Garry Trudeau is known for his comic strip Doonesbury, but he has quite an impressive resume. He has written blogs, scripts and lyrics for musicals, TV scripts, and more. His Doonesbury comics are impressive (there are even books and book collections of his comics), but I want to showcase 4 of his other works as well.
Okay, this is still Doonesbury, but it’s the musical, not the comic strip, so it’s fine. This musical came out in 1983, 13 years after the comic strip started. There are 11 characters and all of them are familiar faces from the comic strips. However similar it is to the original source material, but it does not act like a collection of those comic strips. It takes place right before several of the characters graduate from college and start working, taking place over the course of two days.
It’s not very political as it’s more character-driven, taking the characters people know and love and shifting into the next phase of their lives after spending a long time in college. There are ups and downs, but the characters ultimately graduate together and look forward to the next stage in life and what it has to offer.
2. Tanner ’88
This is an 11-episode political miniseries that ran from February – August of 1988. It takes place during the presidential campaign and puts fictional Democratic candidate Jack Tanner against Jesse Jackson and Michael Dukakis, who did run for president in 1988. Many characters represent real people, however some “characters” were people in the political world playing themselves. Tanner ’88 itself is fictional, though many of the events that happened in the show really did happen.
The show is a satire of politics, mocking politicians’ fake authenticity. In the last several decades, politics have become more of a show or a performance, rather than politicians being truthful. They lie and pretend and pander to audiences or voters, but oftentimes, they do not believe what they say. Even Tanner, a genuinely good person, started performing political theatrics. Despite being released 35 years ago, the show still rings true in modern times.
3. Alpha House
This is another political satire TV show Trudeau worked on. It has two seasons, a total of 21 episodes, and ran from 2013–2014. There were plans for a third season, but Amazon dropped the show officially in 2016. The series is based off of four real Democrats who lived in a row house together, but in the show, they were changed to Republicans. After one is taken to prison, the other three find a new replacement, and the show chronicles how they navigate elections, scandals, press conferences, and more. Like Tanner ’88, this show shows the negative, cynical side of politics like deal making and politicians’ indifference despite their promises. There is humor here, mixed with satire and truthfulness, so it isn’t a completely dark, depressing show. The only depressing part is how accurate the show is regarding politics. Click here for a review.
4. The Sandbox
War has made an appearance in Doonesbury before, with the Vietnam War presented early on. He also included the dispute with Iraq decades later, this time written in a more serious matter. (There are two books about B.D.’s recovery from the Iraq War. Click here for the first, and here for the sequel.)
He also has a project called The Sandbox, which is a military blog for soldiers in Afghanistan and Iraq to share their experiences. They send in blog posts, and the best ones are published on the website so people can see the soldiers’ experiences without politics. These posts show different parts of the war that U.S. citizens were, and are, oblivious to. Many of them are difficult to read, but some are about shared humanity, which politics conveniently ignored. Some of these blog posts were made into a book, which is pictured and linked above.
Trudeau is quite the versatile writer. He is also honest in his work, writing about topics he is interested in and believes in. He has, of course, accomplished more than what is listed here, and I encourage you to research him and his projects if you’re interested.
For more on comic strips, click here.