Drawing Fire: Cartoonist Discusses His Impending Service in Iraq

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By: Dave Astor

The Iraq War has been a prime subject for editorial cartoonists since 2003. During the next year or so, the Iraq War will be the prime subject of editorial cartoonist Vaughn Larson’s life.

Larson — cartoonist and news editor at The Review of Plymouth, Wis. — is being called to active duty April 19.

“We were put on alert back in January, so it wasn’t much of a surprise,” the Wisconsin Army National Guard platoon sergeant told E&P this afternoon. “They needed me, so I’m going.”

After about three months of training, Larson and his unit will be deployed in or near Iraq for a year. “We’ll be in a support role, but it’s possible we’ll find ourselves in hostile regions at times,” said Larson, 40, a Desert Storm veteran who has been in the Guard for more than 17 years.

After a year in the war zone and a period of demobilization, Larson hopes to return to The Review in about 18 months. The twice-weekly paper — which gave Larson a big going-away party last week — has promised that his job will be there when he comes back. “They’ve been nothing short of wonderful,” said the cartoonist/editor.

Larson, a Review staffer for 13 years, will try to do cartoons and stories for the paper while he’s in or near Iraq. “It all depends on what kind of time I have,” he said. “My first responsibility is to the unit.”

But if there’s free time, Larson will send content back to The Review. His cartoons also appear in the Wisconsin State Journal of Madison and The Freeman of Waukesha, Wis. “I can’t say I’m widely syndicated; I’m minutely syndicated,” he joked.

Larson might cartoon and write about the experiences of his unit, the heat in Iraq, and various other topics — adding that he’ll have a better idea once he gets there.

Most of his dispatches, Larson thinks, will be written in the third person. “I’m not really the story; I’m just one of the people in my unit,” he said. Larson added that “my view of the world is going to be very small” when with his unit in the war zone, meaning he won’t file the kind of breaking-news reports a roving correspondent would.

The platoon sergeant said he’s been in the Guard long enough to have an idea of what the military would allow him to say or not say in his work. “I probably won’t be drawing any cartoons of Muhammad,” he added wryly.

Larson — who periodically did a comic strip for a military paper while serving in Desert Storm more than 15 years ago — said one way he’s preparing to cartoon this time is by looking at the late Bill Mauldin’s work. Mauldin, of course, drew cartoons while serving in World War II.

What’s it been like to be a journalist in the Guard? “I’ve gotten quite a few comments,” Larson said. “As you know, the media and the military don’t necessarily have the best relations. Members of my unit have told me, ‘Oh, you lousy reporters.’ But it’s done in a good spirit.”

Larson’s deployment was first reported by EditorialCartoonists.com, the Web site of the Association of American Editorial Cartoonists.

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