After showing a Doonesbury strip making fun of President George W. Bush ’68, cartoonist Garry Trudeau ’70 said many people ask him, “Is this something a member of the Class of ’70 should say about a member of the Class of ’68?”
“Yes it is,” Trudeau snapped. “It’s nothing personal.”
Trudeau spoke to a packed audience of mostly alumni and some students Saturday about the evolution of his comic strip from the pages of the Yale Daily News to a national hit with a cult following. Since the comic developed as a product of the 1960s, Trudeau also discussed the legacy of the baby-boomer generation.
Although Trudeau said he found Bush to be a charming person while at Yale, Trudeau said the classes were divided along cultural lines.
“There was a significant cultural divide between the Class of ’68 and ’70,” he said. “This was that defining time when the baby boomers hijacked the culture.”
His cartooning experience began with Bull Tales, which was published in the Yale Daily News. After his graduation, the cartoon received national attention for its edgy innovative content and for its ability to attract new baby boomer readers.
“It didn’t seem to matter that I was short of technical skill,” said Trudeau, who confessed that his early drawings lacked artistic refinement.
The cartoon was renamed Doonesbury, but despite this new attention, many older newspaper editors refused to publish the strip.
“I began to conclude that I had an insurmountable generation problem,” said Trudeau, speaking of his early rejections.
But after most of those elderly editors passed away, their replacements decided to publish Doonesbury after all.
“Years later publishers, who said they’d publish Doonesbury over their dead bodies, got their wish,” Trudeau said.
After the Nixon presidency came to an end in 1974, Trudeau reflected that the baby boomer rebellion ended with it.
“We never quite got over ourselves,” he said.
After winning a Pulitzer Prize in 1975 for editorial cartooning, Trudeau said all doubts looming over his cartooning future disappeared.
“Our experiences [the baby boomer generation’s] went mainstream and that included Doonesbury,” he said.
Trudeau concluded his lecture by talking about the future of cartooning and the media’s ability to adapt to an Internet-driven age.
Trudeau showed his audience what the future holds in store for Doonesbury, sharing several live animation clips of the Doonesbury character Duke’s Duke 2000 presidential campaign.
Using Realtime technology, Trudeau allowed the character to appear live on national television interviews and actually interact with the interviewers.
Trudeau has become famous for satirizing politicians by depicting them as symbols — President Bill Clinton LAW ’73, for example, as a flying waffle — and has made Doonesbury a medium for discussing social and political issues of the day.
“It’s hard to explain to literalists that this is a visual haiku, especially when the suspicion exists that you’re just too lazy to draw a regular cartoon,” he said.
Over the years, Trudeau has angered some famous people with his wit. When then-President Ronald Reagan awarded Frank Sinatra a freedom medal, Trudeau commented on rumors of Sinatra’s connections to organized crime. Sinatra’s lawyers wrote an angry letter, which hinted at a possible lawsuit.
“I reminded my lawyers that I had not misrepresented the facts,” Trudeau said. “I had made them up.”