An illustrated chronology of impact

For over thirty years Doonesbury has had an uninterrupted history of inspiring controversy and generating fallout. It has consistently helped steer the national conversation - by commenting on it, provoking it and sometimes being the subject of it. From cancelled papers and angry commentary to military commendations and the Pulitzer Prize, Timeline chronicles the real-life adventures of a strip that can't stay out of the news.


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February 15, 1980

The presidential candidacy of Republican Congressman John Anderson receives an unexpected boost through the attentions of Mike Doonesbury. At first Anderson calls the coverage "nifty," but later in the campaign, after Barbara Bush dubs him "the Doonesbury candidate," Anderson has second thoughts.

February 19, 1980

William F. Keough, Jr., one of the American hostages held in Iran, writes the Boston Globe that Doonesbury strips sent to him in captivity "got the message through that the U.S. is very much aware of its citizens, now in the tenth week of imprisonment. Well done by Trudeau."

March 7, 1980

Tom Quinn, Gov. Jerry Brown's campaign manager, retires, saying that Brown was never able to shake the image spread by cartoonist Trudeau that Brown is a "flake."

June 19, 1980

The California Coastal Commission names a beach and an accessway after professional tannist Zonker Harris.

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October 27, 1980

More than two dozen papers drop "The Mysterious World of Reagan's Brain," a week-long sequence that runs on the eve of the 1980 election. One of those papers, The Indianapolis Star, receives 850 calls of protest before it agrees to reinstate the strip.

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January 24, 1981

The Reagan Era begins. Last seen before an Iranian firing squad on September 7, 1979, Uncle Duke is released, after the other 52 American hostages, from captivity. Cheers the Lexington, Ky. Herald, "Welcome home, well done — whatever it was you did over there."

June 30, 1981

A Doonesbury episode about Solidarity, the Polish workers' union, is denounced as "repulsive" by the mayor of New Britain, Conn.

August 10, 1981

The Detroit Free Press announces the Zonker Harris Testimonial Tan-Off. Cash prizes total $210.

November 1, 1981

Mike Doonesbury's uncle Henry admits to accepting kickbacks while an Oklahoma county commissioner. The Sapulpa Herald reports that U.S. Attorney Bill Price has asked Doonesbury to admit his guilt and sign a plea agreement.

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January 30, 1982

In response to a suicide threat by EPA staffer and Doonesbury character Ted Simpson, the Environmental Protection Agency issues an internal memo outlining new "security measures" for windows and ledges.

September 8, 1982

Trudeau announces a 20-month leave of absence, claiming "investigative cartooning is a young man's game." Farewell editorials appear across the country. Laments former President Jimmy Carter, "I'm heartbroken."

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December 31, 1982

Jeffrey Redfern is born. Doonesbury ceases publication and Trudeau begins an 18-month sabbatical. The Wisconsin State Assembly issues a declaration pleading for "public calm in the face of this grave crisis."

April 1, 1983

An American runner, jogging through Moscow wearing a Zonker t-shirt, is stopped several times by Russians who ask if the t-shirt likeness is a caricature of Trotsky.

November 21, 1983

"Doonesbury, A Musical" opens at Broadway's Biltmore Theater, earning Grammy and Drama Desk Award nominations. The show chronicles Mike and J.J.'s engagement and the graduation of the denizens of Walden Commune from college.

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October 1, 1984

Doonesbury returns to syndication. The Wisconsin Assembly repeals its 20-month state of emergency.

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October 26, 1984

Ten days before the presidential election, five newspapers drop Doonesbury for being "too political."

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November 3, 1984

A week of Doonesbury strips depicts George Bush as having "placed his manhood in a blind trust." Retorts Bush, "Doonesbury's carrying water for the opposition. Trudeau is coming out of deep left field."

November 6, 1984

Escondido Times-Advocate editor Will Corbin drops Doonesbury, writing "If it's the only basis upon which a decision to buy this newspaper is made, then I might as well be selling shoes." After the re-instatement of the strip, the paper features a photograph of Corbin selling shoes.

December 13, 1984

Sen. Paul Tsongas prematurely predicts that "Garry Trudeau in his biting satire of the vice president in his Doonesbury strip has effectively eliminated Bush as a contender."

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February 16, 1985

In a Billboard magazine story, USA for Africa producer Ken Kragen announces that he has a commitment from Jimmy Thudpucker to provide a track for the benefit album. "He's going to come out of retirement at the time the record is released," says Kragen.

April 1, 1985

Public criticism of Senator Jake Garn's "ultimate junket" aboard the space shuttle is led by Doonesbury, which dubs him "Barfin' Jake" (later shortened to "B.J." by his fellow astronauts.)

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June 3, 1985

Trudeau's syndicate convinces him to withdraw "Silent Scream: The Prequel," a week of strips satirizing an anti-abortion film. The New Republic magazine runs all six cartoons in its June 10 issue.

June 13, 1985

Numerous newspapers drop a series critical of Reagan's presentation of the Medal of Freedom to Frank Sinatra. The following week, Trudeau is denounced by a New Jersey congressman on the floor of the U.S. House of Representatives.

June 30, 1985

Doonesbury criticizes the mild sentences meted out in the E.F. Hutton fraud case. Assistant U.S. Attorney Al Murray Jr., who prosecuted the case, calls Trudeau an "ignorant cartoonist."

