‘Doonesbury’ to eulogize military war dead

Hartford Courant

Cartoonist Garry B. Trudeau on Memorial Day will devote his comic strip “Doonesbury” to listing U.S. military personnel who have been killed during the war in Iraq.

More than 700 names will appear in tiny type over six panels in the Sunday strip. A note beneath the final panel will say, “List as of April 23, 2004....”

Comic strip historians say it is the first time such a eulogy has been presented in the comics, and it echoes the war dead roll call Ted Koppel delivered April 30 on ABC’s “Nightline.”


“This is the only time I can think of this happening in the comics,” said M. Thomas Inge, author of “Comics as Culture.” “Every D-Day, Charles Schulz did a special drawing in ‘Peanuts,’ but nothing like this.”

Trudeau is known among his peers for playing close to the edge. Earlier this year, he devoted “Doonesbury” to a contest seeking witnesses to President Bush’s 1970s disputed National Guard duty. And he recently developed a story line around character B.D.’s experiences in Iraq, including a bloody incident outside Fallouja, during which he lost a leg.

The cartoonist was not available for comment last week, but David Stanford, who was handling inquiries for him, said the Memorial Day strip was turned in “before the ‘Nightline’ memorial program was announced.”

Cyrus Copeland, who has written a new book about eulogies, says he finds it “fitting that Mr. Trudeau has found his own way of exploring what this loss equals.”

“Lucky for him that he has this venue to do that, and lucky for us that, whether we like it or not, we come face to face with it and look at loss and the role that America is playing in the world at large.”

In his book, “Farewell, Godspeed: The Greatest Eulogies of Our Time,” Copeland examines the evolution of eulogies over the last 100 years, from serious oratory to more free-form and irreverent expressions. The “Doonesbury” attempt, Copeland says, is a bit of a throwback. “He’s using his clever, nudge-wink strip to say something serious.


“It’s interesting that this is all happening on Memorial Day, a day Americans usually perceive as the beginning of summer,” Copeland said. “Now, with the war in Iraq and dedication of the World War II memorial, we’re examining the day through a new lens.”

Trudeau, in a recent interview with ABC’s “This Week With George Stephanopoulos,” said he was approaching his Iraq story line “with humility and care.”

“Whether you think we belong in Iraq or not,” he said, “we can’t tune it out. We have to remain mindful of the terrible losses that individual soldiers are suffering in our name.”

Robert C. Harvey, author of “The Art of the Funnies,” a history of newspaper comic strips, said Trudeau’s Memorial Day eulogy “is in perfect concert with having B.D. lose his leg to draw attention to the sacrifices soldiers are making.”

The only time Harvey recalls seeing as many names in a comic strip was in 1988, when “Steve Canyon” cartoonist Milton Caniff died. Seventy-eight cartoonists signed a strip that ran with the classic battlefield image of a fallen soldier -- a helmet placed atop a gun stuck barrel-down into the ground. The same image will run alongside the names in the May 30 “Doonesbury.”

Harvey predicted that reaction to Trudeau would be similar to what occurred when Koppel ran his list.

“You’ll get some saying it’s just Trudeau being an antiwar activist, and others saying he’s just recognizing the last sacrifice of these people,” Harvey said. “But, you know, some people think we ought to be paying a little more attention to it.”