The Gazette's plans for Doonesbury's controversial comics March 12-17

UPDATE 3/15/12: Some interesting stories have been written during the week about this week's "Doonesbury" comics. Here are a few links:

Garry Trudeau: ‘Doonesbury’ Abortion Furor ‘Good for Business’; Wall Street Journal

If ‘Doonesbury’ skipped abortion law controversy, it would be 'comedy  malpractice,' says cartoonist Gary Trudeau

What’s all the fuss about?  Doonesbury and the American Family

Doonesbury’ creator Garry Trudeau discusses divisive strips about abortion

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I love Garry Trudeau's work in the comic strip "Doonesbury." I have loved it for decades, ever since my younger brother -- who also turned me on to Monty Python and, after that, the Second City TV show when it was on PBS -- introduced me to the strip. But we are going to run in The Gazette newspaper a series of strips on Tuesday through Saturday in which he makes fun of social media users, with an added twist in the ribs to idiots in general, instead of strips Trudeau wrote about Texas' sonogram-before-abortion law.

I tell readers about this in my column in the Sunday, March 11, Gazette newspaper.

We are opting out of five of the six strips he drew that deal with Texas’ law requiring pregnant women to have sonograms before having an abortion in that state. Our decision on which strips to run is not based on the subject matter, which is fair game and which will be published in the Monday, March 12, “Doonesbury” strip.

Rather, it is based on the sensitivities we suspect many of our readers will have about the settings and situations depicted in the comic strips, and graphic language that is used.

The strips deal with a woman getting an abortion in Texas and intrusive Republicans trying to shame and stop her. One strip has a middle-aged male Republican state legislator who calls the woman a slut. Another strip depicts a doctor in an exam room explaining to the woman in detail the prescribed transvaginal exam she is about to receive.

The comics have created a fuss, but people familiar with Trudeau are accustomed to this. So is he. He provided original strips that pick on social media as alternatives to those dealing with the abortion law.

Other newspapers in the country are doing the same thing we are, I learned after making our decision and then surfing the Internet later Friday to see how others were reacting.

The strips raise an issue on the minds of many who are passionate about abortion. They are based on a U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals decision in January that upheld a Texas law requiring doctors to perform a sonogram and to ask women planning an abortion to listen first to the fetal heartbeat. The women do not have to listen to the heartbeat but have to listen to the doctor’s description, unless they are rape or incest victims, or if there is a fetal abnormality.

Trudeau comes down hard on Texas Republicans and, in particular Gov. Rick Perry, who swept through Iowa this past year in a failed presidential bid, for enacting the sonogram law and fighting the court challenge against it.

The Gazette has printed plenty of controversial, offensive strips from both “Mallard Fillmore”, which hardly tiptoes beyond the line where people get offended, and “Doonesbury.” Our approach has been to let the artists have a voice, and to have multiple voices from various viewpoints on the comics page. Trudeau’s Monday strip seems within the bounds our readers tell us they expect and it also gets the topic out there so that it can provoke thought about what is happening in Texas. The final two in the series likely would not hit our audience too hard, either, but context will be missing if we run those without the middle set.

But our experiences with readers tell me the way the matter is treated in other strips in this series would exceed the boundaries our readers expect when looking at family comics such as “Wizard of Id,” “Dennis the Menace” and “Pluggers.” This isn’t an indictment of Trudeau. Rather, it is a response to what we traditionally hear from readers.

For those wanting to see the full series of the Texas law series, “Doonesbury” is online. Check for the strips at

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