I wonder why Garry Trudeau chose to devote this week’s strips to recapitulating what his regular readers have known and accepted to the point of taking it for granted for years.
Mike Doonesbury isn’t the central character anymore.
The Doonesbury of the title is Alex.
As if the title has ever just referred to a character. It’s been a brand name almost since the beginning. But still. Alex has been the heart of the strip for at least five years, since she went off to college. (She’s in grad school now.) And she started moving front and center well before that. Mike Doonesbury was never the star of Doonesbury. He was the centering character more than the central one and the strip was never about him. The same has been true for Alex since she's been taking over. The strip isn't about her.
Doonesbury is about the way we live now. All the main characters have been our guides into whatever neighborhoods of the zeitgeist Trudeau has decided to explore. This is why it hasn't mattered when any or all of them have disappeared for extended periods of time. This is why it hasn't mattered that none of the main characters from the early days, with one exception, has featured prominently in a major story arc in many, many years
The exception being B.D.
It's been interesting and amusing to me that B.D is essentially the hero of the strip and that for a while he and Boopsie were its only true grown-ups, considering what they were when Trudeau got started and what he put them through in the 80s and early 90s, and I'm sure I'm not the only fan who doesn't miss Hunk-Ra. But that all changed, they changed, when B.D. took the coaching job at Walden and the two of them became the only two of the main characters responsible for taking care of the next generation. Trudeau has never used his characters' parenthood to explore that theme. Over at the Redfern-Caucus house, the story has been adolescent (and arrested adolescent) rebellion and father-son rivalry. Meanwhile, at Mike and Kim's, Alex has been in a sweet and safe way out of their control from the start and in many ways and definitely in her own mind she's been taking care of Mike. And of course next to her mother J.J. she's always been the adult. But as a coach and then especially as a platoon leader in Iraq B.D.'s job has been to teach and protect the children.
Now, however, with Melissa and Toggle stepping forward, and with Sam getting ready to, that job is just about done.
None of this has seemed a major turn of events.
This passing of the torch isn't just something he's been working towards. It's something he had to do. It's the natural progression of the story he began to tell in the mid 1980s when the strip returned from hiatus and Trudeau put into effect the decision he'd made while on break to have his characters start aging in something close to real time.
If he'd gone the Funky Winkerbean route and picked up his characters at the points in their lives where they ought to have been in 1985 if they'd started college in 1970, we'd have met them again in their mid-thirties. Instead, Trudeau ratcheted everybody's age down. They were no longer his contemporaries. They were now nebulously twenty-something. They were my age.
At least, since Trudeau could never quite give up their histories, they were at the same stage in life as I was, as the blonde was, as our friends and brothers and sisters were, just out of school and starting careers and in Mike and J.J.'s case getting married and starting families.
Our lives and the Doonesbury characters' lives had begun to track.
And they're still tracking.
We've reached that stage together.
Our children have become the main characters in the stories of our lives.
Or, to see it as they see it, as Alex sees it, it’s their story now.
I see it happening in the blossoming of my niece Violet, who reminds me of a more solidly put together Alex---and ask her father if he doesn't often feel like Mike---not least because like Alex she's currently a student in Boston. I see it in the lives of my other brothers and sisters as their children are moving all together into young adulthood. I see it in my old friend Gary who played Mike in a Doonesbury revue I put together back in college and who became a grandfather over the winter. I see it in my own life now that Young Ken Mannion has starred college and Oliver is devoting much of his time and energy to developing his future career as a teacher. But I've felt it coming for a good long while.
Possibly because I was watching it happen in Doonesbury.
Like I said, I'm not surprised it's happened. I'm just a little surprised Trudeau feels the need to make a big deal out of it. And, also like I said, I wonder why now.
Maybe it struck him as the right way to follow up on Alex and Toggle's wedding before moving on with having them move on with their lives.
But then, why not now? It's a change worth acknowledging. It's a change that needs to be acknowledged. And I'm not talking about what's going on in the comic strip.
We're not done. But we have to face it. The story of our lives is no longer the story of our life.
There comes a point it’s time for the reboot.