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Comic Strip / Doonesbury

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The main cast in 1976.note 

"I can only try to keep the characters interesting; it's up to the readers to decide whether they're still relevant."
Garry Trudeau

Doonesbury is an American Newspaper Comic strip written and drawn by Garry Trudeau, which mixes political satire with college satire and later soap opera plots. A long runner (51 years and counting, 49 if you don't count the 1983Ė84 hiatus), the strip involves a cast of hundreds.

It began in 1970 as a satire of campus life, set at fictional Walden College in Connecticut and starring nerdy Mike Doonesbury and his perpetually helmet-wearing jock roommate B.D.; within a couple of years the principal cast had expanded to include Zonker Harris, a hippie slacker; Mark Slackmeyer, a left-wing radical; Joanie Caucus and Barbara Ann "Boopsie" Boopstein, Mike and B.D.'s respective girlfriends; and Zonker's "uncle" Duke, who was a stand-in for writer Hunter S. Thompson. While the strip had its genesis mocking the college life, Doonesbury really found its footing when it expanded into full-blown political satire. B.D. joined the military (to escape having to write a term paper) and fought in Vietnam, while Uncle Duke briefly served as governor of American Samoa before getting appointed as ambassador to China, which led to him getting his own sidekick, the long-suffering Honey Huan.

Despite the expanded scope of the strip, the characters remained college students for about 13 years, with the only real change being the group moving off campus into a nearby commune. This changed with a two-year Series Hiatus in 1983Ė84; Trudeau came up with the idea of doing a stage musical based on the strip, which centered around the graduation of the characters from college. Following a brief run on Broadway, the strip returned to newspapers, now unfolding in real time as the characters grew older, married, had kids, divorced, and died. The strip also became more biting with its political satire, with more frequent appearances from television reporter Roland Hedley (who was introduced prior to the hiatus) and surrealistic storylines such as Hedley's tour of Ronald Reagan's brain and the introduction of Mr. Butts, a life-sized talking cigarette who shills for the tobacco industry.

The strip won Trudeau the Pulitzer Prize for Editorial Cartooning in 1975, the first of only two daily comic strips to have ever won that award, the other being Berke Breathed's Bloom County in 1987. A one-shot Animated Adaptation, A Doonesbury Special, was produced in 1977; it won a Jury Special Prize at Cannes and was nominated for the Academy Award for Best Animated Short Film in 1978.

Doonesbury is generally considered liberal on the Strawman Political scale. It's so well-known for its political content that some papers choose to run it on the editorial pages rather than the comics pages, sometimes opposite Mallard Fillmore. (And for some inexplicable reason, the Washington Post runs the strip on its gossip page.)

In Britain, the strip is carried in The Guardian, which tried to drop it in 2005. This did not go down well.

The official website can be visited here. A Doonesbury archive dating back to at least 1970 can be viewed at

Trudeau put the strip on a "temporary" hiatus in 2013 to work on his Amazon TV series Alpha House. The show's popularity ended up pushing the hiatus further out, and new strips have only appeared on Sundays since 2014, with reprints of older strips running the rest of the week.

This strip includes examples of:

  • Aborted Arc:
    • In 1990, Trudeau decided to celebrate the strip's 20th anniversary by doing an arc where all of the strip's gigantic cast all met and interacted; something which hadn't happened since at least the late 70's. One by one, everyone gathers by chance in Mike's apartment and... don't do a whole lot except bicker at each other. Trudeau realized these characters were funnier in their separate spheres than they were thrown together, so he undid the entire storyline by having it be a nightmare Mike was having.
    • A 2011 Red Rascal storyline ended this way: after being being abandoned during a rescue mission and taken hostage by the Taliban, the whole thing ended with a Sunday strip where Jeff's mom finds out that the Taliban successfully ransomed Jeff back to the US consulate for $90 (a fee that they paid simply because it was so cheap).
  • Alien Geometries: Donald Trump's hair, which conveniently obscures his face.
  • All Just a Dream: A number of the more surreal strips are explained this way. A recurring series during the 90s had a talking cigarette named Mr. Butts, who represented the tobacco industry, trying to sell kids on smoking (and always succeeding). These were recurring nightmares of Mike Doonesbury. The strips would usually end with Mike lying awake in bed making an exasperated remark. Later on, Mr. Butts crossed over into the strip's real world with no explanation, interacting with characters and even testifying before Congress. Despite this, Mike assured people that Mr. Butts was just a figment of his imagination. Of course, hallucinations haven't exactly had a history of rule-boundedness in Doonesbury.
