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Visiting cartoonists draw on troops’ experiences

Rick Kirkman, a syndicated cartoonist known best for the Baby Blues comic strip, sketches out a cartoon for Army Sgt. Jesse Stephenson, a Military Policemen assigned to the 58th Military Police Company. Kirkman, along with seven other professional cartoonists broke out their sketchbooks and handed out custom drawings on the spot to wounded troops during the USO sponsored tour.

BEN BLOKER / S&S

By STEVE MRAZ | STARS AND STRIPES Published: October 2, 2008

LANDSTUHL, Germany — The funnies came to Landstuhl Regional Medical Center on Wednesday afternoon.

Eight cartoonists on a United Service Organizations tour used their pens and sketch pads to brighten the day of troops recovering at the hospital.

The group included internationally syndicated cartoonists, military cartoonists, editorial cartoonists and award-winning caricaturists from around America who are all members of the National Cartoonist Society.

From Jeff Keane of "Family Circus" fame to Chip Bok, an editorial cartoonist at the Akron Beacon-Journal, the group brought enthusiasm and sincerity for its visit.

"I think it’s just kind of our way of paying back what the soldiers have done for us," said Bruce Higdon of "Punderstatements." "It’s just a small thing to be able to come and draw a picture, draw a caricature or draw something, just shake their hand and tell them thank you."

Rick Kirkman of the "Baby Blues" comic strip had high hopes for how the wounded would react to the drawings they planned to hand out.

"We hope they don’t laugh enough to split their stitches," he said.

The group started its visit at the Landstuhl dining facility, where it ran into Army Lt. Gen. Ken Hunzeker, V Corps commander. Several of the cartoonists drew sketches of the shaved-headed general while they chatted during lunch. Bok took time to pen a caricature of a wounded Romanian soldier, who was confined to a wheelchair and eating lunch with his wife.

When it came time for the cartoonists to visit the wounded on the wards, they split into groups of four. The men fanned out at the foot of the hospital beds with their pens and pads in hand and engaged the wounded in conversation.

Pulitzer Prize-winning cartoonist Mike Peters of "Mother Goose and Grimm" got Army Sgt. Jesse Stephenson to open up. Peters, who served as an artist for an Army psychological operations unit in the late 1960s, spent so much time talking to the soldier he hurried to finish his sketch.

Stephenson, who took shrapnel in his legs after an ammunition accident in Iraq and arrived at Landstuhl on Wednesday morning, told the men about his 1-month-old daughter, Ruby. As the artists peered at Stephenson for their drawings, the soldier said his wife would get a kick out of their work because she is a graphic designer.

When the cartoonists were finished with their pieces, they handed them over to Stephenson, individually thanking him for his service and shaking his hand. Stephenson broke into a wide grin.

"You guys are awesome," Stephenson said. "You guys are awesome."

"You’re awesome," Peters said.