Happy Birthday Doonesbury

2010 October 26
by Ellen Noonan

kerryIn honor of the comic strip Doonesbury’s 40th anniversary (the first strip was published in the Yale Daily News on October 26, 1970), Slate has a series of articles celebrating “Doonesbury at 40,” including an interview with creator Garry Trudeau and a list of the strip’s 200 greatest moments. (You can check out Doonesbury’s entire run online for free for the next two weeks, via gocomics.com. It is, sadly, not keyword searchable.)

doones-joanie1While I follow the strip only sporadically now, I have a very large soft spot for Doonesbury. When I was about 11 or so, I discovered my older brother’s soft-cover compilations and devoured them. Watergate and the end of the Vietnam war, which had existed on the fringes of my childhood consciousness, came into focus for me, along with Trudeau’s playful take on feminism and the counterculture. (My brother, or perhaps one of his friends, had starred all of the strips that dealt with Mark Slackmeyer’s fights with his father over the length of his hair, an argument I had heard plenty of times between my brother and my father. This is hilarious in retrospect, since my brother has been, as a teenager and ever since, the polar opposite of a countercultural figure. My vigilant father thought that any male head with hair longer than a crewcut was suspect.)

bdIn recent  years, Trudeau’s coverage of the war in Iraq has been particularly fine, depicting the humanity of ordinary soldiers with nuance and humor, and all without sacrificing its political edge. Doonesbury has also followed its soldier characters home from the battlefront, too, with long-playing stories of how they attempt to recover their physical and mental health. Sounds more bleak than funny? It’s not. That’s Trudeau’s gift, which has in many ways only improved with age. This blog post, which excerpts a longer Washington Post profile of Trudeau, offers great insight into why his work has remained timely and incisive for forty years.

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