Our Story Thus Far
We now rejoin “Doonesbury,” which is already in progress.
Thursday, February 2, 2006
>> THE LOCAL SPIN
I say “rejoin” for two reasons: first, because the strip has been absent from Monterey County for a few weeks (more on that later); and also because some of us haven’t been paying enough attention to the strip lately.
At one time, I was a serious “Doonesbury” fan. From high school on, it was the first thing I turned to when I picked up the newspaper. In fact, it was often the only thing in the daily that resonated with me. “Doonesbury’s” politics were smart and fearless, its characters were deeply human, and it was deadly humorous.
Somehow, during the past few years, I’ve gotten out of the habit. So I’ve spent some time this week catching up (mostly on Doonesbury.com). It’s been fun.
It’s also been inspiring to see how, over 36 years (!), Trudeau has relentlessly explored important matters, both political and personal, from wars in the Gulf to hypocrisy in Washington, from love and divorce to Alzheimer’s and AIDS. And it’s been a marvel to witness how, throughout, he has managed to be both poignant and funny.
It is rare for a fictional cast of characters, in any art form, to survive 36 years. The “Doonesbury” crew has done so (except for those who have died, often as we witnessed their demise). For readers who need some re-aquaintance, here is a short list of our heroes:
Mike Doonesbury, the founder of the Walden commune where the original gang became acquainted (and the admitted alter-ego of Garry Trudeau) has matured from his hippie-nerd college days into an ad exec and, later, a software nerd. He has been married, divorced and re-married. Along with daughter Alex and second wife Kim, he launched “a mom ‘n’ pop ‘n’ pre-teen software startup,” which succeeded until it was run out of business by Microsoft. He’s rebounded, kind of, and remains mostly bemused.
Zonker Harris, a self-identified “Californian-American,” has hardly matured since his college days (which he fondly recalls as “the best nine years of my life”). In recent years, he has explored the field of professional nannying, primarily “surf-mentoring” teenaged Samantha, the daughter of his old college buddies BD and Boopsie.
BD, as Doonesbury.com cleverly notes, “has worn many helmets over the years.” The anachronistic character in this somewhat counter-cultural cast, BD—a former Walden College quarterback, Vietnam Vet, LA Rams benchwarmer, Gulf War Vet, and California Highway Patrol officer—has suffered more illuminating trauma than his strip-mates. He now lives again at Walden with his wife, Boopsie, their daughter, and their nanny, Zonker.
Former Playboy model Barbara Ann Boopstein no longer channels Hunk Ra, the 25,000-year-old warrior. I found this disappointing. I was also saddened to back-read the strips in which Boopsie tried and failed to get on Survivor. That would’ve been cool. I was pleased to confirm that she and BD are still together. Some people need each other, and that’s beautiful.
“Uncle” Duke, one-time Rolling Stone correspondent and current Viceroy-in-Waiting in liberated Iraq, may have the most bizarre résumé in contemporary fiction: He has been governor of American Samoa, ambassador to China, general manager of the Washington Redskins, lobbyist for the NRA, 53rd hostage in Iran, zombified slave, captain of the Trump Princess, maximum proconsul in post-invasion Panama, advisor to Minnesota Governor Jesse Ventura, and presidential candidate. Duke was even chairman of the nonprofit Nothing But Orphans recently (where his first charge was shown, through DNA, to be his son).
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Clearly, this strip belongs in the Weekly. The fact is, Bradley Zeve has been trying to get “Doonesbury” into these pages for 17 years. For readers in need of acquaintance, Zeve is the Weekly’s founder, former editor and publisher, former executive editor, recent London bureau chief, current chairman and CEO, Sea Studios Foundation board president, instigator for the Farm-to-School partnership, and one of the original players in the Monterey Ultimate Frisbee league. He couldn’t get the strip because the Herald had exclusive rights.
That all changed a few weeks back, following a ballyhooed Herald readers poll, in which “Doonesbury” did not get voted off the island, but was pulled anyway.
Zeve pounced. Last week, as the premiere issue of the newly redesigned Weekly was going to press, he called the Universal Press Syndicate. (Amazingly, the woman on the other end remembered him from their last talk, years ago.) And the following day, Mike Doonesbury’s geeky head was on page one.
Amazingly, three days later, Carolina Garcia of the Herald announced that she had changed her mind, and that “Doonesbury” would be back. Probably a coincidence.
Beginning this week, we’re running a week’s worth of “Doonesbury” in every issue. Find it on page 69.