Post Magazine: Garry Trudeau
Monday, October 23, 2006; 12:00 PM
Revealing more about himself than he ever has, "Doonesbury" creator Garry Trudeau gives us tantalizing clues about what's behind his venerable comic strip's recent burst of genius, and pain.
In this week's Washington Post Magazine, Gene Weingarten profiled the publicity-shy Trudeau, who with his strip's searing storyline of an Iraq War amputee, is getting new attention.
Weingarten was online Monday, Oct. 23, at Noon ET to field questions and comments about his article:
Weingarten is a staff writer for the Post Magazine and hosts a regular Tuesday discussion, Chatological Humor .
Gene Weingarten: Good afternoon.
One question many of you are asking involves the cover the magazine: Yes, Trudeau drew that specifically for The Post. The general idea was mine - having B.D., with his missing leg, ruminating on the nature of "The Creator." There's a funny story behind this.
Once my editor, Tom the Butcher had approved of the idea, I needed to broach it to Trudeau. We were together in Tucson at the Vietvet conference. But first, I phoned Tom to work out one final detail. Here is how the conversation went:
Me: So, how much can we pay him?
TtheB: Pay him?
Me: For the illustration.
TtheB: I don't think we can pay him anything. We can't pay the subjects of our stories. You know that.
Me: We're not paying for the story! We're paying a world-famous artist for a cover illustration.
TtheB: I know. But it looks like we're paying for the story. We can't do it.
Me: Okay, let's do a little thought experiment, shall we?
Me: Do you agree that an original illustration by Garry Trudeau is an item of some intrinsic value? Worth thousands of dollars, in fact?
Me: Okay, then. So, by asking him to do this illustration for free, we are in effect asking him to give us money.
Me: In other words, HE is paying US to write the story about him.
TtheB: Okay, this is above my pay grade.
So Tom the Butcher went to discuss this with great and powerful people at The Post. Scenarios were discussed. Options were weighed. And so forth. Finally, it was decided that we would not pay Trudeau for the art, but we would donate a substantial amount of money, in his name, to the charity of his choice.
So, that's what happened. I tell this story mostly because it illustrates the sometimes comical super-serious degrees to which this newspaper is willing to wrestle with issues of ethics and angels on pinheads and so forth -- and also why I would not want to work for anyone else. Trudeau, by the way, took my idea for the cover and improved my wording hugely, giving it Mamet-like sparseness.
He's donating the money to Fisher House, which is a program to provide free or low-cost housing for the families who are visiting injured soldiers.
In case you're feeling generous yourself:
Fisher House Foundation
1401 Rockville Pike
Rockville, MD 20852
I've gotten many interesting letters so far. This is my favorite:
A while back John Kerry sent me a thick packet of neatly copied Doonesbury strips. It was B.D's story and, unknown to John, I'd been following it closely. John sent it without comment, but I knew instantly why he had.
Like B.D. it takes some of us longer to deal with it than others. Some of us never do.
Nice piece on Trudeau, the therapist.
The letter was from Jim Rassmann. Does that name sound familiar? He was the man whom Kerry dragged from the water in 'Nam, onto his Swift Boat, while under enemy fire. Rassmann had shown up during a campaign event, the two men embraced, and for a while Rassmann was an important ally in the campaign. That was before "The Swift Boat Veterans for Truth" arrived and informed us all that Kerry was actually a poseur and a coward and a douchebag and maybe he didn't even serve in ' Nam, now that they think of it.
Weren't we lucky they showed up and saved us from a Kerry presidency? Boy, this country could sure be in trouble right about now if we had a guy like that at the helm. Can't be too careful about who your president is.
Now is the point in the introduction that we arrive at what has become a warm, comfortable routine after the publication one of my cover stories, namely, an alphabetized and cross-referenced enumeration of all errors contained within, later to be compiled into the definitive encyclopedia of Weingarten errors and catalogued in the Library of Congress.
Notice of the first error arrived as a letter from former Time magazine correspondent (now a Fox News correspondent) James Rosen, who points out that, contrary to my assertion, John Mitchell had been indicted at the time the "Guilty! Guilty! Guilty!" strip came out in 1973. The indictment was 19 days old at the time. This is true. It was not his Watergate indictment -- which came about a year later and for which he was convicted -- but it was an indictment in the finance case involving Maurice Stans and Robert Vesco, for which Mitchell was later acquitted.
Why did Rosen know this arcana? Because he is writing a book about Mitchell. You can't get away with anything, fact-wise, in Washington.
Rosen also contends that his Time cover story about Trudeau in 1976 was every bit as in-depth as mine, a contention we are going to contest over breakfast next week.
