The Washington Post

THE GREAT ‘DOONESBURY’ ABORTION-STRIP ROUNDUP: From animation to aberrations, here’s how things shook out

IT WAS ONE WEEK AGO, of course, that Garry Trudeau first spoke about his then-upcoming abortion-law “Doonesbury” strips, when he told Comic Riffs that for him to avoid the vaginal-ultrasound debate would have been “comedy malpractice.”

Now that (most of) the dust has settled in the cartoon kerfuffle heard ‘round the media-political complex, it’s a fair time to see just how all this shook out:

1. Universal Uclick said it anticipated that 20 to 30 newspapers might not run the strip. According to Alan Gardner over at The Daily Cartoonist, more than 60 newspapers pulled this week’s “Doonesbury” from their print editions. There are still no reports that any of “Doonesbury’s” 1,400-or-so clients permanently canceled the strip.

[CLICK HERE to see larger version] (courtesy of PAT BAGLEY / Salt Lake Tribune )

2. Salt Lake Tribune political cartoonist Pat Bagley devised perhaps the most clever way to work a “Doonesbury” strip into his paper.

“The paper had committed to running the series, but an editor made a last-minute decision that the ‘I thee rape’ Doonesbury strip (for March 15) wasn't appropriate for the funny pages,” Bagley tells Comic Riffs on Thursday afternoon. “Understandable, but it left the strip as something of an orphan; it was too late to make a space for it in News or Opinion. So I took it in and gave it a home.”

That’s right: Bagley deftly incorporated Thursday’s "Doonesbury” into his own editorial cartoon.

“It also gave me yet another opportunity to get in some licks at our very Republican Utah Legislature,” Bagley tells us of the hybrid cartoon that he dubbed “DoonesBagley.” “The chubby guy with fish lips is my generic Utah legislator, and the hot tubbing is a reference to a recent Republican majority leader of the Utah House of Representatives, who confessed to the assembled legislature to having hot-tubbed nude with a 15-year-old girl. They gave him a standing ovation.”

3. As you can see at the top of this blogpost, the sly humorists at Taiwan-based Next Media Animation add to the funhouse-mirror effect of refracted satire, as the artists render Trudeau as action hero, swiftly taking on legislators in Texas — the setting of “Doonesbury’s” abortion story arc. Perhaps needless to say — given the larger question: When should a newspaper yank a comic strip for content? — this is our favorite NMA animation. Ever.

[THE ‘DOONESBURY’ INTERVIEW: Trudeau says to ignore abortion debate would have been “comedy malpractice”]

4. As we noted last Friday, Trudeau’s first attempt at commenting on the abortion debate within “Doonesbury" — in 1985 — never saw wide release in newspapers. Syndicate President Lee Salem told Comic Riffs he thought that back then, “the merits of the week would get lost in the larger discussion of abortion.” Trudeau consented at the time, telling ’Riffs last week: The syndicate “had supported me through so much for so long, I felt obliged to go with their call.”

This week, more than a quarter-century later, Trudeau decided to post those long-ago strips on his Doonesbury site. (Disclosure: The Slate Group is a division of The Washington Post Co.)

So what do you think of them now, through the prism of history?


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5. On her MSNBC show, host Rachel Maddow works up to a verbal gallop, as she makes her points while also playing off the bandied-about language. Comic Riffs didn’t see any other cable or broadcast talkers devote so much of a segment to the "Doonesbury” brouhaha. If someone else did, and we just missed it, please send it along.

[“DOONESBURY”: Abortion strips pulled by some newspapers]

Writer/artist/visual storyteller Michael Cavna is creator of the "Comic Riffs" column and graphic-novel reviewer for The Post's Book World. He relishes sharp-eyed satire in most any form.


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