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Lets face it, our favorite comic strip is often obscure or inconsistent, and key characters are sometimes left stranded for years. Long-suffering readers are within their rights to demand some clarification. Use the "Ask GBT" form to email us your questions, and we will frequently answer some of the best!
Is there a family tree available for the Doonesbury characters? I have trouble following who is related to who or divorced from who, or whom. Thanks.Jim | Characters | Toronto, CANADA | October 20, 2014
Indeed, it’s a lot of information to keep track of, and the web of relationships gets more complicated every year. We are happy to steer you toward three visual aids, starting with the 1991 Organizational Chart strip in which Sal and Mike wrestled with this very problem, noting “Aren’t most nineteenth-century Russian novels more comprehensible?” Five years later, on 5/26/96, Mike offered an updated version, which is temporarily unavailable in our online archive but appears on page 121 of The Bundled Doonesbury.
By far the most elaborate and up-to-date version is “Character Connections: 1970-2010,” the four-page fold-out centerfold map that appears in 40: A Doonesbury Retrospective. Over 80 characters appear in portrait circles, linked with coded dotted lines to indicate their relationships to one another – “Married,” “Dated,” “Lived on Walden Commune,” Married by Rev. Scot Sloan,” and so on. The map is so large that no clearly readable online version exists, so far as we know, but this one gives you a sense of it. Here is the epic single-sentence text that accompanies it:
In the beginning, MIKE and B.D. were roommates at Walden College, which was run by PRESIDENT KING, whose office was occupied by student radical MARK, who spent summers at home with mom MARILOU and dad PHIL arguing about his hair until he could return to argue about the war with quarterback B.D., who was tormented in huddles by ZONKER, and cheered on by girlfriend BOOPSIE, with whom he lived on Walden Commune, whose numerous denizens also included DIDI, her boyfriend BERNIE, and NICHOLE, with whom years later Mike didn’t quite have an affair, though B.D. had one with MEG during GW1 while on R&R leave on a ship where his buddy RAY recuperated from a wound, his morale not improved by Morale Officer TRIP TRIPPLER, who years before had been roommates at Walden with BENJY, Mike’s younger brother, who after college worked for a condom company, one of many dubious enterprises run by DUKE, usually with the assistance of HONEY, the translator he met while he was the ambassador to China, right after he served as governor of Samoa, where he was aided by MACARTHUR, much as he was later aided by RILEY when he coached the Washington Redskins, shortly before he shot his former caretaker ZEKE, who had burned down his house and who at one time dated J.J., who later married and divorced Mike, and whose mother, JOANIE, had left home and founded Walden Day Care where she took care of ELLIE and HOWIE, who encouraged her to go to law school in Berkeley, where she rented an apartment from MRS. POCATELLI along with GINNY, whose annoying boyfriend CLYDE helped with Ginny’s losing campaign against LACEY, who became a congresswoman and hired Joanie and moved to Washington, along with her charming husband, DICK, and there befriended street person ALICE and her crazy husband, ELMONT, who were married by REV. SLOAN and written about by Joanie’s husband, reporter RICK, who frequently clashed with his and Joanie’s son JEFF, who grew up and went to Walden and roomed with ZIPPER, nephew of Z., under the watchful eye of advisor BIG PAUL MANION, and who befriended CRICKET and tried to befriend ALEX DOONESBURY (daughter of Mike, stepdaughter of KIM, and granddaughter of DAISY, who lived with them in Seattle briefly before moving back to Oklahoma and dating SKID), an MIT student with a beautiful roommate, DREW, and an awesome boyfriend TOGGLE, who was wounded in Iraq, and whose protective mother, MRS. DELUCA, got to know B.D. when he came to Walter Reed to help care for his former soldier, who got a job in the recording studio of SHERM, a vet who returned to Nam and befriended PHRED, the former Vietcong