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Image:Time-magazine-cover-doonesbury.jpg Doonesbury is a comic strip by Garry Trudeau, popular in the United States and other parts of the world. Frequently political in nature, Doonesbury's characters profess a range of affiliations, but the cartoon's editorial slant is primarily noted for a liberal outlook. The title comes from the name of one of the main characters, Michael Doonesbury, a character Trudeau originally modeled after himself. The character's name is a combination of the word doone1960s prep school slang for "someone unafraid to appear foolish" — with the surname of the roommate who was given that nickname, Charles Pillsbury. The strip marked its official thirty-fifth anniversary on October 26, 2005.




The comic strip was a continuation of Bull Tales, which appeared in the Yale University student newspaper the Yale Daily News beginning September 1968. It focused on local campus events at Yale. The executive editor of the paper in the late 1960s, Reed Hundt, who later served as the chairman of the FCC, noted that the Daily News had a flexible policy about publishing cartoons: "We publish[ed] pretty much anything."

As Doonesbury, the strip debuted as a daily strip in about two dozen newspapers on October 26, 1970, the first strip from the Universal Press Syndicate. A Sunday strip began on March 21, 1971. Many of the early strips were reprintings 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 the original.

It became well known for its social and political (usually liberal) commentary, always timely, and peppered with wry and ironic humor. It is presently syndicated in approximately 1,400 newspapers worldwide. The decision, on September 12, 2005 to drop Doonesbury from The Guardian (UK) was reversed less than 24 hours later, after the strip's followers voiced strong discontent.

Like Li'l Abner and Pogo before it, Doonesbury blurred the distinction between editorial cartoon and the funny pages. In May 1975, the strip won Trudeau a Pulitzer Prize for Editorial Cartooning, the first strip cartoon to be so honored. That month, Holt, Rinehart & Winston, the publishers of collections of Doonesbury until the mid-1980s took out an ad in the New York Times Book Review, marking the occasion by saying: It's nice for Trudeau and Doonesbury to be so honored, "but it's quite another thing when the Establishment clutches all of Walden Commune to its bosom." That same year, then-U.S. President Gerald Ford acknowledged the stature of the comic strip, telling the Radio and Television Correspondent 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." <ref>Template:Cite book</ref>


In 1977, Trudeau wrote a script for a twenty-six minute long animated "special." A Doonesbury Special was produced and directed by Trudeau, along with John Hubley and Faith Hubley. The Special was first broadcast by NBC in 1977. It won a Special Jury Award at the Cannes International Film Festival for best short film, and received an Academy Award 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. Two songs "sung" by the character of Jimmy Thudpucker (titled "Stop in the Middle" and "I Do Believe", the performances were credited to "Jimmy Thudpucker") were also made part of the Special.

The strip underwent a significant change after Trudeau returned to it from a 22 month hiatus (from January 1983 to October 1984), during which he helped create a Doonesbury Broadway production. Before the break in the strip, the characters were eternal college students, living in a commune together near "Walden College," which was modelled after Trudeau's alma mater.

The Broadway show, entitled Doonesbury: A Musical Comedy, opened at the Biltmore Theater in New York City on November 21, 1983. A cast album was recorded and released by MCA Records. The cast featured Mark Linn-Baker as Mark, Keith Szarabajka as B.D., Gary Beach as Duke and Lauren Tom as Honey.

Musical plot summary

The musical's storyline opened the day before graduation at Walden College, with many of the characters (Mike, B.D., Mark, Zonker, Boopsie) preparing for the day. B.D. has been drafted into professional football (later revealed to be the Dallas Cowboys), Mike is preparing to propose to J.J., and Zonker has a flashback to his days as a pro suntanner. Meanwhile, Duke and Honey are at Duke's trial for cocaine possession in Los Angeles County, California. The action returns to Walden, where Mike is on the phone with J.J., upset that Mike has invited her mother, Joanie, who arrives with her infant son from her second marriage, Jeffrey. Boopsie and the cast discuss her plans to become a Dallas Cowboys cheerleader, following B.D. Mark reveals Mike's plan to propose to J.J. to Zonker and Joanie.

