How 'Doonesbury' Creator Garry Trudeau Saw Donald Trump's Candidacy Coming A Mile Away

"My first raw impression? Biggest. A**hole. Ever. Must draw," the cartoonist says.
Garry Trudeau

Last week, Twitter retrieved the comic strip above — a 1999 “Doonesbury” classic in which Garry Trudeau, the strip’s creator, saw Donald Trump The Candidate coming a mile away.

Trudeau has been drawing the racist GOP presidential nominee since 1987. This strip appears in an anthology of cartoons called Yuge! 30 Years of Doonesbury on Trump, which came out in July. Trudeau responded to questions about the viral strip, his career and the book by email on Friday.

Your 1999 strip went viral, so much so that the myth-busting site Snopes created an entry to dispel the rumor that you predicted the Trump presidency. You’ve been drawing Trump for almost 30 years. Could you talk about the first time you drew him? What in particular made you want to satirize him?

I’ve never had a strip fragment go viral before, so maybe punchlines are overrated. This one appeared 12 years after Trump made his initial head-fake toward the White House, which is what first prompted me to write about him. He’s been running election simulations in his head his entire life, but it took Twitter to put the dream within reach. My first raw impression? Biggest. Asshole. Ever. Must draw.

“I’ve always felt that this election comes down to a referendum on mental health.”

- Garry Trudeau

Over the summer, you published an anthology of your Trump cartoons, Yuge. What observations did you make going through those old strips? How has Trump’s narrative changed through the decades, if at all? Or how has he not changed?

The underlying pathology has been remarkably stable. Trump himself has said that he’s changed little from grade school, where he punched out his music teacher. I’ve always felt that this election comes down to a referendum on mental health. The GOP candidate displays the classic symptoms of a sociopath — grandiosity, manipulative behavior, chronic lying, lack of empathy, etc. — whereas Mrs. Clinton does not. It’s true that I’m not a trained psychiatric professional. But I’m also not a trained ornithologist, and yet I know a duck when I see one.

Garry Trudeau has been drawing Donald Trump for almost 30 years.
Garry Trudeau has been drawing Donald Trump for almost 30 years.
Maarten de Boer/Getty Images

Let’s talk about caricatures. There’s so much to exaggerate in Trump’s physical appearance. Can you speak to the nuance of that from an artist’s point of view? What about his physicality stands out, and how do you interpret that in illustration?

My approach has evolved — a journey, not a destination. Trump used to have medium brown hair, which everyone knows turns a lovely shade of strawberry blond as one ages. Well, actually, I didn’t know that, but it’s been fun to observe. At some point, he rebuilt the underlying structure of his coif, using some combination of combover, weave and taxidermy. Meanwhile, his face has melted into a waxy pile of gilded bloat, held up by pouts and scowls and a contemptuous tilt of the head. I’m afraid I still haven’t quite done it justice.

Where is political cartooning happening today? We ask because the once obvious place, the daily newspaper, has declined, and political satire, especially in cartoon form, lets the public see the truth in a way that words can’t communicate. Tell us about cartoonists you admire today and why, and where we can find them.

Look for Ann Telnaes and Tom Toles, both masters, both at The Washington Post but as you might imagine, this is a subject that saddens me. When I first started out, the only rapid-response satire in the culture was provided by editorial cartoonists. Now there’s a surfeit of political satire, much of it brilliant, on late-night TV, online and elsewhere. The instantaneous Twitter response to Donald Trump Jr.’s Skittles bowl, for instance, had me laughing all morning. But it’s true our craft has become marginalized — there’s only a small band of survivors who can still make a living at it — and as much as I miss the days when newspapers set the agenda, the comedy-craving consumer is being better served than ever. There’s a lot of funny out there.

With the country as bipartisan as ever, any temptation to bring back a daily strip? If so, what issues would you tackle that we are not talking about enough?

There’s always been a misperception that “Doonesbury” is primarily a political project, when in fact, 90 percent of what I write about has no overt political content. What I miss is not the opportunity to engage more broadly politically, but the space to tell stories with my cast. The Sunday sections are more like mini-essays; it’s hard to move things forward narratively, unless your feature has a rigid serial structure like “Prince Valiant.” So I do miss engaging more completely with the characters.

Want more Trump or “Doonesbury”? Start here.

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Editor’s note: Donald Trump regularly incites political violence and is a serial liar, rampant xenophobe, racist, misogynist and birther who has repeatedly pledged to ban all Muslims — 1.6 billion members of an entire religion — from entering the U.S.

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