At last, “Doonesbury” cartoonist Garry Trudeau has confirmed what nearly every one of his readers already knows: The best-known characters from his comic are no longer essential to its daily existence.
That’s right, Trudeau is no longer writing the adventures of central figure Mike Doonesbury, stoner reject Zonker and mouthy activist Mark Slackemyer. Instead, he has moved on to chronicle a new generation of characters led by granola-esque Alex Doonesbury, Mike’s hippie-twist daughter, and fleshed out with the sons, daughters and other less-directly-related offspring of his older population.
Trudeau made the arrangement formal in Sunday’s comic. But to be honest, he has spent the last several years moving on from the characters that brought him his greatest fame, and instead tried to establish a second tier of younger strip residents whose comings and goings might be more relevant to a newer swath of readers.
Trudeau may have good reason for doing this, even though many of his readers would likely be content with more stories involving B.D., Boopsie, Uncle Duke and even Jimmy Thudpucker. But let’s be honest: It’s hard to trap new readers in 2012 with the antics of a cast that has its roots in Vietnam activism and the 1970s. By featuring Alex and the new cast, Trudeau can appeal to a different cadre of comic-strip fans – the sorts who have grown up on “Pearls Before Swine” and “Luann,” rather than “Hi and Lois” and “Mary Worth.’
Trudeau may be under some pressure, too. “Everyone knows where print is headed, and most Web comics are struggling,” he told Slate earlier this year, talking about the dwindling appeal of many strips.
This development has been building for some time. Honestly, we noticed it in 2010: Each major character gets a new-generation counterpart, though we’d argue some of them are not nearly as memorable as the originals (Duke’s offspring is sort of blah, and the strip still needs a new version of Roland Hedley).
Mike, Zonker and the rest aren’t going away, though at this point they ought to look a lot more like Uncle Walt from “Gasoline Alley.” Just as Shannen Doherty and Tori Spelling made guest-starring appearances in the new version of “90210,” Joanie, Rick and the rest of the original bunch will show up in what we predict will be limited fashion -unless one of them dies, of course, an event that would likely thrust them back in the full spotlight.
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