Q: What you and your fellow cartoonists are doing on your trip to visit the troops is fantastic. How did that all come about?
A: Although he would be quick to try and pass off some of the credit to others, the driving force behind the National Cartoonist Society’s visits to wounded soldiers, veteran’s hospitals and more recently overseas troop locations is Navy Times/Broadside cartoonist Jeff Bacon.
Jeff is a retired naval captain and started his strip “Broadside” in the Navy Times in 1986 while still on active duty. The strip is about the lighter side of life in the Navy, and is well known among service men and women. After joining the NCS and attending a couple of Reubens, Jeff stood up at the business meeting in 2005 and asked what the NCS was doing for our military who were risking their lives so we could draw cartoons and enjoy our way of life. Jeff isn’t the kind of guy to just ask what can be done… he was challenged to come up with something that could be done and he rose to the task magnificently.
Initially there was no funding, so local cartoonists were organized to visit wounded warriors at places like Walter Reed and the Bathesda Naval Hospital in DC and the Brooke Army Medical Center in San Antonio, where many of the soldiers injured in the combat zone get treated. Visits were also organized at smaller VA hospitals in other parts of the country. Cartoonists paid for their own expenses at first and the cost prohibited larger trips or travel, but the visits were very well received. The NCS was very much behind his efforts, especially president Jeff Keane (The Family Circus), in no small part because his father and The Family Circus‘s creator Bil Keane visited troops with other cartoonists during the Vietnam war. In fact the NCS was really created out of cartoonists trips to visit the soldiers and do “chalk talks” back in the 1940′s, so this was the organization’s real roots.
Eventually Jeff (Bacon) sought funding for the visits, and started trying to get enough financial support for a trip overseas to Landstuhl, Germany and the medical facilities there where the injured soldiers go immediately from the theater after being hurt. In October of last year, Jeff managed to raise enough funds all on his own to sponsor a trip for eight NCS cartoonists to DC/Landstuhl. I was one of those who went on that trip.
Our time with the soldiers on that visit made a real impression on the USO and the military brass there. We have been told numerous times that of all the celebrities that come and visit them, our group has been the most talked about and best received. I suspect it’s because we provide a lot more than just a photo op and a few minutes of banter. We spend time with these folks and create something unique on the spot, just for them, while we get to really hear their story and let them know how much we appreciate their service and sacrifice.
The USO took notice and through Jeff’s continued efforts and those of some of the top leaders of the USO, later trips have been sponsored almost entirely by the USO and the Entertainment section of the military, including another to Landstuhl with a different group of cartoonists last March. The cartoonists are going to be making regular trips overseas thanks to the success of our first few visits. This trip into the combat zone (“down range” as they say), which includes the original eight cartoonists from the first overseas tour and the additions of Garry Trudeau and Mike Ramierez, would not have been possible without the major involvement and sponsorship of the USO.
More importantly, none of it would be possible without the tireless efforts of Jeff Bacon. Thank you, Jeff.
Thanks to Grant Jonen for the question. If you have a question you want answered for the mailbag about cartooning, illustration, MAD Magazine, caricature or similar, e-mail me and I’ll try and answer it here!