  • Amusingly Awful Aim: One strip has Uncle Duke meet with an NRA official in Duke's bar. Duke shows him the handgun he carries with him, and it discharges while pointed at the man's stomach. The official Screams Like a Little Girl, but is unhurt. "Relax," says Duke. "It's Italian-made. Not accurate past six inches." Off-panel, someone else in the bar falls over with a thud.
  • And I Must Scream: Toggle shortly after his accident, being unable to speak at all and then only in short bursts. He's gotten better with time though.
  • Animated Adaptation: A Doonesbury Special, a now rarely seen half-hour adaptation, aired on prime time TV for Thanksgiving weekend 1977.
  • Anthropomorphic Vice: Mr. Butts, a giant talking cigarette used to represent the tobacco industry. Occasionally, he's joined by his friend Mr. Jay, who is a giant anthropomorphized joint. December 6, 2020 also has Mr. Brewski, an anthropomorphized beer can representing alcoholism, and Dum-Dum, an anthropomorphic bullet representing gun violence.
  • Anyone Can Die: Doonesbury was the first mainstream humor comic strip to kill off a character, something which caused quite a stir at the time (1986). The deceased, Dick Davenport, was an elderly birdwatcher who'd been a recurring character for years. He suffered a massive heart attack while birding but managed to stay alive just long enough to fulfill his life's dream of photographing an extremely rare bird. (His last word, spoken right after snapping the picture, was "Immortality.")
    • Andrew "Andy" Lippincott, a college friend of Joanie's, died of AIDS just after hearing the CD of The Beach Boys' Pet Sounds.
    • Later, Dick's wife Lacey joined him in the hereafter. We get to see her death from her point of view, as Dick ushers her into heaven. Her first impression of the place is to say "What horrid drapes", to which Dick replies "Quiet! Mrs. God picked them out!"
    • Averted with Uncle Duke, even after he was buried six feet under in a coffin. Turns out he was zombified for a while. Considering he ages more slowly than the rest of the cast (if at all), even after his real-life inspiration Hunter S. Thompson died, you have to wonder. (When Duke read Thompson's obituary, his (Duke's) head exploded and he spent a week in a sort of hallucinatory fugue state. Appropriate, all things considered.)
  • Archive Trawl: As mentioned above the full archive of strips is available at at, previously it was a rare example in print comics in that you can read today's strip from 5, 10, 15, 20, 25, 30, 35, and 40 years ago (and this presentation continues). All this counterbalances the fact that the print collections for the strips routinely go out of print.
  • Art Evolution: From background-less scribbles in the 1970s to highly detailed and colored artwork in the 1980s.
  • The Artifact: B.D.'s signature headgear was a helmet which he never, ever took off (though its type could vary between football player's, police patrolman's, and soldier's). Trudeau finally found a way to justify dropping the gimmick when B.D. was seriously wounded in an ambush while deployed in Iraq; since then he has been depicted bare-headed.
  • Artificial Limbs: Played realistically with B.D., who lost a leg in the Iraq War and has been wearing a prosthesis since then.
  • Ascended Extra: Several-
    • Most notably Duke. He started off as a one-week joke character whose basic punchline was the surrealism of Hunter S. Thompson being Zonker's uncle, with a few Thompson-based in-jokes thrown in. Trudeau became so enamored of the character that he first began having occasional week-long gags of Duke at his farm (based on Thompson's Owl Ranch), then expanded the character beyond a Thompson parody to have a full history of his own and an involvement in geopolitics. By a few years after his first appearance he'd become one of the most frequently featured characters in the strip, to the point where he's one of only a few to have gotten a book collection entirely dedicated to his strips.
    • Kim was initially just the subject of a series of strips about the humanitarian crisis left over in the wake of the Fall of Saigon. Decades later she became one of the series' primary characters.
    • Toggle started off as a grunt in B.D.'s platoon whose injury was meant to help put a face on US casualties in Iraq. His recovery became a focus of the strip and he ended up marrying main character Alex.
  • Author Filibuster: Played straight, averted and subverted multiple times over the years.
  • Author Tract: One Sunday strip during the Second Gulf War had Mark and Zonker ranting at "France-bashers" in French mixed with English, in part for not considering "the feelings of patriotic Franco-Americans" such as the author of the strip. Mark finished off by calling the France-bashers "jingoistic, self-regarding conquer-monkeys!"
