Friday, October 11, 2019

A Crowded Life in Comics –

The Long Trail a Little Longer.

by Rick Marschall.

Editorial cartoonist Jay Norwood “Ding” Darling received the news of Theodore Roosevelt’s death very close to his deadline for the Des Moines Register. It was January 6, 1919. Roosevelt and Ding had become friends, with natural affinities including reform politics and hunting.

As he told it afterward, he naturally wanted to make a profound statement in his cartoon, but also had the deadline monster in his studio. His cartoons appeared in the Register but also were distributed nationally by the New York Tribune Syndicate. Legend has it that he decided to hold the place with a recycled concept of a popular cartoon he drew two years ago almost to the day, a tribute to Buffalo Bill Cody on the latter’s death. “Gone to join the mysterious caravan,” shaking the hands of young admirers.

Ding would then, he thought, have a day to draw a proper, more thoughtful, detailed tribute to Col. Roosevelt.

He never had to draw a second cartoon. The reaction, in Des Moines and around the country, was overwhelmingly enthusiastic. It was printed in many newspapers and praised in editorials. Eventually it was printed as cards, posters, and prints. Ding himself  drew it as a signed, numbered etching. For years copies were displayed in schoolrooms and post offices.

Despite winning two Pulitzer Prizes, and fame as a naturalist (he designed the Government’s Duck Hunting stamps for years and has a wildlife refuge named in his honor on Sanibel Island, Florida), the hurried recycle is Ding’s most memorable work.

Recently I saw a third version. After speaking (and presenting legacy cartoons) at the Annual Symposium of the Theodore Roosevelt Center at Dickinson University, I joined a group that traversed the Enchanted Highway. Along a 32-mile stretch of local roads, through farm country of western North Dakota is a collection of the world's largest scrap metal sculptures Gary Greff, an amateur sculptor, began constructing two-dimensional images in 1989. There are nine built to date, at spots along the roads, with cut-offs for parking and a few recreational areas.
Most of Greff’s sculptures refer to the flower, fish, and fauna of North Dakota. But one pays tribute to another essential aspect of the region’s landscape: a 60-foot-high sculpture of Theodore Roosevelt. And he used Ding Darling’s famous and iconic image from “The Long, Long Train” cartoon as his model.

Against the grassy hills and the Dakota sky, it seems to come to life… as much as a cartoon can, in its own way.


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