Public Nuisance

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The first Republican president once said, "While the people retain their virtue and their vigilance, no administration by any extreme of wickedness or folly can seriously injure the government in the short space of four years." If Mr. Lincoln could see what's happened in these last three-and-a-half years, he might hedge a little on that statement.
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Sunday, June 30, 2002
 
Reason has an interesting article suggesting that the decline of Doonesbury from its height in the 70s reflects the decline of baby boomer liberalism.

That's a lot of freight to put on one strip created by one man. But the biggest problem is that there is a basic Iron Law of comics that author Jesse Walker only briefly suggests: No comic strip stays in top form for over 10 years.

Cathy and Garfield both came along well after Doonesbury; both were once fresh, and have years ago sunk to tedious repitition of a few formulaic gags. Peanuts retained some charm and whimsy to the end of Charles Schulz's long life, but it was sweet, whimsical, and bland. If you look at the early strips, they were sweet, whimsical, and funny. Even Blondie, which has been comatose since before I was born, was a good strip when it gained its popularity in the Depression era.

The rule is so strong that many of the best and most popular cartoonists of recent years, Larson, Breathed, and Waterston, didn't even try to fight it. They ended strips when they were still on top and high quality. The choice must have been hard, since all walked away from enormous piles of money that they could have made drawing their strips on cruise control for decades to come.

Scott Adams doesn't seem to have any plans to quit and so far is far from slumping. Adams is smart and wildly funny, even if he has no real talent for drawing. It will be interesting to see if he can beat the odds.

Doonesbury isn't as good as it was 25 years ago, and certainly it's cultural cachet and political impact are drastically reduced. But by the standards of the comics page it has aged very well indeed, and is probably the best 30 year old strip in history.



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