  • Babies Make Everything Better: Discussed, but it works. Sorta.
  • Bathtub Mermaid: Referenced in one strip. Zonker has gone to Ft. Lauderdale for spring break, and is seeking to share an already overcrowded hotel room. The room spokesman tells him the rules, which end with "Oh yeah, and the guy in the tub thinks he's a mermaid; you cool with that?"
  • Bluff the Eavesdropper: While Zonker is being kept in a hotel awaiting trial for possession of marijuana, Mike finds a bug under a lamp. The two start very obviously acting, talking about how completely sober Zonker is in order to tip off the prosecutors that yes, they know there's a bug in the room. It gets the case thrown out of court.
  • Book Snap: In Roland Hedley's first appearance, Walden's commune residents give him outlandish BS for a report on youth trends. When, Zonker and Mike avow "We give you our word of honor we represent a national trend." he snaps his reporter's notebook shut and takes their word for it.
  • Bourgeois Bohemian: Most of the original main cast become this over time. It even becomes a plot point in A Doonesbury Special.
  • Breaking the Fourth Wall: Done often.
  • Bunny-Ears Lawyer: B.D.'s [formerly] ever-present helmet, which he wore even in bed.
  • Canon Discontinuity: Trudeau has pretty much disowned strips from the early years of the series, which involve B.D. joking about date rape, refusing to let them be collected in book format. Reading Doonesbury notes his early material was inspired by the generally misogynistic underground "comix" of the time, and it took a short while for Trudeau to evolve his female characters into rounded, self-motivated characters.
  • Captain Ersatz: Uncle Duke is a reference to Raoul Duke, one of Hunter S. Thompson's aliases. Thompson was not pleased.
  • Characterization Marches On: JJ was originally a normal, sweet girl who seemed to take Joanie's leaving in stride and Zonker once complained about hippie surfers all over the beaches.
    • Several, but most notably Boopsie; she started out as a rather dim-witted blond who constantly giggled and who only seemed to care about fawning over B.D. Thankfully, she grew out of it and became (after the hiatus) a well-adjusted adult who is quite intelligent and willing to give B.D. hell when he screws up.
    • B.D. also counts; while he started out as a jerk-ass jock who was selfish and ultra-conservative, he ends up maturing into a reasonable adult after the hiatus and while he has his moments of jerk-ass conservativism, he has mellowed out a good deal.
  • Cloudcuckoolander: Zonker and Zipper/Jeff Redfern. Boopsie was one too when she first appeared, but quickly outgrew it when she married B.D. Alex now has the crown, given how over the top her fantasies about life with Toggle are.
  • Comically Missing the Point:
    • Toggle's reaction to Zipper's tour of Walden College — since Zipper is basically Zonker Junior, his tours are focused on the slacker-friendliness of "America's safety school". Toggle is a wounded Iraq vet from a working-class family who actually wants an education.
    • When Joanie asks her first husband Clinton for a divorce, he claims to have "started to think out some of this women's movement stuff" and offers a compromise to save their marriage. Unfortunately, he apparently didn't do very much research.
      Clinton: I've decided that if you'd rather go without a brassiere, that's fine with me!
      Joanie: [Facepalm] Oh, Clint...
      Clinton: Look, I'm meetin' you halfway, aren't I?!
    • Nichole, the strip's first feminist character, asks Boopsie if she's aware at how she's being exploited sexually.
      Boopsie: Oooh! That sounds sexy!! What do I have to do to be "exploited"! C'MON, TELL ME! TELL ME! HOW DO I GET "EXPLOITED"?
      (Nichole gives a weary Aside Glance to the reader.)
    • Mark interviews Donald Trump during his (teased) presidential run in April, 2011; when Trump boasts about his "incredible" returns in the polls, Mark points out:
      Mark: [W]hile you may be one of the biggest celebrities out there... nobody actually likes you.
      Trump: One of the biggest? Who's bigger? Nobody! Name one!
  • Coming-Out Story: Andy's ghost helped Mark realize he was gay.
  • Confirmed Bachelor: Zonker has repeatedly disavowed any interest in romance. This has been variously explained as the unfortunate outcome of a crush he had at the age of ten, or (more likely) a manifestation of his general discomfort with the nature of adult reality.
