Cinco de Mayo: Cartoonists Day?
On Saturday we’ll all sip our Margaritas, munch on our burritos and think about cartoonists. Saturday, May 5 is “Cartoonists Day.”
Some readers will remember when most of the newspaper comic strips touted Cartoonists Day. As a cartoonist, I love the idea of having my own day where my fans shower me with gifts and adoration – in fact, that was pretty much the idea behind Cartoonists Day. The date was chosen because the first recurring character in American newspaper comics, the Yellow Kid, first appeared in print on May 5, 1895. Cartoonists are suffering from a painful transition now as newspapers decline and their traditional markets for gag cartoons and advertising work suffer a prolonged slump. We can cheer Mom up on Mothers Day, make the secretary happy on Administrative Professionals Day and feed the government on Tax Day — even trees and flags have their own days — why not make long-suffering cartoonists happy with their own day?
The first Saturday in May is also “Free Comic Book Day,” where comic book stores join in a promotion to give away comic books and which happens to fall on May 5 this year. This is also Cartoon Appreciation Week. The stars are aligned for cartoonists this Saturday.
Unfortunately, Cartoonists Day has had a bumpy ride and cartoonists have allowed it to fade away. It all started back in 1997 when Jerry Scott and Rick Kirkman, the creators of the comic strip “Baby Blues,” organized “The Great Comic Strip Switcheroonie,” where cartoonists traded places to draw each other’s comic strips on April Fools’ Day. It was great fun and a creative success.
When I was president of the National Cartoonists Society (NCS) in 2000, Charles “Sparky” Schulz, the creator of “Peanuts,” passed away and I oversaw a special day in the comics where almost all of the cartoonists drew a comic strip tribute to Sparky. After 9/11 the NCS organized a successful Thanksgiving Day tribute on the comics pages to raise money for victims of the World Trade Center disaster.
Cartoonists usually work in isolation and the opportunities to work together were great fun at first – then the glow started to fade. Some cartoonists were enthusiastic about the idea of Cartoonists Day, and pushed the idea of every comic strip artist participating to display the Cartoonists Day logo in their strips, and write something about it in their strip to “raise awareness” of underappreciated cartoonists. The strip cartoonists were urged to do this every year on May 5. Then charities got the idea; they called the NCS saying, “Hey! You cartoonist guys all got together to raise money for the 9/11 victims, how about raising money for this terrible disease, or that one – you can’t believe that Cartoonists Day is more important than my horrible disease, do you? Where are your priorities?!” Of-course, they were right, but there were just too many terrible diseases and social ills waiting in line for space on the comics pages.
Then many of the star cartoonists became weary. They would say, “Why are we doing this Cartoonists Day thing in our strips again?” and “Isn’t it kind of egotistical and self-serving for us to use our strips to call attention to ourselves like this?” Of course, they were right.
Then there was the problem of Cinco de Mayo. Cartoonists who wanted to generate publicity for themselves had to share their day with another topic. Cartoonists in the Midwest couldn’t understand why the cartoonists in California were busy with their Margaritas on Cartoonists Day.
The NCS stopped promoting Cartoonists Day and it slowly faded away. Some cartoonists hated to see it go. There is still a Web site at cartoonistsday.com. Some cartoonists still lobby for the return of Cartoonists Day, but the day has disappeared. Mexico won the cartoon war because the cartoonists took their pens and went home.
And I never got my presents.
Daryl Cagle is a political cartoonist and blogger for MSNBC.com. He is a past president of the National Cartoonists Society and his cartoons are syndicated to more than 800 newspapers, including the paper you are reading. His books “The BIG Book of Bush Cartoons” and “The Best Political Cartoons of the Year,” 2005, 2006 and 2007 editions, are available in bookstores now.