The first Earth Day was held on April 22nd, 1970, and the event was celebrated by 20 million Americans who held demonstrations across the country to demand protection for the land, air, and water. Earth Day came about as the result of concerted environmentalist action, and artists played an important role in that process. In fact, the Ecology symbol was created by artist Ron Cobb, and the icon gained in popularity before the founding of Earth Day. Cobb’s symbol, first published in 1969, combined the letter “E” (for earth and environment), with the letter “O” (representing wholeness and unity). The symbol became wildly popular and found its way onto flyers, posters, buttons, banners, patches and bumperstickers. Flags of the World, the organization dedicated to the scholarly study of flags, credits Ron Cobb for the Ecology Flag, a green version of the U.S. flag that features Cobb’s famous symbol as its emblem.
[ Ecology symbol - Designed by Ron Cobb, 1969. ]
A fellow Angelino, Cobb was born in Los Angeles in 1937, and he became the country’s premiere underground cartoonist from the mid-1960s to the early 1970s. His brilliantly drawn cartoons tackled everything from the Vietnam war and race relations in the U.S., to the abuse of political power and the arms race. In 1965 he started contributing political cartoons to the Los Angeles Free Press, one of the nation’s first radical underground newspapers. In 1968 I purchased Cobb’s first book of irreverent cartoons, Mah Fellow Americans, a searing collection of black and white drawings created and distributed by the Underground Press Syndicate - it would be an understatement to say that Cobb’s works inspired my generation. Eventually Cobb moved into production design for Hollywood movies, contributing set and conceptual design to films like Star Wars, Alien, Back to the Future, The Abyss and a bevy of other blockbusters.
[ Mah Fellow Americans - Ron Cobb's first book of political cartoons, published 1968. The cartoon that appeared as the cover of this book lampooned Lyndon Baines Johnson, the 36th President of the United States (1963-1969). LBJ escalated the war in Vietnam, and his reelection bid in '68 collapsed in the face of rising opposition to the war. Cobb depicted LBJ on a flag draped podium - addressing a crowd of thuggish looking riot police. ]
While Ron Cobb is duly famous for his work in Hollywood, it’s his important and groundbreaking editorial/political cartoons that continue to move me. Those cartoons seem as noteworthy today as when they were first drawn, and a cursory glance at the official Ron Cobb website will make clear the influence and importance of this unique American artist. Considering the environmental state of the world on this Earth Day 2007, I think it’s entirely appropriate that we breathe new life into Cobb’s iconic ecology symbol.
[ "Well… at least we don’t have to worry about anarchy anymore…" - Ron Cobb, 1968. In the late 1960’s there was fear of a police state future where everyone would be under surveillance. Cobb’s cartoon played on those fears - still his grim but humorous barb was seen by most people as an unlikely probability for American society. Alas, in our post 9-11 world, Cobb’s vision doesn’t seem so off the mark. ]