Back at the courthouse, Duke is found guilty and sentenced to probation, required by the court to open and manage a drug rehabilitation center for the next five years. Then back at Walden, J.J. arrives, only to discover that Mike has planned out their weekend down to the very minute. Joanie returns from grocery shopping, and Mike attempts to mediate the tension between mother and daughter. This fails, and J.J. storms out. Meanwhile, at the campus radio station, Mark is interviewing Roland Hedley, and the two campaign on the air to get Mark a job after graduation.

Back at Walden Commune, Mike is preparing dinner while Boopsie is exercising, Joanie is nursing Jeffrey, Zonker is building a beer-can pyramid, and B.D. is ranting about all of them. Mark returns from the radio station, and J.J. offers to help Mike with dinner. When the meal is served, the cast mocks Mike's cooking. As dinner concludes, Zonker attempts to renew the lease on the commune, but is turned down. As Act I ends, it's discovered that Duke and Honey are having them evicted after graduation for his court-ordered drug rehabilitation center.

At the conclusion of the musical, Mark had been offered a radio job at a station on Long Island, New York, B.D. had been traded from Dallas to Tampa Bay, Mike had proposed to J.J. (who accepted) and was preparing to enter business school, and Duke was left in a drug-induced rant. Breaks in the action and scene-changes were accomplished with voice overs behind a screen of the White House, while jokes about the Reagan White House were made.

After the hiatus

The strip resumed some time after the events in the musical, and some further changes took place. While Mike, Mark, Zonker, B.D. and Boopsie were all now graduates, B.D. and Boopsie were living in Malibu, 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 D.C., working for NPR. 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. Since then, the main characters' age and career development has 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.


Characteristic style

Even though Doonesbury frequently features major real-life US politicians, they are rarely depicted with their real face. Originally, strips featuring the President of the US would show an external view of the White House, with dialog emerging from inside. More recently, personal symbols reflecting some aspect of their character are used. For example, since the Vice Presidency of George H. W. Bush, members of the Bush family have been depicted as invisible. George H. W. Bush is depicted as completely invisible. This was originally a reference to the then Vice President's perceived low profile and his denials of knowledge of the Iran-Contra Affair. (It should be noted that in one strip (20 March, 1988) the vice president almost materialized, but only made it to an outline before reverting to invisibility.) President George W. Bush was later symbolized by a Stetson hat atop a giant asterisk (a la Roger Maris), because he was Governor of Texas prior to his presidency (Trudeau accused him of being "all hat and no cattle.") and also due to the controversy surrounding the 2000 presidential elections. Later, President Bush's symbol 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 giltwork starting to come off and with clumps of bristles missing from the top. Other notable symbols include a waffle for Bill Clinton, an unexploded (but sometimes lit) bomb for Newt Gingrich, a feather for Dan Quayle and most recently a giant hand for Arnold Schwarzenegger (who is addressed by other characters as "Herr Gropenführer", a bastardization of a Nazi title).

The unnamed college attended by the main characters was later given the name "Walden College," was revealed to be in Connecticut (the same state as Yale), and was depicted 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 early 90s. Many of the second generation of Doonesbury characters are attending Walden, a venue Trudeau uses to advance his concerns about slipping academic standards in America.

Trudeau also delighted and intrigued readers by displaying fluency in various forms of jargon, including that of real estate agents, flight attendants, computer nerds, journalists, presidential aides, and soldiers in Iraq. Before the invasion of Iraq, many Doonesbury-watchers agreed that Trudeau seemed to be losing his edge, but the strips since then have been seen by some as a return to form.

