Jan 21, 2015

Why I Stopped Reading "Doonesbury"

Gary Trudeau's Doonesbury  first appeared in national syndication in 1970.  I had heard of the strip, but knew nothing about it until the summer of 1982, right after my college graduation, when I found a copy of The Doonesbury Chronicles (1975) at a garage sale.

It came along to grad school in Bloomington with me, along with my Greek New Testament and the copy of The City and the Pillar that I bought in West Hollywood.

I was mesmerized by these 1970s college students, who live together on a commune outside Walden College, and form an alternate family, with heterosexual romance virtually absent.

Mike Doonesbury, the level-headed, somewhat naive central character.
The radical hippie Mark Slackmeyer.
Pot-loving "freak" Zonker Harris
Conservative all-American B.D.
And especially Joanie Caucus, a housewife who abandoned a heterosexual life for the wild freedom of the commune.

In Bloomington in 1982, I started reading the strip in the Herald-Times.  The politics bored me, and I disliked the custom of using weird icons for political figures, like a cowboy hat for Ronald Reagan.

But hetero-romance was still virtually absent, and there were occasional glimmers of the same-sex friendships that once fueled Walden Pond.

From January 1983 to October 1984, Trudeau took a hiatus from the strip.  When it returned, I was in Houston, teaching at Hell-fer-Sartain State College, the worst place in the world, and to my consternation, the characters had "grown up."  That is, most of them had acquiesced to the heterosexist life trajectory of husbands and wives.  Mike married J.J. , B.D. married Boopsie, Joanie married Rick Redfern.

So I abandoned them as relics of the Straight World.  I haven't read Doonesbury since.

But I have researched the gay story lines.

1. Andy Lippincott appeared in January 1976 as a fellow law student Joanie is crushing on.  In February, he tells her that he's gay.  She's shocked -- she asks "are they sure?", certain that he must have gotten several doctors to diagnose such a serious condition.

Then Andy vanishes.  In the late 1980s, he appears again, to die of AIDS.  Many newspapers refused to run the continuity, stating that the topic of gayness was "inappropriate for the comics page."

2. In 1977, Joanie decides to spend the night with her boyfriend, Rick.  No gay content, but many newspapers refused to run the "morning after" strip because they thought it was two guys in bed together.

3. In the 1990s, Mark realizes that he is gay.  By that time, he is an adult, the host of a call-in political radio program.  He and his co-host, the conservative Chase, begin dating, and finally marry in 2007.  They have since divorced.

Not a lot, but still, more than most newspaper comics.

See also: Hell fer Sartain State College.

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