Sunday, October 28, 2012

"Ding" Darling

In my humble opinion, one man stands head & shoulders above all of the greats in the pantheon of cartooning legends. From the air we all breathe, the water we all drink and the land we live on, here was a someone who saw something wrong and set about making things better, which in my eyes makes him someone to look up to - in all respects a true hero. These days we would do well to follow his example of activism and involvement, to go above and beyond the what seems to be the limits of what gifts we have (in his case, superb artistic craftsmanship) and apply them to do what we can in effecting a positive change in the entire world - most importantly by starting right at home in our own neck of the woods.

I hold up the legacy of Jay Norwood Darling up as the penultimate example of what an artist can achieve with their work and their life: short of Roger Tory Peterson, no other artist - especially a cartoonist - has directly affected the quality of life we enjoy as Americans. Not to mention the innumerable other species which have benefited from his stewardship, dedication and foresight.

Typically I devote an entire session in my comics class (during the week on editorial cartooning) on Darling's life and work, and never pass up an opportunity to mention the man in any public show & tell about either my personal inspirations or on the field of cartooning. Years ago I purchased "Untold Stories," a documentary DVD from the Sanibel Island NWR that I’d make the class watch after a half-hour slide-show + lecture, and I would gradually over the years find an excuse to incorporate it into beginning drawing sessions as well.

Ding was awarded two Pulitzer Prizes for his editorial cartoons, and President Roosevelt appointed him to what would ultimately become the US Fish & Wildlife Service, which today continues to sport the original National Wildlife Refuge "blue goose" logo designed by him. Aside from many conservation efforts enacted within the governmental system as a politician, another result of his leadership and vision was the creation of the Federal Duck Stamp program, which he also drew the first design for.

An interesting note is what he chose as the flagship species of duck to be featured: the common Mallard. Despite it's ubiquitous presence across America today, it had, astonishingly enough, been almost hunted to extinction in the 1920's. And these sorts of battles never end, as recent legislation proved once again the power of lobbyists, as usual spearheaded from the likes of the NRA, to influence and corrupt current policy, in this case the usage of toxic lead in ammunition.

Used by permission: Courtesy of the J. N. 'Ding' Darling Wildlife Society

Part of his legacy is continued in the Sanibel Island in the Gulf of Mexico at his namesake refuge, and through the continuing efforts of the "Ding" Darling Wildlife Society. Also of special note is the institutional resources available through the J.N. "Ding" Darling Foundation, through which you can obtain a copy of a CD-ROM containing high-quality scans of over 6,800 of his cartoons. Additionally the Special Collections at the University of Iowa has around 12,000 samples online, and they have also archived many other items of interest that preserve the cultural endowment from this singular talent in the field of visual art.

Used by permission: Courtesy of the J. N. 'Ding' Darling Wildlife Society

Whether inspiring activism at the drawing board or increasing awareness through backyard conservatism via everyday birdwatching, Darling's work literally illustrates the vision of an individual who harnessed his considerable skills to a cause that transcended the pages of a newspaper and made a lasting difference.

Reposted via Mike Lynch's blog comes this short documentary, also a bonus brief mention is made of him in a short WGCU documentary on Sanibel, viewable here. Last but not least, word comes of the fruition of a very special project from Marvo Entertainment who will commemorate the 50th anniversary of Ding's passing with a full-length documentary "America's Darling" (special preview clips + production stills can be seen here). 
"Never before has a film documented the life of Jay Darling, and there has never been a better time to do it than now. “America’s Darling” profiles Jay’s extraordinary life and gives audiences a sense of hope and inspiration by demonstrating how one person really can make a difference. [...] With a modest budget, Koltinsky created this one-hour documentary that includes everything from Darling getting kicked out of college – twice, to winning the Pulitzer Prize – twice. “America’s Darling” tells the true story of how a nationally known cartoonist changed a nation by influencing her presidents, reshaping her landscapes, and winning the hearts of her citizens."
"As a highlight of “Ding” Darling Days this year, the refuge will host the national premiere of the documentary film on Friday, Oct. 19, at 1 p.m. From there the film, nearly three years in the making, will travel throughout the U.S. “Ding” Darling Wildlife Society-Friends of the Refuge (DDWS) was a major sponsor of the production." 


  1. Thanks - he is an amazing inspiration and not just more people in general, but more artists should know about his work and the impact he had on America.