  • Continuity Nod: In the 1970s, Duke is appointed governor of American Samoa. His mere presence (compounded with an unfortunately timed, sudden shortage of virgin sacrifices) causes disasters, such as volcanoes and tidal waves, which his assistant MacArthur claims is the work of angry gods. Duke dismisses these claims until it actually starts to snow on the tropical paradise: "I'm a reasonable man, MacArthur, so I know this isn't snow". Three decades later, Mark Slackmeyer and his lover Chase are looking to get married. They travel to Samoa in the hope that their love will be accepted there. MacArthur agrees to sanction the gay wedding, but as they prepare their vows everything starts to go wrong...including volcanoes and tidal waves. MacArthur decides the gods are a little too conservative to be comfortable with this after all, and asks the couple to leave, even mentioning that nothing like this has happened since Duke was governor. Mark and Chase protest until guess what happens. "We're reasonable men, MacArthur, so we know this isn't snow."
    • Over an even wider period of time, Zonker is told of a connection between marijuana and communism- and there's even a flashback. It's (*sob*) so beautiful...
    • Kim was introduced around 1975 as "the last Vietnam war orphan," as a baby. Decades later, when she was a young woman, she reappeared and ended up marrying Mike.
    • Joanie Caucus never quite got her own Senate seat, but she did wind up with a career in politics, working for Congresswoman Lacey Davenport.
  • Countrystan: Uncle Duke's public relations firm is hired to improve the image of the brutal lout Trff Bmzklfrpz, President-for-life of Berserkistan. No amount of spin-doctoring can save Trff's case; he ends up deposed, and living with Duke.
  • Dare to Be Badass: When Joanie Caucus applied to law school, her young friend Ellie encouraged her to think big; like a run for the U.S. Senate.
    Ellie: Dare to be great, Ms. Caucus.
    Joanie: [smiling] Oh, all right.
  • Debating Names: Musician Jimmy Thudpucker and his wife Jenny are expecting a boy. While Jenny contemplates more normal names for her son, Jimmy mulls "Feedback" as his first choice, and "Rimshot" as his second. The boy ultimately gets named Feedback, to Jenny's quiet embarrassment.
  • Demoted to Extra: Sort of. While Mike's still part of the main cast, since the mid-2000's Alex has taken over this position, with most of Mike's appearances based around her (with the exception of his mother moving in).
    • J.J. and Honey Huan have been demoted to extra, rarely appearing anymore. Same with Mark, as far as the fact that Mark only shows up in the occasional Sunday strip or whenever the strip needs a non-Hedley related media talking head and pretty much only contacts the others via phone.
    • A byproduct of having a large cast. With Trudeau continuing to create new characters all the time, it's inevitable that some old ones will find their roles scaled down or eliminated.
    • This is lampshaded in a 2012 arc, where with No Fourth Wall, Mike announces that the strip is being handed over to Alex to run. Her move to change the name of the strip to "What Up, Alex?" appears to have been shot down, however.
  • Disabled Love Interest: Alex's boyfriend Toggle, a young Iraq war vet with PTSD and some brain damage.
  • The Ditz: Boopsie, though she outgrew it upon getting married.
  • Dumb Blonde: Boopsie. See The Ditz.
  • Early-Installment Weirdness: The series started out as a generic college-themed comic strip with the main characters being archetypes: Mike was the nerd, BD the jock, Zonker the hippie/slacker, and Mark the resident rabble-rousing activist. The shift towards the political consciousness didn't occur until BD dropped out of college to fight in Vietnam (in order to escape having to take a class with a term paper final) and Duke was introduced. Even still, it wasn't until 1983 and the hiatus that the strip dumped the college status quo and moved the kids into the real world (as well as to move towards a real time format of the characters aging and such).
  • Explain, Explain... Oh, Crap!: Duke in this strip. En route to his zombification.
  • Expy: Honey Huan started out as an adult version of Marcie.
  • The Ex's New Jerkass: Mike Doonesbury was married to Joanie "J.J." Caucus after graduating Walden College. However, their relationship soured after Mike connected with Kim Rosenthal during a political campaign. Mike and Joanie divorced, after which Mike took Kim as his second wife, and Joanie got back with her old flame, Zeke Brenner. Zeke is a pothead wastrel who's pretty much dead weight to Joanie, and even Joanie and Mike's daughter Alex refers to Zeke as "Uncle Stupidhead."
  • Fake Static: Used by Sid Kibbitz in the strip for April 12th, 2013.
  • Fake Ultimate Hero: Jeff Redfern as the Red Rascal.
