See that man below?
The one with the foul mouth?
He invented comic strip cursing. (Or not, see update below.)
Not only that, he put it in a strip about a woman of high station and generous nature.
Recent research has pushed back the emergence of the grawlix
from 1902 to 1901.
(Grawlix being the Mort Walker created word for the symbols of comic strip cursing.)
Phil Edwards, at Vox, found what he thinks may be the first use of the grawlix.
Gene Carr used symbols for comic strip cursing in his November 1, 1901 Lady Bountiful issue.
Phil Edwards’ hunt for such vulgar inventions was inspired by the earlier work of Ben Zimmer.
Ben Zimmer then renewed his search and came up with an earlier, though abbreviated (*!), use;
still in Gene Carr’s Lady Bountiful – this one dated October 19, 1901.
above: offending language found in the panel excerpted from the October 19, 1901 Lady Bountiful
Please note that both Edwards and Zimmer are quick to point out that these are the earliest examples so far and that further research may still find an earlier origin of comic strip cussing.
Comics historian Thierry Smolderen informs us that he had discovered comics grawlix almost 25 years earlier than the above Lady Bountiful samples, pushing the origin of the comic strip staple back into the thick of The Victorian Era!
Thierry, whose The Origins of Comics leaves off about where most other comic history books begin, found a sample of symbols being used as comic cursing in the 1877 publication Lightning Flashes and Electric Dashes. Thierry included this as part of his Origins book.
The book is a collection of anecdotes, and some illustrations, about the then exploding telegraph industry. Aside from the single-page illustrations it contains a few two-page comic strip plates inserted. Of particular interest is the original-to-the-book Ye Telephonists of 1877 by James J. Calahan.
As seen when enlarged there are clearly examples of grawlix being used in the comic strip.
The Grawlix, mostly punctuation marks and asterisks and stars, are used repeatedly throughout the strip and are undoubtably meant to represent impolite language.