The Online Encyclopedia and Dictionary







Doonesbury is a comic strip by Garry Trudeau, popular in the United States. 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 comic strip first appeared in the Yale University student newspaper the Yale Daily News in September 1968. At Yale, it was called Bull Tales and focused on local campus events. 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."

It debuted in about two dozen newspapers on October 26, 1970, as Doonesbury, the first strip from the Universal Press Syndicate . 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.

It was a pioneer in the way it blurred the distinction between editorial cartoon and the funny pages. In 1975, the strip won Trudeau a Pulitzer Prize for Editorial Cartooning, the first strip cartoon to be so honored. President Gerald Ford acknowledged the stature of the comic strip in the 1970s, saying "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."

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 an unnamed university modelled after Trudeau's alma mater. When the strip resumed, the main characters had all graduated, most had moved, and Michael had married his girlfriend JJ. 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.

Even though Doonesbury frequently features major real-life US politicians, they are rarely depicted with their real face. Instead, 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 (March 20, 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, 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, and a feather for Dan Quayle.

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 (2005), a venue which 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, and presidential aides. Before the invasion of Iraq, many Doonesbury-watchers agreed that Trudeau seemed to be losing his edge, but since the changes in US foreign policy of 2002-present, he is once again hilariously questioning authority and speaking truth to power.

The comic has also taken the form of a stage show and an animated special. Doonesbury has occasionally been called The Great American Novel of the late 20th century.


Major characters

  • Mike Doonesbury - ex-advertising man and co-founder of a software start-up.
  • 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 many military actions, he lost a leg in Iraq. Known for his conservative views and (until 21 April 2004) occupation-representative headgear. Even Boopsie doesn't know what 'B.D.' stands for. 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 honour.
  • Joanie Caucus - ex-housewife and "libbie" who met Mike and Mark on the road, went to law school, and worked with Mike on the John Anderson campaign. Married to journalist Rick Redfern.
  • J.J. Caucus - daughter of Joanie (JJ is 'Joan Junior'), who married Mike, left him for Zeke, and later won a MacArthur Fellowship. 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, uber-geek and Mike's second wife. Turned down 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 Bob Dylan.
  • Barbara Ann Boopstein (Boopsie) - cheerleader turned actress, model, new age channeler, and general minor celebrity. She is married to B.D.; they have a daughter named Samantha.
  • Zipper Harris - Zonker's nephew and current Walden undergraduate.
  • Phred - the Viet Cong "terrorist" who 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, moved to television and then the Internet.
  • Jeff Redfern - Joanie and Rick's son. Is currently attending Walden, and is an intern for the Central Intelligence Agency.

Other characters, and their inspirations

  • Uncle Duke, former Rolling Stone writer, governor of American Samoa and ambassador, now the mayor of a city in Iraq - Hunter S. Thompson. "Like Forrest Gump's evil twin."
  • Honey Huan, Duke's constant companion - Tang Wensheng (Mao's interpreter when meeting with Nixon). Also partially Marcie Johnson of Peanuts.
  • Lacey Davenport, Republican U.S. Congresswoman, now deceased - Millicent Fenwick.
  • Phil Slackmeyer - Father of Mark. A wealthy, conservative, corporate businessman.
  • Doc Edgerton - himself.
  • Ron Headrest, computer-generated alter ego of President Reagan - Max Headroom and Ronald Reagan. A similar feature appeared in the film Back to the Future Part II.
  • Rev. Scott Sloan, chaplain at Walden - Rev. William "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 - Kingman Brewster , 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 - Tobacco industry.
  • Donald Trump, the greedy, rich man he is in real life.
  • Andy Lipincott - Joanie fell in love with him, but on a date, he revealed that he was gay. Was later diagnosed with AIDS.


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.
  • 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 of 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 May 1990, the storyline included the death due to AIDS of Andy Lippincott.
  • 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 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.
  • 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 Presidential candidate Duke says of 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. When caught repeating the hoax, Trudeau apologized for "unsettling anyone who was under the impression that the President is, in fact, quite intelligent."
  • in 2003 a cartoon that alluded to masturbation ("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.
  • April 2004: On April 21, after 36 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 new impairment, B.D. exclaims "SON OF A BITCH!!!"
  • May 2004: a Sunday strip is published containing only the names of soldiers killed in the War in Iraq.
  • March 7, 2005: Begins serial memorializing the death of Hunter S. Thompson.

Typical strip

The following is based on the Sunday, November 18, 2001 strip, which shows no faces or characters, just bubbles above the White House:

1. (A man, presumably Karl Rove, is speaking) Sir, you've been so busy this fall, we didn't have a chance to brief you on this ... 2. ... but it turned out that the missile defense program and corporate tax cuts and subsidies for the power industry and oil drilling in Alaska... 3. ... In fact, most of the items on our political agenda...
4. ... are ALL justified by the War on Terrorism! 5. (President Bush replies) Wow...What a coincidence...
6. Thanks, evildoers.    They're such jerks — if they only knew...

Another strip

The following is based on the July 22, 1978 strip, which focused on Delta Kappa Epsilon:

External link

Last updated: 10-29-2005 02:13:46