The Doonesbury characters search for America. Artist: Garry Trudeau.


Original Medium: Newspaper comics
Distributed by: Universal Press Syndicate
First Appeared: 1970
Creator: Garry Trudeau
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Doonesbury succeeded in doing at least one thing no syndicated comic strip had ever done before, and few had tried. Was it simply being a highly literate strip, worthy of …

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… critical attention? No, several, including Krazy Kat and Barnaby, had accomplished that. Was it including specific and sometimes sarcastic references to contemporary political figures, without alienating most readers? No, Pogo had accomplished that.

What Doonesbury did was to be so successful, and so inextricably tied to its creator, Garry Trudeau, that Trudeau was able to suspend the strip for over a year, then come back and pick it up again. The first time somebody had tried that (Rudolph Dirks, creator of The Katzenjammer Kids, in 1912), when he came back, he found his strip had been given to another cartoonist. Only Harry Hershfield had actually accomplished the feat, and when he left Abie the Agent in 1931, he didn't plan to return. But when Trudeau took his temporary leave of absence (January 1983 through September 1984), both his syndicate and his audience simply waited patiently.

The strip grew out of a set of characters Trudeau had used in an earlier strip, Bull Tales, which ran in The Yale Daily News during his junior and senior years at that school (1968-70). It was revamped for national syndication immediately after his graduation, and picked up by Universal Press Syndicate. Like Bull Tales, Doonesbury in its early years took place in and around Yale — but it could no more be held in that venue than Li'l Abner could be confined to Dogpatch. Doonesbury sequences have taken place everywhere from South Africa to Singapore, and have starred an even more stunning array of characters than can be found on a college campus.

As the strip's following grew, so did the honors heaped on Trudeau for it. In 1975, he won the very first Pulitzer Prize ever given to a syndicated comic strip. (It was in the category of "editorial cartooning".) A half-hour animated version of the strip, which aired on NBC in 1977, won a Special Jury Prize at the Cannes Film Festival, and in the U.S., was nominated for an Academy Award. And in 1995, Trudeau received the National Cartoonists' Society's prestigious Reuben Award as America's Cartoonist of the Year.

Trudeau is held in high esteem even by those he skewers in the strip — which include most prominent national political figures of the past three decades. It is not the least bit uncommon for a request for the original art to a Doonesbury strip to come from the person most devastatingly ridiculed in it.

Doonesbury is among the few strips reprinted almost in its entirety. Not only are most strips available in at least one of the several dozen reprint books — the entire run of the strip is available on CD-ROM.

Garry Trudeau is the first outstandingly successful cartoonist of the Baby Boom generation. But unlike many artifacts of that era, his strip has aged gracefully. Today, the original Doonesbury characters, like Trudeau himself, are 60-ish, and have undergone most of the normal development stages of adult life. Since they represent a broad spectrum of Baby Boom personalities, and since the strip has always dealt with Baby Boom concerns and issues from a variety of points of view, Doonesbury may well constitute the most comprehensive contemporary documentation of that generation — and that could turn out to be its true legacy.


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Text ©2000-06 Donald D. Markstein. Art © Garry Trudeau.