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Doonesbury

The following is very brief guide to Doonesbury, based on the strips and on various background pieces I've read over the years, mainly in the Guardian.

The only thing in this guide that I'm uncertain about is Trudeau's 1984 break. He seems to have jumped the plot forward during the break (eg Mike and JJ got married) however it may be that my books are misleading me. Any new information would be invaluable.

Overview

Doonesbury started off in 1968 as a strip in the Yale Daily News by an undergraduate called Garry Trudeau. Some of the original characters are based on real people at Yale of that era. Jim Andrews, of the Universal Press Syndicate, spotted the strip and syndicated it commercially in around 1970.

In its early years Doonesbury was set almost entirely at the University (never named at the time, but based on Yale and later referred to as Walden) and at Walden commune, where many of the characters lived. In 1984 Trudeau took a break and on his return the strip's characters had left university and moved out into the wider world where they have grown older, married, had children, divorced, so that the key characters are now mostly thirtysomethings.

It's now a national institution in the States, both loved and hated by the political establishment, and Trudeau has received many awards (he was the first cartoonist to win a Pulitzer in 1975) and honorary degrees.

Over twenty five years on Trudeau is still managing to produce strips which reflect how America is today, make strong points, and yet are still funny. Long may he continue!

There are only three major vehicles to keep us informed as to what's going on in Washington: the electronic media, the print media, and Doonesbury - not necessarily in that order."
    - Gerald R Ford

The only thing worse than being in it would be not to be in it
    - Henry Kissinger

Garry Trudeau is coming out of the deep left field. The American people are going to speak out, and we'll see whether they side with Doonebury or the Reagan-Bush message.
    - George Bush

The Cast

The Commune Members

Mike Doonesbury - the eponymous hero
Liberal to the core, but with age he finds it increasing difficult and admitted to having voted Republic a few years back. Originally from Tulsa, Oklahoma. Educated at the University, where the core of the Doonesbury cast met and lived at Walden Commune. Married JJ (see below).

Carried on living in the Commune after university but moved to New York after getting a job in an ad agency there where his first campaign was promoting Reagan to black voters! Also worked on the campaign to re-elect Lacey Davenport, to promote smoking to young "entry level" smokers, and for "Safe Whoopie" in the first pass by Trudeau on the AIDS message.

He and JJ split up for a while when she changed his haircut (the last straw) but they got it back to together again. Later drifted apart again over Nichole, separated, and got make together when JJ had their child live on cable! He and JJ split again, for what looks like the last time, when she ran off with Zeke. Mike got custody of Alex.

Made redundant by the agency just after the Gulf War for a long time he didn't have any work at all. Trudeau, apparently desparate to find a way of getting him back into work turned his "summer daydream" (a regular happening in recent years) into reality and Mike now works in marketing for Bernie's software company in Seattle. He has just started a relationship with Kim.
 

B.D. - quarterback
Appeared in the first ever Doonesbury strip as Mike's room mate. Although BD's name has never been revealed he is allegedly based on Yale's star quarterback of that era Brian Dowling. Always pictured wearing a helmet be it football, army or LAPD. The token right winger in the early strips. Volunteered to go to Vietnam to avoid his term paper where he met Phred. Long time boyfriend of Boopsie. After University moved to L.A. to be the thirdstring quarterback for the Rams and to manage Boopsie's career. Called up from the reserve for Operation Desert Storm and again during the LA riots. Then joined the LAPD.
 
"Marvellous" Mark Slackmeyer - active lefty and DJ
Worked for the University radio station WBBY and, afterwards as a DJ and reporter on National Public Radio. After Trudeau killed off his only gay character (Andy Lippincote) Trudeau arranged for Mark to discover, after being visited in a dream by Andy, that he too was gay. Although Trudeau regards Mark as the third of the characters on which the strip was originally based he doesn't have his own plot lines so often these days but often seen with Roland Hedley and Rick Redfern as one of the heads when lots of journalists are shown.
 
