The Story of a Generation

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Image credit: All strips from 40: A Doonesbury Retrospective, copyright 2010, G.B. Trudeau (Andrews McMeel Publishing)

Doonesbury began life as a simple sports strip. It featured a single character—B.D., a knuckleheaded college quarterback who presided over a team of talented but infantile subordinates. The narrow focus worked fine as a campus one-off in the Yale Daily News, but a few weeks in, there arrived an offer of national syndication. To court the attention of that larger audience, I was encouraged to broaden the strip and assemble a diverse cast of peer characters.

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It was an opportune time to do so. In 1970, many banners were afield, many movements afire. The young had upended society. And since so much of the action was playing out on college campuses, I decided to stick with the undergraduate scene I knew. At first, the core characters in Doonesbury stayed put, happily hunkered down at Walden, the cozy commune that housed them. After more than a decade, I finally hit the reset button, dislodging the cast from its bucolic surroundings and sending the characters off into a world more responsive to the passage of time. The tribe fanned out across the country, and their lives were repopulated with mates, friends, associates, and (whoa!) children. Thereafter, I tracked their quotidian lives as they played out against a shimmering scrim of cultural and political context. Despite the strip’s reputation for perishable topicality, the 14,000 strips that compose Doonesbury thus far aren’t really about the defining moments of the modern age; they are, rather, a loosely organized, crowd-sourced chronicle about how it felt to live through them.

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Garry Trudeau created the Doonesbury strip in 1970. He’s the author of the forthcoming book 40: A Doonesbury Retrospective, from which this article has been adapted.

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