February 23, 2014

Editorial: Farewell to daily 'Doonesbury'


---- — Back in 1978, the Press-Republican conducted a routine newspaper readership survey and discovered that “Doonesbury,” the now-venerated, Pulitzer Prize-winning daily comic strip, was one of the least-read features in the paper.

Then-Editor Norbert Walter decided to cancel the strip and replace it with something of more general interest — we believe it was “The Phantom.”

He couldn’t have made a bigger error. The outrage was immediate. More than 500 readers voiced their fury in the form of Letters to the Editor and phone calls.

“Doonesbury” might have had a limited audience, but its fans were committed and extremely vocal. Never before or since has anything the Press-Republican done evoked that volume of response.

So Walter restored “Doonesbury,” though moving it from the Comics Page to the Editorial Page, where it has resided since.

Everyone at the newspaper was happy with that decision, actually, including Walter. After all, “Doonesbury” was the product of the facile mind of Saranac Lake native Garry Trudeau, so the paper felt sort of a kinship with the budding legend.

Trudeau’s connection with Saranac Lake has continued to include annual contributions of the design for the village’s Winter Carnival buttons and posters, which have become collector’s items.

Last summer, Trudeau, now 65, took time off from cartooning to work on a creation for television. That work paid off.

We received word from Universal Press Syndicate that Trudeau is again halting creation of his daily strip in order to concentrate on his highly successful TV show, “Alpha House.” Starring John Goodman, this political satire about four Republican senators sharing a house in Washington, D.C., has been renewed for another season.

“It’s a wonderful opportunity,” Trudeau said in a statement sent by comics distributor Universal Press Syndicate. “But as I discovered last year, the demands of producing the show are considerable, and my efforts to return to the daily strip while we were still in production had to be abandoned.”

As of tomorrow, the daily “Doonesbury” will be put on long-term and open-ended hiatus.

Trudeau will continue to draw his longer edition of the “Doonesbury” strip for Sunday newspapers, and the Press-Republican will still carry that.

“I’ve done the strip for 43 years ― 45 if you include the college edition (at Yale) ― and I’m ready for an extended break,” Trudeau said in a statement. “A hiatus comes with uncertainty, of course: I can’t assume I’ll be welcomed back a year or two from now.”

While we would certainly welcome back Trudeau’s Doonesbury column, we won’t be running what has been offered as a replacement: a “Doonesbury Flashback.”

We feel that — unlike with the “Classic Peanuts” reruns — the content of “Doonesbury” was too topical, so seeing versions from the past 43 years won’t work.

We hope you continue to enjoy Trudeau’s new works in our Sunday comic section. And while we wish him good luck with his TV venture, we look forward to a return someday of the daily “Doonesbury.”