It is rare to read a tribute to a living cartoonist. But this cartoonist merits some praise.
Jeff Keane of Family Circus fame (AKA Jeffy, but all grown up), and venerable President of the National Cartoonists Society for four years, handed off the gavel (or whatever cartoon Presidents hand off…maybe an inkwell) to Tom Richmond, one of the most accomplished caricaturists in America. It was like Brett Favre passing the torch to Aaron Rodgers, or Joe Montana to Steve Young.
Quality to quality.
Tom is a fantastic guy and a supporter of the troops (he has been to Walter Reed, Bethesda, Landstuhl, Kuwait, Iraq and Afghanistan to visit and draw for the troops), and the society of professional cartoonists is in great hands.
But before the memory of Jeff Keane’s tenure fades away (cartoonists have short attention spans), it should be noted that he had a bigger impact on troop morale than any other cartoonist in the business since Vietnam, and I’ll stand by that statement.
It was Jeff who brought the “Support the Troops” initiative to life. In 2005, the National Cartoonists Society (NCS) decided to renew its tradition of entertaining the troops – a practice dating back to WWII and continuing through all major conflicts – and Jeff became the program’s biggest advocate and spokesman. He personally contacted the most famous cartoonists in the country and encouraged them to participate, and they responded. Many of the artists who draw the strips you see in the funny pages hopped on airplanes, helicopters and ships to let the troops know their efforts are appreciated.
(Kuwait, about to fly to Iraq)
They flew into war zones. Partnering with the USO, cartoonists have visited the troops in Iraq and Afghanistan, with more trips coming up.
(Jeff Keane in Iraq)
They visited wounded troops at all the major military hospitals, and several VA medical centers around the country.
(released photo – Brooke AMC)
They made people laugh and feel appreciated.
(Ray Alma at the USO’s Warrior Center in Landstuhl, Germany)
And in the process, the hundred or so cartoonists who participated got to know the incredible men and women who wear the uniform and represent the country in far away, dangerous places. Friendships were made. Email buddies were established, and a few gifts were exchanged.
Quite a legacy, if you ask me. But more than just establishing a program, he walked the walk. He personally traveled to all of the major military hospitals in the U.S and in Germany. He visited two war zones. He designed and created the first ever NCS challenge coin. He even flew out to sea to visit the crew of a Navy ship.
He did it all.
He re-established a culture of giving back that will endure for many, many years, and that is something to be proud of. Well done, Mr. President.
I mean, Jeffy.