An Interview With Garry Trudeau
The Doonesbury creator on his stamina, the difficulty of satirizing Obama, and the most bizarre attack on his strip ever.
There are exceptions to that, of course. To prepare for some stories, I'll read books, search the Web, interview people, travel—all the things you might expect. I went with President Ford on his China trip for the Honey/Duke story, spent a week in Scotland for Bernie's Loch Ness expedition, and interviewed Viet Cong veterans in Saigon for B.D.'s return to Vietnam. Most weeks, though, I'm hunkered down in the studio, just grabbing what I need from Google, the Swiss Army knife of investigative cartooning.
Slate: In 1977, you made a Doonesbury TV special with the celebrated animation team of John and Faith Hubley. But there have been no follow-ups, either for TV or the movies. Why not?
Trudeau: Well, I was game at the time, but the network felt the ratings were disappointing. We had an audience of 21 million. I'm not kidding. Different era. The other reason is that I don't want to spend all my discretionary time on Doonesbury. I do other work in TV and film, and it's nice to have a break from the strip.
Slate: Who's the hardest politician to satirize, and why?
Trudeau: Believe it or not, Obama's very tough for business. The contradictory characterizations of him as fascist or socialist only serve to confirm the truth—he's a raging moderate. And satirists don't do well with moderates, especially thoughtful ones. In addition, Obama rarely makes gaffes and has no salient physical or temperamental features. And sinking popularity isn't a critique. Even SNL's main rap on him is his unflappability, hardly a vice in a world leader.
Slate: How are baby boomers admirable, and how are they awful?
Trudeau: Baby boomers are at their awfulest when they are discussing themselves, and at their most admirable when they refrain. I try to be admirable.
Slate:Will you ever stop writing Doonesbury?
Trudeau: I'm not sure the choice will be mine to make. I'm standing in quicksand. But I don't have any plans to retire in the near future.
David Plotz is the Editor of Slate. He's the author of The Genius Factory: The Curious History of the Nobel Prize Sperm Bank and Good Book. He appears on Slate's Political Gabfest.
Photograph of Garry Trudeau by David Levinthal.