Richard Wiens, The Triplicate

Whenever someone mentions the comic strip Doonesbury to me - and that's not very often - it seems to come in the form of a complaint.

Some folks feel political satire has no place on the comics page, especially if it's satire they disagree with.

I frankly have no strong feelings about it one way or the other. The viewpoints of the comic strips we publish are pretty diverse, and I see no reason why the spectrum can't include political satire. Doonesbury creator Garry Trudeau elicits a chuckle now and then, and that's the best I hope for from a comic strip. Plus, Doonesbury is something of a well-established tradition on comics pages around the country, as are the other strips you see in the Triplicate.

Last week, however, I felt the Doonesbury story line crossed into bad

taste. My decision to publish an alternative set of old strips led to -

you guessed it - complaints. And even though this whole issue kind of

snuck up on me (the comics pages generally being on auto-pilot), the one

complaint that resonated was that I didn't explain my action to readers

in advance.

It dealt with a new Texas law that requires women requesting an

abortion to submit to a transvaginal ultrasound. While performing the

ultrasound, abortion providers must play the sounds of the fetal

heartbeat and show and describe the images.

Trudeau, predictably, finds the law inappropriately invasive. In the

strip, a young woman is ushered into a "shaming room" where "a

middle-aged male state legislator will be with you shortly." Ultimately a

doctor says he'll now perform the ultrasound with a "shaming wand" and

adds, "By the authority vested in me by the GOP base, I thee rape."

Say what you will about the issues at play here, in my mind that goes

too far for a comic strip. Of the 1,400 newspapers that carry

Doonesbury, about 50 others agreed.

The Oregonian told its readers (in advance, to its credit) that it

wasn't printing last week's storyline because it "went over the line of

good taste and humor andhellip; using graphic language and images inappropriate

for a comics page."

Other newspapers, including the Los Angeles Times, moved the strip to

the editorial page. Over the years, some newspapers have regularly

printed Doonesbury on the editorial page, sometimes pairing it with

Mallard Fillmore. The latter strip features a politically conservative

duck who works at a TV station in Washington, D.C.

If only Mallard Fillmore were an apt political alternative to

Doonesbury! Instead, it seldom plies the waters of satirical humor.

Instead, it tends to bluntly deliver policy statements. The fact that

they emanate from a cartoon character doesn't make them political


That's the problem with a lot of editorial cartoonists, whose work we

do display on the opinion page. It's not enough to be an artist with an

opinion. A good editorial cartoon provides an intelligent twist andndash; a

unique take on an issue that provides a chuckle at least, an epiphany at


Sometimes, I find that the best editorial cartoons are ones I don't

agree with. Done right, political satire on the comics page or the

opinion page can actually help bring us together, whatever our views.

That is its great value.