  • Fourth-Wall Mail Slot: Either in the Sunday strips or in the yearly "Mailbag Week"
  • Freudian Excuse: J.J. was "raised" by an absentee mother Joan, who was constantly abandoning her and emotionally abusing her via letting her know that she wasn't that important compared to her mom's career.
  • From Nobody to Nightmare: Jeff Redfern; the son of supporting cast member Rick Redfern, Jeff went from little kid to Zipper's sidekick who ultimately got tired of the slacker lifestyle and (to Zipper's anger) actually graduated from college. Then he went on to become a horribly incompetent CIA agent who was ultimately fired for his screw-ups, which led to the Red Rascal fraud, and in the process becoming a completely unlikable asshole willing to say or do anything for fame and a chance to live out his fantasies of being a black ops agent.
  • Funny Background Event
  • Gambit Roulette: Uncle Duke runs these routinely and results vary wildly; sometimes he succeeds beyond all expectations (Duke sends a letter to the White House and somehow ends up appointed ambassador to China) sometimes he fails spectacularly (Duke tries to finance a movie by selling a huge shipment of cocaine... to an undercover FBI agent.) The movie was the John DeLorean story.
  • Godwin's Law: Deconstructed in reference to Obama's health care plans.
  • Gay Conservative: Chase Talbott III, Mark's radio co-host and former partner.
  • A Good Way to Die: Andy Lippincott says this of listening to "Pet Sounds" on CD, Dick Davenport after he photographs a rare bird.
  • Goofy Print Underwear: Skye tries to prove she isnít evil by mentioning she wears Hello Kitty underwear.
  • Granola Girl: Several. After all, the cast lived in a commune for a while. JJ and Boopsie head the list, however.
  • Hobo Gloves: Elmont and Alice Schwartzman were introduced as a homeless couple that scrounge a living in a Washington, DC park. Alice wears fingerless gloves, and any other clothing she can scrounge, to get through chilly nights sleeping al fresco. The hobo gloves disappeared after Alice inherited congresswoman Lacey Davenport's fortune (Lacey mistook Alice for her long-lost sister).
  • Hulk Smash: Boopsie, when channeling Hunk-Ra.
  • Hypercompetent Sidekick: Honey Huan to Duke. Word of God says: "Ms. Huan is the only person standing between Duke and permanent incarceration, having devoted her considerable talents to the thankless task of protecting her imagined paramour from himself."
  • I Have No Son!: The actual title of a 1970s collection of strips, which includes the line being spoken by Mark Slackmeyer's father.
  • Immune to Drugs: Again, DUKE!
  • Informed Judaism: In one of the older strips Daddy Slackmeyer tops off a rant at his son/disgrace with, "I bet you're even seeing some Jewish girl..." but Mark cuts in, "Dad, we're Jewish!!"
  • Invisible President: Various icons have been used over the years:
  • It's All About Me: Pathetic would-be suitor Jeremy Cavendish at Lacey Davenport's funeral. Later J.J. at that of the Widow Doonesbury.
  • Jerk Jock: B.D.'s entire personality was based around being a college football player — and he never was without headwear for most of the strip's run, even wearing his football helmet in social situations. He was often the mouthpiece for right-center opinions — which got rocked when he was injured in the Gulf War.
  • Jiggle Show: Garry Trudeau spent a couple of weeks in 1978 lampooning the jiggle show concept, showing network execs trying to think like nine-year-olds while examining the "cleavage situation" on Spa, their proposed brainless sitcom.
  • Kent Brockman News: Roland Hedley.
  • Laser-Guided Karma:
    • Mike Doonesbury's mother burns her Medicare card to protest Obama's health care reform and hurts her hand because of it; the karma comes when she can't get treatment without the Medicare card she burned.
    • One of the murderous dictators that Duke has been keeping in power has decided that he'll be living with Duke after he was deposed by his people and had to flee the country (against his will, as he remained ignorant until he was literally dragged out of the palace by the Red Rascal). So now Duke is forced to play slave for the dictator, simply so that he can get the money from the dictator to pay off the mercenary company that rescued him, lest he get stuck with the insanely expensive bill for said rescue.
    • Jeff Redfern has been unapologetically rubbing the millions he has made from his fraudulent "Red Rascal" alter ego in the face of his father Rick, who has gone from award-winning journalist to unpaid blogger in a reflection of the decline of print journalism. However, in October 2012, Jeff's profligate spending has led to his mansion and Porsche being repossessed, forcing him to move back in with his parents. Rick, who tried to alert Jeff to his precarious financial situation only to be ignored, is completely unsympathetic.