terrorist who once captured B.D., and went into business with B.D.’s buddy GEORGE and musician JIMMY THUDPUCKER, whose agent was SID KIBBITZ, who represents almost everybody, but not MR. JAY, whose pal, spokescigarette MR. BUTTS, was made up by Mike for his ad firm, the receptionist for which was MARCIA, who returned to NYC to honor her former boss MR. BELLOWS, who was killed in 9-11, and at Ground Zero met B.D., who had not yet found help with his PTSD by going to the Vet Center, whose receptionist CELESTE introduced him to ELIAS, who was surprised when B.D. reached out to MST victim MEL, who was being counseled by CORA, and who eventually returned to Afghanistan and bumped into Jeff but not reporter ROLAND, who had previously interviewed warlord AKBARI, petroleum industry bigwig JIM ANDREWS, and Duke 2000 presidential campaign spokesperson MINI-D, who worked with EARL, who grew up in an orphanage, unlike SAM, who grew up in Malibu, parented by B.D. and Boopsie and cared for by nanny Zonker, who embodies the mellow espoused by best-selling author DR. DAN ASHER, though Zonk learned his at the knee of mentor OL’ SURFER DUDE, and from his Californian MOM and DAD, not to mention their Colonial-era ancestors NATE and AMY, who unmellowly owned a slave named SAMMY, who was understandably resentful, like AGENT HAVOC, who hates mentoring CIA intern Jeff, who annoys him the way WEINBERGER annoyed seminar-leader Henry Kissinger and Black Panther CALVIN annoyed and intimidated the young Mike, unlike the unannoying CORNELL, who calmly accepts prison time for serving pot brownies to AIDS patients, including ANDY LIPPINCOTT, who died peacefully while listening to the Beach Boys’ “Wouldn’t It Be Nice.”
Until last week's Classic series about Phred I had forgotten that he became a UN delegate. My memories of him are all from the pre-suit, black-pajama era, when he and B.D. were frenemies. Can we please revisit some of their camaraderie in the Nam?A.V.Z. | Characters | Eureka, CA | October 08, 2014
Good morning, FAQ! It's all here -- B.D. held captive, the duo MIA, the interlude with Cole Porter, a Purple Heart, a tiger cage, coming home, B.D. and Phred as pen-pals, returning as a civilian for a reunion, touring Phred's childhood haunts -- and a foreshadowing of his future career. Enjoy this 1972 recap.
I really enjoyed last week's series with Boopsie visiting Elvis's grave at Graceland. Her sincerity and good nature really shone. Of all the characters, I think she and B.D. have changed the most over the years, not that her crazy New Age "Hunk-Ra" period wasn't weird. How about you take us back to her very first appearance in the strip? You didn't include that in the Classics series, and it would be cool to see the young Boopsie.Stephanie | Characters | Santa Monica, CA | September 29, 2014
One thing that has always differentiated Boopsie from other adult cast members is her eyes. "The world-weary, hooded Doonesbury eye looked all wrong on her," noted GBT in 40: A Doonesbury Retrospective. "It undercut her lack of guile. The elegant little arc and dot seemed the way to go... Boopsie's eyes, of course, have remained unchanged, a sort of tribute to her enduring lack of cynicism. Not that the rest of her hasn't evolved. The spacey beach babe is gone, replaced by a fierce mama bear with sturdy values and abundant good sense." Beginning with her initial appearance in the strip on September 15, 1971, here's Boopsie as we first got to know her.
Ah, good ol' Mr. Butts. I was glad to see him in the strip on Sunday, selling cancer sticks to the kids. What a nut. I actually have the ashtray that's pictured in the second-to-last panel, which was part of the Great Doonesbury Sellout, based right here in Sausalito. How about you run an FAQ series about Mr. Butts' very first appearance in the strip, which I think was about a zillion years ago. Thanks!Stu | Characters | Sausalito, CA | September 17, 2014
Close. It was 1989. Duke was the skipper of Donald Trump's yacht, Boopsie was painting murals in the vessel's bathrooms, Honey was post-Tiananmen China's #1 Most-Wanted Hooligan, Andy Lippincott was still alive, and Mike was working in the World Trade Center, struggling to build a career as an ad-man. ENTER MR. BUTTS.