Several readers also pointed out that contrary to my assertion toward the end of the piece, B.D. had in fact cheated on Boopsie once before, in a sequence around the time of the first Gulf War. This is true, and I had forgotten it; however, I am saved on a technicality. They weren't married at the time. It wasn't an "affair." It wasn't an "infidelity." Haha. I am home free. Scrupulously accurate, as always.
Okay, let's go.
Warwick, R.I.: I am a double amputee, bk, as a result of wounds received in Vietnam. I want to commend Garry Trudeau for his remarkably insightful treatment of BD's wound and rehabilitation. My children, now grown, have enjoyed and can relate to strip as well. It was my daughter that alerted me to this article. Thank you Mr. Trudeau for your sensitive but not maudlin treatment of an issue not many have the courage to confront.
Gene Weingarten: Thanks, man.
Boissise la Bertrand, France: Not a question, a suggestion.
Next time you write a profile, try to make it less about you and more about the profilee. It was fascinating to learn that it was you who reminded Trudeau of the source of one of his strip ideas, but not particularly essential for this reader.
Gene Weingarten: Okay. You might be right.
Actually, I hadn't intended to put myself into the story, but found that too many of the scenes required the context of who he was talking to, and why. There are times when trying to avoid placing yourself into a story winds up clumsy, and actually misrepresents the truth of what happened.
As far as explaining that I had reminded him of the source of one of his strips, my point wasn't that I had reminded him, but that he had forgotten -- he is always gathering information, which then coalesces into an idea through a process of some mystery, even to him.
I also thought it was pretty cool to have actually witnessed the derivation of a strip.
As I said, it was a decision I made reluctantly, because I saw no better way. If I was wrong, I was wrong.
Chicago, Ill.: Gene, this isn't a question, but another (I'm betting) compliment... your profile of Trudeau was the second best piece of feature writing I've read this year, the best being your profile of the Great Zucchini. I've tried this sort of thing myself, from time to time, and I'm just in awe of your graceful skill at it. Please, do more, much more.
(host, Wait Wait Don't Tell Me, NPR)
Gene Weingarten: Okay, I'm going to post this, but only because it's from Sagal, whose show I love.
I could never do well on that show. My humor-trigger-finger is waaay too slow. There should be a telethon for what ails me: Molasses in the synapses.
Silver Spring, Md.: Greetings Gene! I truly enjoyed reading your article on Garry Trudeau. Do you happen to have any insight on why Alex Doonesbury has enrolled at MIT (class of 2010)? As you mention in your article his children apparently went to Brown and Yale. It is a curious choice. Does he have any affiliation with MIT?
Gene Weingarten: To the best of my recollection (which, as has already been established, isn't very good), Trudeau narrowed Alex's choices to three schools -- Cornell, MIT, and Rensselaer Polytech -- and then had readers choose through an online poll at Doonesbury.com. The competition among the three schoosl was intense, but MIT won, apparently through a better hacking campaign.
Liz, can you link to one of those strips before the results were announced?
washingtonpost.com: Alex Chooses Cornell
Washington, D.C.: Dear Gene:
Don't you think it would have been important for the reader to know that you are friends with the subject that you are profiling? I certainly understand that it is natural that reporters would become friends with (fellow) celebrities but I don't understand why it is so rare to hear or read in a journalistic piece something along the lines of: "In the interest of full disclosure, [Subject of the Story] and I have been good friends for xx years."
Gene Weingarten: Well, um, we weren't friends. We hadn't known each other at all, except for a couple of e-mail exchanges, as I will explain later.
Glen Burnie, Md.: Gene, this is more a question for Garry, but I'm wondering about the characters' aging. Mike and B.D. are the same age, but Mike's daughter is in college and Sam is just a kid, even though as I recall they were born about the same time. Some characters age physically, e.g., Joanie, while most do not, e.g., zonker and Boopsie who hasn't aged a day. These are minor quibbles as I love the strip. I actually went to Yale with Garry and B.D. and knew people like most of the characters (not Hunter Thompson and Honey!). Which is why I know how old I am and think they should be about the same age.
Gene Weingarten: This is hard doing in the absence of Garry, but I think that he's aging these characters appropriately. Alex was born before Sam. Boopsie will never look older because she is a Hollywood hottie with forever genes, like Loren. As Garry pointed out just this past Sunday (Liz, please link) his characters have porked out considerably since Day One, not to mention, um, somehow becoming well drawn.
