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News: Doonesbury Lists War Dead
posted May 30, 2004

May 30, 2004 -- In perhaps the most provocative statement made by a cartoonist during the current fighting in Iraq, Garry Trudeau used his May 30 Memorial Day weekend Sunday slot for Doonesbury to publish a list of United States soldiers who have lost their lives in the fighting. The approximately 700-name list, ending at deaths occurring in late April, took up six somber panels in a strip that despite a few protests from readers was run by the vast majority of the clients who purchase it, according to Trudeau's syndicate.

Building in some ways on a storyline that saw one of the strip's original characters, the football coach and Army reservist BD, lose a leg in the conflict, the cartoonist was careful to stress that despite the politicizing of events surrounding any discussion of war, his effort was to keep attention focused on the event rather than making a specific commentary. "We can't tune it out," he told ABC News, which had made similar news reading names of soldiers on its Nightline program in an event coordinated after Trudeau had come up with the idea for his Sunday strip. "We have to remain mindful of the terrible losses that individual soldiers are suffering in our name."

One unintended consequence is that Trudeau's effort forced many papers to look at their own reportage of those who have died in the Iraqi conflict. The Palm Beach Post fielded letters from readers that questioned why this information has to be published in a comic strip rather than the front pages of the newspapers carrying Doonesbury. Many newspapers carry reports of deaths, but only a few have gone so far as breaking down that information into categories like combative versus non-combative casualties. Still fewer have been doing summary work of the kind found in Trudeau's strip, a stark reminder of war's costs on a backwards-looking holiday weekend.

Originally Appeared in The Comics Journal