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Editor column: Looking back at the past 4 decades with 'Doonesbury's' Garry Trudeau

Published February 21, 2014 9:54 am

This is an archived article that was published on sltrib.com in 2014, and information in the article may be outdated. It is provided only for personal research purposes and may not be reprinted.

Readers either love "Doonesbury" or they hate it.

Regardless, the iconic strip drawn by Pulitzer Prize winner Garry Trudeau long has been a Salt Lake Tribune fixture. We know many read it daily, some with admiration, others with consternation at its satirical and decidedly liberal take on current events.

As a result, we debated what to do when we learned earlier this month that Trudeau intends to take an indeterminate hiatus from drawing "Doonesbury" daily to write and produce a second season of "Alpha House" for Amazon Prime Video.

Trudeau and Universal Uclick, which distributes "Doonesbury," said the 65-year-old artist will continue to create new Sunday strips, but will offer "Doonesbury Flashback" strips for publication on weekdays starting March 3.

In a statement, Trudeau said he may return to drawing "Doonesbury" daily in the fall — or he may not.

"There's no way of knowing how many seasons of 'Alpha House' lie ahead," he said.

On one hand, we feel compelled to do just as Trudeau is doing: experiment with something new. Is there a promising new cartoonist out there we should give a shot? The next Trudeau, perhaps?

On the other hand, when I solicited reader input in a post on the "Notes from the Newsroom" blog, more readers than not in emails or in comments on the blog said they wanted The Tribune to run "Doonesbury Flashback" strips selected from an archive of about 13,000 Trudeau has drawn in the 43 years since "Doonesbury" began.

"The readers in my house (three) all enthusiastically vote to run archived 'Doonesbury,' " one reader said in an email. "I'm the only one who was there at the time. They want to catch up on their history."

Acting on similar input from a number of readers, we decided there's little to lose in giving "Doonesbury Flashback" a try.

Trudeau, in a separate statement, said he intends to revisit four weeks of strips from every year of syndication.

"I hope to hit many 'Doonesbury' high points, focusing on how the characters (over 75 of them) got involved with one another," he said. "Since their lives have always been bound up in the events of the day, it should be a kind of déjà vu for my peers, and maybe a 'What were you people thinking?' for newer readers."

On March 3, readers will see the first "Doonesbury" strip published on Oct. 26, 1970, in which Mike Doonesbury is introduced as a college student meeting his roommate for the first time.

Those who follow the strip know he has aged quite a bit since then, just as Trudeau's early readers have.

Will nostalgia and a look back at events now considered history carry "Doonesbury Flashback?"

That remains to be seen, but readers seem willing to give it a chance, and so are we.

Lisa Carricaburu is managing editor. Reach her at lisac@sltrib.com or on Twitter: @lcarricaburu.