27 January 2011

Behind the Scenes at Walden

One of my biggest holiday presents last year, measured by weight, was the forty-year collection of Garry Trudeau’s Doonesbury strips.

I grew up on that daily comic in the Boston Globe. I thumbed through the first anthology, The Doonesbury Chronicles, so often in high school that I could annoy my college roommate by reciting the punchline to a strip as soon as he read the first panel. But I didn’t keep up so closely after that.

I had completely forgotten, for example, Mike Doonesbury’s younger brother Sal, who peddled safer-sex products in the 1980s. And that Sal’s original name was Benjy, which explains Mike’s brother at Widow Doonesbury’s funeral this month.

The giant anthology contains loads of strips, but only about six pages of additional matter. I like reading behind-the-scenes stories, and they’re not in that book. But I found them in Doonesbury and the Art of G. B. Trudeau, compiled by Brian Walker and published by Yale University Press.

This volume discusses Trudeau’s down-to-the-wire working method and his collaborators, including long-time inker Don Carlton, designer and colorist George Corsillo, and others. Such teamwork is common in daily comics, but the Wall Street Journal tried to make political hay of the fact that Trudeau didn’t handle final inking in 1991. This book contains plenty of Trudeau’s pencil sketches and strip drawings to refute the notion that he doesn’t do the basic artistic work.

Still, the most visually striking item in the book is an 1841 portrait of James de Berty Trudeau by a son of Audubon. It shows an astonishing resemblance to his descendant as a young cartoonist and grad student.

Doonesbury and the Art of G. B. Trudeau left a few of my questions unanswered. Was it more than coincidence that Jim Andrews, late cofounder of the United Press Syndicate and Andrews and McMeel publishing company, shares a name and physical appearance with Jim Andrews, the strip’s plutocratic oil executive? Wikipedia says Trudeau named the character in honor of his editor, though I can’t tell whether that’s more than convincing supposition.

Is the author of this book, Brian Walker, a son of Beetle Bailey cartoonist Mort Walker? Yes, he is, and he’s also taken over his father’s Hi & Lois strip with his brother Greg. Mort Walker’s Backstage at the Strips is one of the best portrayals of how newspaper comic strips were created through the 1980s, and father and son ran the International Museum of Cartoon Art, a collection now at Ohio State University.

1 comment:

J. L. Bell said...

Another intriguing fact from this book: Ben & Jerry's at one point planned to name the flavor it had developed as "Chubby Hubby" after Zonker. The company reconsidered, Chubby Hubby ice cream went on the market, and eventually Doonesberry sherbet became the company's best-seller in that line.