Zonker Harris - the hippy
His only real enthusiasms at University were drugs, tanning and talking to his houseplants (who spoke back). Winner of the Jack Ford Medal for Best Tan at the 1980 Gerald R Ford Summer Biathlon (the two sports being golf and tanning!). Honorary nephew of Duke (see below), one of the many consequences of which has that he was Lieutenant Governor of Samoa in the mid-70's (while taking a sabbatical from University). After university he was a student at the Papa Doc Medical School in Haiti. While there he won won $23,000,000 in a lottery but blew most of it rescuing Duke from zombiedom. With what was left bought a title, Viscount St. Austell-in-the-Moor Bigglewade Brixham, and attended the Andrew/Fergie wedding. "Worked" as housemaid and nanny for Mike and JJ at various stages through the years and lately as nanny for BD and Boopsie.
 
Joan (Joanie) Caucus - lawyer
Picked up by Mike and Mark on their motorcycle combination when she was running away from her husband. Joined the commune and found herself. Was encouraged to go to law school. While at law school acted as campaign manager for her room mate Virginia who was standing for congress as a term project! Through this she met Rick Redfern, who was a reporter on the campaign, and who she later married and Lacey Davenport, who was the winning candidate. She then moved to Washington to work as a staff lawyer for Lacey on the House Ethics Committee.
 
Barbera "Boopsie" Boopstein - bimbo
Girlfriend of BD. Her opening line was "Whee! Tee-hee! (giggle) Hi there!". Appeared nude in Playboy while at University. Went out to California as a starlet and has never quite made it. Mainly worked in teenflicks with typical casting being "third topless girl in shower". Caught the new age bug early so that Trudeau could have a dig at Shirley MacLaine. Channeller for a 21,335 year old warrior named Hunk Ra. In that capacity she sat on the California State Task Force to Promote Self Esteem and Personal and Social Responsibility. Finally married DB the second time around (BD did a runner the first time).
 
Nichole - feminist.
Appeared a lot in the Walden days but not seen much since. Last major appearance was as the potential "other woman" for Mike at a Walden re-union, although Trudeau, in a fit of absent mindedness renamed her Nicole. JJ promptly announced she was pregnant.
 
Bernie - the mad scientist
Not seen for many years now but in the early years always good for a single strip or a short run where he would blow himself up, turn himself into a werewolf or go back in time. Recently he reappeared as the owner of a major league software house whose products rival Netscape.

Other Fictional Characters

Raoul Duke - gonzo reporter and schemer
based on Hunter S Thompson, inventor of Gonzo journalism and author of "Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas". Like Thompson a drug user with style. During his checkered career in Doonesbury he's been: reporter on "Rolling Stone", Governor of Samoa, US Ambassador to China (where he met Honey), owner of a smuggling boat in Miami, dropped into Iran to on behalf of Jim Andrews and captured and held as a hostage, director of the Papa Doc medical school in Haiti, and turned into an undead zombie, captain of Donald Trump's yacht the "Trump Princess", Panamanian pro-consul after the US invasion and owner of Club Scud in Kuwait at the end of the Gulf war.
 
Honey - Duke's companion
His interpreter during his period as Ambassador to China where she fell in love with him. This was *not* reciprocated. After Duke left she came to America on an exchange and was JJ's room mate for a while. She was one of the students attending Henry Kissinger's classes. Since then she's cropped up in most of Duke's escapades, normally being duped by Duke into being his assistant and being parted with any money she may have about her person. She and Duke were actually married for a few weeks, when she went to Bejing at the time of the democracy protest, had to seek asylum at the US embassy, and could only be got out by marrying Duke. (He, needless to say, was only doing this because Trump had promised him $1M to get her out.)
 
Joan Junior ("JJ") - performance artist
Joanie Caucus' daughter by her first husband. In a typical Trudeau twist her boyfriend at the time she first appeared was Duke's housekeeper Zeke Bremmer, however she and Mike soon started dating and they married just after Mike left University. Moved with him to NY to work as a performance artist. Extremely bizarre stuff it was too. Painted a classical murals on the the bathroom ceiling of Trump's yacht. When Mike was unemployed she worked as a taxi driver to bring some money. In a moment of madness left Mike for Zeke.
 
Alex - Mike & JJ's daughter
Born live on cable TV. In the days when Mike had a job she was looked after by Zonker. Now she's a Net-wise kid living in Seattle with her dad.
 
