Jim Witt

After 43 years, daily Doonesbury leaving Star-Telegram

It’s hard to know what to say when an old friend tells you he’s leaving, maybe never to return.

That’s what’s happening to the Star-Telegram beginning Monday, when the Doonesbury comic strip that runs daily on our opinion pages goes away.

The strip’s creator, Garry Trudeau, is taking a long — and maybe permanent — break while he works on a web TV show he created for Amazon called Alpha House.

It’s a satiric show about four Republican senators who share a house in Washington, D.C. It just got picked up for a second season.

Trudeau will still produce Doonesbury for Sunday papers, and it will continue there in the Star-Telegram’s comics section.

The syndicate offered to sell us old Doonesbury strips that have already run daily, but because the cartoon depends so much on topical humor we declined. Strips about Nixon during the Watergate years just don’t have the same punch now that they had back in the day.

The Star-Telegram has been running Doonesbury since Oct. 26, 1970. We were one of only 28 newspapers that picked up the strip from Day One. It now runs in more than 1,400 papers worldwide.

Most of the other strips we ran when Doonesbury debuted have been discontinued for a long time. They include Little Orphan Annie, Mandrake the Magician, Animal Crackers, Half Hitch, Lolly, Rip Kirby, Rick O’Shay, Redeye and The Smith Family.

Only a few strips that we ran then survive today, including Blondie, Beetle Bailey and Barney Google and Snuffy Smith.

The liberal bent of the strip also drew a lot of complaints, so eventually we purchased one with a conservative viewpoint, Mallard Fillmore, to compensate.

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We moved both of them to the Opinion pages in 2007 because readers complained that the topics in both strips didn’t belong on the comics pages for kids to see.

With Doonesbury leaving, we’ve decided to also drop Mallard Fillmore daily, although it will continue to run on Sunday in TV Star.

Mike Norman, the Star-Telegram’s editorial director, has decided to replace them by running two single-panel political cartoons Monday through Saturday — one predominantly conservative and the other liberal.

I have to confess that although I read Doonesbury back in the ’70s, I don’t follow it enough these days to comment on just how good — or bad — it is. Back then it was really the only strip of its kind: political, irreverent, often shocking and unusually influential.

In 1975 Trudeau won a Pulitzer Prize for it, the first time a comic strip had been so honored.

Over the years, Doonesbury has been involved in many controversial subjects, and some newspapers have refused to run some strips or even canceled it altogether.

The last time we did a comics survey with our readers, in 2007, Doonesbury finished last — 67 percent said they didn’t like it versus 33 percent giving it a thumbs-up. Mallard Fillmore did almost as bad, finishing fourth from the bottom with 57 percent voting to drop it while only 37 percent ranked it as one of their favorites.

Despite that, I know we’ll get plenty of complaints from readers when the changes occur.

If you want to complain to me, the best way to do it is by sending an e-mail to jwitt@star-telegram.com. If you telephone, there’s a chance I might not be able to return the call, depending on the volume (more than 10,000 people voted in our survey seven years ago, showing how passionate readers are about their favorite comic).

And since it has been so long since our last survey, we’re going to do a new one starting today. Just go to www.research.net/s/2014comics to participate. If you don’t have access to a computer, ask a friend or relative who does to help you, or go to the public library in your city.

We don’t have the ability today to deal with hundreds or thousands of mail-in ballots, so we’re only going to do the survey electronically this time.

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