July 21, 2016

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America's Landlord-- On Garry Trudeau and Yuge! 30 Years of Doonesbury on Trump


Yuge! 30 Years of Doonesbury on Trump
Written and Drawn by Garry B. Trudeau
Published by Andrews McMeel Publishing

Already back in 1987, Gary Trudeau was already trying to tell us who Donald Trump really was. Of course, back then Trump was a real estate mogul whose worldview appeared to be summed up as “bigger is better.” The first words we see Trump say in the new retrospective of Garry Trudeau’s comic is “I’m Donald Trump. And I’m not running for President.” That strip ran on September 16, 1987, and it’s just continued to be a wild ride ever since then. Yuge! 30 Years of Doonesbury on Trump showcases 30 years of Trudeau’s comics on Trump. 30 years of ridiculousness from Trudeau’s Trump character now feels like an ominous but unheeded warning as we watch the Republican party become a freakish cult of Trump.

September 16, 1987

There have been so many reasons over the past three decades for why Trump would show up in the panels of Doonesbury. While it started with him declaring that he wasn’t going to run for President (at least not in 1988,) Trudeau’s first prolonged comedic attack on Trump zeroed in on Trump’s preposterous yacht and its newest captain, Raoul Duke, Trudeau’s barely disguised homage to one Hunter S. Thompson. From sailing into New Orleans for the 1988 Republican National Convention to finding one very much alive Elvis Presley hiding out in the bowels of the yacht and hiring him to perform at a casino in Atlantic City, Trudeau already knew back then that there was no extravagance that was too gaudy or showy for Trump.’’

The antics would continue through the 1990s and the 2000s. Every now and then, Trump would surface and Trudeau would take his shots. Even when the Donald wasn’t in the national spotlight for some outrageousness, Trudeau would still get in a jab or two. The May 1, 1994, Sunday strip was about the idea of celebrity. “For example, what would you do if you woke up one morning and discovered you were, say, Donald Trump or Marla Maples?” Without skipping a beat, Mike Doonesbury answers “Well, I imagine I’d have to kill myself.” It’s a cheap shot but it speaks about a culture of celebrity that Trump has cultivated for most of his public life.

What’s really scary about Yuge! is just how timeless Trudeau’s take on Trump is. A lot of times, diving into the archives of Doonesbury is like stepping into a time machine where you have to refamiliarize with the zeitgeist of the day. Maybe it’s because Trump is so much a major figure of 2016 but Trudeau captures the essence of the man in all ages. For a lot of the historical figures that Trudeau poked at, he provides signposts that easily separate his version of the person from the real ones. Just look at his incorporeal versions of both President Bushes. But there’s none of that visual distancing of the strip Trump from the real Trump. So the words that Trudeau satirizes from years past feel so current because they’re words we’ve heard repeated from Trump over the past couple of years during his Presidential run. 

October 4, 2015

As the collection catches up with the events from the past year, Trudeau’s comics become all the more damning because there’s no way to make the cartoon character spew more ugliness and vitriol than the man himself has done. It’s so bad that some of the strips are even direct quotes from Trump. It’s like Trudeau can’t go far enough in his own humor to skewer Trump any more than his own words can. The only joke and exaggeration that Trudeau can make are Trump’s medusa-like hair that hides the suggested baldness of the character.

Over the last 30 years, Donald Trump has been many things; entrepreneur, entertainer, political operative, serial spouse and many other things. Yuge! 30 Years of Doonesbury on Trump shows us just how Donald Trump has been really just one thing. He has been and continues to be Donald Trump. For all of the good and bad of that statement, Trump has really been the one constant in the American landscape since the 1980s. Trudeau’s new collection of strips focusing on Trump shows how Trump maybe hasn’t changed but how he’s changed the country. 30 years ago, he was a man with a huge and outrageous yacht. That was kind of funny. Now he probably still has a huge and outrageous yacht but he’s now a serious contender to be President of the United States. If he isn’t the one that changed, then Trudeau is pointing an accusing finger at the rest of us and saying that maybe we’re the ones who have.  And not for the better.