While we're at it, check out "Mr. Butts Goes to Washington" -- a 1995 public service announcement produced by Harry McCoy for the Massachusetts Department of Public Health. As McCoy notes, he quit smoking shortly thereafter. And here's the ashtray. Butts has appeared in the strip many times over the years, and on beach trashcans in Santa Monica, California, helping publicize the city's anti-smoking ordinance. He appeared on the cover of the Journal of the American Medical Association, served as spokescigarette for the American Cancer Society's Great American Smokeout, and had his name used as a pseudonym by an anonymous source who sent 4,000 pages of incriminating documents which were used in legal action against the tobacco industry, as chronicled in The Cigarette Papers.
Duke's China gig coming to an end means you've skipped past the first of Rick Redfern's career humiliations, when he was forced to take a job writing for People in order to stay with Joanie on the West Coast. Can we please revisit his agony?Ben Packer | Storyline | Salem, OR | September 05, 2014
Certainly. We are happy to share "People Who Write for People" a strip set from 1977 that even manages to intersect with the Duke and Honey storyline. Read it, and imagine Rick weeping, HERE.
Great to see Jimmy T. in this week's Classics series. In recent weeks the strip has been re-visiting Ginny Slade's 1976 Congressional campaign. I'd love it if you could please revisit the storyline in which JT wrote and recorded a song to support Slade's candidacy. For those who don't know what I'm talking about, check out this YouTube video, which shows an actual record player spinning the real-world 45 of "Ginny's Song." According to the sleeve (shown on the video) it was produced by Steve Cropper and David Foster, and featured a bunch of kick-ass musicians (including Cropper, Foster, Jay Graydon, and Keth Moon) who recorded as The Walden West Rhythm Section. It was later included on Jimmy's "Greatest Hits" album, which came out a year before Jimmy made the cover of the real-life Rolling Stone. There have been a lot of moments where Doonesbury kind of spilled over into the real world, but I think "Ginny's Song" was probably one of the first. Thanks!
P.P. | Storyline | Lompoc, CA | August 29, 2014
Not only are we happy to queue up the "Ginny's Song" storyline, but we'll lead into it with the benefit concert Jimmy threw for Virginia Slade as well. Rock on!
The wordless strip that ran on August 22nd was a true classic. As I recall, it was at the end of a multi-day slow pan, a piece of work that was absolutely beautiful although it contained no characters until the final reveal. In my humble opinion this series was a highpoint of toondom. Any chance we could see the whole thing?R. | Storyline | Lexington, KY | August 22, 2014
Of course. The August 22nd Classic strip originally appeared on November 13, 1976, and showed Joanie and Rick in bed together (at the time neither was married). Over 30 papers dropped it, including the Boston Globe, which was picketed by M.I.T. students with signs reading, "Joanie, we forgive you." The Bangor Daily News blocked out the final frame, replacing it with the weather forecast ("Fair, cold, highs in the 30s.") "When I first saw it," the editor of the Huntington Herald-Disptach told his readers, "I thought it was two guys in bed." The three-day wordless sequence is included in its entirety in our extended look back on a night (and a strip) to remember.
Okay, my tastes may seem a little weird, but as long as the strip is wallowing in the 70s, I would love it if you would please revisit the whole Energy Czar caper, which took place during the 1973-1974 oil crisis/embargo, and gave Mark a chance to revisit his glory days as an activist. It also involved the ancient and dying art of hitchhiking. Can do?Jack | Storyline | Aptos, CA | July 23, 2014
Can and shall. Your wish is our command. Read it HERE.
When I saw Duke's denunciation of John Denver in the recent Classic, it reminded me that there's always been bad blood there; it's come up more than once in the strip. Care to give us the backstory?C.B. | Characters | Anderson, CA | July 03, 2014
Certainly. The conflict has its origin in the mountains of Colorado. It was born in the summer of the strip's fifth year...
I can't help noticing that there was a certain air of foreshadowing in the strip back when Ray oversaw the handing over of Iraqi security concerns to the local military. With the announcement of US troops returning to take on certain levels of security in the country, could we please take a moment to return to that first day of Iraqi security (or lack thereof)? I seem to remember it was during the World Cup as well...Schuyler | Storyline | Ames, IA | June 20, 2014
The Ray Hightower sequence your excellent memory has referenced appeared in the summer of 2010, and was followed by a Mel-and-Roz-packing-up-the-helos series a year and a half later. You can read both HERE.