True, Pogo savagely lampooned Sen. Joe McCarthy, and Peanuts poked fun at psychiatrists, but, in general, comic strips rarely dealt with anything weightier than missing the morning bus. And then along came Doonesbury. On Oct. 26, 1970, Mike Doonesbury and the rest of Garry Trudeau’s irreverent characters were introduced to the country’s comic pages, and morning coffee and the paper would never be the same again.
Doonesbury began during Trudeau’s college years when he drafted a strip for the Yale Daily News in which he ridiculed such big men on campus as Yale’s president and the star of the football team. A mere warm-up. The cartoon caught the eye of Universal Press Syndicate editors, and 22-year-old Trudeau debuted Doonesbury in 28 newspapers. The strip centered around Walden Commune and its inhabitants: self-absorbed, skirt-chasing Doonesbury; Joanie Caucus, a middle-aged feminist; ever-stoned Zonker Harris; and B.D., the jock, and his New Age girlfriend, Boopsie. Papers debated whether such wackos were fit for print, and more than a dozen banned the strip in 1973 when it proclaimed Watergate offender John Mitchell ”Guilty, guilty, guilty!”
But Doonesbury quickly returned when readers protested, which inspired Trudeau. He skewered dozens of Watergate politicians, and Nixon aide John Ehrlichman even reportedly apologized to Trudeau for resigning and ruining a strip series with his departure. Doonesbury was so tapped in to the doings on the Hill that Sen. Bob Dole once called it the ”best source of what’s going on in Washington.”
Trudeau didn’t confine his acerbic wit to the Capitol. He also took on the press, right-to-lifers, yuppies, and the city of Santa Barbara, Calif.. He devoted a series to a tour of Reagan’s brain and portrayed Vice President Quayle as a feather. He created a Broadway musical (Doonesbury, in 1983), numerous books, and even TV specials (like the campaign spoof, Tanner ‘88: The Dark Horse).
Ironically, the biting critic (who’s been married to NBC newswoman Jane Pauley for 14 years) received the country’s most distinguished stamp of approval. In 1975, he was awarded the first Pulitzer Prize ever given to a comic strip artist. Today Doonesbury runs in 1,350 papers, and the antiestablishment cartoonist has become an establishment all his own.