  • Lysistrata Gambit: Inverted (Zeke threatens to freeze out JJ) and subverted ("Do you even know how blackmail works?").
  • Mediation Backfire: In an early strip, activist Mark Slackmeyer tries to quiet down an unruly crowd of disorganized and divided protesters by having them unite under a common goal, and they end up shouting "KILL THE MODERATOR!"
  • Medium Awareness: The characters are perfectly aware that they are appearing in a comic strip.
  • Mirror Monologue
  • Mock Headroom: A Running Gag portrays Ronald Reagan as a Max Headroom parody named Ron Headrest.
  • Morality Chain: Boopsie to B.D.
  • The Musical: Trudeau spent the hiatus writing a musical adaptation of the strip (with Elizabeth Swados) that had a short run on Broadway. The plot takes place before and during the core characters' graduation from Walden, thus setting up the post-hiatus aging of the characters.
  • My Hovercraft Is Full of Eels: In the strip's take on the 1985 USA for Africa "We Are The World" sessions (which it tied into the strip's universe by having Jimmy Thudpucker take part in), Stevie Wonder asks Quincy Jones if they can sing "milleloo shalanga" during the fills after the chorus, explaining that it's a Swahili phrase he once heard. Jones asks the Ethiopian observer if it would be offensive to Ethiopians, and the observer says no, so they begin singing it. However the observer (outside the frame) adds "It's not a very nice thing to say about your own sister, though." This all actually happened up till the punchline. In reality, it was innocuous, but they chose not to sing it because Ethiopians don't speak Swahili.
  • Nerdy Bully: While Alex attended MIT, she and her mentor took part in a featherweight robot competition. Alex's bot defeated its first adversary easily, but added a victory chiptune. Alex's bot was disqualified on the spot by a grandiose nerd for "taunting."
  • Never Bareheaded: For many years, B.D. was never seen without his football helmet. When he was called up from the Army reserves for the Gulf War in 1991 he wore a military helmet instead. For decades he wore a helmet until it finally came off on April 21, 2004, when B.D. lost a leg while serving in Iraq. His only reflection on losing the helmet was on July 31, 2004, when he thought to himself: "Oh yeah, my helmet. What the hell was THAT all about?"
    • A decade earlier, when BD first joined the military, he fretted that he would have to "get his football helmet removed." He then explained to his wife that it was "a simple procedure" where the surgeon freezes the helmet and then "cuts it off like an avocado." The next time we see him, he's wearing an almost identical army helmet.
    • Also, Elmont and Zeke.
  • No Celebrities Were Harmed: Politicians, mainly Presidents, routinely appear in this strip, but are either depicted as meaningful icons (such as a waffle, a cartoon bomb, or a floating feather), or simply represented as speech balloons coming out of the Capitol or the White House. The 45th President is a notable exception.
    • Also Duke is a thinly disguised and parodied and totally distorted Hunter S. Thompson. When Thompson died, Duke realizing that he was a case of Expy Coexistence caused him to experience some strange things (well, maybe not that strange by his standards...).
    • John Negroponte was called by his nickname "Proconsul" and portrayed as a guy dressing in Roman attire.
    • Rick Redfern started out as a stand-in for Bob Woodward.
  • No Fourth Wall: Part of the Medium Awareness noted above; the characters often address the reader.
  • No Name Given: The initials B.D. don't appear to stand for anything, as he's an expy for old Yale football hero Brian Dowling. They've diverged a lot over the years. When B.D. is about to get married, and somebody asks for his last name, he says just: "D". His wife is later sometimes referred/addressed as "Mrs. D".
  • Not Allowed to Grow Up / Comic-Book Time: Played straight, then averted since the 1983-84 hiatus.
    • Strangely enough, while everyone else has aged normally since 1984, Uncle Duke either slowly ages or doesn't age at all; the only difference from his earliest appearances are that his hair has gone from brown to light brown to gray in the color strips, meaning that maybe he's gone from his forties to his sixties in the course of five decades. This means that his nephew Zonker, who was a college student when he first met Duke, is now about the same age as him. No one appears to have noticed.
    • Roland Hedley, the amoral TV news reporter, has never aged either, perhaps because he's more of a representation of the media itself than a character in his own right.
    • Duke's erstwhile business associate Jim Andrews also hasn't aged in about 30 years...and he was clearly in his fifties when he first appeared.
