What happened when Hunter Thompson told me Garry Trudeau was spying on him.

About Garry Trudeau's comic strip.
Oct. 25 2010 1:18 PM

Me and Uncle Duke

What happened when Hunter Thompson told me Garry Trudeau was spying on him.

Slate and Doonesbury.com have compiled a list of Doonesbury's 200 greatest moments. Read David Plotz's interview with Garry Trudeau. See Slate's complete coverage of Doonesbury's 40th anniversary.

Duke.

Comic-strip people are supposed to stay on the paper or the screen. Any reader of Doonesbury has a legitimate expectation that Mike or Jeff or B.D. or Zonker or Joanie knows his or her place and will adhere to it.

It goes without saying that if any one of them might break the rules, it would be Uncle Duke. A character with his jump-the-shark personality would be the one to bust out of his two-dimensional confines to call me on the telephone one night.

The call came during an Uncle Duke episode in the strip. The caller was Hunter S. Thompson who, through a long druggo-gonzo literary career, was unable to separate himself from fictional characters, his own and others.

Uncle Duke was in no mood for conversation. He was calling to have me deliver a message to "Garrybaldi," my moniker for Uncle Duke's creator. I was to tell Garrybaldi that Duke was on to him and that he was prepared to take steps to stop him.

The ultimatum was outlandish enough to convince me that it surely was Uncle Duke—aka Raoul Duke, aka Hunter S. Thompson himself—at the other end of the line. Worried lest Uncle Duke, with his love of firearms, turn up at my door, I offered to give him Garrybaldi's telephone number.

"No," he said. He wasn't going to let Garrybaldi trap him through a phone. I asked something to the effect of, "What in Sam Hill are you talking about, Uncle Duke?"

Duke answered that Garrybaldi had surrounded him with spies and informers who had infiltrated his home and violated his family's privacy. He said that every domestic secret, everything that took place between him and his wife, Sandy, was being relayed to Garrybaldi, who was putting it all in the strip. (Here's one of the strips about Duke's wife.)

The gist of Uncle Duke's paranoia was relayed to Garrybaldi, who made a noise I could not interpret. "Uncle Duke," I repeated, "says that you know the intimate details of his life that you could only have learned by spying on him."

Garrybaldi explained that he obtained the intimate details of Hunter Thompson's private life by reading his books and articles.

"True facts," I asked, "that anybody can get by going to a public library?"

Yes.

When Duke was told that he himself was the source, he called me a liar, mumbled, and hung up. I told Garrybaldi that accuracy had no place in Doonesbury. He didn't exactly say, "Amen to that," though we agreed that while sticking to the truth might make you free, it also can get you into tight situations.

(See the strips that ran the week of Hunter Thompson's death.)

Nicholas Von Hoffman's latest book is Radical: A Portrait of Saul Alinsky.

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