Rick Redfern - reporter
Met Joanie Caucus while over from Washington covering Virginia's campaign against Lacey Davenport for the "Post". Married her and worked for some months for "People" magazine before moving back to Washington Post when Joanie started working for Lacey. Tries very hard to be a modern father, and succeeds occasionally.
 
Jeff Redfern - Rick and Joanie's son

 
Kim Rosenthal - programmer
Kim was the last orphan baby out of Vietnam. Adopted by the Rosenthals. Her first words were "Big Mac". This series of strips was unusually as there was no connection between the Rosenthals and any other Doonesbury character. Kim cropped up again many years later during the debate about children of Asian being higher achievers and then disappeared again.

Recently, continuing Trudeau's habit of bringing his characters together, she made a surprise reappearance as one of Bernie's programmers and is now dating Mike.
 

Zeke Bremmer - caretaker
Zeke looked after Duke's house at Aspen and was also JJ's boyfriend when she first appeared in the strip. Something of a waster, he made infrequent appearances over the years the most prominent being a series of strips where Duke thinks he's an intruder and fills him with bullets. Recently he and JJ met again and she ran off with him.
 
Lacey Davenport - congresswoman
Based on Millicent Fenwick, the former Republican congresswoman who died in 1992. Lacey is a perfect lady but tough as anything. Married to Dick, an ornithologist, after living in sin with him for 35 years.

Lacey has sat on various committees over the years, giving Trudeau the perfect vehicle for discussing or highlighting issues which interest him. Her second election campaign was against Clyde (her slogan was "Davenport - as indispensible as sensible shoes") but on the day of her victory Dick was out trying to spot a Backman's Warbler, his holy grail, and had a massive coronary as he took the photo. Resigned on principle over Congress' failure to control the S&L crisis. Re-elected on a write in vote.
 

Virginia "Ginny" Slade - lawyer
Originally seen as Joanie's roommate at Law School. Ran for Congress against Lacey as her seminar project with Joanie as her campaign manager and Zonker as her media person.
 
Clyde - Ginny's "main man"
A cool dude. Re-appeared later and stood against Lacey on a drug free ticket. Lost.
 
Scott Sloan - radical priest
A character from the University years. Set up a coffeehouse for students and introduced himself as "the fighting young priest who can talk to the young". Dated Joanie for a while. Took over Walden as a refugee centre when Mike and JJ left. More recently founded his own church based at Walden.
 
Roland Burton Hedley Jr - reporter
Roland first came into Doonesbury as a "Time" reporter fresh back from Nam who is given the run around by Zonker. He later became a TV reporter for ABC where he starred in two sets of bizarre strips where he went inside Reagan's brain and in strips set in Afghanistan. He has since cropped up as a TV reporter in many plot lines, often asking questions of real politicians. Usually seen sporting interesting headware.
 
Sid - Boopsie's agent
Has two phones and a fax in his car. Does group therapy by mobile phone.
 
Comrade Phred - terrorist
Met BD in Vietnam where they became firm friends, although being on opposite sides. Was involved in some good storylines about Cambodian refugees and then came to America as Vietnamese Ambassador to the UN. Sadly not seen for a long time now.
 
Jim Andrews - oil company executive
Trudeau's tribute to his old friend Jim Andrews of Universal Press Syndicate. Andrews worked for Universal Petroleum and was once described by Duke as "a gutless, gouging oil pusher who'd trade his own grandmother to the arabs" (Andrew's response was that "at least her sinuses cleared up). He also claimed to have single handedly caused the 1974 recession through simple carelessness: "I just got behind with my mail", he said.
 
Phil Slackmeyer - businessman
Marvellous Mark's father. Appeared in the early days as the exasperated Republican father dispairing of his son's left wing views. Went to Washington to work for Reagan but re-joined the private sector because he couldn't make enough money. Promoted to chairman of his oil company he attempted a takeover of a smaller company but was in turn taken over by Jim Andrew's Universal. Later worked in Wall Street, was convicted of fraud, was pardoned by Reagan and released. In recent times he's worked as a spokesman for the tobacco industry and got himself a "trophy wife" to replace his old one.
 
Jimmy Thudpucker - rock'n'roll star
Cropped up a lot in the days when Joanie and Zonker were in California but seldom seen in recent years.
 
