Massive Doonesbury retrospective worth it

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By Mike Householder/ AP

“40: A Doonesbury Retrospective” (Andrews McMeel), by G.B. Trudeau: Forty years after the ever-helmeted football hero B.D. first met his dorky Walden College roommate Mike Doonesbury, the creator of those and dozens of other memorable “Doonesbury” denizens is taking a look back at the award-winning, and often controversial, comic strip that made him famous.

G.B. Trudeau’s “40: A Doonesbury Retrospective” features 700 pages, close to 2,000 strips — amazingly, a number representing only 13 percent of the total published — as well as essays from Trudeau that detail the genesis of “Doonesbury” and many of its 40 major characters, from old standbys Boopsie, Joanie Caucus and the Hunter S. Thompson parody — Raoul Duke — to newbies such as Zipper, Toggle and Trff Bmzklfrpz, president-for-life of Greater Berzerkistan.

“Doonesbury,” which appears in hundreds of daily and Sunday newspapers, is known for its mix of pointed social commentary, topical humor and its ability to provide, as Trudeau writes in the introduction, “a loosely organized chronicle of modern times.”

Nothing is off limits for satiric commentary in the world according to Trudeau, who through the years has taken on wars (Vietnam, Persian Gulf and Iraq), social issues (smoking, AIDS and homelessness) and politics (he famously uses symbols to represent politicians — a waffle for Bill Clinton and a Roman helmet for George W. Bush).

Trudeau’s work, which he first started writing while studying at Yale University, has reddened the faces of more than a few publishers, some of whom have pulled the strip from their newspapers because of its provocative content and political themes.

But many more appreciate the strip’s wit as well as its more poignant moments, a prime example being B.D. losing a leg in a 2004 rocket attack while serving in Iraq, an event that caused the normally staid character’s existence to spiral out of control.

B.D. even removed his trademark headgear and, as Trudeau writes, the event sent the former Los Angeles Ram, California Highway patrolman and Walden football coach on a “journey which revealed layers of courage and humanity that even his creator had never thought to look for.”

Every 30 or 40 pages in “40: A Doonesbury Retrospective,” Trudeau contemplates the inception and story arcs of many of the strip’s stars. Not only are the essays incredibly well-written and insightful, they dispel some of the well-established misconceptions about the characters.

For example, the title character isn’t strictly Trudeau’s alter ego as some have assumed. While the author does admit that Mike Doonesbury has some autobiographical inspirations, the character he calls the “Richie Cunningham” of the strip is more of a composite.

Another highlight is a multipage fold-out that maps out the many and often complicated relationships among the characters.

Many books claim to be must-haves for their fans.

If this one simply was an anthology, it probably still would be worth the three-digit retail price, but Trudeau’s musings on his creation and the other cool extras put “40: A Doonesbury Retrospective” squarely into must-have territory.


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