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.
January 3, 2000
As the last new daily Peanuts strip appears, Trudeau pays tribute to ailing creator Charles M. "Sparky" Schulz. In a Washington Post essay, Trudeau writes that for cartoonists, the strip is "an irreplaceable source of purpose and pride, our gold standard for work that is both illuminating and aesthetically sublime. We can hardly imagine its absence."
February 11, 2000
"I want to be the ferret in the pants of government." Ambassador Duke declares, announcing his presidential candidacy at the U.S. Comedy Arts Festival in Aspen, Colorado and launching a campaign web site. By the time he loses in November he has posted over 30 3-D motion capture animation campaign shorts, been featured live on the "Today Show" and "Larry King Live," been interviewed by Bill Maher, Al Franken, Tucker Carlson and Evans & Novak, and made appearances on dozens of local news program.
October 26, 2000
Doonesbury, now appearing in 1400 daily and Sunday papers worldwide, turns 30. The occasion is marked by the re-launching of www.doonesbury.com. “I can’t explain my career,” notes Trudeau. “No one is more startled than I that I’m still around.”
November 2, 2000
Several papers pull a strip in which presidential candidate Duke, under attack for his “lifestyle,” complains that President Bush has “a history of alcohol abuse and cocaine.” Having said he’s not used drugs in the past 25 years, Bush refuses to elaborate. “The character Duke is on a 24-7 drug-alcohol binge,” writes one newspaper editor, defending the decision to run the strip, “Is any reader likely to take anything he says seriously?”
September 2, 2001
A Sunday strip comments on a widely-circulated internet story indicating George W. Bush has the lowest IQ of all U.S. presidents. By the time the study is revealed as a hoax it is too late to recall the strip, sent out six weeks in advance. In a follow-up series of dailies, Mark and Zonker convey Trudeau’s mea culpa: “The creator deeply apologizes for unsettling anyone who was under the impression that the president is, in fact, quite intelligent.”
September 11, 2001
Immediately after the 9/11 attacks Trudeau withdraws a week of strips critical of President Bush, which had already been sent out to newspapers. Not all editors notice the syndicate’s notification and shipment of replacement dailies, and some readers are upset by the strips.
November 18, 2001
In a Sunday strip Karl Rove notes that, post-9/11, criticizing President Bush is seen as unpatriotic, allowing the administration to push through its agenda as part of the War on Terror. “Thanks, evildoers!” enthuses Dubya. Criticism floods the Doonesbury Town Hall. “Garry, the blood of the Sept. 11 victims is on your hands," writes one poster. "What junior college did you drop out of?" asks another.
January 27, 2002
A lengthy editorial in the Baltimore Sun takes Zonker to task for his dope-smoking and “wasted life,” likening him to tobacco spokes-characters Joe Camel and Mr. Butts. “You can’t hold a job, you’ve never had a relationship, you completely lack ambition and you still live with your parents…Somebody, maybe Mike himself, needs to tell Garry Trudeau to stop enabling you.”
February 1, 2002
Charles Pillsbury, one of Trudeau’s college roommates and inspiration for the last half of the strip’s name, runs for Congress in Connecticut against a popular 12-year incumbent. “I haven’t got a snowball’s chance in hell,” says Pillsbury, describing Mike Doonesbury as “an aging yuppie who’s given up on his dreams, except to make money. That’s no dream.”
September 18, 2002
Summoned back to the Malibu coast by his mentor Ol’ Surfer Dude, Zonker helps rally public pressure to convince music mogul David Geffen to make good on his decades-old legal promise to allow access to the beach near his mansion.
November 3, 2002
In his first TV sit-down interview in 31 years, Trudeau talks with Ted Koppel for “Up Close” on ABC. Discussing the practice of his craft in the wake of 9-11, he notes: “We need our entertainers, we need our class clowns, we need our buffoons. We need our people that make us smile just as surely as we need the people who make the bread and the people who direct traffic and the people who fly our planes.”
April 1, 2003
In the wake of a series focusing on Oregon’s economic woes, the state hires adman Dan Wieden to “re-brand” the state. Wieden estimates that the Doonesbury strips have inflicted $5 million worth of marketing damage on Oregon’s image, and predicts that at current spending levels, positive marketing will not be able to undo the damage until 2013. An original strip from the series, donated by Trudeau to an Oregon high school fundraiser, is sold for $6,000.
