Sunday, 4 November 2012

462: Doonesbury: Andy Lippincott 1976

Joanie Caucas was one of the characters from the earlier years of Doonesbury. In her mid-30s she had left her husband, and eventually drifted into running the child care at Walden Commune where she instilled in many of the young girls a fierce belief in women’s rights. Joanie wanted to become a lawyer and eventually got a place at university in the autumn of 1974. There she found a friend in her roommate, the black law student Ginny Slade. Many of Joanie’s scenes over this storyline showed her trying to rise above the institutional sexism of the other male students, lecturers and college life.

In a letter back home at the beginning of her university life Joanie writes “The first days of classes have been interesting. I have two male professors, one female professor, and one gay discussion-group leader”. Nothing more is ever made of this character. It’s just a slightly daring throwaway comment on youthful contemporary mores. In the same way that the strip at the time has the occasional reference to casual drug use, alongside all the political criticism. Although in the way Trudeau has phrased this line, it does seem like the old cliché that a homosexual is some third sex after male and female.

In January 27 1976 Joanie met Andy Lippincott, a thoughtful, sensitive legal student in the university library. The long-time singleton Joanie finds him attractive and his championing of sexual equality only makes him more appealing. They go on a date, and Joanie falls in love with him, sharing he feelings with her roommate and her former day care charges.

Then in the 10 February 1976 instalment, when Joanie tries to express her concern as to why Andy hasn’t shared his feelings with her, Andy tells her he’s gay.

The last panel makes it sounds like a diagnosis for a terminal condition.

One final twist on feminism and homosexuality.

And here the story stops. A month or two later, Trudeau returns to the story of Ginny’s candidacy. And we get a couple more strips of Andy. The first is just a continuity nod, reminding readers of his last appearance. The second strip, unlike the first run of Andy’s strip, actually addresses the matter of the change in acceptance of homosexuality, recognising it as social issue equal to civil rights.

Finally, Zonker canvases the soft-rock singer Jimmy Thudpucker if he will contribute to Ginny’s campaign. When Thudpucker sounds Zonker out on Ginny’s stand on various poltical and social issues, for those who’ve been following the story there is an allusion to Andy.

Really in all of this though, Andy only exists as an adjunct to Joanie’s storyline. He’s barely a person, just a plot mechanism to a little comic romantic frustration – ala the 1973 episode of “Mary Tyler Moore” in which Rhoda dates Phyllis’s brother who is revealed at the episode’s end to be gay. This sets the trend for the 5-8 years or so in which there is a mini-trend of introducing one-off homosexuals into light sitcom settings as potential boyfriends. Rather than being aggressive or confrontational about the issues, programme makers can show that homosexuals are so charming, normal and personable that if you knew one then you wouldn’t even mind him dating your sister.

“Joanie’s Fate”, Barbara Goodman, Boston Globe, February 17, 1976
“Not that I thought it was funny. It wasn’t. It was depressing. The one and only warm, sensitive man in her entire law school class and he turns out to be gay. It was enough to make you cry.”

However, for all that Andy and Joanie’s storyline reads as perfectly uncontroversial, this was still the mid-70s and this was material appearing in everybody’s comics’ pages. A nice summation of objections to the Andy Lippincott’s coming out can be found in the article below by Jay Gibian. Gibian was gay, so here is an instance of gay journalist covering a gay topic The various arguments by the censoring editors are that homosexuality is too serious a subject, and is therefore inappropriate for comedy or any light treatment. This is how homosexuality becomes a taboo matter for casual discussion. These are same attitudes that meant homosexuality could only be treated as subject for satire (“serious comedy”) in the early 60s. The comics pages are not a suitable place, precisely because anyone might read them. No shocks and no surprises, though none of the editors are prepared to go so far as to say that homosexuality itself is scandalous. Not included in the article below is the comment by Miami Herald editor Larry Jinks who had also cut the cartoon. “We just decided we weren’t ready for homosexuality in a comic strip”. In light of later developments in late 1976 and 1977 in Miami because of Dade County, Anita Bryant and the Save Our Children campaign, Jinks may have been in touch with the conservatism of his mainstream audience.

Andy appeared briefly again in 1982 when there was a week’s story about Joanie’s then-boss, Congresswoman Lacey Davenport visiting the Bay Area Gay Alliance, a gay rights campaign. He vanished from the strip until the late 80s when Trudeau brought him back as an AIDS victim. It was this story that made Andy more like a fully fledged Doonesbury character. He finally became more than a brief footnote in the strip’s history, and it this storyline (really his only storyline) for which he is probably best remembered. He was the brave and noble patient facing up to his inevitable death, while trying to succour Joanie’s fear, horror and despair, while also exchanging witty banter with his weary doctor.


“Some Papers Halt ‘Doonesbury’ – Homosexual Episodes Said Not Appropriate for Comics”

by Jay Gibian for United Press International. (I used the version printed in “The Palm Beach Post” 12 February 1976.)

“Doonesbury”, a comic strip frequently dealing with such controversial subjects as politics, drugs and sex has been suspended for a week by at least three major newspapers because of the inclusion of a homosexual character.

A survey by UPI showed the “Columbus (Ohio) Citizen-Journal”, the “Cleveland Press” and the “Houston Post” all suspended the comic written by Garry Trudeau and syndicated by Universal Press Syndicate in nearly 450 newspapers.

“We felt the subject matter was not appropriate for the comic page”, Charles Egger, editor of the “Citizen-Journal” said in a message to readers, published in the place where the strip usually appears.

“We don’t believe the subject of homosexuality belongs on the comic pages”, said Tom Boardman, editor of the “Cleveland Press”. “It’s not a subject that can be treated in a flip way”.

But Egger and Boardman said they had received thousands of responses from readers about the suspension.

Boardman said his newspaper received nearly 2000 letters and telephone calls after a notice advising readers of the suspension was printed. Egger said about 1600 telephone calls were received when his newspaper failed to print the strip Wednesday.

Boardman said the letters were “about 50-50 on the matter”, but most of the telephone callers tended to object to the newspaper’s decision.

Lee Salem, managing editor for Universal Press, said the series involving homosexuality was sent to the newspapers about two weeks in advance of the publication date, ”because we knew some editors might be concerned.”

“We felt it (the strip) was handled with taste and humour that could stand by itself.” Salem said “Editors, however, may elect not to carry it.”

“But we are not really concerned to have only have three or four newspapers drop it.” Salem added “We had more newspapers drop it last spring when he ran a series about Henry Kissinger in a ‘This is Your Life’ situation which caused quite a bit of consternation in some editors.”

“The Houston Post” dropped the strip without comment and then published a notice to readers saying the cartoon would resume on Monday.

“This week’s strip dealt with homosexuality,” the “Post” said. “This is a subject Post editors believe to be inappropriate on a comic page. The Post will continue to treat this subject in a serious manner in the news column rather than in comic strips of a popular cartoonist.”

However, the strip was being read over a local radio station and the Gay Activist Alliance at the University of Houston was reading the strip to telephone callers.

“We’ve been getting about 50 calls a day,” an Alliance spokesman said.

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