TRUDEAU’S HUMOR HAS EXTRA BITE
Although Garry Trudeau seems to thrive on political satire and controversy as no other cartoonist has, he was not the first to introduce commentary into the comics. The lampoons in “Doonesbury” have many colorful antecedents.
In the early ‘50s, Walt Kelly caricatured Sen. Joseph McCarthy as Simple J. Malarkey, a vicious wildcat, in “Pogo.” In one adventure, Kelly had Malarkey preside over an illustrated version of the trial from “Alice in Wonderland”: “Sentence first, verdict after!” He later drew Cuban leader Fidel Castro as a goat, President Lyndon Johnson as a longhorn steer, Vice President Spiro Agnew as a hyena and President Reagan as a clown with a performing dog for a head. (When the dog jumped off his shoulders, the clown didn’t have any head at all.)
Al Capp delighted in satirizing social and political fads in “Li’l Abner.” The wife of his tinhorn dictator character, Rumbumbo, who wanted to use $2 billion in U.S. aid to “rehabilitate herself” with yachts, limousines and mink coats, remains depressingly topical. But Capp grew bitterly conservative during the ‘60s and ‘70s, depicting the SDS--Students for a Democratic Society--as “SWINE"--Students Wildly Indignant About Nearly Everything. His caricature of singer Joan Baez as “Joannie Phoney” unleashed a storm of protest.
During the ‘60s, Chester Gould turned Dick Tracy into a spokesman for political conservatives, decrying the actions of the “subverted” U.S. Supreme Court. When Tracy punched a villain and declared, “Violence is golden” (when used against criminals) a few days after the assassination of Sen. Robert Kennedy, a number of newspapers dropped the strip.
Trudeau remains the best-known and most successful muckraker in the comics. His strips have been censored and censured. Many papers refused to run “Marvelous” Mark’s denunciation of Atty. Gen. John Mitchell as “Guilty! Guilty! Guilty!” or the installments dealing with singer Frank Sinatra’s alleged connections to organized crime figures. The Republican Caucus of the Virginia General Assembly denounced his satire of actress Elizabeth Taylor and then-husband Sen. John Warner as “outrageously offensive to good taste and common decency.” As a result, “Doonesbury” is one of the most widely discussed comic strips in the country--and the only one ever to win a Pulitzer Prize for editorial cartooning.