|Current status/schedule||Sunday only|
(Repeat strips through the week)
|Launch date||October 26, 1970|
|Syndicate(s)||Universal Press Syndicate/Universal Uclick/Andrews McMeel Syndication|
|Genre(s)||Humor, politics, satire|
|Preceded by||Bull Tales|
Doonesbury is a comic strip by American cartoonist Garry Trudeau that chronicles the adventures and lives of an array of characters of various ages, professions, and backgrounds, from the President of the United States to the title character, Michael Doonesbury, who has progressed from a college student to a youthful senior citizen over the decades.
Created in "the throes of '60s and '70s counterculture", and frequently political in nature, Doonesbury features characters representing a range of affiliations, but the cartoon is noted for a liberal viewpoint. The name "Doonesbury" is a combination of the word doone (prep school slang for someone who is clueless, inattentive, or careless) and the surname of Charles Pillsbury, Trudeau's roommate at Yale University.
Doonesbury is written and penciled by Garry Trudeau, then inked and lettered by an assistant: Don Carlton then Todd Pound. Sunday strips are colored by George Corsillo. A daily strip through most of its existence, since February 2014 Doonesbury has run repeat strips Monday through Saturday, and new strips on Sunday.
Doonesbury began as a continuation of Bull Tales, which appeared in the Yale University student newspaper, the Yale Daily News, from 1968 to 1970. It focused on local campus events at Yale.
Doonesbury proper debuted as a daily strip in twenty-eight newspapers on October 26, 1970 (it being the first strip from Universal Press Syndicate).[failed verification] A Sunday strip began on March 21, 1971. Many of the early strips were reprints of the Bull Tales cartoons, with some changes to the drawings and plots. B. D.'s helmet changed from having a "Y" (for Yale) to a star (for the fictional Walden College). Mike and B. D. started Doonesbury as roommates; they were not roommates in Bull Tales.
Doonesbury became known for its social and political commentary. As of the mid-2010s it is syndicated in approximately 1,400 newspapers worldwide.
In May 1975, Doonesbury became the first daily comic strip to win a Pulitzer Prize, taking the award for Editorial Cartooning. That year, US President Gerald Ford told the Radio and Television Correspondents' Association at their annual dinner, "There are only three major vehicles to keep us informed as to what is going on in Washington: the electronic media, the print media, and Doonesbury, not necessarily in that order."
In 1977, Trudeau wrote a script for a 26-minute animated special, A Doonesbury Special, which was produced and directed by Trudeau along with John Hubley (who died during the storyboarding stage) and Faith Hubley. The special was first broadcast by NBC on November 27, 1977. It won a Special Jury Award at the Cannes International Film Festival for best short film, and received an Oscar nomination (for best animated short film), both in 1978. Voice actors for the special included Barbara Harris, William Sloane Coffin, Jr., Jack Gilford and Will Jordan. Also included were two songs "sung" by the character Jimmy Thudpucker (actually actor/singer/songwriter/producer James Allen "Jimmy" Brewer), entitled "Stop in the Middle" and "I Do Believe", also part of the "Special". While the compositions and performances were credited to "Jimmy Thudpucker", they were in fact co-written and sung by Brewer, who also co-wrote and provided the vocals for "Ginny's Song", a 1976 single on the Warner Bros. label, and Jimmy Thudpucker's Greatest Hits, an LP released by Windsong Records, John Denver's subsidiary of RCA Records.
Trudeau took a 22-month hiatus, from January 1983 to October 1984. Before the break in the strip, the characters were eternal college students, living in a commune together near Walden College, which was modeled after Trudeau's alma mater, Yale. During the break, Trudeau helped create a Broadway musical of the strip, showing the graduation of the main characters. The Broadway adaptation opened at the Biltmore Theatre on November 21, 1983, and played 104 performances. Elizabeth Swados composed the music for Trudeau's book and lyrics.
The strip resumed some time after the events in the musical, with further changes having taken place after the end of the musical's plot. While Mike, Mark, Zonker, B.D., and Boopsie were all now graduates, B.D. and Boopsie were living in Malibu, California, where B.D. was a third-string quarterback for the Los Angeles Rams, and Boopsie was making a living from walk-on and cameo roles. Mark was living in Washington, DC, working for National Public Radio. Michael and J.J. had gotten married, and Mike had dropped out of business school to start work in an advertising agency in New York City. Zonker, still not ready for the "real world", was living with Mike and J.J. until he was accepted as a medical student at his Uncle Duke's "Baby Doc College" in Haiti.
Prior to the hiatus, the strip's characters had aged only slightly. But when Trudeau returned to Doonesbury, the characters began to age in something close to real time, as in Gasoline Alley and For Better or for Worse, Since then, the main characters' ages and career developments have tracked that of standard media portrayals of baby boomers, with jobs in advertising, law enforcement, and the dot-com boom. Current events are mirrored through the original characters, their offspring (the "second generation"), and occasional new characters.