May 4, 2003
In a Sunday strip Mark and Zonker challenge France-bashers -- including those who have renamed America’s favorite potato treat “freedom fries” -- to consider the feelings of patriotic Franco-Americans. The final five panels of the strip are in French; Trudeau provides the translation on the Doonesbury web site. An outpouring of criticism, much of it from readers of who mistakenly believe Trudeau is French or Canadian, is posted on the site. “What the hell is your problem? Move back to France,” suggests one. “I pity you and your ilk,” offers another.
May 22, 2003
GBT announces that The Doonesbury Town Hall and Web Presence has, after “agonizing negotiations,” found itself “happily, proudly, annexed” by Slate.com. Those annoyed with the move are offered the opportunity to vent about the new “corporate shell.”
September 7, 2003
When a Sunday strip cites a report that prostate cancer may be prevented by regular masturbation, over 200 papers choose to run a “Flashback” strip. Newspaper headlines include references to the reading audience being “touchy,” the strip “rubbing readers the wrong way” and being “jerked off the funny pages.” Washington Post writer Gene Weingarten objects to what he sees as his paper’s over-protectiveness of younger readers, noting “Adolescents are the world’s experts on this subject.”
September 9, 2003
In the strip, Alex Doonesbury calls for a Howard Dean “flash mob” to converge at the Seattle Space Needle, instructing: “Link arms in an enormous circle, hop up and down chanting ‘The Doctor is in!’” Over 150 real-life Deaniacs oblige. The event is filmed by local news crews, and covered by AP and the Seattle Times.
February 23, 2004
In the strip Mike Doonesbury offers a $10,000 reward to anyone who can verify George W. Bush’s claim that he served in the Alabama National Guard in 1972. The site posts many of the 1,500 fictional and humorous “claims,” and a Straw Poll lets readers select the most entertaining. But no one surfaces who can actually confirm Bush’s service. Trudeau donates the reward money to the USO.
April 19, 2004
When his Humvee is hit by an RPG in Iraq, B.D. loses a leg – and his helmet – and begins a long journey of physical and psychological recovery. Many readers find themselves unexpectedly moved, and for months the site’s BLOWBACK page features a remarkable outpouring of emotion.
April 23, 2004
Some papers drop, or alter, the strip in which B.D. realizes he has lost his limb and yells out “Son of a BITCH!” On ABC’s “This Week With George Stephanopoulos” Trudeau explains why he decided to put a founding character in harm’s way: “Whether you think we belong in Iraq or not, we can’t tune it out; we have to remain mindful of the terrible losses that individual soldiers are suffering in our name.”
May 23, 2004
In an unfortunate instance of synchronicity, a Sunday strip depicting a man’s head being served on a platter, drawn six weeks earlier, appears shortly after American journalist Nicholas Berg is kidnapped and beheaded in Iraq. Unable to withdraw the strip in time, the syndicate gives client papers a heads-up warning and Trudeau issues an apology for an image that is “clearly inappropriate.” Observes one editorial, “If Doonesbury doesn’t find controversy, the controversy finds it.”
May 30, 2004
Inspired by the 1969 Life magazine issue that showed photos of all the U.S. soldiers killed in Vietnam in a single week, Doonesbury’s Memorial Day Sunday lists the names of all 700+ U.S. servicemembers killed in Iraq and Afghanistan. Trudeau repeats the “In Memoriam” strip annually for the next three years.
August 5, 2004
Trudeau is interviewed for “Doonesbury at War,” a Rolling Stone cover story with a full-color depiction of the bloodied B.D. being medivaced from the site of his roadside ambush in Fallujah. Three months later B.D., in wheelchair, with caregivers Boopsie and Zonk, appears on the cover of Disabled American Veterans.
October 11, 2004
A series featuring Mark as “Mr. Honest Voices” directs readers to a series of articles, from conservative sources, which are critical of Dubya and the Iraq War. The strip linking to an essay by Dwight D. Eisenhower’s son causes its host site to crash; that linking to a former Reagan aide’s Salon piece brings a wave of readers to the site. “We owe Mark Slackmeyer a tall cold one,” notes a Salon VP.
