Cartoonist Garry Trudeau (search) apologized and several newspapers cautioned readers or refused to run Sunday's "Doonesbury" (search) strip, which showed a man's head on a platter, two weeks after an American was beheaded in Iraq.
Although Sunday's strip was unrelated to the war and was drawn weeks before Nicholas Berg (search) was beheaded, Trudeau said the strip was "unfortunately overtaken by events."
"To 'hand someone his head' is a common expression, not normally associated with actual violence," Trudeau said in a statement on his Web site. "I regret the poor timing, and apologize to anyone who was offended by an image that is now clearly inappropriate."
In the strip, the character Joanie, angry about a friend being fired from a university coaching job, begins daydreaming. In the last frame, she's pictured carrying a platter with the head of the university president on it. He says, "What's this?" She responds, "A good start."
Most newspapers carried the cartoon but many — including The Miami Herald, the Richmond Times-Dispatch, The Columbus (Ohio) Dispatch, The Milwaukee Journal-Sentinel, The Star Tribune of Minneapolis, the St. Paul Pioneer Press, The Boston Globe and The Atlanta Journal-Constitution — wrote accompanying editor's notes or columns explaining that the cartoon was distributed weeks in advance and publishing deadlines made it difficult to substitute another strip.
Universal Press Syndicate, based in Kansas City, Mo., had notified newspapers of the strip's contents and offered a substitute strip after video of Berg's beheading was released.
The Burlington (Vt.) Free Press and The Blade of Toledo, Ohio, chose to substitute an old "Doonesbury" on Sunday; The Dallas Morning News and the Houston Chronicle did not run the strip.
The Washington (N.C.) Daily News chose to cover the final panel of the cartoon.
"Doonesbury," a Pulitzer Prize-winning comic strip, appears in 1,400 newspapers nationwide.