  • Not So Remote: In the "Wreck of the Rusty Nail" arc in The '80s, Duke and Honey spend months shipwrecked on what they think is a deserted island in the South Atlantic. It turns out to be Matagorda Island off the coast of Texas.
  • One Degree of Separation: Seen when Toggle meets Alex over the internet. It's also lampshaded. BD, on discovering that Toggle is dating Alex, says, "She's my college roommate's kid! That's crazy! What are the odds?" The narration replies, "Pretty good, actually. It's a comic strip."
  • One-Two Punchline: Doonesbury was the first newspaper comic strip to regularly use this, and was directly or indirectly the inspiration for most modern uses.
  • O.O.C. Is Serious Business: The only time Zeke is ever seen with his hat off and eyes showing is when his car is run off a cliff and lands upside down, making the hat fall off.
  • Padding the Paper: The comic has Zonker Harris at Walden College furiously tapping away at a typewriter, explaining to Mark that he has a lot of papers due. Zonker bangs off two paragraphs of abstract musings, whereupon Mark asks which course this paper is for. The response? "Dunno, haven't decided yet."
  • Playing Games at Work: One strip has Mike tour his software company, and happen upon one of Kim's hires playing solitaire. The testy fellow claims he's developing a new paradigm.
    Mike: Red queen on black king.
    Jerkass: Yes, I know. Do you mind?
  • Precision F-Strike: The author pushed to allow B.D. to swear when he wakes up after losing a leg in Iraq. This is significant because newspaper comics have extremely strict clamps on their subject matter. A few papers dropped the strip. Most simply edited the line. A few kept it as-is, with the paper's editor stating it was justified.
    B.D.: Son of a bitch!
  • Press Hat: Roland Hedley Junior wore a Press-credential hat back when he was a news reporter. He eventually ditched the hat and moved on with his career.
  • Reality Is Unrealistic: Trudeau initially got flak for Mark's Gallows Humor and Deadpan Sharking about his contracting AIDS, even while in the hospice, but AIDS victims and their families swiftly came to his defense, saying that Mark was behaving like most AIDS victims, laughing in the face of death.
  • Refuge in Audacity: A comparatively subtle example, if such a thing can be imagined. Jeff's fantasies as "The Red Rascal" aren't taken seriously even within the context of the strip, so it might take the reader a while to fully grasp that in one of them, printed in family-friendly newspapers across America, he disemboweled a Mook in full color.
  • Rogue Juror: A 1994 story arc dealt with the tobacco executives who claimed under oath that they did not "believe" nicotine is addictive, despite the vast amounts of evidence to the contrary. In the strip, the executives are prosecuted on perjury charges. Every member of the jury is convinced they are guilty, except for Jeremy Cavendish, who canít decide if the executives are "monsters or idiots." The other jurors argue with him for a long time and he eventually agrees the executives are guilty. He later reveals his change of heart was motivated by his desperate need to visit the restroom.
  • Series Hiatus: See above.
  • Sexual Extortion: Melissa, a female soldier teased as B.D.'s love interest, turns out to be in therapy after having been forced into sex by a senior officer. The strip goes surprisingly in-depth on the various conflicts she feels ("I suffered sexual assault for my country?").
  • Shady Real Estate Agent: What Duke becomes in the musical as he buys Walden intending to knock it down to build condos. He tries to talk Zonker into joining him.
    Zonker/Duke: Is it easy?/Hard to hate!/Is it sleasy?/Just partake!/Can I hack it?/Piece of cake!/(Both) What a racket!
  • Shell-Shocked Veteran: B.D. after coming back from Iraq. During therapy, we find out that when his transport came under attack, in order to get his men out of danger he had to deliberately run over women and children in the street.
  • Shockingly Expensive Bill: One comic strip features Jim Andrews giving the hospital clerk a $16,000 bill for waiting in the waiting room for too long.
  • The Slacker: Zonker Harris, and, since the late 1990s, his nephew Zipper as well.
  • Smooth-Talking Talent Agent: Sid Kibbutz is a jaded talent agent based in Los Angeles, who almost always wears designer sunglasses and a wireless phone clipped to one ear. He used to rep for Barbara Ann "Boopsie" Boopstein, until she grew tired of getting small parts in Porn with Plot productions.
  • Soapbox Sadie: Alex and Kim.
  • Soundtrack Dissonance: When the two gay radio commentators get married on an airplane, they're serenaded by a gay men's choir singing "I Want It That Way" by The Backstreet Boys — a break up song. Sure enough, the two get divorced a few years later. They still work together, though.