October 30, 2004
Dozens of client papers object to, or pull, a strip in which VP Dick Cheney, coaxing Dubya via an earbud, urges the president to tell a reporter to “go f*** himself.” In a case of life inspiring art, the veep had made the identical recommendation to Democratic Sen. Patrick Leahy on the floor of the U.S. Senate several months before.
March 7, 2005
In a week of Steadman-esquely surreal strips Duke pays tribute to Hunter S. Thompson, the real-life writer who his character initially parodied. As he struggles to process the news of Thompson’s suicide-by-shotgun, the former Ambassador’s head explodes -- leading to a smattering of complaints. Asked by the Washington Post for a comment, Trudeau explains, “I’ve been exploding Duke’s head as far back as 1985.”
April 1, 2005
After a 25-year-long legal battle, music producer David Geffen fulfills a legal promise to allow public access across his property to Malibu’s Carbon Beach. Zonker Harris’s role in the campaign to open up the beach – 24 years after another public access walkway to the same beach was named after him – is noted in newspaper coverage.
June 6, 2005
Zonker decides to retool for the future by attending Trump U., Donald Trump’s online school, and studying wealth creation, “One of their most popular learning products and attractively priced at $396.” On Trump U.’s actual web site The Donald criticizes Trudeau for his “elitist stance,” defending the university in an essay headlined “We’re Laughing All the Way to the Bank.”
June 19, 2005
The Long Road Home, a collection of the strips chronicling B.D.’s wounding and recovery, with a forward by Sen. John McCain, receives a favorable front cover review in the New York Times Book Review. “Garry Trudeau, who by all rights should be phoning it in by now, still takes his responsibilities to the strip and his audience seriously, and in service to them still takes large and interesting risks.” The book’s royalties go to Fisher House, which helps the families of wounded soldiers.
July 27, 2005
A dozen papers drop two strips in which President Bush refers to Karl Rove as “Turd Blossom,” one editor calling them “savage.” Other papers delete the offending phrase. In an interview Trudeau refers to the real-life nickname, bestowed by the president on his longtime ally, as “illuminating…a small masterpiece of nastiness.”
August 1, 2005
Santa Monica invites Mr. Butts to be the centerpiece of a “no smoking on the beach” public awareness campaign. “Butts is such an irrepressibly upbeat advocate of bad choices,” says Trudeau, “that it’s good to see his stunned visage evoked for a worthy cause.” The spokes-cigarette appears on 600 trash cans.
September 12, 2005
In the UK The Guardian drops Doonesbury as part of a format re-design, and readers besiege the paper with complaints. “The Guardian without Doonesbury is unthinkable,” writes one reader, “like a margarita without salt. If you can’t find the space, I can’t find the 60p.” Calling the axing an “error in judgment,” the editor reinstates the feature within days.
May 26, 2006
Having been accepted at Cornell, MIT and Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute, Alex Doonesbury struggles over which college to attend. Trudeau invites readers to decide the matter via a special online Straw Poll. Hundreds of thousands of votes later, he announces that, in part due to “insane, rampant, ingenious, and impressively ruthless” voting hacks, Alex will attend MIT. Cornell receives the Congeniality Award. “We’re obviously not trying hard enough to cheat,” laments a dismayed Ithaca blogger.
July 25, 2007
Giving visitors a tour of the White House press room, correspondent Roland Hedley points out legendary UPI reporter Helen Thomas, adding “Some say she was Truman’s lover.” Thomas herself lets it be known that she’s miffed at Trudeau for the line: “I wish he’d said I was Jack Kennedy’s lover.”
December 8, 2007
Leo DeLuca, a young soldier in B.D.’s unit, is introduced into the strip. Known as “Toggle” for the ear-bleed battle mixes he plays in his vehicle, he distracts himself long enough to get his Humvee blown up by a VBIED. B.D. hastens to his bedside at WRAMC as Toggle's treatment for TBI begins, and the strip chronicles his recovery for the next several years.
April 19, 2008
Wesleyan University president Michael Roth decides to ban the campus’ traditional April Zonker Harris Day music and art festival on the grounds that it is “stupid”, and gives the school a “hippie-druggie” image. Students rename the event Ze Who Shall Not Be Named Day, and it is held as usual on April 19th. Later that year the administration forces students to rename Duke Day, another music festival, which is re-dubbed Loud Spirits Day.
