Garry Trudeau, Creator of Doonesbury

15 June 2001

    Mmm mmm. Few people have a Ben and Jerry's dessert named in their honour, and not many have a Starbucks limited edition line of products. G. B. Trudeau is one of the few. The Doonesberry is a sorbet dessert made with raspberries and blueberries, used for charity fundraising in 1996. The Dbury@Sbucks line helped raise money for local literacy programs.

    Garry Trudeau, the creator of Doonesbury, has earned much acclaim and awards for his topical and satirizing comic strip. He has received honorary degrees from 22 universities (yes, twenty two!) including Colgate, Williams and Duke. Trudeau is a fellow of the American Academy of Arts and Sciences. He became the first comic strip artist to received the Pulitzer Prize for Editorial Cartooning in 1975. His collaboration with John and Faith Hubley on "A Doonesbury Special" shown on NBC in 1977, was nominated for an Academy Award and won the Special Jury Prize at the Cannes Film Festival.

    And the awards don't stop there. His HBO collaboration with Robert Altman, Tanner ‘88, (a satire about the 1988 election campaign) won prizes including The British Broadcasting Press Guild and an Emmy. Trudeau won the NCS Reuben Award for Cartoonist of the Year in 1995.

    Garretson Beekman Trudeau was born in 1948 in New York City. He grew up in Saranac Lake, NY in a family of professionals. His father, grandfather and great grandfather were doctors. The Trudeau family is related to the late Pierre Elliot Trudeau, past Prime Minister of Canada.

    Trudeau began his cartooning career while in university, earning a B.A. and M.F.A in graphic design from Yale. His comic strip entitled "Bull Tales" appeared in the Yale Daily News from 1968 to 1970, and was the base work for the Doonesbury.characters. Around the same time, James Andrews and John McMeel were entrepreneurs preparing to start a comics syndicate. They saw "Bull Tales" and recruited Garry to launch Universal Press Syndicate. The cartoon was revised and renamed after the main character Mike Doonesbury.

    Doonesbury debuted on October 26, 1970 in 28 newspapers. The comic strip appears in over 1400 newspapers worldwide. There are more than 60 book editions that have sold over 7 million copies. A complete collection of 25 years of Doonesbury on CD-ROM, entitled "Flashbacks," will be available in the near future.


    Through the years, critics have been disparaging of the artwork in Doonesbury. Trudeau was chastised for poor drawing and using the same scene with only slight changes in each panel. He said he used this method to keep the focus on the message of the strip. He later changed the look to incorporate different angles and perspectives. His technique includes symbols to represent living people, such as the waffle for Bill Clinton and the asterisk for George W. Bush. Garry writes and draws the strip himself, then sends it off to his assistant for the final inking.

    Trudeau has refused to licence the cartoon for advertising and merchandise and he rarely gives interviews. He has had the rare opportunity of taking a twenty-month sabbatical from January 1983 to September 1984 and returning to draw his strip as if he had never been away. His millions of fans (and his syndicate) waited patiently for his return.

    Dissatisfaction with the shrinking space for comic strips in newspapers led Garry to take action. His influence as a top cartoonist helped to re-establish strip panels to the 7.33 inch width, rather than getting smaller and smaller due to cost-cutting newspaper editors. His effort was beneficial to all cartoonists.

    Garry Trudeau has a spouse famous in her own right - Jane Pauley of Dateline NBC. She earned a degree in political science from Indiana University and has received several honourary degrees. Her successes began at a young age. At 24, Jane was the first woman to co-anchor a weeknight evening news program. Jane has received a long list of awards for her journalism work and she strongly supports issues of children's health and education. Jane and Garry have three teenagers, twins Rachel and Ross and Thomas. Their home is in Central Park West, Manhattan, NY.

    Cartooning is not Garry's only means of communication. He has co-written and produced satirical revues for theatre and television. He writes essays for many publications including The New Yorker, The Washington Post, Harpers and Time Magazine. The Doonesbury characters have grown along with their author from college-age to middle-age boomers. They have evolved, taking in the topics and politics of the day. Garry Trudeau has no fear of satirizing and skewering even the most famous of personalities and largest of businesses. Some of the victims even like it.
That's success.

The Doonesbury Official Website:

For an indepth look at Garry Trudeau and Doonesbury take a look at:

A short interview with Garry Trudeau:

© Susanna McLeod 2001  
(Originally published in The Cartoonists on