After 42 years Garry Trudeau’s comic strip Doonesbury can still create a stir. The latest series of the liberal comic will satirize a Texas law requiring women seeking an abortion to undergo an ultrasound. In the comic… a woman arrives at the doctor for her ultrasound and is told “Please take a seat in the shaming room. A middle-aged, male state legislator will be with you in a moment.”
Because of the ad’s controversial nature, editors at the LA Times and several other newspapers have decided to move the series from its usual spot in the comic section and run it on the op-ed page for the entire six-day run. Of the 1,400 papers that carry Doonesbury, many are opting not to run this arc at all. “I write the strip to be read, not removed,” Trudeau complained to the U.K. paper The Guardian in an e-mail.
Trudeau added, “I don’t mean to be disingenuous. Obviously there’s some profit to controversy, especially for a satirist. If debate is swirling around a particular strip, and if its absence creates blowback, then I’m contributing to the public conversation in a more powerful way. But I don’t get up in the morning and scheme about how to antagonize editors.” — EW.com
Never fear, Garry. Obalesque is here to help.
I go ‘way back with Doonesbury. I was a fan from Day One –10/26/70 — when it debuted in Philadelphia’s The Evening Bulletin, which was the city’s “respectable” newspaper back then before editor Gene Roberts and the Inquirer kicked the shit out of its stodgy ass (and snatched the Doonesbury comic). I have first editions of all the books, including the Yale strips. I know my Doones.
Doonesbury caused lots of grief for newspapers all across the fuited plains. In the mid 80s, the spineless Sun-Sentinel couldn’t decide whether to show the strip in the comics section or the editorial page, and actually made it a day-to-day decision apologizing profusely no matter what it chose. It seems they were worried that somebody somewhere might take offense — imagine, a newspaper actually taking a stand that would upset people. Evidently this same total lack of integrity is enjoying a resurgence around the country. So much for the “liberal mainstream media,” hey?
It’s not the first time this comic has confronted the issue of abortion. Notably, Trudeau published a 1985 series that mocked anti-abortion film The Silent Scream. He was also a vanguard in bringing hot-button topics like drugs, AIDS, premarital sex, same-sex unions, and political corruption into the national conversation.
In the summer of 1972, Mike Doonesbury and Mark Slackmeyer (who in the strip is now a gay PBS talk show host), took a cross-country road trip on a motorcycle. They ran into some trouble in Philadelphia, where former police chief Frank Rizzo had been elected mayor, and was known as a tough law’n’order type with a classic hostile Philly attitude toward anything with long hair or dark skin. Rizzo embodied the slogan, “City of Bodily Harm. Here’s the strip:
Except, as Philadelphia Magazine reported, the newspaper cut the line, “or a Negro.” Too controversial for the sensibilities of the advertisers and political class, I guess. Even back then, us long-haired dirty adolescent types were enormously amused by such squeamish conservativistic nutless mush. The Fascist medias! We got high and whacked off in celebration.
But as you see, nothing has changed – at least in the media. It’s still about making sure nobody gets so offended they’ll cancel their subscription or pull their ads. Ask Rash Limpo this week.
To his credit, Trudeau understands this: he’s stated for the record that newspapers are private property whose management has the right to decide what stays and what goes. So I suppose that leaves it up to the rest of us to point fingers and jeer. Hey, I can do that!
Here’s a link to see the daily strip in case the Miami Hurled or Scum-Sentinel lunches out and blacks out the strip. (The Hurled has already announced it will move one of the series off the comic page.)
And here’s what Gov Rick Perry’s office had to say:
Gov. Perry’s spokesperson told The Guardian, “The decision to end a life is not funny. There is nothing comic about this tasteless interpretation of legislation we have passed in Texas to ensure that women have all the facts when making a life-ending decision.”
I guarantee that quote will be prominently featured on the cover of the next Doonesbury collection. I know my Doones.
PS Holy shit. Has it really been 42 years?
UPDATE: Here’s an interview on the series with Gary Trudeau.