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April 21, 2004

What happens when someone you've known for years is almost killed in Iraq

I've known BD for over thirty years. He's a US Army reservist who has recently been on a tour of duty in Iraq where this week he was one of the hundreds of US soldiers who have been seriously injured by Iraqi insurgents. Such was the severity of the attack, BD, a College sports coach, had to have his left leg amputated in the field. When I saw the image in the paper of BD upon a stretcher I had to sit down to take it in.

That I'm less than thirty myself may give a clue as to BD's identity: he's a regular in the Doonesbury cartoon strip syndated around the world. That he is fictional makes little difference to the shock I felt: when you see these characters day in day out (I have Doonesbury in my favourites bar in my browser) they are almost indistinguishable from your 'real' acquaintances. It is not a little unlike a soap opera, yet to manage such depth of character from four frames per day is little short of genius; it is no wonder that Garry Trudeau has won the Pulitzer more than once.

For years I never read the strip: it didn't seem funny without knowing the characters. It was only as I was getting bored rigid at work several years back in a former job that I stumbled upon the Doonesbury website and with it, then almost 30 years of strips. Each morning, as lunchtime seemed further and further off I would sneak into the Doonesbury Townhall and work methodically through the years - from Trudeau's 'Bull Tales' whilst he was a student at Yale (and a contemporary of a certain George W Bush), through Watergate, Vietnam, Carter, Reagan and into the nineties. It was what got me through the day: my new found friends at Walden College.

Not long ago an intern from the US started a placement in my office. When I discovered, whilst chatting on the lawn of the local park one lunchtime, that Trudeau was a close family friend I almost fell over. So I am a fan.

Still, to return to today's installment: what made the papers was not the daring of almost killing a character, a staunch Republican at that, in so political a fashion, but whether the papers syndicating the strip would run the Friday issue with the words 'Son of a bitch!' in it. Call me European Guardian-reading liberal, but surely some values have been seriously warped when such comparatively mild language is employed sparingly to so suitable a storyline?

I am certainly not the only reader/fan knocked sidewise by the current story: if you visit the site and head for the 'Blowback' section you see plenty of people with a similar reaction to mine. I'll finish with a quote from two:

T.K.Enright, SLC, UT I don't think Trudeau's ever done anything this seriously. The death of Andy and Dick were both done with a bit of humor (Dick's lingering obsession with ornithology; Andy's exaggerated eulogy). And Ray's Gulf War injury was, too ("Hey, this cheeseburger's a celebrity.") Despite the inexplicable hostility some comics fans feel towards GBT, he handles drama better than any of the soap opera strips.

To me, the helmet coming off today was a bigger deal than the leg. BD never takes his helmet off--not for sex or anything. I vaguely remeber BD once saying removing the helmet was a delicate medical procedure. That Trudeau is so willing to defy his own conventions says a lot about how important the storyline is in the strip's history.


Payton Smith, Washington DC
Wow... The current storyline with BD wounded in Iraq is the most compelling I have seen in more than 30 years of Doonesbury strips. It's a stroke of genius to put the reader inside BD's head while who-knows-what is happening around him -- it captures the confusion, frenzy, and fear of the battlefield in an amazing way for such a simple artistic medium. Very moving.

April 21, 2004 in Literature, Observations, Recollections | Permalink


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Assuredly, you will remain a true and devoted friend to BD and follow his recovery and assimilation back to life without war.

On behalf of all Americans, we love and support our soldiers, even if we disagree regarding their presence.


Posted by: Christine | Apr 21, 2004 10:14:13 PM