DOONESBURY: Drawing and Quartering for Fun and Profit

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Perhaps Trudeau's greatest gift is the ability to present such satire without bile, to put strong statements in the mouths of gentle characters—to demonstrate, as Mike Doonesbury says, that "even revolutionaries like chocolate-chip cookies." After all, who else but Trudeau could have made an attractive character out of a Viet Cong terrorist—or out of a woman who abandons her family? True, Doonesbury can often be held in contempt of public figures and just about all kinds of politics. But Trudeau also laments the passing of the idealistic 1960s. A melancholy Rev. Scot Sloan resigned his campus chaplaincy recently because "nobody cares about the issues any more," and when friends began mocking that decade of noble purpose, Mark Slackmeyer pulled his punch lines to wonder, "God, what's happened to us?"

The essential message of Doonesbury may be that inside even the most formidable public figures and the most vituperative public debates there are hard kernels of decency—and lunacy. They may not be immediately visible, but somehow Trudeau can extract the ludicrous truth and imprison it in his daily cages. Of what earthly benefit is such talent? For one thing, it may prevent Americans from taking their prejudices too seriously, as they have in the less laudable moments of recent history. Trudeau's rather formal answer: "To let the small meannesses and foolishnesses of life face each other in distortion, stretched, juggled and juxtaposed, but always lit with laughter, can ease the pain of self-recognition."

What will Trudeau do when he grows up? About the only major events in his near future are the fall publication of his Yale master's thesis, Blitzkrieg, an illustrated account of a Luftwaffe flight lieutenant's career, and the 1976 presidential campaign, which he has been asked to cover for Rolling Stone—and will lampoon in Doonesbury. Every month about a dozen more newspapers sign up to receive Doonesbury, and Trudeau is working on an animated half-hour television special based on the strip. He also talks in block-letter bromides of moving to Boston some day, and forsaking the killing regimen of drawing Doonesbury for travel, study and writing.

Until he does, Doonesbury seems likely to be the strip of the '70s, if any strips survive. Rising prices and chronic shortages of newsprint have driven editors to drop marginally popular panels and shrink survivors to the size of chewing-gum wrappers. That crunch may eventually catch up with Doonesbury, which needs plenty of space for its extended dialogues. A less immediate danger is that Doonesbury's following may shed the passive disillusionment and cynicism that Trudeau satisfies so wittily. Already some of Doonesbury's younger followers are finding the strip a bit bland and irrelevant. "The Establishment has decided that Doonesbury is a cute little expression of how clever kids are," says Harvard Senior Tom Hubbard. "It's been co-opted, and we're getting tired of it." Right now, however, that "we" is a tiny and humorless minority.

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