Newspaper cartoonists plan Sept. 11 anniversary tribute

Friday, September 2, 2011 | 5:57 p.m. CDT; updated 6:11 p.m. CDT, Thursday, September 29, 2011
This comic strip, released by King Features Syndicate, depicts a scene from the Family Circus comic strip. With the 10th anniversary of the terror attacks 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.

PHILADELPHIA — Sept. 11 is etched in the memories of millions, and as the 10th anniversary nears, cartoonists are etching their thoughts and emotions about 9/11 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. Sept. 11-themed 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, co-creator of "Zits" with Jerry Scott, about a permanent teenager and his parents, called the coming anniversary something that cannot be ignored.

"As a cartoonist we would have all been wondering 'Is it OK 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 is not the first time 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.

The comics, each produced independently by its artist, will be featured in a separate, full-color pullout section and online the same day. Afterward, exhibits on the strips are planned for the Newseum in Washington, D.C., San Francisco's Cartoon Art Museum, the Toonseum in Pittsburgh and the Museum of Comic and Cartoon Art in New York.

The tones of the strips are varied, said Brendan Burford, comics editor at King Features Syndicate, with some taking a sentimental tack, while others may 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 OK to laugh,' and others are taking the 'it's OK 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, D.C., 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, Pennsylvania.

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 on 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? What I've done, my particular strip for 9/11 this year, is a look forward rather than a look back," 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."

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