Archive: Doonesbury

Post Content

Doonesbury, 10/1/04

OK, so let’s see. The U.S. is in the middle of fighting two wars right now, by my count, one of which managed to get almost every other country on Earth to hate us. The current president is one of the most polarizing political figures since Nixon. And we’re a month away from an election that both sides are calling the most important in decades.

And so of course, Doonesbury is spending a week focused on The Apprentice.

I do still like Doonesbury generally, but it’s definitely been getting creakier. It’s hard to do pop cultural commentary when you’re not particularly in touch with pop culture anymore. If you really want your TV watching mingled with political commentary, I guess you have to go to The Boondocks. There at least the characters talk back to the TV, instead of grinning like morons like Zipper here. I’m misquoting what someone else said online here, but: Remember when Doonesbury used college students to make fun of adults, rather than to make fun of college students?

Post Content

Panels from Herb and Jamaal, Barney Google and Snuffy Smith, Shoe, and Doonesbury, 9/10/04

One of the many things about Gary Trudeau that I like is that he’s admitted that, at least initially, he wasn’t very good at drawing. A lot of early Doonesburys consisted of one character sitting in front of the TV for four consecutive identical panels, and while there was a certain pop-art charm to this, I think most people would agree that his strip has improved leaps and bounds since then, especially after his extended early-1980s sabbatical.

Anyway, for me, one of the defining features of modern-era Doonesbury is the “shadow panel,” where the characters are rendered as white against a black background (or vice versa) for a single panel. This is a technique that has spread in one form or another to other comics as well (or maybe it was always there, though Doonesbury is where I noticed it first). It’s kind of arty, and like a lot of art, I don’t have a clue what it’s supposed to mean. I think it’s safe to say that it doesn’t represent a momentary shift in ambient light, or a massive nearby explosion. Sometimes, as in both Herb and Jamaal and Barney Google and Snuffy Smith today, it’s part of a shift in perspective, generally representing something too far away to render details. (Though I should point out that in Barney Google and Snuffy Smith, the shadowy characters are not, in fact, too far away to render details; in fact, with their white hands, they look alarmingly like Aunt Jemima figurines.) With the other two, though, we’re looking at the same scene from essentially the same angle, so it’s representing … what, exactly? Time passing? A change in scene? A desire to not draw the same damn details on the same characters for a third time in one day? Anyone who knows more about drawing comics than I do (and Lord knows there must be enough of you out there) should please edify us all.

Post Content

Doonesbury, 8/4/04

Baby boomers! Who doesn’t love ’em? Well, their parents probably didn’t like it when they rose up and rejected age-old values like unquestioning patriotism, tie-wearing, and regular baths. And we who are their kids got pretty annoyed by their endless nattering on about how they changed the world and invented free love and took drugs and blah blah blah and, oh yeah, you shouldn’t be doing any of that stuff, so go do your homework.

Maybe their grandkids will have a little distance from the whole thing.

But boy howdy, baby boomers sure do love baby boomers. When you read the boomer-drawn Doonesbury, especially in the long term, you’ll notice that it’s the boomers who are inevitably the viewpoint characters. Now, I’ve always loved this strip; I’ve used old anthologies as my primary source about what young people thought about politics and popular culture during the Nixon administration. But future generations will use today’s strips to find out what middle-aged people think about the Iraq war, which, if you’ll forgive me for saying so, is a wee bit less exciting.

Today’s strip is a good example. In both 1974 and 2004, you have parent-child arguments in Doonesbury. But back then it was the parents who were old, out of touch, reactionary, unable to appreciate good music, and hostile towards issues that really mattered; now, it’s the kids who are young, ignorant, unable to appreciate good music, and willfully apathetic towards issues that really matter.

Payback’s a bitch, ain’t it, Gary?