  • Spoofs "R" Us: When Zonker Harris learns that he can become a member of the British peerage simply by filling out a form and paying a nominal fee, he flies to England for just that purpose. The head of "Lord-R-Us" duly dubs Zonker as Viscount Saint-Austell-in-the-moor Biggleswade Brixham with a golf club.
  • Stopped Caring: President King of Walden after the early nineties.
  • Straight Man: For Mike, it should be written as Painfully Straight Man.
    • Rick Redfern to his son Jeff.
  • Strawman Political: Somewhat unavoidable by the nature of the strip, and rarely avoided.
  • Sucky School: Walden College, "America's safety school", with a less than 20% graduation rate that's worse than some for-profit colleges.
  • Sunday Strip: New material has been Sunday-only since 2014.
  • Tactful Translation:
    • Honey Huan's original purpose was translating and "softening" Duke's speeches and words during his stint as ambassador to China.
    • Her previous assignment was as translator to Mao himself. She revealed to Duke that she was one of the few people who still understood him with his rural dialect and health problems, and even she wasn't sure what he said sometimes. Specifically, she's afraid that she might have caused the Cultural Revolution by mistranslating a lunch order.
    • Not to mention her having to take Mao's indecisive nature into account when she translated for him. One occasion had him tell her to send word for the Great Wall of China to be destroyed. She tells him the next day that it had been dismantled. A week later, he told her that he changed his mind and that he wanted the entire Wall rebuilt exactly as it was. Honey tells the Chairman that she had personally devised a plan which got the entire wall rebuilt in one day. Honey reveals that she actually spent the whole week watching TV, but "He thinks I'm a genius." (to which Duke replies "In a way, Honey, you are.")
  • Take That!: In the 00s, there were many strips that took a negative view on Zonker; from Zonker being yelled at by his illegal immigrant co-worker at a fast food restaurant over the fact that Zonker was a burnt out hippie working a minimum wage job while all of his friends were successful professionals (which was what said co-worker longed to be), to his disdain at being asked to help his best friend BD (who was letting him live rent free with his family on the condition that he babysit for them from time to time) to help out after BD lost his leg during the Iraq war.
  • Textplosion: There were a few strips that are nothing but a long list of names.
  • Too Qualified to Apply: Discussed during the arc where Zonker goes into training for the Gerald Ford Biathlon: golf and tanning. Zonker hired Bernie as his personal coach, during which Bernie asked why a black man wouldn't outright clinch a tanning competition. Zonker points out that it's a matter of gradient: melanin levels at the outset versus at the conclusion. Bernie starts grousing that it's another form of institutionalized racism, to which Zonker replies, "Man, don't spoil it for the rest of us."
  • Tragic AIDS Story: Andy Lippincott, having already made waves in the comic world in his first storyline in 1976 when he told Joanie he was gay, then made waves again in 1989 when he was diagnosed with AIDS. He died a year later while listening to the then-new CD release of The Beach Boys' Pet Sounds, and was honoured by the NAMES Project with the AIDS quilt's only panel for a fictional character.
  • T-Word Euphemism: Played with when Lacey Davenport's political opponent challenged her to mutual drug tests — "Any time! Any place! I will fill any bottle!". When Lacey's husband commented dryly, "It would appear the contest has turned into a p—-ing match," Davenport replied, "A what? You know I can't understand you when you use hyphens, dear."
  • The Unfair Sex: Inverted: JJ left dependable nice guy Mike for complete loser Zeke, and is portrayed as a fool for doing so.
  • The Unpronounceable: The leader of Berzerkistan, Trff Bmzklfrpz.
  • Villainous Lineage: Duke and his son Earl.
    • Deconstructed with Joanie and her children: her emotional abuse/neglect of J.J. turned her into a self-absorbed wreck that ultimately abandoned her daughter and husband for a slimeball biker. Yet when it came to her son Jeff, who she did her best to raise properly and avoid the mistakes she made with her daughter, she created an evil bigger monster.
  • Wham Episode: Several over the years, including several character deaths (such as Dick and Lacey Davenport, Andy Lippincott, and Mother Doonesbury) and the loss of B.D.'s leg in Iraq.
  • What the Hell, Hero?: Zipper is noticeably disturbed by Jeff's plan to hold Trff Bmzklfrpz hostage after they airlift him out of Berzerkistan and murder him if their demands aren't met.
  • You Just Told Me: Zipper pulls this off in the strip for November 17th, 2012.