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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.
"The Least We Can Do"
Michael Kinsley offers Boomers a way to repay their debt to America.
"What Do the Boomers Owe Us?"
An expert panel discusses the cover story and the generation's legacy, with responses from Michael Kinsley.
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.
Mike Doonesbury: At my high school, a “doone” was a clueless sort, a doofus whose innocence conveyed a kind of grace. If you leave out the grace part, that was Mike. In the early strips, his emotional development wasn’t just arrested; it sometimes appeared to reverse course. With such an inept start, who could have foreseen that he would eventually evolve into the Richie Cunningham of the strip, the group’s designated grown-up? Anarchy without resistance becomes tedious, so Mike’s sensible, cautionary admonitions to the other characters have become indispensable—even as they usually go unheeded.
September 12, 1973
June 7, 1991
Zonker Harris: With a little help from Bob Dylan, my generation pretty much invented the whole idea of “forever young.” If prior to the Baby Boom, youth was regarded as unserious—and it was—no one seems to remember. We are now three generations deep into rock, jeans, and dope; there’s no turning back. Which is just fine with Zonker, an avatar of high hippie slackness whom I dropped into B.D.’s huddle as pushback to the deeply straight quarterback. When the tide turned, and hippies gave way to yuppies, it was Zonker who slowly became disenfranchised—and though he’s still in the grip of forever young, the dream of its leading to nirvana has proved elusive.
September 23, 1971