Geez… I remember 1990, when Earth Day was revived to celebrate the 20th anniversary. Now it’s 2012, and environmentalism has become mainstream, with systematic recycling, organic groceries, and greater fuel efficiencies widespread. While it continues to be a topic of discussion politically, most people have gotten the message. (Ironically, the Republican Party tends to promote a different type of “green”, even though much of the environment we enjoy in this country was the result of two Republican presidents: Roosevelt and Nixon.)
Even some comics publishers have gone green, using standards from the Green Press Initiative for graphic novels. (Periodical comics are a bigger problem, as this Comic Foundry article notes.)
So, to celebrate, let’s shine a spotlight on one of most famous, but generally ignored, ecological cartoon characters: Woodsy Owl.
According to Wikipedia, “The original slogan “Give a Hoot Don’t Pollute” and the owl were created by Kimberly Ann Haufrect an eight year old girl in 1968 who won a contest held by the United Way”.
On Earth Day 1970, the National Forest Service (part of the USDA, and the same agency which also employs Smokey Bear) debuted Woodsy. Harold Bell, a former marketer and licensing agent for Disney had launched his own agency in 1957, with clients such as Mister Magoo, Dick Tracy, the Lone Ranger, and Lassie (as well as working with the Forest Service promoting Smokey Bear). It was while working with the “Lassie” television series that he met rangers Chuck Williams and Glenn Kovar and their co-worker Betty Hite, who served as technical consultants on the show (which featured U.S. forest rangers).
The New York Times reported that they “considered a raccoon, a bull elk, a rainbow trout and a ladybug. They chose an owl because owls are supposed to be wise, live in the forest and near cities, and can see pollution from treetops.” The character has become so well known, that his trademark, which was created by the federal government and which is thus in the public domain, is protected by law. (Smokey received similar treatment, in 36 C.F.R. PART 271.)
(I remember Kellogg’s Cocoa Hoots cereal (which also had an educational tint) and the infamous Mr. Owl of Tootsie Pop. Was there an owl zeitgeist in the early 1970s? The world may never know…)
Just like Smokey, Woodsy was marketed extensively in all media. While Woodsy did not have a cartoon show, he did appear in numerous public service announcements broadcast on Saturday mornings in the 70s, and briefly starred in a ten-issue quarterly series from Gold Key.
Of course, like many superstars, Woodsy underwent a makeover in 1997, in conjunction with Sesame Workshop. He now sports a backpack, shirt, hiking shoes, and field pants, as well as his trademark cap with feather. He has his own Twitter feed, as well as a Facebook page.
We offer an early PSA video from the USDA’s YouTube channel:
We hope you celebrate Earth Day everyday! Remember: reduce, reuse, recycle, repair.
I’ve been writing for The Beat since July of 2010.
I’ve been reading comics since 1974, collecting since 1984, and spreading the graphic novel gospel since 1994.
I’m a bookseller, a librarian, an amateur scholar, a cool uncle, and a comics evangelist.
Ask me anything!