SAN MARCOS, CA—Greg Evans, creator of the popular Luann comic strip, continues to struggle to find the right way to address the events of Sept. 11 and their aftermath, the cartoonist reported from his home Monday.
"I definitely feel an obligation to address this tragedy—through Luann's eyes," said Evans, referring to Luann DeGroot, the inquisitive and outspoken teen whose adventures appear daily in more than 300 newspapers nationwide. "It's a real high-wire act: entertaining, informing, and providing emotional support to my readers all at the same time. But it's a challenge I have no choice but to rise to."
"I'm so lucky to have this public forum," Evans continued. "With it, however, comes responsibility. I must not let my readers down."
Though he has been wrestling with it for weeks, Evans has yet to integrate the current crisis into either the plotline about Luann's crush on Aaron Hill or the subplot about Bernice's budding romance with Zane.
"Zane is the strip's first character in a wheelchair, so I think it would send a terrible message to suddenly drop his storyline," Evans said. "I definitely have to find a way to work this in, though. Like the rest of the country, the gang at Pitts High School would certainly be forever changed by what's happened."
"So many possibilities are running through my mind," Evans continued. "Should I have Luann talk to Bernice and Delta about this? Or should I provide guidance for the teens in the form of Miss Phelps or Mr. Fogarty? Should Luann be tough, or should she show vulnerability? These are the sorts of questions that, as an artist, I grapple with every day."
Evans has also considered using Luann's parents as a means of broaching the subject.
"I was thinking Luann's dad could call one of his dreaded family meetings," Evans said. "Then, instead of lecturing the kids about dragging mud through the house, he could hold a little 'rap session,' where he and Mrs. DeGroot encouraged the kids to talk about their feelings toward what America is going through. Still, my instincts tell me that's not the way to go. When I hit on the right take, I'll know it in my gut."
One of the most widely respected names in the comic-strip community, Evans has earned a reputation for his refusal to back down from relevant social issues. According to United Feature Syndicate's promotional packet, Evans "has been praised for his amusing, insightful portrayals of the issues that teens face—everything from reaching puberty to dealing with peer pressure, drugs, and alcohol."
"Fortunately, the folks over at United Feature Syndicate trust me and give me a tremendous amount of creative latitude," Evans said. "I'm very lucky to be working with supportive people who respect and understand my vision, and who let me say whatever it is that's on my mind."
"Despite the supportive atmosphere, Evans has yet to make his 'statement,' unable to decide which aspect of the nation's ongoing turmoil to address.
Not only are there the deaths of thousands, but there's the war and fears of more attacks," Evans said. "Perhaps I'm better off dealing with such a momentous topic in a book, where I'd have unlimited space. But that would mean the work wouldn't reach my readers now, when they need it most."
To avoid alienating his more sensitive readers, Evans said he would avoid specifics, just as he avoided using the words "menstruation" and "period" in his memorable series of strips, "Luann Gets Her First."
"Instead of a scary word like 'anthrax,' I'd say 'affliction' or 'illness,'" Evans said. "People would know what I meant."
For all his determination to address the current crisis, Evans admitted that a small part of him is tempted to not mention it at all.
"Maybe an alternate universe where this never happened is exactly what the American people need," Evans said. "In Luann, I could give them that escape, that safe haven from all the horror. But in my heart of hearts, I feel like that would be taking the easy way out."
Evans said he takes comfort in the fact that he is not alone in his struggle.
"This is something that all of us in the comics community are dealing with right now," Evans said. "I've talked about it with a number of my colleagues, including [Funky Winkerbean creator] Tom Batiuk and [Arlo & Janis creator] Jimmy Johnson. Jimmy asked me how I planned to make sense of this all, and I told him, 'I don't know, Jimmy. I just don't know.' He replied, 'Greg, none of us do.'"
Added Evans: "I feel like the eyes of the whole country are on me. And I don't want to do the wrong thing. When I was just a high-school art teacher, I never dreamed I'd have so much power and responsibility."