9/11 in the Comics

By Gar Smith
Friday September 23, 2011 - 08:26:00 AM

Commentary on the 9/11 Anniversary wasn't confined to the news pages and editorial section of our daily papers. It also flew smack into the middle of the Sunday comics. The various ways America's mainstream cartoonists addressed the anniversary tells us something about how the nation continues to process the trauma of that day. In most cases, the response was a retreat into unquestioning patriotism; in other cases, there was simply a sense of fatigue; in a few rare instances, there were surprising expressions of dissent. 

The San Francisco Chronicle set the tone in the September 11 Sunday comics by booting Doonesbury off its traditional keystone perch at the top of Page One. In its place, the Chron ran a large, single-panel from Blondie titled: "Never Forget." 


Sunday's 9/11 Blondie showed the Bumstead family, their neighbors and supporting characters gathered around an American flag flying on a pole in a suburban front yard. In the background, the mailman and Dag's greasy-spoon cook are saluting (indicating they once served in uniform) while everyone else holds their hands over their hearts — including Dagwood's boss, J.P. Dithers (clearly a draft-dodging, Capitalist chicken-hawk, like Dick Cheney). Many of the faces in the crowd wear expressions of sadness and incomprehension. Dagwood and the kids look stunned and empty-headed. Blondie, unaccountably, has her hands clasped in delight, as if she's looking at someone's adorable baby. The only other character wearing a smile is the Bumstead's dog, Daisy. (Perhaps she's admiring the pole.) 

The overall message reeks of Orwellian Doublethink, where "Never Forget" is actually understood to mean "Don't Try to Remember" and "Don't Ask Questions." 


The first line in Sunday's Doonesbury is "Don't turn it on, please." BD, the football-coach/amputee-war-vet turns his back on the TV coverage and reflects: "If you were there, you don't need to be reminded of what happened. We get to relive it every night. Go see 'Cowboys and Aliens' instead. Something that makes sense." 


Jeremy's parents have wrapped him up in a python-like group-hug. They look reverential; he looks uncomfortable. He asks impatiently: "Do we have to do this EVERY September 11th?" 

Wizard of Id 

Rodney and the King are floating towards the castle in a hot-air balloon. Rodney speaks admiringly of "Patriot's Day," where citizens gather "in schools, parks, community centers, places of worship" and, most importantly in "our hearts." The last panel shows the King's usually disrespectful rabble greeting him, not with stones, but with up-thrust candles. A flag flies at half-staff in the distance. 

Hagar the Horrible 

Hagar's son, Hamlet, asks: "Dad, what is a hero?" The red-bearded Viking explains that a hero is "loyal," "brave" (illustrated by Hagar's daughter Honi fighting a dragon) and "puts others first." And where are heroes found? "You can always find them in your heart and your memory," Hagar replies as he walks toward a sunset over a closing line that reads: "Remember our heroes! 9-11." 

Sally Forth 

Ted is sprawled on a sofa with Sally resting her head in his lap. They barely speak. "Quiet day," Sally says. They reach out and hold hands. "Sad day," they agree. And, in the last panel they simply say: "I love you, Ted." "I love you, too, Sal." 

Baby Blues 

The MacPhersons stand solemnly around baby Wren, who has assembled two mini-Twin Towers with wooden building blocks. No one speaks. 

Rhymes with Orange 

A simple line below the joke reads: "Remembering September 11 on the Tenth Anniversary." 


Lio and his father hold hands, standing against a solid black background with the words: "A toast to the memory of those who were lost ten years ago today.…" Lio is holding a mug of root-beer. His father is grasping a can of beer. 


Ray Billingsley offers up the Official Line as Curtis' father rolls out the clichés: "It was a day that would forever change America and the world." On 9/11 "terrorists coordinated attacks on American soil in an attempt to make us cower in submission." "What they didn't count on was that from the ashes, the people of America would arise stronger than ever!" And so: "We come together on this anniversary as a people, a nation, to remember those lost, that they didn't die in vain. That we may FOREVER remember." The last panel may — or may not — be ironic. It shows the entire Wilkins clan piled onto a sofa-chair in front of a TV set, staring, unblinking at the glowing box. 