One source of your confusion, I suspect, is that the characters didn't really age at all for the first 13 years of the strip, when they remained in college. So they're probably somewhat younger than you'd expect.
washingtonpost.com: Doonesbury , ( Oct. 22 )
Washington, D.C.: I think you skipped over that stomach ulcer deferrment pretty fast. You sort of implied it was a fake faciliatted by his father's knowledge, which would be pretty significant in talking about Trudeau's relations to vets -- and the fact that the guy who's starring in this great series of strips is the guy who went to Vietnam way back when.
Gene Weingarten: It wasn't a fake. It was an end-run, though. Garry had ulcers as a young teen (his parents were divorcing around then.) He did have stomach scarring.
So he got, at his father's suggestion, what Garry calls "the felicitously named G.I. series." The fact is, the military was very reluctant to take people with a history of ulcers, because ulcers -- at least at the time -- were thought to recur through life, which means the VA would be stuck with treating this person forever.
Was it gaming the system? Yes. Would I have done it, too? In a heartbeat.
Harrisburg, Pa.: Since Garry Trudeau served so reserved and shy about discussing his personal life, how were you able to get him to do so? How did you get him to agree to be interviewed?
Gene Weingarten: Well, I asked.
Garry and I had corresponded a few times before, online. A host a regular chat on Tuesdays, and it frequently deals with issues of the comics pages, and on more than one occasion I had relayed a reader's question directly to Garry.
I'm not entirely certain why Garry agreed to this, given his historical aversion to publicity, but I think part of it was that he knew I cared about the comics, looked at them analytically, and respected comics as an art form. Obviously, he also knew that I thought the B.D. storyline was great. But Trudeau is very media savvy, and knew perfectly well that once he agreed to participate, anything could happen. He just risked it.
Eastern Market, Washington, D.C.: Gene,
You really know how to hurt a guy! By quoting that buffoonish demagogue from Fox (I am under oath never to say or write his name) to the effect that the B.D. series "saps morale" for the war, you show Mr Commentator at his very best: silent, with his right foot stuck awkwardly into his big mouth.
Gene Weingarten: Yeah, I am guessing O'Reilly would take that back now, if he could. But it's forever archived! You can find it. A totally preposterous column, in which he also appears to link Trudeau (though only indirectly) with Goebbels.
Jane Pauley and the strip: Did you ever attempt to again bring up the parallel between his wife's mental illness and the strip? Jane certainly identified it, recognized the compartmentalization but understands Garry's mind set. Is this something he is able/willing to acknowledge?
Gene Weingarten: This is the best question so far. Very shrewd.
It was the single biggest issue I had to deal with, in reporting. When Jane volunteered that connection, at breakfast, I thought, as a reporter, "wow." My second thought was, "Do I need to bounce this off Garry?"
I decided, tactically, that bouncing it off Garry would only have blunted and muddied the point of it. What could he say -- yes, she's right? No, I don't see it? Either way, it would just land with a thud.
I decided the important thing was that Jane felt that way and that -- as she herself said -- it's pretty hard to argue against it.
Are you a journalist? Because that was a very smart question.
Rockville, Md.: I have read and enjoyed Doonesbury since the guys hit the road and were looking. He has grown over the years and your article shows this verywell. However, I do wonder at the tone whey you wrote "Trudeau just kills Bush." and "Most recently, Trudeau was right about Iraq." Since things have been more difficult than many expected, you are right.
Congratulations, I guess. But who do you want to win in Iraq?
Gene Weingarten: After 9/11, I told my friend David Von Drehle that my greatest hope was that I (an unreconstructed liberal) would vote for Bush in 2004, based on how he had handled the previous three years. My primary loyalty was to this country. Still is.
But I can't answer your question, because I no longer know what it would mean to "win" in Iraq. Bush has screwed things up that badly. My opinion.
Washington, D.C.: I loved the feature on Garry Trudeau. Congratulations for getting him to open up as much as he did. There was so much in the article that I feel silly that the following question kept popping into my mind, but oh, well: What made the Meatheads think that "Good Night and Good Luck" would be a bad movie in the way that "Poseidon" is a bad movie??
Gene Weingarten: I'm not sure!
I had the opposite reaction. I went to see GNAGL expecting a terrific movie, and was disappointed. Can anyone explain to me the point of that whole second storyline about the couple who couldn't reveal they were married?
Rockville, Md.: Please, please assure me that Trudeau's syndicate will nominate him for a Pulitzer for his work portraying BD's struggle and journey. Its brilliance defies categorization.
Gene Weingarten: Well, obviously, I agree. Doonesbury has already won one Pulitzer for editorial cartooning, and was a finalist two years ago, the first year of the B.D. saga. It lost out to a brilliant entry by Matt Davies, a loss Trudeau is not remotely upset about. He felt Davies deserved it.
