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.
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
- 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 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
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
- 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
- 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
- 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.
- 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
- 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
- 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
- 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
- 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.
- 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
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
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).
- 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.
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
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
In search of Cigarette Holder Man
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