1973 Comics

G.B. Trudeau
Holt Rinehart Winston

Garry (G.B.) Trudeau did a lot of growing up at Yale. His original cartoons, reprinted in Doonesbury: The Original Yale Cartoons (American Heritage Press), appear skillfully sophomoric. The sketchy line figures and spare backgrounds show a creative debt to Jules Feiffer--though Trudeau isn't quite competent enough to figure out where in the frame to put the dialogue--and the subject matter, "co-ed" sex, testifies to the dubious inspiration of nerdy testosterone. At least half of Trudeau's early strips concern themselves with Mike Doonesbury's self-deprecating attempts to get laid. There's an indecorous "faggot" joke, which doesn't seem entirely repellent, and a frat-party rape joke, which inevitably does.

One would have been hard-pressed to anticipate that Doonesbury would evolve so quickly into a keen political and social soap opera of the times. Perhaps Trudeau owes his maturation to Dick Nixon--a source of endless inspiration for many citizen cynics. Placing dialogue capsules above a static White House, Trudeau treats Watergate like a giddy caper: In one series, he has the invisible staff cheerleading, "Give me an 'N!'" to boost the administration's morale. The idea to depict politicians through absence seems an inspired visual and political choice; in reflection, one is impressed that Trudeau believed his readers could identify cabinet members by their first names alone. Yet Trudeau isn't all subtlety: In one strip, which the Washington Post refused to run and subsequently editorialized against, the college DJ Mark Slackmeyer gleefully declares Nixon's attorney general, John Mitchell, "Guilty! Guilty! Guilty!"

The cartoonist is guilty of fewer sexual high jinks in his cartoons from 1973. In the most memorable sequence from Call Me When You Find America, Mike and Mark pick up a refugee housewife named Joanie Caucus and bring her back to their hippie commune, Walden. There she finds a job in a nursery school, and takes to indoctrinating her young charges against "chauvinist pigs." Clumsy...overeager? Perhaps. Yet Trudeau's ability to personify a social movement through an AWOL mother, and embody the faithless body politic through a building, speaks to an ambition that, in our Dilbert days, is probably beyond the mandate of any cartoonist.

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