It's very hard for a strip artist to win a Pulitzer, competing against editorial cartoonists. I believe only Trudeau and Breathed have done it.
Falls Church, Va.: The Post has been on a roll in the past week or so. Puff piece about good-looking young Democratic candidates in Style. Puff piece about Jim Webb in Style. Puff piece about Nancy Pelosi in news. Puff piece about Google (big Dem. donors) in Business. Puff piece about Obama in Book World. And Saturday's Quote-Acrostic features a quotation from Joan Didion denouncing newsroom objectivity as a sham!
Nice to see you doing your neatly-timed part for the Post's election effort.
Gene Weingarten: Yeah, the word went out in mid-year at the Post that we needed to start looking for conservative-bashing pieces; either that or liberal puff pieces. This happens every two years. I was given the choice of Trudeau or Jimmy Carter, and ordered to ignore anything negative, including Trudeau's rap sheet on morals charges from the 70s.
You guys really think it works like this, don't you?
Grand Rapids, Mich.: We'll stipulate that Trudeau is number one on the list of cartoonists who have had the most influence on American culture. Who would be in distant second? The other strips that have become a part of the culture -- Dilbert, Peanuts, Garfield -- don't have that same influence. Boondocks wanted to influence the culture but didn't achieve the visibility.
Gene Weingarten: You'd probably have to go back to Walt Kelly, and Pogo. In his day, Kelly was actually a media star.
Peanuts probably had a greater effect on the comics arts -- virtually every cartoonist, including Trudeau, claims a debt to Schulz -- but in terms of affecting society at large, I suspect it is Trudeau and Kelly.
Washington, D.C.: Gene,
Thanks for the article. I was born on the day the "Baby Woman" strip ran, and have always felt connected to Doonesbury. Did you discuss with Trudeau any plans for his future? Does he plan to retire? (By the way, the impending end of "For Better or For Worse" has turned that strip into a death march toward the end of everyone's plot line.)
Gene Weingarten: The "Baby Woman" strip was one of my favorites! I had included it in the story, but it was cut for length. Joanie Caucus was tending a daycare center (and getting paid for it!) and was wondering if she had managed to instill her nascent feminism on any of the little girls. Her prayers were answered when one of the girls got off the phone to announce she had a new sister, whom she described as "A baby woman!"
Boy, a lot of stuff didn't get into the story? Know where Joanie got her last name? It was a tribute to the National Women's Caucus, which Trudeau spent a lot of time with in the 1960s and 1970s, to hone his feminism and, ah, to hang out with hot chicks.
Alexandria, Va.: Gene, thanks so much for your beautiful feature on Garry Trudeau. I am very proud of working for the VA's health care system, which provides the Best Care in the U.S. according to "Business Week." I couldn't stand B.D. as a civilian, but love him as a veteran.
I am also proud of being a liberal and I have been violently opposed to this war since its conception. Mr. Trudeau is the only one who can explain this (and eloquently) to those who believe you can't split the ticket, in political speak.
Garry came to the VA Central Office to sign his two new books about B.D.'s recovery and stayed for four hours. I was thrilled to be able to meet him -- who knew such a genius satarist is also warm, friendly and unassuming? I should have realized that he had to do a lot of research to get it so right, but I was still amazed at how much he knows about our system.
Besides, Gene, he's hot! I'd fling my virtual panties but Jane doesn't need Celeste to help keep her man straight!
Gene Weingarten: I'm laughing here. When/if Garry reads this, he's not going to understand the virtual panties.
Washington, DC: Gene,
Of course, I heart you........but I may heart Garry Trudeau just a bit more. Great article.
Gene Weingarten: Garry won't understand this, either.
Alex chooses Cornell: Great strip. And as a registered professional electrical engineer in private practice, I also thought it was a great question that Alex had posed to likely mentors.
BTW: I dated a beautiful, brainy MIT grad and served with guys I referred to as the RPI Mafia. From my experience with these characters, Alex made the best decision in spite of what the Car Talk guys think about Cornell: "Far above Cayuga's waters, there's an awful smell.."
Thanks much. HLB, Mt. Lebanon PA
Gene Weingarten: As many of you know, my daughter is at Cornell vet school. She reported an intense campaign afoot to bring Alex there, but no one could compete with the MIT technos. Cornell is largely a liberal arts school.
You may be slow: But "You have molasses in the synapses" is my new favorite insult. Brilliant!
Gene Weingarten: I'd add some funny comment here, but for some reason can't think of one.
Trudeau = Goebbels?: Actually, that's a fairly brilliant analogy. Both are/were master propagandists, and both favored their ideology over the truth.