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October 1, 1985

In Florida the so-called "Doonesbury Bill" is introduced, challenging a Palm Beach law requiring servants to carry ID cards. The president of the Florida Senate notes, "What I know about the ordinance is what I read in Doonesbury." "Freedom's freedom," says the bill's sponsor. "You can't put a card-carrying thing in it. Let the commies do that." Nine months later, the bill passes.

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November 28, 1985

Trudeau, Charles Schulz, and Milton Caniff organize 175 syndicated cartoonists to focus attention on world hunger by devoting their Thanksgiving Day strips to the subject.

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January 21, 1986

"Say it ain't so, Trudeau!" pleads the headline of a Wisconsin paper, as Duke is discovered one morning "looking more inert than usual." The St. Petersburg Times runs a full obituary, as the Paterson (N.J.) News laments, "Duke was the kind of swine you couldn't help but like." The bizarre tragedy is ultimately softened by the revelation that Duke was not dead, but merely zombified and sold into slavery. "Frankly," notes a friend, "he could use the discipline."

February 25, 1986

Doonesbury satirizes Reagan's speech pinpointing Harlingen, Texas, as a likely target for Sandinista invasion. Sheriff Alex Perez requests riot gear, vowing, "If we don't get it, I guess we'll have to fight with tree limbs." The Harlingen Chamber of Congress votes to spend $22,898 for a tourism ad campaign based on Doonesbury strips about the town.

April 14, 1986

Mark Slackmeyer broadcasts "Sleaze on Parade," the definitive list of Reaganite "back-scratchers, till-dippers and conscience-cutters." Numerous papers drop the strip among a flurry of editorials.

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May 9, 1986

The "Save the Gown" campaign urges readers to help "stabilize" Nancy Reagan's sagging inaugural gown. The Smithsonian sets up a special phone number to handle contributions and responses. Writes one Beverly Hills businessman, "Do something before it's too late."

June 18, 1986

Doonesbury tour of "Contra Country" tracks the freedom fighters in Miami. Miffed contra leader Arturo Cruz calls it "amusing satire," but says he prefers Hägar the Horrible.

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January 12, 1987

Readers "clip 'n' save" pieces of "the Iranscam puzzle," hoping Trudeau will complete it. He doesn't. Numerous frustrated readers write in for "the missing piece." One woman speculates, "I think my cat ate it."

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February 2, 1987

Evangelist Oral Roberts announces that God has threatened to kill him if he doesn't raise $4.5 million. Mark launches the "Oral Roberts Death Watch." Some newspaper editors yank the series.

February 22, 1987

Doonesbury becomes the first comic strip in history to print the entire Constitution of the United States in the Sunday paper.

February 23, 1987

Mike Doonesbury is assigned to write condom ads for TV. Younger brother Sal begins career as "Dr. Whoopee," a condom-delivering "safe sex rep." Papers in Montana, Utah, and Texas pull the series.

March 1, 1987

Roland Hedley embarks upon a "Return to Reagan's Brain" to jar loose Iranscam memories. Once again, some editors pull the series.

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May 7, 1987

Callers jam White House switchboards, dialing at Ron Headrest's suggestion. Later in the day the White House takes revenge: Spokesman Marlin Fitzwater orders callers be given the number of Trudeau's employer.

September 2, 1987

Arizona Governor Evan Mechan says he is considering libel action over his portrayal in Doonesbury. "Is this supposed to be funny?" fumes Mecham. "There isn't any mirth in it. It's a total distortion."

December 3, 1987

Defending Larry Flynt's satire of Jerry Falwell before the Supreme Court, attorney Alan Isaacman argues that the parody is entitled to the same First Amendment protections as Doonesbury spoofs of George Bush.

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February 15, 1988

In a Gore profile in Doonesbury, the presidential candidate is dubbed "Albert, the Prince of the Tennessee Valley." Gore advisers subsequently take to calling him "Prince."

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September 20, 1988

Immediately following a strip about the Bush campaign's media manipulation, all three networks pull back from their deferential coverage. Writes ABC's Jeff Greenfield, "All obviously decided that night not to have life imitate the comics."

December 4, 1988

A newly elected George Bush expresses concern about Doonesbury's future to a group of journalists: "I don't know what that guy is going to do now that the election's over."

December 11, 1988

The Winston-Salem Journal drops a Sunday strip on the R.J. Reynolds Tobacco Co. because "it would be personally offensive to its employees." It is the first time the strip has been pulled in deference to a corporation.

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March 27, 1989

A three-week series in which Congresswoman Lacey Davenport discovers that her aide Andy Lippincott is suffering from AIDS is widely discussed. A few papers drop the series, but many AIDS activists approve. Christian Heran, an AIDS sufferer in San Francisco, tells UPI, "The epidemic does have its funny side."

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July 8, 1989

700 people clip Mr. Butts' coupon promising free cigarettes ("recipient must be under-aged") and mail it to the Tobacco Institute.

December 1, 1989

A series of Navy accidents leads to Doonesbury series, which brings strong criticism, then spirited defense, from military personnel. Two full-letter pages of Stars and Stripes are devoted to debate. One serviceman notes: "The only thing offended by those cartoons is the Navy's vanity."