Sunday, 7 November 2010

Doonesbury is 40!

As a certified English Major snob, I regarded comics in general as made for poor slobs! Al Capp and Charles Schulz, Lil Abner and Peanuts. Locked in by two Canons (Catholic and Curricular),alas I had to catch “Doonesbury” at age 83! (Ed Pilkington, “Doonesbury at 40”, Guardian, 10/26/10, G2.) What a belated kick.

It all began with the boredom of a third year Yalie, named Garry Trudeau. The first installment of the future Kartoon King Mike Doonesbury and his football player roommate, BD, puzzled all. “Doone” alludes to boarding school jargon—a duffus or klutz, the “bury” to his pal Charlie Pillsbury.“ Garry had been riffing with a sports cartoon called “Bull Tales” based on the current Yale quarterback, one Brian Dowling.

The strip was to end with football season. But a local book editor thought he saw a future in it, and coaxed the 21 year old on 26 October 1970 to turn the strip into a syndicated newspaper feature. Trudeau recalls, from his keep in Upper Eastside Manhattan, that he had a vague ambition of becoming a graphic designer. So he was willing to sign a one year contract. The syndicators laughed hilariously at his innocence of their world’s 20 year long dotted lines. Little did these worthies know that day they were creating a milestone in the genre!

“You could say that was the first Doonesbury joke, and readers have been howling with laughter ever since. And not just laughing. they’ve been frowning, shouting, crying, blushing—the full gamut of emotions—as a result of a strip that broke the mould of the comic page and shattered countless conventions. Over the last four decades Doonesbury has established itself as so much more than a traditional cartoon. It is a soap opera, a tragedy, a comedy, an investigative agency, a liberal political commentary, a scourge of pomposity and corruption, a humanitarian exercise, all rolled into one.”(p.4.)

And a semantic club that drives gasbags up the wall. He bumped Trump who replied dumbly that GT was a “jerk” and “a loser”. (Anyone who nails that stuffed jacket is a permanent idol of mine.) Gonzo God, Hunter S. Thompson was another matter. When Garry did a sketch on him, he hollered copyright infringement. And mailed him an envelope with sheets of used toilet paper, the Nude Journalism. “And followed this not so noble gesture with these mortal words: “If I ever catch that little bastard, I’ll tear his lungs out.” Gauche?.

The most memorable fracas derived from Saint Ronald Reagan’s aphorism writer’s desk.

Three prose swatches backed by the same broken down White House sketch:
“His love of country, his generosity for those less fortunate, his distinctive art.
... and his winning and compassionate persona made him one of our most remarkable and distinguished Americans.

…and one who truly did it his way”. Ronald Reagan, May 23, 1985.

Final shot: Seven smiling Mafiosa friends! Very Garry funny.

Frank made the mistake soon thereafter of trying to trump Trudeau during a Carnegie Hall concert. The audience responded their way, and boo-ed him offstage!

Editors sweated where to put this new kind of visual trouble-maker! Finally they mostly moved him to the OpEd page. Where he belongs! Mort Sahl, Lennie Bruce, et al. How we could use them to stomp on the Tea Party Twerps. Sic ‘em Garry. We love you Trudeau.

Here's a good read: Andrew McMeel, 40: A Documentary Retrospective, 2010, $100. Much cheaper used copies on Amazon.

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