AS A MASTER OF IRONY, Garry Trudeau adroitly hones in on what he perceives as twisted logic.
Last Friday, the Chicago Tribune chose — for the second time since last September — not to run a “Doonesbury” strip. The reason this time, according to the Tribune: The comic “broke from its satirical mission” so it could ”deliver a direct fundraising appeal for a specific charity” — DonorsChoose.org. A note that ran in the paper explains: “The Tribune’s editorial practices do not allow individuals to promote their self-interests.”
Reached over the weekend by Comic Riffs, Trudeau raises two issues with this explanation. First, “I’m not sure ‘self-interest’ quite applies, since (a) DonorsChoose is a charity, and (b) I have no formal connection to it,” the Pulitzer-winning “Doonesbury” cartoonist points out.
“Curiously,” Trudeau continues, “the Trib had no problem with the previous day’s strip directing readers to my website — which actually was in my self-interest.”
Last Thursday’s “Doonesbury” featured a QR code that when scanned by a smartphone, as Michael Doonesbury instructs readers, would “whisk you to our web site.”
The QR code in last Friday’s strip, on the other hand, takes readers to DonorsChoose — “a cool site,” the comic’s Zonker says, “that connects you to public school classrooms in need.” The strip also mentions a matching offer by DonorsChoose board members; the strip’s perennial surf-slacker says that ”your donation to the charity will be doubled if you enter the code word ’Zonker.’ “
“This is actually the second go-round,” Trudeau tells Comic Riffs of his pointing to DonorsChoose in “Doonesbury.” “I think I first read about DonorsChoose in a Jonathan Alter column, and was so fascinated by their peer-to-peer funding model, I described it in a Sunday [“Doonesbury” in 2007]. Apparently the site received a surge of interest in response, so they approached me to work it into the strip again this year.
“I was happy to oblige,” the cartoonist continues, “especially since my son, who’s a high school teacher in a high-poverty neighborhood, had used DonorsChoose himself to raise funds for classroom supplies.”
Trudeau notes that the Tribune did run that 2007 DonorsChoose strip.
“It’s a little odd ... but there may be different rules in place now,” he tells Comic Riffs. “I try not to second-guess editors; they’re the clients, and I have no expectation that my strip is going to make it into every paper every day.
“The reasons given for bumping the DonorsChoose strip were very different from the ones they offered over the [Sarah] Palin strips. The latter apparently raised reporting and verification issues.”
Last September, “Doonesbury” excerpted passages from Joe McGinniss’s biography of the former Alaska governor prior to the book’s publication. The Tribune pulled the strips, telling its readers that “the subject matter does not meet our standards of fairness [because] the strips include excerpts from a book that is not yet on the market and therefore unavailable for review or verification by the Tribune.” (The Atlanta Journal-Constitution also reportedly did not run some of the Palin strips.)
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Cartoonists occasionally tie their comic-strip creations to specific causes. In 2007, for example, Tom Batiuk notably launched a “Lisa’s Legacy Fund” after a storyline in his strip “Funky Winkerbean” involved a character dying of breast cancer. And Richard Thompson, who has Parkinson’s disease, has recently linked his comic to the Team “Cul de Sac” campaign to raise money for Parkinson’s research.
Trudeau says that as far as he knows, no other newspapers refused to run last Friday’s strip and his syndicate, Universal Uclick, has not received any complaints from editors.
“All positive,” Trudeau says of the reaction from readers and clients. ”No one else seems to have a problem with my using the strip this way.”
On Saturday, the online poster “Carol Ann Robrahn” of Louisville, Ky., wrote on the Slate-hosted “Doonesbury” site: “Thanks for matching my Donors Choose donation. That was so nice and very much appreciated! Three cheers for Zonkers!”
[DOONESBURY: Palin biography ‘The Rogue’ gets a comic-strip tease]
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(Note: The Slate Group is a division of The Washington Post Co.)