Oh No What Will You Do Without ‘Doonesbury’? (If You Are 89 Years Old)
Now that his Amazon sitcom Alpha House has been renewed for another “season,” Doonesbury creator Garry Trudeau will put the comic strip on hold. Fine, just as long as there’s not another Doonesbury musical. This development in no way means the newspaper comic strip is a dying medium or anything (it totally is).
Trudeau will continue doing new Sunday strips each week, but starting February 24, new installments of the daily strip will go on “long-term and open-ended hiatus.” Distributor Universal Uclick will offer Doonesbury “flashback” strips to replace the dailies, drawing on an archive that goes back to 1970. The syndicator proudly says that there are over 13,000 strips that haven’t been published in newspapers since their original run; in reality, of course, gags about Gerald Ford’s press secretary Ron Nessen are probably well past their shelf life.
This will be Trudeau’s second extended break from the strip; he had previously put the whole thing on hiatus for 22 months from January 1983 to October 1984, after which he retooled it to allow the characters to graduate from college and age. He also retconned a number of elements in the strip, to its detriment — Zonker still talked to his plants, for instance, but now their previous 2-way conversations with him were attributed to his being stoned.
Trudeau told the Washington Post’s “Comic Riffs” blog that the choice between the strip and the TV series wasn’t especially difficult:
I’ve done the strip for 43 years — 45 if you include the college edition [at Yale] — and I’m ready for an extended break. A hiatus comes with uncertainty, of course: I can’t assume I’ll be welcomed back a year or two from now.
He also said that while he does intend to return to the daily strip at some undefined point in the future, he’s well aware that “in Free Agent America, nobody stays put. It’s hard to promise anything in an era that so prizes disruption.” Even so, he thinks of himself as a “comic-strip lifer,” annoying though that can be to younger artists trying to find a spot on the comics page, and that’s why he’s continuing with the Sunday strips. The only real good side to the hiatus for comics fans is that if newspapers drop the daily reruns, they may well also get rid of “Mallard Fillmore,” Bruce Tinsley’s unfunny rightwing duck comic that exists largely because cowardly editors want to “balance” Doonesbury with a “conservative” strip.
As for Alpha House, gotta confess I haven’t seen it, because I’m worried that after watching the first four or so episodes for free, I’ll be hooked enough that I’ll go and sign up for Amazon Prime, the only way the full series can be viewed. May end up going there anyway, since it’s never going to show up on Netflix.