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Cartoonist’s work on wartime trauma garners an award

Medicine@Yale, 2008 - May June


In April, cartoonist Garry Trudeau, of “Doonesbury” fame, received the annual Mental Health Research Advocacy Award from the Department of Psychiatry for his portrayal of the physical and psychological challenges faced by soldiers returning from the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan. Trudeau, who holds undergraduate and master’s degrees from Yale, was honored at the department’s Neuroscience 2008 Symposium, “Stress, Resilience and Recovery.”

In a prolific series of strips, Trudeau has chronicled the wartime experiences of B.D., a venerable “Doonesbury” character who was modeled on Trudeau’s classmate Brian Dowling, a legendary Yale quarterback in the late 1960s. The character made his debut in 1968 in the opening installment of “Bull Tales,” Trudeau’s first published strip, which appeared in the Yale Daily News in the late 1960s. The strip’s name changed to “Doonesbury” in 1970, when it was also syndicated in about two dozen other newspapers.

In an April 2004 strip, B.D. lost part of one leg—and his trademark football helmet—in an explosion; his physical rehabilitation, which included being fitted for a prosthetic leg, is collected in a book entitled The Long Road Home.

In 2006, B.D. was revealed to be suffering from post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD), and his struggles with the disorder are depicted with Trudeau’s inimitable mix of humor, poignancy and indignation in a second book, The War Within.

Proceeds from sales of the books, which feature forewords by Republican presidential candidate John McCain and General Richard B. Myers, former chairman of the joint chiefs of staff, benefit Fisher House, a “home away from home” that provides temporary lodging in 38 facilities across the country to more than 10,000 military families in need.

In 1975, Trudeau was the first comic-strip artist to receive the Pulitzer Prize for editorial cartooning. He was elected to the American Academy of Arts and Sciences in 1993.

“The Mental Health Research Advocacy Award is given annually by the Department of Psychiatry to someone who has made an important contribution to the effort to advance research designed to improve the lives of people with mental illness,” says Yale PTSD researcher John H. Krystal, M.D., Robert L. McNeil, Jr. Professor of Psychiatry. “Mr. Trudeau provides millions of Americans with a gut-level appreciation of the impact of PTSD on soldiers and their families as well as the real opportunities for obtaining help with the readjustment process. In so doing, he is helping to raise awareness about the importance of PTSD as a national challenge, where investment in treatment and research could have an important and lasting impact.”