Major characters

  • Mike Doonesbury - Ex-advertising man and co-founder of a software start-up; ex-husband of JJ, husband of Kim, dad to Alex.
  • Mark Slackmeyer - Former campus revolutionary turned radio commentator, and one of several openly gay characters in the strip.
  • B.D. - Husband of Boopsie. A reservist and veteran of Vietnam and both Gulf Wars, he lost a leg in Iraq. Known for his conservative views and (until 21 April 2004) wearing a series of helmets (originally football helmets, and later desert camouflage, riot gear, and California Highway Patrol). Even Boopsie doesn't know what 'B.D.' stands for (maybe nothing - he has stated that his last name is "D"). The character was originally inspired by Brian Dowling, the captain of Yale's football team in 1968.
  • Zonker Harris - Stereotypical hippie turned ennobled lord, professional tanner, med student, Lieutenant Governor of Samoa, and occasional nanny. After his campaign to enable public access to some of California's beaches, a beach access road in Malibu was named in his honor. He now works at McFriendly's.
  • Joanie Caucus - Ex-housewife and "libbie" who left her first husband Clinton Caucus to join Mike and Mark "on the road" in Colorado, went to law school, and worked with Mike on the John Anderson campaign. She got re-married to journalist Rick Redfern, with whom she had a second child, Jeff.
  • Rick Redfern - Husband to Joanie and father to Jeff. Works as a reporter for the Washington Post. Generally portrayed as very weary/phlegmatic and somewhat clueless as a father.
  • J.J. - Daughter of Joanie (JJ is 'Joan Junior'). She was originally engaged to Zeke, but married Mike, left Mike for Zeke, and later won a MacArthur Fellowship. Performance artist. Mother of Alex Doonesbury.
  • Zeke Brenner - Former caretaker for Duke's house. He married JJ on the second try.
  • Kim Rosenthal - Jewish-raised Vietnamese orphan, geek and Mike's second wife. Dropped out of a program towards a Doctorate in Computer Science at MIT because it was "too easy".
  • Alex Doonesbury - Teenage daughter of Mike and J.J. who now lives with her father and Kim. More or less a liberal foil for her more moderate father.
  • Jimmy Thudpucker - Overnight success as a rock star at 19. Later caught politics and moved to Vietnam. Modelled partially on a combination of Bob Dylan and John Denver.
  • Barbara Ann Boopstein (Boopsie) - Cheerleader turned actress, model, New Age channeler, and generic starlet. She is married to B.D.; they have a daughter named Samantha.
  • Zipper Harris - Zonker's nephew and current Walden undergraduate; his roommate is Jeff Redfern.
  • Phred - The Viet Cong "terrorist" whom B.D. befriended when lost in Vietnam, later Vietnamese delegate to the United Nations, last seen working for Nike in Vietnam.
  • Roland Burton Hedley, III - Former print journalist (to use that term generously), moved to television and then the Internet. Currently working for ABC News.
  • Jeff Redfern - Joanie and Rick's son. Jeff is currently attending Walden (and rooming with Zipper Harris), and is an intern for the Central Intelligence Agency.
  • Uncle Duke, "Uncle" of Zonker, former Rolling Stone writer, governor of American Samoa and ambassador to China, once the proconsul of Panama, former owner of "Club Scud" in Kuwait City, ex-orphanage manager (where he realized one of the orphans, Earl, was his son), and former Mayor of Al Amok, Iraq. He has also been a drug smuggler (and heavy user), an enemy of John Denver, toady to Donald Trump, and a zombie slave to ex-Haitian President Duvalier. His character was initially based on Gonzo journalist Hunter S. Thompson. Duke is said to be "Like Forrest Gump's evil twin."

