'Doonesbury's' blast from the distant past

  • Article by: BILL WARD , Star Tribune
  • Updated: February 28, 2014 - 1:52 PM

A hiatus prompted “Doonesbury” creator Garry Trudeau to dig deeply into the archives.

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Garry B. Trudeau, cartoonist and creator of "Doonesbury."

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Cartoonist Garry Trudeau has spent the last 43-plus years chronicling America’s cultural and political climate.

Now the “Doonesbury” creator is starting an extended hiatus. Beginning on Monday, the strips that appear in daily newspapers across the country will emerge from the Wayback Machine, with rudimentary sketches of B.D. and Mike Doonesbury in their college days. (Trudeau will continue to produce new “Doonesbury” strips every Sunday.)

Trudeau, who launched the strip in October 1970, before more than half of today’s Minnesotans were born, is taking a break to work on the second season of “Alpha House.” The political satire about four Republican senators sharing a house in Washington stars John Goodman and streams online via Amazon.

In the coming months, “we’re going deep, literally back to Day One,” he said, “revisiting four weeks of strips from every year of syndication … [and] focusing on how the characters got involved with one another.

“Since their lives have always been bound up in the events of the day, it should be a kind of déjà vu for my peers, and maybe a ‘What were you people thinking?’ for newer readers.”

“Doonesbury,” which earned Trudeau a Pulitzer Prize in 1975 (the first ever given to a strip cartoon), has been a serial for the last three decades, with its original baby boomers now reaching senior status. That has allowed Trudeau to introduce new characters (he’s up to more than 75 at last count) and timely story lines.

The title character’s name has a Minnesota connection, combining “doone” (prep-school jargon for a clueless or careless person) and the surname of his Yale roommate: Charles Pillsbury, a Minneapolis native who angered his Republican father, George, by working on the 1968 presidential campaign of liberal Minnesota Sen. Eugene McCarthy.

Politics also has coursed through “Doonesbury” throughout its run. Some of the 1,400-plus newspapers that carry the strip run it on an editorial page, and hundreds of them have chosen not to run “Doonesbury” during particularly pointed phases.

Topics from unmarried cohabitation in 1976 to presidential candidate George W. Bush’s past cocaine use in 2000 have resulted in bans. In March 2012, the Star Tribune was among many papers that pulled five strips dealing with Texas abortion laws.

In reprising his past work, Trudeau said he will not shy away from contentious material — to a point.

“We’ll be including some of the more controversial strips,” Trudeau said, “although these will be mostly character-centered, not strips about long-ago political events that a contemporary audience might not be familiar with.”

 

Bill Ward • 612-673-7643

 

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  • A panel from an early Doonesbury comic strip.

  • Try a classic

    Starting Monday, when Garry Trudeau goes on hiatus, we’ll be giving the classic “Doonesbury” strips a test run on the daily comics pages. In a month, we’ll check in with you and see what you think.

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