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Trudeau is also in debt to Jules Feiffer's skeletal style and balloonless neurotic monologues. But the cartoonist Trudeau most admires is a past master, the long-neglected Winsor McCay, whose Little Nemo in Slumberland appeared in the New York Herald 70 years ago. Nemo, a boy who wandered each night in surreal dreamscapes, was an enchanting champion of childhood fantasy. Though Trudeau cannot approach McCay's technique, he still retains the ability to see things through young eyes. "A flight of fantasy," he writes in his preface to the Chronicles, "is no mere sleight of mind. But only children . . . are nurtured by it. Later, of course, many of us comprehend our self-imposed poverty and try to double back, but the bread crumbs are always missing and our failures are immense."
The make-believe world Trudeau has organized in Doonesbury is as accurate a microcosm of the universe as Nemo's dreamlandor Dogpatch or the Okefenokee Swamp. But unlike these earlier locales, the backgrounds of Doonesbury are not metaphors. They are instantly recognizable as the White House, Viet Namor outer space, where three Sky lab astronauts discover that the nation is so bored with the space program that their congratulations are being telephoned not by the President, not by the Vice President, but . . . Stand by for "the Lieutenant Governor of Iowa!" Trudeau does not anthropomorphize his characters into Shmoos or possums, nor does he disguise the identities of real-life figures. On occasion Doonesbury has gone anachronistic: in a Bicentennial flashback, Paul Revere's feminist apprentice yearns to be a "Minuteperson." In addition, the strip frequently becomes an illuminated roman à clef sprinkled with such celebrities as Journalist Hunter S. Thompson Jr., who is thinly disguised as Zonker Harris' dope-eating Uncle Duke. Duke last month was named U.S. envoy to China after a Senate confirmation hearing overlooking massive corporate payoffs to him. Thompson denies that he is insulted by this unflattering characterization, but recently told a friend, "If I ever catch that little bastard, I'll tear his lungs out."
Thompson is not the only one discomfited by Trudeau's characterizations. The panels are so volatile that half a dozen editors regularly run the strip on the editorial page. Sometimes they don't run it at all. The Los Angeles Times yanked a 1972 Trudeau strip about a diplomatic visit by Nixon and Kissinger to a distant and alien land: Watts. A number of papers dropped a recent strip in which Trudeau called President Ford's son Jack a "pothead." Trudeau's most inspired excess was the Nixon-era strip in which Radical Disk Jockey Mark Slackmeyer ends a surprisingly fair "Watergate Profile" of John Mitchell with the remark that "everything known to date could lead one to conclude that he's guilty. That's guilty, guilty, guilty!" Trudeau later explained that he was only trying to parody the hysteria of Nixon foes, but dozens of papers excised the panels. In an editorial, the Washington Post huffed: "If anyone is going to find any defendant guilty, it's going to be the due process of justice, not a comic-strip artist. We cannot have one standard for the news pages and another for the comics."