Garry Trudeau received the National Cartoonist Society Newspaper Comic Strip Award for 1994, and their Reuben Award for 1995 for his work on the strip.
Doonesbury's syndicate, Universal Uclick, announced on May 29, 2013, that the comic strip would go on hiatus from June 10 to Labor Day of that year while Garry Trudeau worked on his streaming video comedy Alpha House, which was picked up by Amazon Studios. "Doonesbury Flashbacks" were offered during those weeks, but due to the unusually long hiatus, some newspapers opted to run different comic strips instead. Sunday strips returned as scheduled, but the daily strip's hiatus was extended until November 2013. After Alpha House was retained for a second season in February 2014, Trudeau announced that he would now produce only Sunday strips for the foreseeable future. Since March 3, 2014, the strip has offered reruns starting from the very beginning of its history as opposed to the recent ones that re-run when Trudeau is on vacation.
In a 2018 interview with Rolling Stone, Trudeau said that while Donald Trump appears in only a limited number of strips, "for the last two years, he's been subtext in almost all of them."
With the exception of Walden College, Trudeau has frequently used real-life settings, based on real scenarios, but with fictional results. Because of lead times, real-world events have rendered some of Trudeau's comics unusable, such as a 1973 series featuring John Ehrlichman, a 1989 series set in Tiananmen Square in Beijing, China, a 1993 series involving Zoë Baird, and a 2005 series involving Harriet Miers. Trudeau has also displayed fluency in various forms of jargon, including those of real estate agents, flight attendants, computer scientists, journalists, presidential aides, and soldiers in Iraq.
"Walden College" redirects here. It is not to be confused with Walden University.
The unnamed college attended by the main characters was later given the name "Walden College", revealed to be in Connecticut (the same state as Yale), and depicted as devolving into a third-rate institution under the weight of grade inflation, slipping academic standards, and the end of tenure, issues that Trudeau has consistently revisited since the original characters graduated. Some of the second generation of Doonesbury characters have attended Walden, a venue Trudeau uses to advance his concerns about academic standards in the United States.
President King, the leader of Walden College, was originally intended as a parody of Kingman Brewster, President of Yale, but all that remains of that is a certain physical resemblance.[clarification needed]
Even though Doonesbury frequently features real-life U.S. politicians, they are rarely depicted with their real faces. Originally, strips featuring the President of the United States would show an external view of the White House, with dialogue emerging from inside. During the Gerald Ford administration, characters would be shown speaking to Ford at press conferences, and fictional dialogue supposedly spoken by Ford would be written as coming "off-panel". Similarly, while having several characters as students in a class taught by Henry Kissinger, the dialogue made up for Kissinger would also come from "off-panel" (although Kissinger had earlier appeared as a character with his face shown in a 1972 series of strips in which he met Mark Slackmeyer while the latter was on a trip to Washington). Sometimes hands, or in rare cases, the back of heads would also be seen.
Later, personal symbols reflecting some aspect of their character came into use. For example, during the 1980s, character Ron Headrest served as a doppelgänger for Ronald Reagan and was depicted as a computer-generated artificial-intelligence, an image based on the television character Max Headroom. Members of the Bush family have been depicted as invisible. During his term as Vice President, George H. W. Bush was first depicted as completely invisible, his words emanating from a little "voice box" in the air. (In one strip, published March 20, 1988, the vice president almost materialized, but only made it to an outline before reverting to invisibility.)
George W. Bush was symbolized by a Stetson hat atop the same invisible point, because he was Governor of Texas prior to his presidency (Trudeau accused him of being "all hat and no cattle", reiterating the characterization of Bush by columnist Molly Ivins). The point became a giant asterisk (a la Roger Maris) following the 2000 presidential elections and the controversy over vote-counting. Later, President Bush's hat was changed to a Roman military helmet (again, atop an asterisk) representing imperialism. Towards the end of his first term, the helmet became battered, with the gilt work starting to come off and with clumps of bristles missing from the top. By late 2008, the helmet had been dented almost beyond recognition. No symbol for Barack Obama has appeared in the strip; the May 30, 2009, strip had Obama and an aide wondering what the reason for this might be (off panel).
Other symbols include a waffle for Bill Clinton (chosen by popular vote—the other possibility had been a flipping coin), an unexploded (but sometimes lit) bomb for Newt Gingrich, a feather for Dan Quayle, and a giant groping hand for Arnold Schwarzenegger (who is addressed by other characters as "Herr Gröpenfuhrer", a reference to accusations of sexual assault against Schwarzenegger). Many less well-known politicians have also been represented as icons over the years, like a swastika for David Duke, but only for the purposes of a gag strip or two. Trudeau has made his use of icons something of an in joke to readers, where the first appearance of a new one is often a punchline in itself.