Andy Lippincott - lawyer
Joanie's first love at Law School. Unfortunately for her he was gay. He was brought back by Trudeau when AIDS came on the scene as an early victim.
 
Alice and Elmont - Washington homeless
Alice first appeared as a character in a Duke storyline where she sold Duke the idea of doing a film of the life of John DeLorean. Re-appeared when Rick did a feature on the homeless in Washington. While she is very smart and streetwise Elmont is decidly unhinged, although he does come out with some very funny lines. Alice and Elmont later got married in a bus station (with Scott Sloan as priest) in an attempt to force the government to house them.
 
Marcia Feinbloom - Jewish princess and singular person
The reception at Mike's old ad agency, as she approached 40 she decided to call off the search for Mr Right and to have a party to celebrate her "singularity". Subsequently met Zonker when he was flying to the UK to attend the Andrew/Fergie wedding and went out with him for a while, very platonically.
 
Ron Headrest - electronic candidate
A cross between Max Headroom and Ronald Reagan, appearing with a Max Headroom style background. One of Trudeau's more bizarre creations. Stood for president in 1988/9 alongside Skippy Bush, George's evil twin brother.
 
Sal Doonesbury - student, punk and condom vendor
Mike's younger brother, who is currently at university. First appeared as the only rebel student in a morass of "pre-med flamers", his philosophy being "we were put here to party". Trudeau's contribution to safer sex was to get him to sell condoms as "Doctor Whoopie".
 
Ray Hightower - soldier and policeman
Made his appearance during BD's tour in the Gulf. Injured, but recovered and then spent some time working in a refugee camp. He and BD got back together when they were called up as reservists during the LA riots and he and BD have now both joined the LAPD.
 
Mr Butts - talking cigarette
One of Trudeau's more bizarre characters. Originally invented by Mike when he was doing an ad campaign for a cigarette company aimed at recruiting young smokers, Mr Butts followed him around while he agonised about whether or not he should be doing that sort of work. Trudeau also used Mr Butts and Mr Jay (a joint) and the divine Miss N (a packet of nicoteen chewing gum) to make some points about the difference in treatment between cannabis and tobacco. Mr Butts then went to the Gulf so that Trudeau could have a dig at US cigarette companies who were distributing free smokes to the troops. More recently he's been seen with Joe Camel as Trudeau continues to comment on the tobacco industry.
 
Cornell
A friend of Zonker's from his days at the Papa Doc Medical School. Last seen distributing dope cookies to AIDS sufferers.

Real People in Doonesbury

Richard Nixon
Never seen it the flesh. Trudeau seems to dislike drawing real people so he introduced the White House exterior strips as a way of putting words into Nixon's mouth.
 
Frank Sinatra
Attacked by Trudeau for his mob connections.
 
George "Poppy" Bush
Trudeau didn't like Bush, and made sure he knew it. He was portrayed as weak, indecisive and bereft of his own ideas. Trudeau came up with a new way of drawing a real person: Bush was simply a disembodied voice.
 
J Danforth "Danny" Quayle
Inspired by his portrayal of Bush as a disembodied voice Trudeau made Quayle also be a disembodied voice, but with a feather attached.
 
Bill Clinton
Trudeau was a fan of Clinton's from the start, although he's been more critical recently. Continuing the tradition of not drawing him he's depicted as a waffle.
 
Donald Trump
Unusually Trump was actually seen in Doonesbury strips, although initially only from the back. Trudeau followed him from his glory days to his fall, and involved him with several other Doonesbury characters including Duke and Honey, who worked on the "Trump Princess" and JJ, who painted murals on the ceilings of his bathrooms.
 
Elvis
Turned up on the "Trump Princess" (he really had been captured by aliens). Now overweight and balding. Trump and Duke arranged for him to play Trump's Atlantic City casinos for over $2M dollars per week: "I've got 1,200 illegitimate children to support", he said. The only problem turned out to be that Elvis now only sang John Denver material now.

Themes

The White House
Trudeau generally dislikes drawing real people (although there have been exceptions such as Donald Trump). As a result he's invented a number of devices to avoid showing them, the simplest being to have them just out of frame (Kissinger being an early example). Starting with Nixon, Trudeau used an external view of the White House with voices coming from it, as a way of putting words into presidents' mouths. Originally this was just a normal view but as Nixon got into deeper and deeper trouble over Watergate Trudeau added features in the foreground: wooden pallisades, security men, fortified emplacements and, finally, a high wall. When Ford took over Trudeau showed the wall being knocked down.

