Of the many figures to emerge from America?s post-counterculture, Garry Trudeau has been one of the country?s long-distance runners. His comic strip Doonesbury came from his Yale University days, began national syndication in 1970, and became an immediate success and a flash point for controversy. This immense collection 40: A Doonesbury Retrospective gathers, Trudeau estimates in his introduction, a mere ”13 percent of the over 14,000 published strips,” but it gives you a rich understanding of Trudeau?s importance as a humorist, a satirist, a cartoonist.
Notice I list ”cartoonist” last. Trudeau is a great comic-strip artist, but it?s his storytelling and gift for dialogue, capturing the thoughts of certain segments of America, that have overshadowed his draftsmanship. During a time when the size of comic strips shrank in newspapers, Trudeau both fought that trend and became a canny minimalist, often using the same figure — say, a drawing of the White House — in every panel, with only the word-balloon dialogue changing each time.
Over the years, it?s become impossible for his critics to dismiss him as a liberal propagandist, a label common enough during the post-Nixon era that Doonesbury was often relocated to the op-ed pages. Instead, during the past decade, Trudeau has shown a rare ability among baby-boomer creators to empathize with a younger generation, recording their down-sized hopes and dreams in new characters and new locations such as Iraq and Afghanistan.
Doonesbury is certainly one of the greatest comic strips ever; as this collection proves, it?s also one of the greatest pieces of serialized, topical fiction ever produced by an American. A