The long career of the series and continual use of real-life political figures, analysts note, have led to some uncanny cases of the cartoon foreshadowing a national shift in the politicians' political fortunes. Tina Gianoulis in St. James Encyclopedia of Popular Culture observes that "In 1971, well before the conservative Reagan years, a forward-looking B.D. called Ronald Reagan his 'hero'. In 1984, almost ten years before Congressman Newt Gingrich became Speaker of the House, another character worried that he would 'wake up someday in a country run by Newt Gingrich.'" In 1999, Donald Trump was depicted as a presidential candidate. In its 2003 series "John Kerry: A Candidate in the Making" on the 2004 presidential race, The Boston Globe reprinted and discussed 1971 Doonesbury cartoons of the young Kerry's Vietnam War protest speeches.
Main article: List of Doonesbury characters
Doonesbury has a large group of recurring characters, with 24 currently listed at the strip's website. There, it notes that "readers new to Doonesbury sometimes experience a temporary bout of character shock", as the sheer number of characters (and the historical connections among them) can be overwhelming.
The main characters are a group who attended the fictional Walden College during the strip's first 12 years, and moved into a commune together in April 1972. Most of the other characters first appeared as family members, friends, or other acquaintances. The original Walden Commune residents were Mike Doonesbury, Zonker Harris, Mark Slackmeyer, Nicole, Bernie, and DiDi. In September 1972, Joanie Caucus joined the comic, meeting Mike and Mark in Colorado and eventually moving into the commune. They were later joined by B.D. and his girlfriend (later wife) Boopsie, upon B.D.'s return from Vietnam. Nicole, DiDi, and Bernie were mostly phased out in subsequent years, and Zonker's Uncle Duke was introduced as the most prominent character outside the Walden group, and the main link to many secondary characters.
The Walden students graduated in 1983, after which the strip began to progress in something closer to real time. Their spouses and developing families became more important after this: Joanie's daughter J.J. Caucus married Mike and they had a daughter, Alex Doonesbury. They divorced, Mike married Kim Rosenthal, a Vietnamese refugee (who had appeared in the strip as a baby adopted by a Jewish family just after the fall of Saigon; see Operation Babylift), and J.J. married Zeke Brenner, her former boyfriend and Uncle Duke's former groundskeeper. Joanie married Rick Redfern, and they had a son, Jeff. Uncle Duke and Roland Hedley have also appeared often, frequently in more topical settings unconnected to the main characters. In more recent years the second generation has taken prominence as they have grown to college age: Jeff Redfern, Alex Doonesbury, Zonker's nephew Zipper Harris, and Uncle Duke's son Earl.
Doonesbury has delved into a number of political and social issues, causing controversies and breaking new ground on the comics pages. Among the controversies:
Charles M. Schulz of Peanuts called Trudeau "unprofessional" for taking a long sabbatical. (See also, similar comments by Schulz about sabbaticals taken by Bill Watterson.) Nor was the return of the strip itself greeted with universal acclaim; in 1985, Saturday Review listed Trudeau as one of the country's "Most Overrated People in American Arts and Letters", commenting that the "most publicized return since MacArthur's has produced a strip that is predictable, mean-spirited, and not as funny as before."
Doonesbury has angered, irritated, or been rebuked by many of the political figures that have appeared or been referred to in the strip over the years. A 1984 series of strips showing Vice President George H.W. Bush placing his manhood in a blind trust—in parody of Bush's use of that financial instrument to fend off concerns that his governmental decisions would be influenced by his investment holdings—brought the politician to complain, "Doonesbury's carrying water for the opposition. Trudeau is coming out of deep left field."
Some conservatives have intensely criticized Doonesbury. Several examples are cited in the Milestones section of the strip's website. The strip has also met criticism from its readers almost since it began syndicated publication. For example, when Lacey Davenport's husband Dick, in the last moments before his death, calls on God, several conservative pundits called the strip blasphemous. The sequence of Dick Davenport's final bird-watching and fatal heart attack was run in November 1986.
Liberal politicians skewered by Trudeau in the strip have also complained, including Democrats such as former U.S. House Speaker Tip O'Neill and California Governor Jerry Brown.
Strips about United States wars have also generated controversy, including Vietnam, Grenada, Panama and both Gulf Wars.
After many letter-writing campaigns demanding the removal of the strip were unsuccessful, conservatives changed their tactics, and instead of writing to newspaper editors, they began writing to one of the printers who prints the color Sunday comics. In 2005, Continental Features gave in to their demands, and refused to continue printing the Sunday Doonesbury, causing it to disappear from the 38 Sunday papers that Continental Features printed. Of the 38, only one newspaper, The Anniston Star in Anniston, Alabama, continued to carry the Sunday Doonesbury, though of necessity in black and white.
Some newspapers have dealt with the criticism by moving the strip from the comics page to the editorial page, because many people believe that a politically based comic strip like Doonesbury does not belong in a traditionally child-friendly comics section. The Lincoln Journal started the trend in 1973. In some papers (such as the Tulsa World and Orlando Sentinel) Doonesbury appears on the opinions page alongside Mallard Fillmore, a politically conservative comic strip.