The comic strip began in the New York Herald on May 4, 1902. Outcault left for William Randolph Hearst's employ in 1906, and after a court battle, Outcault continued his strip, now nameless, in Hearst papers, while the Herald continued their own version of Buster Brown with other artists. The latter lasted until 1911 or so, and Outcault's version until at least 1921.
A city-dwelling boy with wealthy parents, Buster's actions belie his pretty looks. Essentially an Edwardian era Dennis the Menace, he is a practical joker who might dress in a girl's outfit and have her wear his clothes, break a window with his slingshot, or play a prank on a neighbor. The trick or transgression is discovered and he is punished, usually by being spanked by his mother, but it is unclear if he ever repents. Many strips end with Buster delivering a self-justifying moral which has little or nothing to do with his crime.
Accompanying Buster in his adventures is his dog, Tige, who is thought to be the first talking pet to appear in American comics. Often he will warn Buster in vain about the trouble he is about to get into.
Mary Jane, Buster's sweetheart, wore the style of shoes that would eventually bear her name.
The comic strip provides examples of:
- Art Evolution: Earlier renditions of Buster and Tige bore a more or less realistic aesthetic, at times leaning more towards Uncanny Valley territory. By the late 1950s, promotional comic books featuring Buster and Tige's adventures has the two drawn in a more streamlined style typical of the era, and Buster no longer wears bar shoes (which were later named after his sweetheart). The issue "Buster Brown Goes To Mars" has Buster drawn in an even more stylized manner, his proportions leaning more towards a toddler than an eight-to-ten year old. In the 1980s the Brown Shoe Company updated their logo to keep up with the times, with Buster and Tige bearing a more contemporary outfit.
- Brats with Slingshots: Buster
- Broken Glass Penalty: Buster breaks a window with his slingshot.
- Character Title
- Deliberately Cute Child: Buster
- Disguised in Drag: In one strip, Buster switches outfits with a girl named Florence and cuts her hair in his pageboy style. When they are discovered by their mothers, they each receive a spanking.
- Dog Stereotype: Tige is a child-friendly and loyal pit bull.
- Don't Make Me Take My Belt Off: Buster is subjected to this multiple times by his mother thanks to good old-fashioned Values Dissonance.
- Dreadful Musician: Buster plays the violin in one strip, so terribly that his mother hires a teacher to try to get him to play properly. When the lessons don't help, Buster gets the idea to perform in the street, pretending to be blind. He is then given money by sympathetic passers-by.
- The Edwardian Era: The comic strip was contemporary to this time period.
- Intellectual Animal: Tige
- Long-Haired Pretty Boy: Buster, with his pageboy hairstyle.
- Named After Somebody Famous: The name Buster came from the popularity of Buster Keaton, then a child actor in vaudeville.
- Recycled IN SPACE!: In keeping with the Space Age craze during the 1950s, at least two adventures putting Buster and Tige in a space flight were published and given away for free as premiums in shoe stores—Buster Brown Goes to Mars and Buster Brown in "Out of This World!".
- Sarcastic Devotee: Tige, who will often make snarky asides about the trouble Buster will inevitably get into."I'm glad I'm not in this. I see a fast finish."
- The Trickster: Buster
- Tuckerization: Mary Jane was named and inspired by Richard F. Outcault's own daughter.
- Wholesome Crossdresser: Buster as part of his antics where he would switch clothes with a girl.