This has continued down the years, for example, Reagan's White House often had ranch fencing with a saddle resting on it.

When Doonesbury took his break in 1984 he finished with the White House scene being lowered as if it was a backdrop, and on his return the opening scene was the same backdrop being raised again (upside down initially).
 

Alienation
Trudeau is not averse to playing tricks like: vetting the characters for correct views, pretending the his pen is leaking ink, getting Mike and Zonker to read mail from readers and answer questions, discuss the size of the strip, and even get himself replaced as writer.

Another favourite is to pretend that the strip is a TV or movie set, as in the treating of the White House facade as if it where a backdrop.
 

Mike (and others) in front of the TV
A recurring theme over the years, right back to the Walden days, look out for odd things happening in the background.

Biblography

Doonesbury comes in small format annuals and large format summaries (about every five years). I suspect that a lot of the the small format are no longer in print but all the large format should still be available and I would recommend getting all six.

All are published by Henry Holt and Company of New York. Some are also published in the UK by Abacus. In chronological order they go:

    1970 Still a Few Bugs in the System
    The President is a Lot Smarter Than You Think
    But This War Had Such Promise
    Call Me When You Find America
    Guilty, Guilty, Guilty
    "What Do We Have for the Witnesses, Johnnie?"
    Dare To Be Great Ms. Caucus
    Wouldn't a Gremlin Have Been More Sensible
    "Speaking of Inalienable Rights, Amy ..."
    You're Never Too Old for Nuts and Berries
    An Especially Tricky People
    As the Kid Goes Broke
    Stalking the Perfect Tan
    "Any Grooming Hints for Your Fans, Rollie?"
    But the Pension Fund Was Just Sitting There
    We're Not Out of the Woods Yet
    A Tad Overweight, but Violet Eyes to Die For
    And That's My Final Offer!
    He's Never Heard of You, Either
    In Search of Reagan's Brain
    Ask for May, Settle for June
    Unfortunately She Was Also Hired for Sound
    The Wreck of the "Rusty Nail"
    You Give Great Meeting, Sid
    Doonesbury: A Musical Comedy
    That's *Doctor* Sinatra, You Little Bimbo!
    Death of a Party Animal
    Downtown Doonesbury
    Calling Dr. Whoopee
    Talkin' About My G-G-Generation
    We're Eating More Beets!
    Read My Lips, Make My Day, East Quiche and Die!
    Give Those Nymphs Some Hooters!
    You're Smokin' Now, Mr. Butts!
    I'd Go With the Helmet, Ray
    Welcome to Club Scud!
    What is it Tink, Is Pan in Trouble?
    Quality Time on Highway 1
    Washed Out Bridges and Other Disasters
    Doonesbury Nation
    In search of Cigarette Holder Man

Large format:

    The Doonesbury Chronicles
    Doonesbury's Greatest Hits
    The People's Doonesbury
    Doonesbury Dossier: The Reagan Years
    Doonesbury Deluxe: Selected Glances Askance
    Recycled Doonesbury: Second Thoughts on a Gilded Age

There is a CD ROM of all 10,000 strips available. It's published by Mindscape but Mindscape US say you have to purchase it from Mindscape UK and Mindscape UK say there's not enough demand to make it worthwhile stocking it. So your only hope is to get someone to buy it for you from the US.

Doonesbury can be found every day in the Guardian newspaper. Alternatively the American magazine Comic Relief (available by subscription on 010 1 707 443 2820 or from specialist bookshops) carries a month's worth of Doonesbury strips in every issue.

Doonesbury is discussed on Usenet in rec.arts.comics.strips

Doonesbury promotional material, including details of the CD ROM mentioned above, can be found on the World Wide Web at URL http://www.doonesbury.com/

Hunter S Thompson's collections of Gonzo journalism include:

    The Great Shark Hunt
     or Strange Tales From A Strange Time

    Generation of Swine
     or Tales of Shame and Degradation in the 80's

    Songs of the Doomed
     or More Notes on the Death of the American Dream

Copyright © 1993,1996 Paul Oldham

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