Every so often, if the creator listens carefully, opportunity mocks.
It was in the summer of 2010 that Garry Trudeau satirized the events surrounding author Joe McGinniss’s Massachusetts-to-Alaska migration. McGinniss had moved in next to Sarah Palin’s Wasilla homestead for his new biography on the former guv — prompting “Doonesbury’s” faux Fox News reporter Roland Hedley to move in on Joe.
“Moving next to Palin was seriously creepy,” faux Fox News reporter Roland Hedley bellows at McGinniss in the strip’s July 2010 story-line. “How does it feel to be stalked, stalker?”
McGinniss liked the mockery so much, he reached out to Trudeau about using the cartoons.
“McGinniss’s office first approached me for [the 2010] strip-reprint rights in March, and then subsequently about a possible review,” Trudeau tells Comic Riffs.
(Citing contractual obligations, McGinniss says he wasn’t at liberty to provide Comic Riffs with a “real-time” interview prior to Sept. 19. But his publicist at Random House/Crown said, “I can confirm that Joe did like the 2010 ‘Doonesbury’ cartoons, and [that’s] why his agent reached out to Mr. Trudeau.”)
Trudeau says he “demurred on the review, but proposed instead an exclusive first serial arrangement,” whereby the cartoonist would publish excerpts from the book. “A wild rumpus, as Joe put it,” Trudeau says. (McGinniss obviously appreciates his Sendak.)
The result is this month’s “Doonesbury” arc that marks the return of Roland Hedley to this news story. Flip to the funnies Monday and you’ll see Hedley reading excerpts from McGinniss’s bio, “The Rogue: Searching for the Real Sarah Palin,” ahead of its Sept. 20 release date.
“You know what she was?” recounts a member of Palin’s security detail. “A housewife who happened to be governor. I’d fly cross-country with her many times and she’d spend the whole trip looking at People magazine.”
From her preference for gossip tabs to her employment practices, from parenting to personal romance, these are among the sneak peeks into McGinniss’s Palin biography that Trudeau provides in the ‘strip tease.
Trudeau and Lee Salem, president of “Doonesbury” syndicate Universal Uclick, confirm to Comic Riffs that the excerpts are from the advance edition that the cartoonist received last spring, courtesy of the author.
This isn’t the first time Trudeau entered into a serial deal involving a tell-all book about a woman who’s a conservative icon. “I did something similar with Kitty Kelley’s book on Nancy Reagan” in 1991, the cartoonist says. “The embargo held then, and we’re hoping it will again this time.”
In “Doonesbury’s” current story, Hedley — through fortuitous contact with an author and a publishing mix-up — scores an early look at a hotly anticipated Palin biography. Intrigued by the book’s revelations, the media figure has a challenge: How to use this news to suit his chosen medium?
A scenario, in other words, not dissimilar from Trudeau’s.
“I did warn Joe, though, that the deal required the cooperation of my imagination,” Trudeau says of their non-financial partnership.
In culling the 300-plus-page book for content, Trudeau says there was “an embarrassment of riches. . . . And, of course, there were revelations that didn’t make the cut because I couldn’t figure out how to make them work as comedy.” (Note: More excerpts will appear here.)
When he finished the book, though, the cartoonist said he wasn’t sure he had “a way in.”
(As for the book as a whole, the cartoonist notes that he was “surprised by many of the specifics, not so shocked by the overall portrait that emerges from them.” He also calls the book “meticulously reported.”)
Trudeau’s “way in” turned out to be through Twitter, as a character bearing a striking similarity to Fox boss Roger Ailes orders Hedley to do damage-control by issuing “fair and balanced,” positive-spin tweets of the book. As the faux Ailes points out, “Sarah’s a major asset for Fox!” (Representatives for Palin and Ailes did not return requests seeking comment.)
McGinniss himself has been blogging about “Doonesbury’s “Rogue” strips. On Saturday, the author — who won acclaim four decades ago for his Alaska-set “Going to Extremes” — wrote on his blog: “It’s just Roger and Garry and I - The Unholy Trinity — trying to distract you from important issues by making you wonder what’ll happen next.”
Any heat from this serial deal, of course, can benefit both Trudeau and McGinniss — two literary men born in the ‘40s who won early acclaim for writing about President Nixon. “I read [McGinniss’s] ‘The Selling of the President’ at a tender age — one of those culture-defining books like ‘The Strawberry Statement’ and ‘The Kool-aid Acid Test’ that made a deep impression ,” says Trudeau, who won a Pulitzer in 1975 for his “Doonesbury” strips about Watergate.
Since launching “Doonesbury” four decades ago, Trudeau has attracted his share of controversy — including, Salem underscores, a story arc in the ‘80s that was critical of President Reagan’s bestowing of a humanitarian award upon Frank Sinatra. So the Palin satire, Salem says, “is certainly witin the tradition of the strip.”
(The Chicago Tribune says Monday on its comics page that it chose not to run the current “Doonesbury” strips, saying that the story-line doesn’t meet the newspaper’s “standards of fairness. The Tribune ran “Thatababy” as a substitute strip.)
As recently as a week ago, “Doonesbury” caught a bit of flak for joking about the tightness of Palin’s sweater. Readers offended by that might reload after seeing Wednesday’s strip, in which “The Rogue” excerpt has the former GOP vice-presidential candidate cracking sassy about her own empowering undergarments.
McGinniss provides the reportage. Trudeau brings the badinage. And Palin reportedly provides the remarks about her own decolletage.
Both professionally and politically, Trudeau tells Comic Riffs he has no interest in seeing Palin stick around the national scene as a potential candidate — though his opinion is that she will milk the moment.
“I’d say her strategy flows from an unusually deep need to get the most attention for the longest period of time,” the political satirist says. “For 2011, that means stringing out her decision whether to run. For 2012, it’ll mean stringing out her endorsement of [Texas Gov. Rick] Perry. ... ‘
“Professional interests aside, I would not like to see her enter the race. Like most people, I’ve had my fill.”
Yet as a regular target of “Doonesbury” satire since 2008, Trudeau acknowledges:
“She’s up there with go-tos Quayle, Dubya and Trump.”
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