Other characters

  • Honey Huan, Duke's constant companion - Inspired by Tang Wensheng (Mao's interpreter when meeting with Nixon) and partially Marcie of Peanuts.
  • Earl, discovered in an orphanage Duke attempted to run in the early 90's. Honey sent one of Duke's warts off for DNA tests, which proved Earl was his son. He shares many of Duke's physical and moral qualities. Currently a lobbyist.
  • Lacey Davenport, Republican U.S. Congresswoman, now deceased - reminiscent of Millicent Fenwick. Trudeau was asked, in 1976, if the similarities were deliberate, and laughed at the reporter, saying "I really don't know her that well." Fenwick was said, in the same article, to not know about Doonesbury and could not remember having met Trudeau. <ref>Article originally published in the Brunswick, NJ, Home News, 10 October 1976. Reprinted on the Doonesbury Flashbacks CD-ROM.</ref>
  • Phil Slackmeyer - Father of Mark. A wealthy, conservative, corporate businessman. He died in 2003.
  • Chase Talbott III - Life partner of Mark, and co-host of their NPR show, "All Things Being Equal."
  • Ron Headrest, computer-generated alter ego of President Reagan - Composite of Max Headroom and Ronald Reagan. A similar caricature of Reagan appeared briefly in the film Back to the Future Part II.
  • Rev. Scott Sloan, chaplain at Walden - Named for Rev. William L. "Scotty" McLennan, Jr., Trudeau's undergraduate roommate, and Rev. William Sloane Coffin, Yale's chaplain while Trudeau was there.
  • President King, the president of Walden College - Based on Kingman Brewster, Jr., president of Yale when Trudeau was a student. (Indeed, the same character appeared in Bull Tales more directly as Brewster.)
  • Mr. Butts, hallucinatory walking, talking cigarette - Represents Tobacco industry.
  • Donald Trump, the greedy, rich man many would say he is in real life.
  • Andy Lippincott - Joanie fell in love with him, but on a date, he revealed that he was gay. Was later diagnosed with and died of AIDS.
  • Mini-D, the small man who sometimes pops out of Duke's head (via a flip-top scalp) when Duke is stoned.
  • Virginia "Ginny" Slade - During the 1970s, when Joanie moved to California to study law at Boalt Hall, she moved in with Ginny, a much younger, African-American law student. Ginny ran for Congress as a semester project, with Zonker, Andy Lippincott and Jimmy Thudpucker contributing to her campaign. She lost the Democratic primary to a scandal-ridden incumbent, Congressman Ventura, then re-entered the campaign as an independent. Close to Election Day, she chose to drop out so that long-time Republican candidate Lacey Davenport would win. Ginny later married her boyfriend, Clyde, an obnoxious but lovable guy. Clyde himself later ran against Davenport.
  • Nicole - A radical feminist and member of the Walden Commune. She and Mike almost had an affair after meeting at their class reunion, but broke it off when Mike learned J.J. was pregnant.
  • Bernie - Mike's college lab partner and member of Walden Commune. A mad scientist, he invented a werewolf potion and spent a summer in Scotland searching for the Loch Ness Monster. He later founded a computer company and hired Mike.
  • Alice P. Schwarzman and "Crazy" Elmont - Two homeless people, Alice first appeared as a garment worker who was a regular at a bar where Zonker was bartender. She later re-appeared as a homeless character. She later married Elmont, a deranged man, in order to move up the list for public housing. Rev. Sloan performed the ceremony. As the affluent Rep. Lacey Davenport became senile, she began to regard Alice as her sister (there's some speculation that this might have been true).
  • Sid Kibbitz - Sid first appeared in 1982 to help Duke and Alice Schwarzman produce a movie on the life of John DeLorean, and later became Boopsie's agent.

In addition, many other minor characters have graced the series, serving a variety of functions from radio announcers to teenagers to waitstaff and with a wide range of ages and characteristics (male / female, young / old, gay / straight etc), often wryly commenting on social issues.