Kinda like you, if you were better.
Gene Weingarten: Okay, I'm just putting this out here. It's a nice little leavening agent.
Capitol Hill, Washington, D.C.: So, Garry let you hang out with him and his buddies? For how long did this go on? Didn't you feel a little... um... unaccomplished? Did you have to try extra hard to fit in? Wasn't that a little bit weird?
Big props to Trudeau... I've been reading Doonesbury since high school (20+ years) and hope it goes on forever!
Gene Weingarten: I had to keep fighting the impulse to ask for his autograph, yes.
Not really, but you get the idea.
Herndon, Va.: Great story, with one flaw.
The flaw is the conclusion, that has us compare the genius of Doonesbury with the vapidity of Blondie. Pointing to Doonesbury's genius by noting that Blondie's subjects and execution are not nearly as well-honed as Doonesbury's is like noting the greatness of the New York Yankees by showing how much better they are than a Triple A team.
Gene Weingarten: This is a valid point. It may well have been too easy. But one point I was trying to make is that, by and large, the comics pages have turned to goo.
Chevy Chase, Md.: Thanks for a great story. I thought the most poignant remark made by Trudeau was part of his response to your question about whether he thought Bush was evil or stupid. "He substitutes belief for thought", which characterizes succinctly the extremism we're experiencing in both the Christian and the Muslim communities.
Gene Weingarten: Maybe, but I think Trudeau's point was that Bush should know better.
Moncton, New Brunswick: In 1974, I saw Hunter Thompson speak to a crowd of 450 people at a college in the Midwest. The talk was given well after the success of "Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas" and "Campaign Trail '72". It was a typical college speaking engagement, respectfully and warmly received, with a 50 minute talk and a brief question and answer session. In 1976, I saw Thompson speak at the University of Missouri. The crowd that came to see him was virtually a howling mob. A speech was impossible to such a group so it quickly degenerated into a raucous (and rather vacuous) Q&A session. I had dinner with Thompson afterwards and asked what had happened since 1974 to cause this. Thompson pointedly blamed Trudeau's portrayal of "Uncle Duke" in the "Doonesbury" comic strip. Thompson went on to say the "Duke" character was one he had created for his own literary purposes and that Trudeau had taken it for personal gain. That night, in 1976, Thompson claimed the comic strip was "ruining" his life and that it had made it impossible to work as he wished as a journalist because whenever Thompson tried to cover a public campaign event he was treated by onlookers as some celebrity circus freak. Did you and Trudeau ever discuss Thompson?
Gene Weingarten: Only briefly. I know that Trudeau is aware that Thompson didn't like him. But, you know, Thompson created his outsized persona quite deliberately; it's hard for me to understand how or why he could resent a parody.
Did you guys catch the amazing way Trudeau dealt with the real Hunter Thompson's death? It was a very clever bit of surrealism/existentialism in which Duke seems to suddenly get a Duke-like version of someone treading on his grave. The art resembled Ralph Steadman's art, which appeared in a lot of Thompson's book. A remarkable, sophisticated inside joke.
Liz, I'll bet you can't find this link.
Garry seems a little less pleased with the Duke character than some of his others. As he pointed out to me, Duke is pretty two dimensional -- once you realize that every single thing he does or says is based on self-interest, you pretty much have him.
washingtonpost.com: Doonesbury , ( March 8, 2005 )
Santa Barbara, Calif.: I often read Doonesbury twice -- I have to check to see if it's really that daringly, outrageously right on target. Then I think, everyone should be reading this!
So, you say the number of papers carrying Doonesbury is shrinking. Yikes! What can we do to keep that from happening? Do letters to the editor really make a difference?
Hurray that Garry T. is coming to Santa Barbara this week!
Thank you for your thoughtful, in-depth article.
Gene Weingarten: No, papers aren't cancelling Doonesbury. It's just that the number of papers are shrinking.
Gene Weingarten: Let me try this a second time, with a little greater clarity: There are fewer newspapers in America than there were in the 1970s.
Boulder, Colo.: So how much did Tom the Butcher whack from this piece? I found each section of it fascinating, and I was wanting more. Thanks for the good work.
Gene Weingarten: Tom whacked about 1,500 words. It is why they call him the Butcher.
Gainesville, Fla.: Excellent read yeasterday! My mom bought me a Doonesbury book many years ago and Gary was at the bookstore signing them. She said nobody was payying any attention to him so she went over and got him to sign the copy she bought. She was going to go and he just started talking to her and asking her questions and they ended up chatting awhile. She was struck by what a good listener he was.
