Doonesbury remains a great strip. Its strength, I’ve always felt, lies in the versatility of its characters. Their lives are not rigid; they change direction, they change opinions—they die. How many cartoonists let their established, beloved characters die? Peter Bagge comes to mind, but that’s about it.
The whole life of the strip has centered on the characters trying to find their centers, and their centers keep moving. Mike Doonesbury himself voted for Bush in 2000, f’Chrissakes, and you know, it really made sense.
Apart from the changes in drawing style (and administrations,) a lot about the strip has changed. The style of humor has changed. It’s not as wacky as it used to be, but it holds its own very well. And Trudeau continues to skewer anyone and everyone in power, and I don’t expect him to be at all kind to the next Democratic president.
I think his caricature style should be checked a little bit. I think the last person he drew as a person was Mike Dukakis. This “floating icon” bit needs to stop. I think it was brilliant the way he drew George H.W. Bush as the little speck in the air, non-entity that he was. And I’ll even agree that George W. Bush, drawn as an asterisk, is acceptable, since apart from summing up the 2000 election very well, it suggests a family resemblance. But Trudeau strained the joke a bit much with Dan Quayle’s feather, Bill Clinton’s waffle, Newt Gingrich’s bomb… (and did Bob Dole even have an icon? John Kerry?) Had Trudeau drawn other politicians as human beings, the non-entity joke would have been funnier. Or even if he gave other presidents and politicians the same kind of nudge he did to Reagan with his “Ron Headrest” character. Frankly, I think that would have been far more entertaining than the floating icons. (And anyway, there’s no way he could simply draw straight-up images of politicians after the way he skewered Reagan and Bush.)
Doonesbury has a point of view, and it can get preachy on occasion, but to dismiss the July 10 strip linked in the OP as preachy is hyperbole. Trudeau stays as topical as ever, drifting occasionally into preachiness, but that’s the risk you have to take with topical humor. On the whole he’s fair. Even those who disagree with him have to admit that he gets his facts right, and that he can back them up with solid information. This is why I don’t get how anyone can compare Doonesbury with the one-note, two-dimensional screeds of Bruce Tinsley’s “Mallard Fillmore.” Honestly, I don’t believe that conservatives can’t be funny; Bill Buckley certainly was funny, even though I agreed with him about practically nothing (and anyway, Buckley’s probably too erudite to translate to a comic strip.) Where are the (good) conservative humorists?
Anyway, Trudeau’s strip reflects his generation very well. And it reflects the generation before his very well. And he reflects the generation born during the last couple of decades of the twentieth century very well. But my generation, well… the poor guy just doesn’t get us. You know, the “Generation X” that the media tried to pigeonhole a few years back. He seemed to think we were good for another generation of campus radicalism, as with Mike’s kid brother Sal and the “Dr. Whoopie” franchise. Sal seems to have vanished somehow. Where’d he go, anyway? I can’t fault Trudeau for not getting us; my generation is just something too bizarre for the Baby Boomers to square with, it seems. The Baby Boomers, be they liberal, conservative or whatever, are chronic idealists; my generation have a “whatever works” kind of attitude, though we’re hardly devoid of ideological orientations, ourselves. So regardless of the fact that Trudeau can’t speak to my generation, I like what he has to say, and the way he says it.