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Doonesbury, May 16-21 2011
posted May 25, 2011


Creator: Garry Trudeau
Publishing Information: Universal and, syndicated newspaper strip, May 16-21 2011
Links: 1, 2, 3, 4, 5, 6

Garry Trudeau wasn't the only comics satirist to employ a light touch while engaging the curious story of Harold Camping's prediction of a May 21, 2001 Christian rapture and subsequent end of the world. Many of the editorial cartoonists that spent time within earshot of Family Radio did so with an eye towards riffing on the story's multiple absurdities, on goosing the chutzpah of predicting the magical end of history as opposed to savaging the potential fear-mongering and exploitation involved. Trudeau's advantage lies in his ability to have appropriate members of his humongous cast of characters take center stage on issues like this one. Where the average editorial cartoonists has to confront a story and press for some sort of penetrating insight, Trudeau can sit back and play catch. Never has a reputed muckraker done so well with a mechanism that almost always softens the harder edges of a news story.

Issues-oriented humor in Doonesbury depends primarily on Trudeau being a credible eyewitness in terms of how that story triggers mechanisms unique to a character like Zonker Harris, who got the call (if not The Call) last week. Trudeau can abandon the tight focus of the single-panel gang to expand upon certain ideas if that's where the humor is; he might even riff. To put it another way, the best jokes of Doonesbury's week in the days leading up to the one marked on the calendar -- Harris' delay in realizing that when someone gives you things, something curious might be up; his sudden employment of Bible scripture; his explanation of where that ability to quote scripture comes from -- are all Zonker Harris jokes, not Harold Camping jokes. Trudeau's the only cartoonist that gets to tell Zonker Harris jokes, and he's still very good at it. Garry Trudeau thus sweeps past making the kind of observations most likely to be shared by a hundred of his peers, all of whom are working in closer proximity to events. Doonesbury is still the best seat in the house.