Gene Weingarten: He is one of the world's great listeners. And filers away. He is also just incredibly gracious to people. No pretension at all.
New York, N.Y.: Tell Trudeau if he wants to do something for the strip on the Web site, step one is very smple: one needs to be able to go direct to the strip without having to pause on an intro page and find the spot that, with another click, will take you to the strip.
Amazing on the Web how much that second click, that unnecessary second click, discourages one from coming back again. Put the strip on the homepage, pal, let people link right to it, get there from wherever they are with a single click, and the hits will go up practically overnight.
Yours truly, Ignorant Reader
Gene Weingarten: The Web has spoiled us, to a totally comical degree.
Rosslyn, Va.: While reading this, I could not help but wonder what Garry looks like? I tried mentally coming up with an image. Any place where I can go to see what he looks like?
washingtonpost.com: It's called Google image search .
Gene Weingarten: Aren't their photos of Garry on the washpost site with the story? If not, it's too bad. Michael Williamson took a few spectacularly good shots.
Falls Church, Va.: So the timing of your piece was just coincidence? Look at the situation objectively, as a journalist, and tell me you wouldn't be the least bit skeptical?
Gene Weingarten: I am honestly laughing here.
Yes, sir. This story was embarked on in March 2006. It got done when it got done, delayed a little by my father's death. It was not timed to coincide with anything. There was no agenda.
Take your meds, now.
Rochester, N.Y.: did Trudeau mention his impressions of any other politicos he met while at Yale? Kerry? Ashcroft? Lieberman? Talbott?
Gene Weingarten: Not that I recall, no.
Palookaville: "in terms of affecting society at large, I suspect it is Trudeau and Kelly."
And before that, The Yellow Kid.
Gene Weingarten: Well, as I recall, the Yellow Kid by Outcault was the first comic strip. But I think people who know more than I do will say that Little Nemo in Slumberland, of the same vintage, survived the test of time much better.
My son is in art school, studying animation, and he just learned that one of the great animation pioneers was Winsor McCay, the Nemo cartoonist.
New York, N.Y.: I wasn't surprized to see that Trudeau doesn't keep his own artwork and other creations prominently displayed. Genius rarely takes its work seriously. Why do you think that is?
Gene Weingarten: Because the genius still sees the scaffolding, even after it has been removed. The process removes the sense of achievement.
Perth, Western Australia: Did you get a sense from Garry Trudeau that he would draw directly for the Internet if newspapers could no longer provide him the audience he sought?
Gene Weingarten: Yes.
Takoma Park, Md.: Did you tell the woman in the airport who was with you?
Gene Weingarten: Not until I called her many weeks later, to verify some facts. She couldn't stop laughing.
Virtual panties: Are you sure Garry won't understand this? The phrase always seemed self-explanatory to me.
Well, if you ask him about virtual panties, um, throw mine on the pile, too. Lucky Jane!
Gene Weingarten: Speaking of his looks, here's a line I had in the piece but T the B cut out: I was trying to be snide, so I could say something unfairly negative and I noted that from behind you can see he has a very small bald spot on his head which is "oh so predictably a little left of center."
I also pointed out that he pronounces the "t" in "often." That's sort of the worst thing I discovered about him! Tom took it out.
Arlington, Va.: Now that the editorial powers that be have turned over at least once or twice is The Washington Post ever going to reconsider it's exile of Doonesbury to space below the gossip column? I'm time constrained so I read the editorial/oped and selected comics regularly, but skip past Style Page 3. Fortunately for Garry someone alerted me to the Iraq series so he got some royalties, but I still regularly skip past the current placement.
Gene Weingarten: I've gotten used to it, but it was a stupid thing to do. It is not nearly as stupid as moving Dilbert to the business page. I keep calling for the firing of the person who made that decision, but no one ever listens.
Arlington, Va.: You talk about "gaming the system" but Cheney, Clinton, Bush et.al. are routinely criticized for their deferments or alternatives employed which resulted in them not being drafted. Why then should a guy who was married (still is) and in grad school be critized and Truadeau, who gamed the system, not?
Gene Weingarten: I don't condemn anyone who found a way out of Vietnam.
If we had a draft today, I wouldn't condemn anyone who found a way out, either.
His Pulitzer...: Gene, I read this morning while randomly skimming the Doonesbury timeline on Slate that when Trudeau won his Pulitzer for editorial cartoons, it was answered by a letter of protest from the editorial cartoonists. After checking to make sure that no one could make him give the award back, Trudeau signed the letter with the rest of them. Seems like this one anecdote pretty much sums up his entire personality.
Gene Weingarten: I had forgotten that. I would have put it in the story.
