I buy comic collections for a number of reasons. Pure entertainment, “behind the scenes” information, interesting comic history and love of the art (or humor). A good book satisfies more than one of these justifications. The latest Doonesbury book, Doonesbury and the Art of G.B. Trudeau by Brian Walker, hits all of them in spades. Think of the book as mashup of a Doonesbury strip collection, a Garry Trudeau biography, and a museum exhibit bound together in 270 pages. Perhaps it would be better to say that Brian curated the book. His expertise in putting together a master exhibit is in every little detail of the book. Each photo, comic reprint, poster, sketch and stamp is noted with the required context information as to where the art was published or used along with the date.
While I’ve known that Doonesbury has been a game changing and popular comic for decades, I was taken aback by the vastness of the Doonesbury universe. Over the last 40 years, Garry’s artwork for the strip and the myriad of projects related to the strip is a massive collection. One thing that is quickly understood when looking at this book is that despite any criticism about Garry’s artistic abilities – especially in the early years – Garry can draw. He’s a master artist and draftsman.
Through the narrative, Brian takes readers into Garry’s life and offers a perspective that isn’t always appreciated outside of professional cartooning. Going back to the early days, Brian details Garry’s professional goals and his life in college. He writes how Doonesbury was discovered including the conversations, doubts, challenges leading up to the launch and soon after. We get a look at the sabbaticals and how Garry consciously changed the strip over the years. We are also offered a small peak at Garry’s personal life and his philanthropy.
There are few books that I unequivocally state should be on every cartoonists book shelf, but this is one of them. Anyone wanting to better understand cartooning at the level of an American master should own this book.