Doonesbury delved into a number of political and social issues, causing controversies, and breaking new ground on the comics pages. Among the milestones:

  • A November 1972 strip depicting Zonker telling a little boy in a sandbox a fairy tale ending in the protagonist being awarded "his weight in fine, uncut Turkish hashish" raises an uproar.
  • During the Watergate scandal, one strip showed Mark on the radio with a "Watergate profile" of John Mitchell, declaring him "Guilty! Guilty, guilty, guilty!!"; it caused a number of newspapers, including the Washington Post, to remove the strip.
  • In June 1973, the military newspaper Stars and Stripes drops Doonesbury for being too political. The strip is quickly reinstated after hundreds of protests by readers.
  • September 1973: the Lincoln Journal becomes the first newspaper to move Doonesbury to its editorial page.
  • In February 1976, Andy Lippincott, a classmate of Joanie's who she falls in love with, turns out to be gay. The Miami Herald decides they aren't "ready for homosexuality in a comic strip."
  • In November 1976, when the storyline included the blossoming romance of Rick Redfern and Joanie Caucus, four days of strips were devoted to a transition from one apartment to another, ending with a view of the two together in bed. Again, the strip was removed from the comics pages of a number of newspapers.
  • In June 1978, one strip included a coupon listing various politicians and dollar amounts allegedly taken from Korean lobbyists, to be clipped and glued to a postcard to be sent to the Speaker of the House Tip O'Neill, resulting in an overflow of mail to the Speaker's office.
  • In August 1979, Trudeau took a three-week vacation from the strip, which was uncommon among comic strip writers and artists.
  • From January 1983 through September 1984, the strip was not published so that Trudeau could bring the strip to Broadway.
  • In June 1985, a series of strips includes photos of Frank Sinatra associated with a number of people with mafia connections, one alongside text from President Ronald Reagan's speech awarding Sinatra the Medal of Freedom.
  • In January 1987, politicians are again declared "Guilty, guilty, guilty." This time it is Donald Regan, John Poindexter and Oliver North, referring to their roles in the Iran-Contra Affair.
  • In June 1989, several days' comics (which had already been drawn and written) had to be replaced with repeats, due to the humor of the strips being considered in bad taste in light of the mass murder of democracy demonstators in Tiananmen Square in Beijing, China.
  • In May 1990, the storyline included the death of Andy Lippincott, who succumbed to AIDS.
  • In November 1991, a series of strips implies that former Vice-President Dan Quayle has connections with drug-dealers.
  • In December 1992, Working Woman magazine names two characters (Joanie Caucus and Lacey Davenport) as role models for women.
  • In November 1993, a story line dealing with California wildfires was dropped from several California newspapers.
  • In June 1994, the Roman Catholic Church took issue with a series of strips dealing with the book Same-Sex Unions in Premodern Europe by John Boswell. A few newspapers dropped single strips from the series, and the Pentagraph from Bloomington, Illinois, refused to run the entire series.
  • In March 1995, John McCain denounces Trudeau on the floor of the Senate, "hold[ing] him in utter contempt" for a strip about Bob Dole's strategy of exploiting his war record in his presidential campaign. (McCain and Trudeau later made peace: McCain wrote the foreword to The Long Road Home, Trudeau's collection of comic strips dealing with B.D.'s leg amputation during the second Iraq war.)
  • Later in 1995 Mark, a gay character from the strip, was seen in the final days of Berke Breathed's comic Outland heading off with a main character from that series, the previously-heterosexual Steve Dallas.
  • In February 1998, a strip dealing with Bill Clinton's sex scandal was removed from the comics pages of a number of newspapers because it included the phrases "oral sex" and "semen-streaked dress".
  • In November 2000, a strip was not run in some newspapers when Duke says of then-Presidential candidate George W. Bush: "He's got a history of alcohol abuse and cocaine."
  • In September 2001, a strip perpetuated the Internet hoax that claimed George W. Bush had the lowest IQ of any president in the last 50 years, half that of Bill Clinton. [1] When caught repeating the hoax, Trudeau apologized for "unsettling anyone who was under the impression that the President is, in fact, quite intelligent." [2]
  • In 2003 a cartoon that publicised the recent medical discovery that masturbation reduces the risk of colon cancer, alluding to masturbation as "self-dating", was not run in many papers.
  • February 2004: Trudeau used his strip to make the apparently genuine offer of $10,000 for anyone who can personally confirm that George W. Bush was actually present during a part of his service in the National Guard. [3] As of 2006, the offer remains unclaimed.
  • April 2004: On April 21, after nearly 34 years, readers finally saw B.D.'s head without some sort of helmet. In the same strip, it was revealed that he had lost a leg in the U.S.-led occupation of Iraq. Later that month, after awakening and discovering his situation, B.D. exclaims "SON OF A BITCH!!!" The single strip was removed from many papers.
  • May 2004: two Sunday strips are published containing only the names of soldiers killed in the War in Iraq.
  • 7 March 2005: Begins serial memorializing the death of Hunter S. Thompson.
  • July 2005: Several newspapers decline to run two strips in which George W. Bush refers to his adviser Karl Rove as "Turd Blossom," a nickname Bush has been reported to use for Rove.
  • In September 2005 when the British newspaper The Guardian relaunched in a smaller format Doonesbury was dropped to space considerations. After a flood of complaints the strip was reinstated with an omnibus covering the issues missed and a full apology.
  • The strips scheduled to run from 31 October to 5 November 2005 and a Sunday strip scheduled for 13 November about the nomination of Harriet Miers to the Supreme Court were withdrawn suddenly after her nomination was. The strips have been posted on the official website <ref>Template:Cite web</ref>, and were replaced by re-runs by the syndicate.