Trudeau on Kerry: "did Trudeau mention his impressions of any other politicos he met while at Yale? Kerry?"
Trudeau did a number of strips on Kerry as returned-Vietnam-vet-turned-war-opponent at the time it was actually going on. He made Kerry out to be a preening, self-serving, ambitious politician-wannabe. Yet another example of how perspicacious Trudeau has always been!
Gene Weingarten: Right. He had him as a prettyboy.
Silver Spring, Md.: Hi Gene - I was born in 1967, and as soon as I could read, I read my parents large collection of Doonesbury comic books. So essentially, everything I learned about Watergate, the Vietnam War, the women's movement, etc., I learned from Gary Trudeau. His work has had such an influence on my beliefs and opinions. Thank you for such a wonderful article on a brilliant, funny, and insightful man.
Gene Weingarten: Many posts have expressed similar thoughts.
Bethesda, Md.: The story was great, but forgot to address one important issue -- where does Trudeau stand on VPL????
Gene Weingarten: Any comments Trudeau and I may or may not have had about women's behinds were privileged.
Arlington, Va.: Thank you for the article. It ate up my work morning, but was brilliant. Just a quick thing. Did you notice Bush's "brie" as elitist cheese reference in your article re: last week or so's chat topic on brie v. velveeta. It reminds me of the GOP unfair accusations of most if not all dems being limosuine liberals (brie eating chardonnay drinkers). Seems to me Garry is appealing to velveeta eaters, too, lately. I'm 25 years old and have never been interested in Doonesbury before. It seemed intimidating with all the characters and plotlines. But now I plan to start reading it since I will know what it's all about. Thanks! Think you will ever get to do a piece on Bill Watterson?
Gene Weingarten: I tried to do Watterson several years ago. The effort to get him was heroic, and it failed in a comical fashion, as it were.
Some day I'll write about it.
Do you guys remember about a year ago when Garry, in the strip, confused Sam and Alex? He has more active characters than any strip ever.
Hey, let's compare it to Prickly City, which has ... two.
Not just looks: Any woman of intelligence will tell you that the brain is the sexiest body part. Garry Trudeau has a seriously hot brain.
But you should know that, Gene, because that's why all those hot women frequent your Tuesday chats.
Gene Weingarten: It's not my looks?
Hotda, MN: I have always believed that Trudeau's hiatus in '83-84 played a huge role in the re-election of Reagan. If Garry had been hammering away at all the material Ronnie was giving him, Mondale just might have won. It seems that Trudeau would disagree about his importance to national public opinion. Did you discuss this at all?
Gene Weingarten: I don't think Mondale had any greater chance of winning than Dukakis did.
Good Night and Good Luck: I'm pretty sure that the second plot was there because Joe and Shirley Wershba (the couple) served as the scriptwriters' primary source on how the events unwound (they are credited as consultants). I suppose they could have made it a memoir film, but the filmmaker's decided to make it unfold more like a documentary. That didn't change the fact, however, that the events as they came to understand them, were always referential to the perspective of the Wershbas--and for them, hiding their marriage was a big component of their experience of Murrow's battle against McCarthy.
Gene Weingarten: Okay, buuuuuuuttttt..... It was this insanely weak and pointless plotline in the movie, no? Who gave a crap?
Westcliffe, Colo.: Does Trudeau still use pencil, pen and paper? I think that was in your article.
Did you ask him if he's tried out one of these new, nifty graphics pads. From pen right into computer and these things have high res specs, software, and supporting doodads now.
I just got one for my birthday (Oct. 6) and I'm... 55!
Rufus in the Sangres
Gene Weingarten: He uses pencil and paper. I know that because at this moment I am looking at one of his finished pencil drafts, before it got inked.
Sadly, I have to return this.
We were going to print a pencil drawing, but there was just no space.
Re Arlington: Well, you don't see Garry prancing around in a flight suit, pretending to be a bad-$$ warrior, and sending other people's kids to fight, either. Maybe the people Arlington has in mind are criticizing that, in contrast to certain politicians' past (understandable) gaming of the system.
Gene Weingarten: You know, it's interesting... Garry and I are around the same age. I got out by having a high enough draft number. We were discussing this and neither of us could remember for sure what we would have done had we been drafted. Neither of us would have run to Canada, we think. I just can't recall. I might have wound up in 'Nam, or with the Guard.
Orange, Va.: Still love the strip as much as I did when I first started reading it in the '70's but I still wonder sometimes if it has lost some of its sense of whimsy which used to almost predominate. I'm remembering a great stretch when Zonker kept thinking he saw Mark Spitz everywhere until when finally cured of his phobia Spitz ends up sitting next to him at a lunch counter. In other words, do you think aging and the endless bad actors on the political scene -- from both sides of the aisle -- have hardenned Trudeau a bit?
