Losing a Leg on the Funny Pages

April is Limb Loss Awareness Month and I have enjoyed tremendously the Amputee Coalition of America’s #ShowYourMettle campaign on Facebook.  The messages conveyed by individuals sharing photos of their prosthetics is inspiring.  The campaign also reminded me that in April 2004, quite coincidentally, two separate comic strips featured traumatic limb loss.  In both comics’ storylines, the character who lost a limb was a soldier in Iraq losing his leg after the detonation of an improvised explosive device (IED).  In Doonesbury, B.D., one of the original characters from the strip who first appeared in the 1960, is the one who loses his leg.  In Get Fuzzy, we are introduced to a new character, William, the cousin of the main character Rob Wilco; after this storyline, William does not re-appear in the comic.

In 2004, I was working for Landmine Survivors Network and was a habitual reader of the comics page.  Funky Winkerbean (which was not carried by the Washington Post) covered the landmine issue extensively with a character working in mine action in Afghanistan who narrowly avoided injury (the entire series is available for reading here),  but Doonesbury and Get Fuzzy went a step further.

As a complete confession: I don’t read too many comics anymore – my current favorites are Brewster Rocket and Pearls Before Swine and I try to make time for Dilbert as well, but am usually disappointed (Elbonia adventures excepted).  I also never “got” Get Fuzzy.  My brother likes is it a lot, but I couldn’t get into it.  I was raised on Bloom County and The Far Side and (dating myself here) can remember when Garfield was almost funny. I don’t miss Calvin and Hobbes as much as some do, but I always wondered what became of Spaceman Spiff when he got to college. In 2004, before we had Facebook,  I read almost every comic on the newspaper page and was struck by the Get Fuzzy storyline more than Doonesbury’s.

Garry Trudeau has gotten a lot of mileage out of the B.D. story arc. Through B.D., Trudeau has documented the dysfunction of the Veterans Administration, the benefits of peer support and the everyday complications that come with being a below-knee amputee.  B.D. has maintained a deadpan humor: when he brought up the injury to his wife, he asked if she remembered the “fifteen pounds he was trying to lose.” Trudeau has also become an outspoken supporter of veterans of Iraq and Afghanistan and has been recognized for his efforts.  In April 2004, he made the media rounds to discuss the storyline and what B.D.’s injury could mean.

Darby Conley, the creator of Get Fuzzy, did no publicity around the limb loss storyline.  He refused to talk about it, saying the images “spoke for themselves.”  It’s never been confirmed, but I am certain that Conley has a cousin or close friend (possibly even named William) who lost a leg in Iraq and the single week storyline was his way of talking about it.  Over the course of the week, Conley takes aim at the absence of any sort of welcome for the injured soldiers returning from Iraq and also manages to put in a plug or two for the Boston Red Sox (in 2004, five months after these comics ran, the Sox finally broke “the Curse of Babe Ruth” and won the World Series) and Dunkin Donuts.  But in a panel in Friday’s comic, Conley has both Rob and William looking at the place where William’s leg once was in silence, breaking the tension as Rob tries to tell William everything will be okay and William telling Rob not to worry about him.

Capture

It’s a scene that must have played out for thousands of young men and women who returned from Iraq, grievously injured by explosives but saved by advances in combat medicine, and their loved ones as they tried to make sense of this new situation. Because we see B.D.’s rehabilitation and return to his family and home, we know he turned out okay.  We also know B.D. is a fictional character.  Today, 12 years later, I still look at the Get Fuzzy panels and wonder how William is doing.  I hope he’s okay and hasn’t put on too much weight from the crullers.

Michael P. Moore

April 26, 2016

moe (at) landminesinafrica (dot) org

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