Doonesbury Marks 35th Anniversary

Garry Trudeau, Doonesbury comic strip creator, 10-25-05
His characters are well into middle age, but Garry Trudeau's "Doonesbury" is still picking fights 35 years after exploding onto the newspaper scene.

Last fall, 20 newspapers objected to a strip that had Vice President Dick Cheney using a profanity as he remotely coached President Bush through a press conference. The strip married two real-life controversies - a similar profanity Cheney said to Sen. Patrick Leahy on the Senate floor and rumors denied by the White House that a mysterious bulge under the president's suit jacket was an audio receiver, designed to help him through a debate.

For the past year, "Doonesbury" - published by Kansas City, Mo.-based Universal Press Syndicate - has followed the progress of character B.D., who lost a leg to an improvised explosive device while on patrol in Iraq. The story has been praised by groups that work with injured soldiers and derided by others like Fox's Bill O'Reilly, who compared Trudeau to Nazi propagandist Joseph Goebbels.

It's the latest in a long career of giving politicians and newspaper editors heartburn as Trudeau and his cast of Baby Boomers, reformed hippies, blogging teenagers and one Hunter S. Thompson-esque mercenary named Uncle Duke debate the issues of the day on the funny pages of almost 1,500 newspapers around the world. Wednesday marks the strip's 35-year anniversary.

"Well, it's a humor strip, so my first responsibility has always been to entertain the reader," Trudeau said in response to e-mailed questions from The Associated Press. "But if, in addition, I can help move readers to thought and judgment about issues that concern me, so much the better."

These days, that focus has been fixed on the war in Iraq, which the 57-year-old Trudeau readily agrees he doesn't support. That ire has extended to the Bush Administration, furthering a feud the strip has had with the Bush family since its beginnings in a Yale college newspaper when George W. Bush and Trudeau were classmates.

Reason magazine associate editor Jesse Walker said the strip has occasional breakthroughs, but has become more Democrat polemic than satire and Trudeau's best work is decades behind him.

"Ultimately what happened to Trudeau was he got older, no longer had his finger on the pulse and started writing as an outsider," Walker said.

Republicans tend to agree, with many of his targets over the years claiming he's unfair and over the top.

In 1984, a week of Doonesbury strips depicting Vice President Bush placing his "manhood in a blind trust" led to this Bush retort: "Doonesbury's carrying water for the opposition. Trudeau is coming out of deep left field."

Some of his attacks have led newspaper editors to pull the strip. During the 2000 presidential election, at least two papers pulled Doonesbury after character Duke accused the younger Bush of being a cocaine user.

Trudeau refutes his far-left, anti-Republican label, saying he's supported "moderate" Republicans over the years and not "mindless ideologues like the ones who who've had a stranglehold on power the past five years."