptosis will be given to him. (Protopsis means “explosive eyeballs” in Dutch.)
Despite this, we know the twerp has eyelids because the Buster Brown Shoe logo winks at you badly. He’s not used to closing his eyes because Buster never sleeps.
“Resolved! That the prettiest girl is the one I want to pin my tie on…Buster Brown.” –Buster Brown
“Funny place for a necktie!” –Tige
“Saliva samples tie the Brown boy to this series of corpses with their tongues pulled through their slit throats. GUILTY!” –Judge Parker
Every time Buster writes on a wall his facial topography averages out a little more. When the final trumpet sounds, he’s just going to be a volleyball with a pageboy haircut and a deadpan leer. But I guess I shouldn’t make fun of a kid with whatever the opposite of ichthyosis is. Let’s just be thankful the crew of the Event Horizon did such a good job gluing his eyeballs back in place after Buster gouged them out to stop the visions.
At first glance, it seems like Tige ate a child. But those are all Buster’s trademarks, and the longer I stare at this, the more I think he’s ghost-riding his familiar.
In a vanishing instance of Buster [With Nose] but a recurring one of Buster [Without Eyebrows] we see that he becomes a haunted marionette of every woman on an over-50 dating app’s Duluth results. The real error was giving him irises to emphasize his pinprick pupils. Buster is higher than God’s hairline. His peepers look like the painted stones Romans used to keep rigor mortis of the eyelids in check.
Not all of these were drawn by Outcault, but it’s telling that all artists characterize Buster’s as different stages of unembalmed corpse. This is a before and after argument for Botox treatment of Cushing’s syndrome. And let me save you some googling on that joke: Buster is allergic to oxygen, since in his dimension they breathe ultra-condensed sulfur. The result is a Tales From the Crypt where the disobedient kid who wanders away from the tour group ends up stuffed in the museum exhibit.
Poor fool, his mark is upon you now. You will pray for death as the world turns its face from your decay. You are become unto The Brown Men, and hell followeth.
Buster goes to see the Buster Brown musical, which itself was an ad for Buster Brown-Branded Great War Throwing Grenades. Tige attacks Stage-Tige, because the Left Hand Path demands one destroy oneself to obtain worldly desires. The Rite of Capitalist Sin-Ergy is complete.
Jack’s gun wasn’t a one-time thing. Buster is armed at all times, but it’s not what you think. He keeps trying to kill himself only to wake up surrounded by torn pieces of meat.
The shattered heart, the fresh, dripping red medium, the declaration of inarguable intent…if you have virgin daughters, kill them now as a mercy.
This is a later work, after a surgeon split Buster’s corpus callosum in a vain effort to isolate his evil right brain in sensory deprivation forever. Tige, being an extradimensional entity unbound by laws of space, shrinks here to dance quite literally on the head of a pin.
Jesus, he looks like the grandchild spawned from two Dick Tracy villains marrying off their kids in a failed bid for peace. This is what that Samuel Johnson meme looked like back when he was young enough to believe this shit.
Gaily marching to our destiny, la di da! Suddenly, Buster’s eyes swell as his neck swivels to shatter the fourth wall. “Nothing can stop us,” he chuckles. “Not even the fiction-membrane.” An icy finger traces your spine like a whispered promise.
Buster makes each pair of shoes himself, using locally sourced leather from previous customers. Say what you will about the ethics, but it’s ecologically admirable. Until 2010 you could still find Buster Brown Shoes not far from where Outcault lived in Queens. This blog wants you to believe it closed in bankruptcy, but isn’t it more likely it was one of those magical shops that vanishes when you go back to return the Wishing Spats that have killed the very sweetheart you wished to impress with your foot speed?
Come Christmas, even Buster thinks he might have oversaturated the market. As his comp merch piles up, compare the normal kid with his cardboard cutout’s thousand-parsec stare. Ad Buster has watched universes die in a sandbox of dust.
Oh no! He’s out of paint! Winking at you like a stroke victim trying to morse code “Running makes your fear taste better,” he then stretches his neck to unnatural lengths. The form of a python is the only way he can crush you for easier draining. Behind him, Tige has shrunk small enough to climb down your throat and begin extracting your bones for his own purposes.
Come on! It’s not even in its socket at this point! Kill the boy! KILL HIM FOR ALL OUR SAKES!
Oh God, no. You shot it six times, but it sat right back up, laughing. Quickly, reload the cylinder before it cackles the true name of despair. Our troubles have just begun!
Brendan’s got a newsletter now if you want to stay current on his non-Hot Dog comedy and comics news.
8 replies on “Nerding Day: Buster Brown 🌭”
Oh no, the second carrier wave iteration is upon us… Hold Princess SparkleHogg close, she’s the only one we can save!
Great article but also all blessings upon those machine elves that fixed the Patreon login bug!
His name is the Lockmaster, and he rules. He’s our new IT guy and he only accepts payment in exotic locks or intriguing puzzles. None of this is a joke. No, seriously, that is who fixed this problem, the RSS feed, and the site updates lagging all at the same time. Hail Lockmaster!
First article in a while that I hiccuped from laughing too much.
I find it interesting that the shoes for boys have higher heels than the shoes for girls.
I knew I’ve seen these haunting visages before. They’re on display at the Billy Ireland Cartoon Library and Museum and I foolishly decided to take a picture to curse my friends to share my suffering. The glass keeps those forsaken smiles trapped, as does the distance for I am now thousands of miles away and have been for months now.
Hold on, I hear the tapping of shoes at my front door.
No mention of the freshly-shaved moustache in the second-to last picture?
Well, can’t unsee that now. I’d that that is super disturbing, but the part of my brain that can recognize that died somewhere around the 4th image.
He looks like Popsicle Pete’s cousin.