Conservatives have long called for the censorship of Doonesbury. Several examples are cited in the Milestones section. The strip has also met criticism from its readers almost since it began syndicated publication. In another example, when Lacy Davenport's husband Dick, in the last moments before his death, calls on God, several conservative pundits, apparently not understanding the context, called the strip blasphemous. The sequence of Dick Davenport's final bird-watching and fatal heart attack were run in November 1986.

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. Outspoken critics have included members of every US Presidential administration since Richard Nixon's. There have also been other politicians who did not view the way that Doonesbury portrayed them very favorably, including former U.S. House Speaker Thomas "Tip" O'Neill and former California Governor Jerry Brown.

The strip has also met controversy over every military conflict it has dealt with, including Vietnam, Grenada, Panama and both Gulf Wars. When Doonesbury ran the names of soldiers who had died in Iraq since the 2003 invasion, conservative commentators accused Garry Trudeau of using the American dead to make a profit for himself, and again demanded that the strip be removed from newspapers.

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.

Awards and honors

  • In 1975 the strip won Trudeau a Pulitzer Prize for Editorial Cartooning, the first strip cartoon to be so honored.
  • Trudeau received "Certificates of Achievement" from the US Army 4th Battalion 67th Armor Division and the Ready First Brigade in 1991 for his comic strips dealing with the first Gulf War. The texts of these citations are quoted on the back of the comic strip collection Welcome to Club Scud!
  • Trudeau won the Reuben Award from the National Cartoonists Society in 1995. [4]
  • Trudeau was awarded the US Army's Commander's Award for Public Service in 2006 for his series of strips about BD's recovery following the loss of his leg in Iraq. [5]


  • Long time supporting character Jim Andrews, and the company he works for (Universal Petroleum) were named by Trudeau after his first editor at Universal Press Syndicate, Jim Andrews. The book The People's Doonesbury is dedicated in memory of Andrews.
  • Enzo Baldoni, the strip's long time Italian translator and a personal friend of G. B. Trudeau was kidnapped and killed in Iraq where he was an independent reporter at the end of August 2004, in a tragic resemblance of what happened to B. D.

Published collections

See: List of published collections of Doonesbury


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External links

it:Doonesbury ja:ドゥーンズベリー sv:Doonesbury