Doonesbury At 40

The Art of Garry Trudeau

The drawings, sketches, posters, and other art of Doonesbury creator Garry Trudeau.

Slate and 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.

I have long felt that Doonesbury creator Garry Trudeau hasn’t received adequate recognition for his talents as an artist and graphic designer. His strip, which earned a reputation for being poorly drawn in its early days, has been one of the most graphically innovative strips on the comics pages since the mid-’80s. And Garry’s art has never been confined to the strip. In 1983, I curated the Doonesbury Retrospective at the Museum of Cartoon Art. While researching this exhibition, I had seen illustrations, sketches, and designs Garry had done for special projects. I knew there was a wealth of other material waiting to be uncovered.

So in 2008, I suggested to Garry that we do a book on the art of Doonesbury and, after getting his approval, sent a proposal to Yale University Press. They responded immediately. It was a perfect project for the publishing company affiliated with Garry’s alma mater. The release date for Doonesbury and the Art of G.B. Trudeau was scheduled to coincide with the 40th anniversary of the strip this month, and with the publication of 40: A Doonesbury Retrospective.

My first step was to go to the Beinecke Rare Book Library at Yale, where all of the Doonesbury original strips from 1970 to 2001 are deposited. I spent days in the reading room there, looking through more than 10,000 strips and making the selections for the book. I also made numerous trips to Garry’s studio in New York, where I searched through boxes and portfolios of artwork, sketchbooks, files of letters and photographs, binders of news clippings, and drawers of memorabilia.

I made many unexpected discoveries. Garry had hundreds of pencil drawings for books, posters, magazine covers, and newspaper columns, as well as products that he designed for various fundraising campaigns. There were animation cels for A Doonesbury Special and buttons he had produced for the Saranac Lake Winter Carnival every year since 1981. I learned that he had a great-great-grandfather who had been an amateur sculptor and had assisted John James Audubon with his ornithological research. During one visit, Garry found a file of letters he had exchanged with the founders of Universal Press Syndicate, John McMeel and Jim Andrews, when he was an undergraduate at Yale. I also discovered that George Corsillo, who had worked with Garry on special projects since the late 1980s, was a neighbor of mine in Connecticut. George showed me many wonderful items he had designed with Garry and agreed to work on the book.

Another writer will inevitably face the daunting challenge of compiling the definitive biography of Garry Trudeau. In the meantime, Doonesbury and the Art of G.B. Trudeau should provide a long-overdue showcase for his artwork and give some insights into his creative processes. Garry draws his strips in pencil, and since 1971, the finished inking and lettering have been done by Don Carlton. For many years, Don inked directly over Garry’s tight pencil lines, so few people ever saw the originals. In the mid-1980s, Garry began sending his drawings to Don by fax machine and then would tear up the originals. It wasn’t until the early 1990s that he started saving his drawings, but they have rarely been seen by the general public. Until now.

It was my goal to faithfully reproduce many of these fine pencil drawings, as well as a selection of finished pen-and-ink strips, brilliantly conceived books, posters, and products that Garry has produced in the last four decades. I am confident that readers will come to the same conclusion as I have. These are the creations of one of the most talented artists ever to work in comics and graphic design.

This was adapted from Brian Walker’s Doonesbury and the Art of G.B. Trudeau.

Click here to view a slide show featuring the art of Garry Trudeau.

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