CARTOON APPRECIATION WEEK
Whatever happened to National Cartoonists Day and Cartoon Appreciation Week? Cartoonist Day, May 5, was celebrated this year only (as far as I know) by Wiley Miller, who mentioned it in his Non Sequitur.
The dates of Cartoon Appreciation Week shift a little from year to year, but that doesn’t make cartoonists any more shifty than the rest of us. Cartoon Appreciation Week, as initially fomented by the National Cartoonists Society (NCS), is whatever Monday-through-Sunday includes May 5. So this year, it was May 4-10. But no one, apparently — except Wiley — is observing it any longer.
The NCS originally picked May 5 because it was on that date in 1895 that the New York World published a cartoon called Hogan’s Alley by Richard Outcault, a freelance technical draftsman, who, when not diagraming electrical equipment, drew comical pictures and peddled them to weekly humor magazines. Hogan’s Alley, like others Outcault had sold to magazines, featured the juvenile antics of a swarm of slum urchins, and among the otherwise raggedy and bedraggled mob, Outcault drew one distinctive little kid: he was bald (his head having been shaved as a cure for lice), and he had big jug ears and a gap-tooth grin, and wore a nightshirt that reached to his ankles. His name was Mickey Dugan, but when, on subsequent appearances, his nightshirt was colored yellow, he became known as the Yellow Kid.
The Yellow Kid turned out to be a genuine crowd-pleaser: people bought the newspaper just to follow his shenanigans every week. The character was so popular that William Randolph Hearst hired Outcault away from the World to draw the cartoon for his New York Journal. But Joseph Pulitzer at the World hired another artist to draw the Yellow Kid, and for quite some time, the circulation battle between the two press lords had the Yellow Kid in the front lines as the most conspicuous combatant: delivery wagons taking newspapers around the city had posters on their flanks bearing the grinning visage of the Yellow Kid.
The Yellow Kid is often called the first newspaper comic strip (even though he wasn’t first, and he didn’t appear in a “strip” but in a single, large drawing) because he demonstrated the commercial appeal of cartoons. After his noisy debut, newspaper publishers knew they could attract readers if they published cartoons. And for that historic reason, Cartoon Appreciation Week always convenes around May 5, which is, itself, called Cartoonists Day.
The NCS informally abandoned its child a half-dozen years ago because too few of the members were positioned to recognize Cartoon Appreciation Week or National Cartoonists Day — animators couldn’t; ditto comic book makers and gag cartoonists. Besides, May 5 is a Latino holiday, Cinco de Mayo, so people would be confused. Or Latinos might object to cartoonists appropriating their holiday, thinking it was being turned into a joke. Or something. More like, Cartoonists Day would be overwhelmed. But neither of these purported “reasons” seemed to me terribly persuasive. Why not go on? Persistence might’ve paid off with greater recognition of the societal and fiscal worth of comics. NCS never formally abandoned the Week or the Day, but it hasn’t pushed it by reminding members to commemorate it either. It withers.