This weekend, more than 90 syndicated cartoonists will commemorate the 10th anniversary of the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks through the distilled power of the artfully inked image.
When readers open their Sunday “funnies,” they will see cartoon responses that range from honor to critical anger.
The 9/11 comics tribute, spearheaded by King Features, will include creators from such other top syndicates as Creators, Tribune Media Services and Universal Uclick, and the Washington Post Writers Group. On Sept. 11, all the participating comics will also be viewable at the site www.CartoonistsRemember911.com.
“At a time when the national conversation will be one of remembrance,” King Features comics Editor Brendan Burford told Comic Riffs, “we thought it was appropriate for the cartoonists to join in and give readers something to reflect with.”
To pull back the curtain a bit on this tribute, Comic Riffs asked a sampling of participating cartoonists to share their reactions to commemorating 9/11, as well as their memories of that dark day a decade ago. Here are their thoughts:
JIM TOOMEY (“Sherman’s Lagoon”):
Immediately after 9/11, my job became impossible. Not only was I in no mood to create cartoons, [but] I knew that my audience was in no mood to laugh.
9/11 changed us in many ways, both as individuals and collectively as a culture. It realigned many of our sensibilities, including our sense of humor. A lot of my humor is very “Monty Python.” It’s dark. For a long time, my readers didn’t want dark, they wanted light. In the aftermath of the attacks, it was very difficult for me to work with my own, changed sense of humor — to create cartoons for my readers whose senses of humor had also changed.
When I was asked to do a 9/11 tribute cartoon for this 10th anniversary, I initially said no, because I thought cartoons were simply inadequate for this task. I knew this would be a day of remembrances and memorials, and a day of looking back at the horror and the acts of bravery. I just didn’t see a way that cartoons could fit in. But then, as the day approached, I realized that this event was going to be a day of healing, and a day of finding strength in our values and our history, and it became obvious to me that the Sunday funnies were indispensable.
JERRY SCOTT and JIM BORGMAN (“Zits”):
Today's real-life 16-year olds would have been in kindergarten or the first grade when the attacks of Sept. 11, 2001 occurred. While the significance of that terrible day's events would become apparent to them in subsequent years, that would be a job for their history books. It would have been their parents' and teachers' reactions that imprinted on their minds at the time.
And one of the things most of us parents remember is the overwhelming need to hug and protect our kids at the end of that day. It returns — a sort of muscle memory — whenever we remember Sept. 11th.
DARRIN BELL (“Candorville”):
Ten years ago, on the afternoon of 9/11, I drew an editorial cartoon that caused protests, and became a ... national story because it depicted turban-wearing terrorists with a flight manual burning in Hell. The evening of 9/11, I turned to my wife and said, “It’s a good thing Gore didn’t win,” because I wanted blood and I knew Bush would give it to me. I’d spent the previous year drawing cartoons about Bush stealing Florida, yet here I was thanking God Bush was in the White House. He had me.
But then ... we invaded the wrong country, started calling each other traitors and started torturing prisoners and mocking the United Nations. We didn’t ask the rich to sacrifice at all.
When King Features asked us to participate in the anniversary project, I spent months trying to come up with an uplifting, forward-looking image. But I realized that’s just not honest, because we didn’t respond to this the way the “Greatest Generation” responded to their [much more perilous] crisis. We fumbled this. We forgot who we were. We did not honor either those who we lost on 9/11, or the heroes who responded to it on our behalf. And while everyone else will probably use the anniversary to honor the victims of 9/11, I thought it was equally important that someone takes a moment to say we have to be introspective, admit our failings and learn from our mistakes.
Ten years ago, when I drew that first cartoon, it was necessary to remind ourselves what was right about America, and to point out that whatever our failings, what they did was inexcusable. Ten years later, it’s time to stop saying “It’s too soon” for introspection.
DAVE COVERLY (“Speed Bump”):
I think acknowledging the 10th anniversary of the 9/11 attacks on the comics page is entirely appropriate, and akin to, say, a moment of silence at a public event. For one day, many of us are taking a break from what we normally [try to] do — make jokes -- and are speaking from the heart instead of the funny bone.
For me personally, it was a real challenge, as I don’t have specific characters in my cartoons, and I didn’t want to approach it was though it were a political cartoon. In my end, my idea wasn’t so much to say thank you to the heroes — which has been done and will be done by better cartoonists than I — but to reflect on the deep, lasting effect a single event had on our country. I’m sure my cartoon could actually be done 20, 30, and even 50 years from now as well...”
MARK TATULLI (“Lio”):
I really feel weird about this whole project now. I wanted to do something, but what I ended up with is incredibly unsatisfying to me. I don't think my strips bring anything to the table here. I think I'd just rather forget and get back to comic stripping. Comic strips are in their own world; a distraction from reality by design. In retrospect, I really don't think I had any place commenting on that true-to-life horror 10 years later.
TIM RICKARD (“Brewster Rockit”):
It was tricky to try to do a cartoon commemorating something that was so enormously tragic. Somehow, any dialogue seemed both over-the-top and yet inadequate. Complicating matters was how to get such snarky characters that populate my strip to have a respectful reaction to the memory of that event and not break character. I decided to take a point-of-view from space using the iconic twin lights from the WTC area with my two main characters in a quiet, reflective moment. The absence of dialog, for me, seemed to strike the right mood.
I was in the process of creating "Brewster Rockit" when 9/11 happened. I stopped working on the strip because nothing seemed funny to me after that. It was awhile before I started developing the strip again, eventually getting it syndicated in 2004.
LINCOLN PEIRCE (“Big Nate”):
I like to stay pretty far ahead of my deadlines, so by the time I heard that King was organizing something, I'd already finished my own 9/11 tribute. I felt strongly that I didn't want to create something where the characters step outside their regular roles to honor the victims and heroes; I wanted Nate and his friends to stay in character and acknowledge the significance and solemnity of the date in their own small way.
GENE WEINGARTEN (“Barney & Clyde”):
We came up with this idea in, literally, one minute. “Barney & Clyde,” above all, is an urban strip. So our thoughts instantly went to the two cities [New York and Washington], and voila.
BRIAN WALKER (“Hi & Lois”):
“Hi and Lois” is a warm, friendly, family strip, so we didn't want to do anything that would upset our readers. I discussed it with [artist] Chance Browne [son of “Hagar the Horrible” creator Dik Browne] and we decided to go with a positive, supportive salute to the heroes — the first-responders, as well as the many individuals who helped clean up, rebuild and defend our country after this tragic event. We incorporated the "Heroes wear many hats" strip that we did for the Thanksgiving tribute in 2001 and updated the message to include the "day of service and remembrance" theme of the anniversary. Chance did a great job with the artwork and deserves most of the credit for the final page.
I hope this provides an appropriate statement and I look forward to seeing how other cartoonists responded to this challenge on Sunday.