September 28, 2008
Forced by the Washington Post to take a buyout, veteran reporter Rick Redfern leaves the paper to start a new career as a blogger. In an article lamenting the occasion, the Center for Public Integrity describes Redfern as “the best investigative journalist in the history of American comics.”
November 5, 2008
Several dozen papers call the syndicate with complaints when Trudeau sends out an election-week series featuring an Obama victory, and some, including the Anchorage Daily News, opt to not print the 11/5/08 strip. Trudeau notes that polling data gives McCain a 3.7% chance of victory. “I’ve been encouraging editors to pick hope over fear,” he adds. “Besides, I’ll be the one with egg on my face, not editors.” A McCain spokesman calls Doonesbury “consistently lame.”
March 2, 2009
In the strip, veteran correspondent Roland Hedley opens a Twitter account and begins to tweet – while Trudeau opens an actual account and tweets on Hedley’s behalf. A month later a sampling of Hedley’s missives appears in The New Yorker. Several months later, Andrews McMeel publishes My Shorts R Bunching. Thoughts? : The Tweets of Roland Hedley.
July 19, 2010
Roland Hedley rents a house in Wasilla, Alaska, next door to real-life journalist Joe McGinnis, who has rented a house next door to former governor Sarah Palin while writing a book about her. The Anchorage Daily News reports on the Hedley strips, and several days later two women from Texas pull up and tell McGinnis, "We know that's Palin's house, and this house is where that writer lives -- what we want to know is where's Roland Hedley's house?"
A semi hauling 3,000 copies of the anniversary tome is hijacked en route to a distribution center. The truck, 30,000 lbs. of hot Doonesbury still on board, was later found abandoned, presumably on the orders of the hijackers' unhappy supervisor.
October 27, 2010
After 14,600 strips, the feature's fourth decade is marked by 40: A Doonesbury Retrospective, a weighty 700-page slip-cased tome. The volume features 18 character essays by Trudeau, and a four-page centerfold map tracking the web of relationships among the strip's 78 central players. Reviews compare Trudeau's work to that of Trollope (The New York Times), Dickens (The New York Review of Books) and Tolstoy (The New York Times Book Review). The book sells out at Costco. A companion volume by Brian Walker, The Art of Doonesbury and G.B. Trudeau, is published by Yale University Press. Notes one review, "Trudeau somehow took his inconsequential college-paper strip and created a f***ing universe."
November 4, 2010
Yale University's Beinecke Rare Book and Manuscript Library opens a special exhibit, "Doonesbury in a Time of War," focusing on founding character B.D., veteran of Vietnam, Desert Storm, and Operation Iraqi Freedom. "One of the defining elements of Doonesbury has been the hue of war," notes curator Louise Bernard.
November 29, 2010
Wesleyan administrators rename Zonker Harris Day, the campus's 30-year-old spring music festival, calling the character "a druggie." Upset students write to enlist Trudeau's support, and Zonker takes up the cause. In the final strip in a week on the subject, Harris "breaks the fourth wall" by calling the university's President on his cell phone. Notes Trudeau, "I briefly considered reaching out to President Roth quietly, but I finally decided it'd be better to blindside him."
February 13, 2011
In a Sunday strip, radio host Mark Slackmeyer notes that in the nine years since 3,000 died in the 9/11 attacks (inspiring two wars, a vast homeland security apparatus, and trillions in spending), 270,000 Americans have been killed by guns in the U.S. (inspiring a loosening of the gun laws). Urged to look at Trudeau's numbers, Politifact confirms their accuracy.
April 6, 2011
Wesleyan's administration finally relents, announcing that Ze Who Shall Not Be Named Day will once again be known by its original title: Zonker Harris Day. Says Vice President for Student Affairs Mike Whalley, "I have come to a better understanding of their position with respect to the name of the event."
May 6, 2011
A Duke-and-Earl series about lobbyists accepting money to represent the interests of authoritarian regimes cites Lanny Davis Associates for working with Ivory Coast strongman Laurent Gbagbo. Davis publicly demands an apology, calling the strip "morally reprehensible." "There will be no correction," replies Trudeau. "Odious bedfellows are a traditional subject for satire."
