Comic Strip created by Garry Trudeau
In elementary school or thereabouts, I discovered the paperback racks at the local library. If you dug around long enough, you could find collections of Peanuts strips from the newspaper, an unexpected delight limited only by the librarian’s desire to have the borrower leave something behind for the other patrons.
When I was eleven, my oldest brother received The Doonesbury Chronicles as a Christmas present. Those were the days when opened presents sat under the tree for a few days as everyone contemplated and compared gifts. After all, siblings may have been separated by gulfs in our interests, but we shared a common competitiveness.
I have no recollection of seeing my brother unwrap the gift and, for a couple days, I probably didn’t even notice that it contained comics. Left alone in the living room with the tree one winter afternoon, I nudged the book open and concluded that the artwork looked odd. Also, it had a written introduction that made minimal sense at the time. Most importantly however, the book was huge.
The first few strips, however, were pretty much slapstick about football and roommates. It took a while to ease into the politically charged humor that receives the most attention. I don’t know that I was that much more politically adroit than anyone else my age because we all had parents who watched the evening news on the big networks and read the same local newspaper. We talked about the news of the day in school. We all knew about the Vietnam War and Watergate and a hundred other frightening matters. Even by that age, you knew that you lived in the nuclear age and were well aware that somewhere on the other side of the planet, a warhead was pointed at everything you loved.
Coping came more easily than I’ve drawn it because we were children and current events were still the backdrop to learning math, going swimming, and figuring out a hook shot. But still, the news filtered through and then there was this comic strip. Somehow it managed to treat bigotry and corruption and existential fear with a little humor.
Trudeau de-fanged the terrors by laughing at them. He never suggested the terrors were not real or that you were a fool for worrying about them, only that they fell within the purview of humanity and people are quirky.
Somewhere back in the day, I remember reading that the strip Gasoline Alley was notable for being the first to have its characters age as the years passed. Trudeau has done the same in Doonesbury. I think that has had an interesting effect on the experience of the strip. Because art can go anywhere willed by the creator’s imagination, we have been exposed to the private events and musings of many characters over the years. More than Opus or Charlie Brown, the feeling of an actual relationship accrues. While Doonesbury is primarily humor, the occasional tragedy arises and carries weight because of that long relationship. Humor can be quick, but tragedy takes time.
You’ve Got to Check This Out is a blog series about music, words, and all sorts of artistic matters. It started with an explanation. 267 more to go.
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