Sept. 11 is etched in the memories of millions, and as the 10th anniversary nears, cartoonists are etching their thoughts and emotions about it into comic strips. With the anniversary falling on a Sunday, more than 90 cartoonists with five different syndicates have banded together to dedicate their strips on Sept. 11 to those whose lives were lost in the attacks. The strips will appear from the writers and artists of Family Circus, Mallard Fillmore, Candorville, Doonesbury and Pluggers, among others.
Jeff Keane, who co-authors The Family Circus, was immediately sold on the idea when approached by King Features, his syndicate.
"I knew that it was something that I think would work for Family Circus if I could find the approach for it," he told the Associated Press. "Because Family Circus is more of a realistic look at family, and I don't necessarily have a cartoon that is a 'joke a day,' but more sentimental and more emotional, it was easier for me to look at it that way."
Jim Borgman, the co-creator of Zits with Jerry Scott, about a permanent teenager and his parents, called the upcoming anniversary something that cannot be ignored.
"As a cartoonist, we would have all been wondering 'Is it okay to deal with this topic in our work?' Of course you can, but there is something comforting about the thought that a bunch of us are going to be struggling to say something on that day," he said. "My colleagues — cartoonists — are an astonishingly varied and talented group of people. I fully expect we'll see a broad range of approaches that day."
It's not the first time that cartoonists have banded together. Previous efforts have included topics like Earth Day or breast cancer awareness. But the scope of this endeavor is unprecedented, with five syndicates and the newspapers they serve participating: King Features, Creators Syndicate, Tribune Media Services, Universal Press Syndicate and Washington Post Writers Group — and the strips they provide to newspapers participating. The artists produce the strips independently.
The comics will be featured in a separate, full-color pullout section and online the same day at cartoonistsremember911.com. Afterward, exhibits are planned for the Newseum in Washington, San Francisco's Cartoon Art Museum, the Toonseum in Pittsburgh and the Museum of Comic and Cartoon Art in New York.
The tone is varied, said Brendan Burford, comics editor at King Features Syndicate, with some taking a sentimental tack, while others might try to make a reader laugh.
"After 9/11, the cartoonists organized and did a series of message strips around Thanksgiving weekend … but it was also reflective and sympathetic to everyone who suffered," he said.
"So 10 years later, a good number of those cartoonists already understood what the message needed to be," Burford said. "Some are taking the 'it's okay to laugh,' and others are taking the "it's okay to heal" path.
And it being Sunday, that gives the 93 cartoonists ample space to write, draw and be read.
Borgman and Scott said their strip will look at the anniversary through teenager Jeremy's eyes.
"Jerry Scott and I tried to think about what Sept. 11, 2001, would mean to a person who is now 16 years old — put aside the fact that Jeremy has been 15 or 16 for 13 years now," he said.
Tony Rubino, who writes Daddy's Home, was living in Washington on Sept. 11 and has been involved with Jeremy's Heroes, a charity founded on behalf of Jeremy Glick, one of the passengers killed aboard Flight 93 in Shanksville, Pa.
His strip for Sept. 11, which is drawn by Gary Markstein, drew inspiration from the passengers of Flight 93, whose actions helped bring the United Airlines flight down in a Pennsylvania field instead of its likely target, the White House or the U.S. Capitol.
"I went by their example and rather than reflect on something that was negative in the past, I thought 'What is the future?' " he said.
Rubino said that the cartoonists' efforts are bound to be noticed, even among the din of anniversary coverage and programming.
"The comics are different. I think it's a chance for people to see a perspective on this anniversary that they wouldn't see otherwise," he said. "They're going to get a million television programs, but this is a unique way of looking at it."