One day in January 1986 I finished my cartoon by late morning--something whimsical on NASA's space launch and the first teacher in space--and left early for lunch. On the car radio I heard the horrifying news that the space shuttle had exploded, killing all seven members of its crew. I quickly headed back to the office, hoping I would be able to come up with an image that could respond appropriately to this terrible tragedy. Soon after I got back I was told that The Observer was putting out a special afternoon edition on the disaster; if I wanted something in that edition I had forty-five minutes to do it. I'm not sure how it happened, but I settled immediately on a simple image of an American eagle gazing into the heavens with a single tear falling from its eye.
The drawing was in that afternoon's special edition and ran again in the next morning's paper. When I arrived at the office the following day, I found a bouquet of flowers in front of my door, left by some readers. People started calling in tears, thanking me for the drawing. The Observer overwhelmed with requests for reprints, ran a notice at the bottom of the editorial page telling readers that large reproductions of my drawing were available; by ten o'clock the first morning all five hundred were gone. Another thousand were printed and were gone by 2 p.m. that same day, followed by yet another thousand that were gone by 4 p.m., even though people had to drive downtown to The Observer lobby to pick them up. The reprints were then made available by mail as well.
The Observer ended up distributing more than 70,000 prints of the drawing. Copies were sent all over the country, even to the astronauts' families and to NASA headquarters. The eagle with the teardrop hangs in homes, offices and restaurants throughout the Carolinas. Today, years after the tragic event that inspired it, I still get requests for the drawing. Cartoonists ordinarily receive more brickbats than bouquets, but the Challenger cartoon was probably the most positively received of any I have ever drawn.