September 16, 2011
The Chicago Tribune decides not to run a week of strips in which Roland Hedley tweets excerpts from Joe McGinnis' as-yet-unreleased book about Sarah Palin, explaining that they would need "more information, context and a response from Palin." The Tribune also notes that because the book has not yet been published it is "unavailable for review or verification." Writes an offended journalist, "Does that mean the Tribune routinely reviews each strip to ensure its factual integrity?" Other papers also decline to run the series, including Newsday and the Atlanta Journal Constitution, which cites "strong partisan content."
February 2, 2012
During a week of Reader Mail strips, Mike and Zonker display a QR Code which lnks to the award-winning nonprofit fundraising site Donorschoose.org. Readers visiting the site can make donations to a public school, doubling their contribution by entering the code word "Zonker." The Chicago Tribune drops the strip, explaining that their editorial policies "do not allow individuals to promote their self-interests." Notes Trudeau, "Curiously, the Trib had no problem with the previous day's strip directing readers to my website, which actually was in my self-interest." The stunt raises $180,000, benefitting over 400 classrooms, overwhelmingly in low-income communities.
March 12, 2012
A week of strips about Texas's new mandatory vaginal sonogram bill is bounced from some 70 newspapers across the country, more than in any other controversy in the strip's history. A complaint from Oregonian editor Peter Bhatia was typical: "The graphic nature of the strips went too far."
April 26, 2012
In a daily strip, two deployed soldiers run into a Fox News reporter intending to do a story about how well the war is going. "More evidence that watching Fox really does make you stupider," notes Mel. "It's like getting your news from the town drunk." The episode provokes the ire of Bil O'Reilly, who dubs Trudeau "a pinhead."
June 22, 2012
Throughout a two-week wedding series, readers deluge the Doonesbury web site with emotional commentary as Leo "Toggle" Deluca and Alex Doonesbury exchange vows at Walden. The ceremony, conducted by Rev. Scot Sloan, is witnessed by many members of the extended Doonesbury tribe. "My handkerchief drawer may never be the same," laments one reader. "Beautiful," says another. "Almost makes me love my own family."
November 4, 2012
While working for Elizabeth Warren's Senate campaign, Joanie Caucus contributes in a modest way to the candidate's keynote address at the Democratic Convention -- specifically the three words "to be rigged," which actually appeared in Warren's speech the night before the strip appeared. Parts of the text had been leaked in advance to Trudeau by the candidate.
November 26, 2013
The Pacific Media Workers Guild makes former Washington Post reporter Rick Redfern an honorary member, and sends him a Guild Freelancers press pass, honoring his perseverance in his post-layoff life as a free blogger for The Huffington Post -- whose practices had been criticized in the strip. "Redfern stood his ground," says Guild executive director Carl Hall, "and we're all grateful. The idea that journalists deserve to be paid clearly needs to spread beyond the funny pages."
November 20, 2012
A post-election Doonesbury series features a "Math and Science Victory Lap," including a Bureau of Statistics float carrying Nate Silver, "the hardest-working man in poll analytics," whose extremely accurate blog FiveThirtyEight was essential reading during the campaign. Tweets the real-life Silver, "Now I can die in peace."
December 12, 2012
A Doonesbury series reignites interest in a petition to allow Texas to secede from the Union, helping to swell the number of signatories to almost five times the 25,000 needed to evoke a White House response. In that response, titled "Our States Remain United," the White House pointed out that the Civil War had vindicated the principle that the union established by the Constitution is premanent.
February 2, 2013
In a mailbag sequence, Zonker and Mike express their concern over the future of the comics in a post-newspaper world by letting the middle two panels of the strip go missing. "Stick with print, folks. This doesn't have to happen!" urges Mike. A legion of offended web cartoonists immediately begin posting versions of the strip with the empty space filled in by their own work. One says the strip represents "an archaic, narrow-minded, elitist mindset." Another includes a farting alien.
March 3, 2014
After a successful initial season of his Amazon Studios political sitcom "Alpha House," Trudeau announces an open-ended hiatus from new daily strips in order to devote himself to writing further episodes of the show. While he continues to do original Sunday strips, the syndicate launches a daily series called Classic Doonesbury, offering readers a retrospective journey through the strip's history from its earliest days.