Slate interview with Doonebury creator Garry Trudeau

With today’s anniversary of Garry Trudeau’s Doonebury, I’ll be posting items that I think are of interest. Doonebury is hitting an impressive milestone and it is my opinion that he’s been remarkably good at keeping the strip fresh after so many years.

Here is a sample from a interview with Garry. Visit the full site for the rest.

Slate: Many great cartoonists of your era?Gary Larson, Berkeley Breathed, Bill Watterson, for example?have hung up the pen, but you seem to have Charles Schulz-ian stamina. How have you avoided burnout?

Garry Trudeau: I suppose it’s just curiosity. I’m still passionately interested in what my fellow humans are up to. For me, a day spent monitoring the passing parade is a day well-spent. And if someone wants to pay me to do that (plus a little drawing), what could be better?

I don’t mean to minimize the stamina issue. Comics are like a public utility: We’re up 365 days a year, and you do have to be built for it. It’s why syndicates now insist on development deals?to find out if a creator has the right temperament. Larson and Watterson set challenges for themselves that were quite different from what I do. Larson created an absurdist universe with no running characters, story lines or topicality. Every morning he stared at a blank piece of paper and developed an idea from scratch, which is exhausting if you have standards as high as Gary’s. Watterson had stories and supporting characters, but the strip was essentially built around a single relationship. Bill built the interactions between Calvin and Hobbes into a marvelous fugue, dense and complex, but it must have been a bear to sustain. I admire both of them for knowing when it was time to get out; it certainly wasn’t obvious to their readers.

8 thoughts on “Slate interview with Doonebury creator Garry Trudeau

  1. An excellent interview. Trudeau sets the standard.

    But it seems that he and others who were once in the vanguard (Oliphant- the greatest of all) can’t seem to bring themselves to do their jobs when it comes to dealing with the current
    “moderate” administration.

    Editorial cartooning as we knew it is dying with barely a whimper.

  2. Garry is an amazing cartoonist. He’s a smart writer, an excellent draftsman and more important he’s challenged the readers, papers, editors and establishment.

    And he’s still going strong. 40 years is a huge milestone and Garry puts out excellent work.

  3. Doonesbury’s one of the main reasons I started cartooning, and I think it’s amazing there are probably MULTIPLE generations of cartoonists who can say that now.

    It was the first political cartoon I ever read that didn’t need donkeys. elephants and big buttons on lapels saying the name of who the person wearing the button was. And I think that says a lot about why it’s been consistently great for forty years.

    Trudeau cares about the art, the story, the characters, and the writing. Doonesbury is the reason there are a lot of great comic strips- not just editorial cartoons- out there today.

  4. I’ve often wondered why cartoonists like Trudeau and Schulz can go on for 40, 50 years while equally top cartoonists like Watterson are done after ten years (not taking off for his sabbaticals). With Schulz, it seemed a deep need and total identity with his characters and doing a comic strip, while Trudeau credits his curiosity. Whatever, while those three are equally good cartoonists, I think longevity is what makes Schulz and Trudeau great cartoonists. I do think “Calvin & Hobbes” was a great strip, but somehow I don’t feel that Watterson could be considered great without that longevity because longevity is not just continuing to draw a strip for years and years, but to find a way to develop and make it grow. Schulz did this with Snoopy as the Red Baron and adding Snoopy and Woodstock, etc. Trudeau is passionately involved in, and can draw on, current events. Maybe C&H couldn’t have developed beyond the two main characters, but Watterson was so talented that I think he could have done. Or, maybe he did get so burned out that it killed the creativity.

    Also, Trudeau’s comment about syndicates now insisting on “development deals – to find out if a creator has the right temperament” makes me wonder how they go about doing that? Anybody know?

  5. i think there was still SO MUCH mileage that Bill Watterson could have got out of Calvin and Hobbes that he could still be drawing it now and still remain fresh. He just needed to stay away from the strips( and Sundays especially) where the drawings of the dinosaurs took up half the page. I would have liked to have seen Rosalyn baby sit both Calvin and Susie together (a double booking) , more development on those two crazy aliens that appeared near the end of the strip’s life. The futuristic strips of Calvin living in a robotic future were very funny and could go in several directions. Less imagination based strips where the monster/dinosaur whatever becomes his Mom or teacher in the last panel and do more of the Calvin at school strips and always include Hobbes somehow and show his alienation from the other kids more, not just Moe, to highight the sadness of a kid who only has a stuffed toy for a friend. What about a story where Calvin and Hobes get trapped in the ‘world uner the bed’ where the monsters live? A kind of other world. Or use his cardboard box to make another invention

  6. Frank,

    All of those ideas seem good possibilities and using his other characters more could have brought out more in C&H. I would love to have seen those “crazy aliens” you mention used more. I think they were named Galaxoid and Nebular and they were just about the funniest aliens I’ve ever seen in a strip, especially with the socks over their heads. Unfortunately, with Watterson showing no signs of returning to the strip, or to any other that I’m aware of, we’ll probably never know what might have been.

    (And, yes, we’re getting off the Trudeau subject, although he did himself bring up Watterson.)

  7. I agree you B.J. about Galaxoid and Nebular being the funniest aliens ever seen in a strip. I think that could have marked a really different and exciting new direction for Watterson in that he had begun to have new imaginary characters apart from (Calvin and Hobbes) who were recurring ones, perhaps other new recurring characters like this could have been introduced and kept the imagination side of Calvin fresh. It’s still the top of my all time favourite 20 comic strips though.

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