By Joseph Andrew Lee

NEW LONDON, Conn. – Cartoons have a unique power to connect.

Caricature drawings can make us laugh about and connect with our inner selves; animated films help us connect with family, and political cartoons can make us think about our world from a different perspective—connecting us to the rest of society.

With this potential for connection in mind, four cartoonists from the National Cartoonists Society joined with the USO and traveled to Rhode Island and Connecticut in an effort to draw a connection with members of America’s Navy and Coast Guard.

Two-time Pulitzer Prize-winning political cartoonist Michael Ramirez was joined by Mad Magazine caricature artist Sam Viviano, Sony Pictures Animation story artist Kasey Fagerquist and “The Broadside” cartoon creator Jeff Bacon. Together, they represent a broad stroke of American cartoonists armed with pads, pencils and loaded with smiles, seeking to bring joy to our men and women in uniform.

“Our job is to draw cartoons for them and make them smile,” said Bacon, creator of “The Broadside” and “The Greenside,” which are published in Navy Times and Marine Corps Times, respectively. “It’s something we’ve done for over 10 years now with the USO and we believe the time spent connecting with these service members on a deeper level than a smile and a handshake—actually spending 10 to 15 minutes getting to know them … is invaluable.”

The crew of the U.S. Coast Guard Cutter Eagle are introduced to four cartoonists from the National Cartoonists Society brought on board by the USO Saturday for a day sail through the Long Island Sound. USO Photo by Joseph Andrew Lee
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The crew of the U.S. Coast Guard Cutter Eagle are introduced to four cartoonists from the National Cartoonists Society brought on board by the USO Saturday for a day sail through the Long Island Sound. USO Photo by Joseph Andrew Lee

A classic Sam Viviano caricature done for a Navy Corpsman serving at the Naval Heath Clinic New England. USO Photo by Joseph Andrew Lee
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A classic Sam Viviano caricature done for a Navy Corpsman serving at the Naval Heath Clinic New England. USO Photo by Joseph Andrew Lee

Sony Pictures Animation story artist Kasey Fagerquist, new to the USO National Cartoonists Society tour, drew dozens of original works for service members over the two-day tour of the northeast. USO Photo by Joseph Andrew Lee
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Sony Pictures Animation story artist Kasey Fagerquist, new to the USO National Cartoonists Society tour, drew dozens of original works for service members over the two-day tour of the northeast. USO Photo by Joseph Andrew Lee

Navy Petty Officer Third Class Elvin Velez and his wife Kim show off their caricature drawing done by Mad Magazine contributor Sam Viviano during a USO barbecue at U.S. Coast Guard Station Point Judith Friday. USO Photo by Joseph Andrew Lee
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Navy Petty Officer Third Class Elvin Velez and his wife Kim show off their caricature drawing done by Mad Magazine contributor Sam Viviano during a USO barbecue at U.S. Coast Guard Station Point Judith Friday. USO Photo by Joseph Andrew Lee

The Broadside creator Jeff Bacon has a laugh with a member of the USCGC Eagle crew as he climbs down the ship's riggings. USO Photo by Joseph Andrew Lee
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The Broadside creator Jeff Bacon has a laugh with a member of the USCGC Eagle crew as he climbs down the ship’s riggings. USO Photo by Joseph Andrew Lee

National Cartoonists Society artists Jeff Bacon, left, Sam Viviano, center, and Michael Ramirez, right, enjoy a cruise around Point Judith with the United States Coast Guard Friday during a USO tour there. USO Photo by Joseph Andrew Lee
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National Cartoonists Society artists Jeff Bacon, left, Sam Viviano, center, and Michael Ramirez, right, enjoy a cruise around Point Judith with the United States Coast Guard Friday during a USO tour there. USO Photo by Joseph Andrew Lee

Sam Viviano, left, and Jeff Bacon, right, draw caricatures and cartoons for Navy corpsmen and nurses at Naval Health Clinic New England Friday. USO Photo by Joseph Andrew Lee
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Sam Viviano, left, and Jeff Bacon, right, draw caricatures and cartoons for Navy corpsmen and nurses at Naval Health Clinic New England Friday. USO Photo by Joseph Andrew Lee

Navy Hospital Corpsmen Aaron Salazar and Kayla Deveno from Naval Health Clinic New England enjoy having their caricature drawn by Mad Magazine contributor Sam Viviano, Friday morning during the USO National Cartoonists Society tour of New England Navy and Coast Guard installations. USO Photo by Joseph Andrew Lee
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Navy Hospital Corpsmen Aaron Salazar and Kayla Deveno from Naval Health Clinic New England enjoy having their caricature drawn by Mad Magazine contributor Sam Viviano, Friday morning during the USO National Cartoonists Society tour of New England Navy and Coast Guard installations. USO Photo by Joseph Andrew Lee

Unlike typical USO handshake tours where celebrity entertainers may get to spend a few fleeting moments with an individual service member—perhaps shaking a hand, taking a selfie or signing an autograph—the cartoonists have a captive audience. Their sketch subjects have to pose for the drawing, so cartoonists and service members have time to get to know each other and the subjects often talk about their personal lives, career aspirations and educational goals.

The first stop for the four cartoonists was the Naval Health Clinic New England (NHCNE) in Newport, Rhode Island, where the cartoonists drew dozens of caricatures and original art for nurses and corpsmen stationed there.

“It was such a great opportunity to get the sailors out of their day-to-day grind and bring them something fun,” said Chief Bobby Shah, Behavioral Health LCPO at NHCNE. “All-in-all, it was a great morale booster.“

Day one concluded with a barbecue at U.S. Coast Guard Station Point Judith in Narragansett, Rhode Island. The following day, the Coast Guard invited the cartoonists aboard America’s Tall Ship, the U.S. Coast Guard Cutter Eagle, to spend time drawing cartoons for the Eagle crew, as well as cadets from the Coast Guard Academy training on board.

“The Coast Guard is one element of our military that we haven’t had many opportunities to visit,” Ramirez said. “We’ve gone out on different size boats and we’ve seen various lighthouses and Coast Guard stations and … we’re honored to be invited on board the Eagle. This trip has just been perfect.”

“I couldn’t be more fulfilled and satisfied having had a great experience,” Viviano said. “As someone who didn’t know as much about the Coast Guard as I should have, today has been a great education for me.”

“I have a whole new respect for the Coast Guard,” Fagerquist said. “I hope we brought them some fun, and I hope they know that we appreciate what they are out here doing.”