Swinnerton’s notorious tiger characters take to the streets for New York City’s St. Patrick’s Day parade, carrying banners recalling popular Irish ballads like “The Harp That Once Through Tara’s Halls” and “The Wearing of the Green,” about the Irish Rebellion of 1798, an unsuccessful uprising against British rule in Ireland. One also refers to Maggie Cline, the Vaudeville-singing daughter of Irish immigrants who was known as “The Irish Queen.”
St. Patrick’s Day celebrations were an especially big deal 120 years ago. First, they commemorated the 100th anniversary of the Irish Rebellion. Second, they marked the first time St. Patrick’s Day postcards were sent, signaling Irish immigrants’ integration into American society. Cartoonists capitalized on the event.
Rudolph Dirks, the cartoonist who emigrated from Germany as a child, also depicted an Irish-American St. Patrick’s Day parade in his contribution to the March 27, 1898 edition of the New York Journal. His German-American Katzenjammer Kids marched in the parade, one dressed as the Yellow Kid. Richard Outcault’s bald-headed, big-eared immigrant cartoon character earned his name from the yellow nightshirt he wore, on which his dialogue appeared.
Looking Backward, Looking Forward: U.S. Immigration in Cartoons and Comics, an exhibition on display at the Ohio State University’s Billy Ireland Cartoon Library & Museum, explores how cartoonists have told the story of immigration throughout American history. For example, while political cartoons in newspapers portrayed immigrants as enemies or victims, the comic strip supplements that first appeared in the 1890s offered entertaining stories about immigrant life through the adventures of recurring characters. One is Frederick Burr Opper’s Happy Hooligan, an Irish immigrant who was often misjudged because of his appearance.
Another is Jiggs, the star of George McManus’s “Bringing Up Father” comic strip. An Irish immigrant who wins the lottery and becomes part of high society, Jiggs wishes he could return to his old life and neighborhood haunts, like the Dinty Moore tavern where he ordered his favorite corned beef and cabbage in the July 12, 1930 edition of the strip.
Looking Backward, Looking Forward: U.S. Immigration in Cartoons and Comics continues through April 15 in the Friends of the Libraries Gallery of the Billy Ireland Cartoon Library & Museum.