This strip keeps it simple. The only commemoration is a small box at the bottom with two characters in firefighter garb and the message: "9-11. We all remember." 


At the end of his leash, Ozzie's pet mutt barks the word, "Heal." 

The Family Circus 

Little Jeffy is saying his bedtime prayers. After praying for his parents, siblings and relatives (who appear overhead in "thought balloons"), he pauses and adds another prayer. The final balloon shows a drawing of the Planet Earth 


Berkeley-linked Darrin Bell defiantly honors the First Amendment by taking near-heroic exception to the prevailing platitudes. He places Lemont Brown and BFF Susan Garcia on a rooftop. "What were you thinking about when you went to bed on 9/11?" Lemont asks. "I was praying I'd wake up… and it'd all be just a dream. What were you thinking…?" Lemont replies: "I was hoping we'd rise to the occasion and honor the dead, the survivors, and the heroes by failing to rebuild the Twin Towers, by curtailing our own civil liberties, by calling each other 'un-American,' by torturing prisoners, mocking the French, invading the wrong country, and having our airports inspect kids' and old peoples' underpants." Susan's response: "I don't think sarcasm's allowed on 9/11 day." 

The Elderberries 

The elderly denizens of the retirement home find a jigsaw puzzle with the New York City skyline. "At least 11 years old," one observes. "Looks like some pieces are missin'," says another. "Well, we'll just have to rebuild with what we have, I suppose." 

Apartment 3-G 

Paul drops down on one knee and proposes to Lu Ann. The crowd begins to chant "Yes, yes, yes!" The final panel reads: "Your friends at Apartment 3-G join you in honoring the memory of September 11th, after ten years." 

Beetle Bailey 

Beetle looks into a barrack's door and asks: "Where is everyone?" "They went to remember the victims of 9/11," says a fellow soldier who is emptying a trashcan. "I do that every day," he weeps. The rest of the strip is taken up with a drawing of smoke pouring from the Twin Towers and each of the strip's characters (including Sarge's dog) in tears. "All of us are suffering for the friends and families of those who were killed at the World Trade Center on September 11, 2001." 

Barney Google 

Snuffy Smith is reading a newspaper headline about the Tenth Anniversary. In a string of touching poetry, he tells his nephew the "hole left in my heart by the victims of 9/11" is "deeper than ol' man Dowdy's pond, bigger than the rock on top of Mount Tippy-Top, tugs on you stronger than a big bass on yore fishin' pole… an' it lasts longer than ferever!!" 

Funky Winkerbean 

Two young passengers in a plane are flying into New York where their high school band is scheduled to perform at Carnegie Hall. "It doesn't really sink in," the young man says, "until you see that skyline." But the New York skyline outside the plane's window still includes the Twin Towers. The last panel is the grabber. It's ten years later, the young man is now the plane's pilot, the Twin Towers are gone, and the man's forlorn expression doesn't require words. 

Hi and Lois 

This strip stresses the positive with the message "Heroes wear many hats." Lois tells her children: "Today is a national day of service and remembrance." Each character grabs a fire hat, nurses' cap, a soldier's helmet and proclaims: "Hats off to our heroes. And remember to volunteer." 

Mallard Fillmore 

The strip's titular duck pens a pro-military note against a drawing of the burning towers: "On September 11, 2001, 11-year-old Aaron Byers' life changed forever… That we the day he decided to become a US Marine. Thank you, Aaron and all of the other boys and girls who've grown up to become our heroes." 

Arctic Circle 

Three penguins ask the question that must have confronted these comic-strip artists: "How do you pay tribute to something so monumental in a way that doesn't trialize it?" "You could try a minute's silence," says another character as he walks slowly away from his morning's work — an ice sculpture of two towers. 


The first panel features a US flag. The second panel shows Marvin's toy fire-engine. The last six panels show Marvin building a replica of the twin towers with colored blocks. 

Mary Worth 

Mary calls a friend in New York and leaves a message on her answering machine: "I want you to know I'm thinking of you… and that Michael's looking down from heaven, sending you love and watching over you… his dear mother!" 

Mother Goose & Grimm 

To the left, a quartet of firemen is approaching a fire hydrant to attach a hose; to the right, Grimm and a posse of other dogs. Grimm speaks: "It's the anniversary of 9/11…. Please, you first."