Gene Weingarten: No. I think the strip has never lost its edge. I went back and read from start to finish, for this story. The very few times I found myself not liking it was when he seemed to move from satire to advocacy. Also, some of the old Walden stuff.
I am not a journalist: I thought the story was wonderful and was struck by the fact that I became teary-eyed reading the strips, just as I had the first time I read them, and even becoming teary eyed at the DESCRIPTION of the blacked out strip when BD was hit. So powerful. Now, on to the criticism, as noted, I am not a journalist, but I would say that it was dishonest and unfair not to ask him about Pauley's illness's effect on the strip. You made a choice about the story so you wouldn't have to deal with an inconvenient answer, or one that wouldn't work well with the story, not the correct, humane choice. The man should have been able to know that his wife said what she did and that it would appear in print. You could have dealt with it as you did here, saying "I asked Garry and his answer landed with a thud" or something, but to not ask him was dishonest, or at a minimum, manipulative, to him and to the reader.
Gene Weingarten: Could be. I'll ask him about this.
Herndon, Va.: Mr. W: Your story read far, far better with Tom the Butcher's 1,500 word cut.
Gene Weingarten: Thanks for writing in, Tom.
Re: Moved Doonesbury: ...look at today's "Prickly City." Is there any reason Doonesbury is banished, but not that ?
washingtonpost.com: Prickly City , ( Oct. 23 )
Gene Weingarten: I really dislike Prickly City, but this is pretty funny.
And no, as far as your larger point -- it makes no sense to put Dbury on the editorial page, or anywhere but the comics. Many comics have become nakedly political. Which is good.
Not Falls Church, Va.: Shhh, Gene.
If Falls Church really believes that Democrats are so organized that they drafted Garry Trudeau when he was a mere college student, and convinced him to write a left of center political strip, brilliant enough to warrant interest in him, the author, as a cover story in the Post Magazine in late October 2006...
AND convince two young Google enterpreneurs to make substantial charitable contributions to progressive causes, AND convince any politician who is not a Republican to write a book, or to make campaign statements or appearances in October of 2006...
AND EVEN include in a Saturday Quote-Acrostic a quotation from Joan Didion denouncing newsroom objectivity as a sham (doesn't this sort of support HIS point?)...
Well, heck. Let him believe that what he considers the opposition party is so much smarter, effective, better organized, with cooler people supporting it, than the party he identifies with.
Don't let's tell him that the White House, Senate, and House are all Republican-led, and the media self-flagellates about the merest possibility of BIAS and publishes comments from people like him ALL THE TIME! Including now.
Gene Weingarten: Shhhh.
Washington, D.C.: On the cover illustration, how did you feel about the error: he doesn't do the inking, right?
Gene Weingarten: Haha.
Maryland: I was surprised that your article, which dealt with the fact that Garry can throw stones from a distance, did not deal with the intimidating encounter he had at a Republican Convention, when Jeb Bush towered over him and issued a veiled threat.
Comment? Thanks for the fine work!
Gene Weingarten: Well, don't know that he "towered" over him. Jeb, as I recall, told him to "tread softly," or something like that. Ambiguous, but eerie. And incredibly stupid.
Springfield, Va.: Would it be possible for washpost.com to pubish the other 1500 words for us, online?
I think most of us here at the chat would like to see the other parts.
Gene Weingarten: Probably, that would be considered insubordination. They weren't so great. Despite his heavy hand, T the B actually knows how to edit, sometimes.
Trudeau's Influence: If you get all your opinions from Garry Trudeau, you may as well get your news from Jon Stewart.
washingtonpost.com: Daily Show As Substantial as Nightly News , ( UPI, Oct. 5 )
Gene Weingarten: Yeah, this is an amazing trend, isn't it? I applaud it, only because it HAS to be moving people leftward, at least a little, no? Certainly raises our level of cynicism, which is always important.
Harrisburg, Pa.: A lot of cartoonists have taken questions from readers on washingtonpost.com discussions, and I used to presume the reason Garry Trudeau never did one was because he was too famous and busy to do one. After reading your article, I now have the impression that he is shy and reserved and would feel uncomfortable discussing himself. Why do you think he has never participated in one of these discussions, or, perhaps he might someday?
Gene Weingarten: I think it is for the same reason Garry chose not to lurk in this chat.
There is nothing supercilious about this guy at all. He's shy.
And with that, we'll wrap it up.
Thanks so much, and I'll see many of you tomorrow, at the normal time.
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