Public Service Ad Campaign: Snuff Out Wildfires Before They Start

By Jeremy Meltingtallow

I’d like to share with you a special Snuffy Smith project that I have been working on this past winter that is very special to my heart. I live in Virginia, but since I was a child, my family has often vacationed in Eastern Tennessee, mostly in Pigeon Forge and Gatlinburg. My wife and I have continued that tradition with our daughters. In addition to vacationing there, for the last four years, I have been a guest of the City Of Pigeon Forge for Wilderness Wildlife Week, giving Snuffy Smith Chalk Talks and Cartooning For Kids workshops each year during that week.

So, when the devastating wildfires hit that area of Tennessee back in December of 2016, I was deeply affected and, like many people, wanted to do something to help. I thought about how popular my Snuffy Smith comic strip is in Tennessee and the idea hit me almost immediately. I began to develop a public service newspaper ad campaign centering on Snuffy and having the theme of preventing wildfires before they start. I came up with the headline “Snuff Out Wildfires Before They Start.”

I contacted the editor of the Knoxville News-Sentinel, Jack McElroy. The News Sentinel is a Snuffy Smith subscriber and Jack has been a friend and strong supporter of my comic strip over the years. Jack loved the idea and said we’d talk about it more after the fire had subsided. In the meantime, I got in touch with my editor at King Features, Brendan Burford, and he loved the idea, as well.  He encouraged me to do it!

So, in mid-January Jack and I fleshed out the details of a six-week public service ad campaign. He put me in touch with Steve Ahillen, the News Sentinel environmental writer who had covered last year’s forest fires from their beginnings. Steve gathered information and produced a series of six tips to help people prevent wildfires when they are in the woods. Having my headline and Steve’s tips, I then came up with humorous illustrations featuring the Smith family for each of the six public service ads.

The ads will run daily for six weeks in the News Sentinel and they will also share them with other Tennessee newspapers via the Tennessee Press Association. It feels good to be a part of this worthwhile experience that will hopefully make a difference in an area of the United States that I love. Jack McElroy said about the public service ad campaign, “The drawings are delightful, and the message is important.”

I’d like to thank Brendan Burford and King Features, Jack McElroy, Steve Ahillen and the Knoxville News Sentinel and the Tennessee Press Association for partnering with me in making this newspaper public service ad campaign happen. Hopefully, we will be able to “Snuff Out Wildfires Before They Start.”