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FAQs

Beta-fresh answers, uploaded occasionally

Lets face it, our favorite comic strip is often obscure or inconsistent, and key characters are sometimes left stranded for years. Long-suffering readers are within their rights to demand some clarification. Use the "Ask GBT" form to email us your questions, and we will answer those we can on the Blowback page, and also archive the answers here.

Q: My friend insists Zonker started out in the strip as a football player, but I find this hard to believe. Is it true?
-- Chris McVey, Sunnyvale, CA | Characters | February 09, 2006
A:Yes. Zonker and B.D. first met on the gridiron in a clash of personalities which set the tone for their enduring love/hate relationship. We are pleased to post this initial sequence for your viewing pleasure - shamelessly taking advantage of your timely question to announce the kick-off of Dude: The Big Book of Zonker. Here's flap copy from this delightful compilation (longtime DTH visitors will recognize the voice of Duty Officer David Stanford):

This breathtaking volume boldly, cheerfully, and blankly stares back across the stunningly copacetic life and times of Zonker Harris. From his Californian-American roots to his legendary status as surfer, nanny, and former sun god, his career trajectory has unfailingly carried him ever deeper into the homegrown heart of the American daydream.

?I am but one dude.?

-Zonker Harris

In all the annals of disengagement, the name Zonker Harris stands nonpareil. For over three decades, Doonesbury's Prince of Inner Space has consistently upped the ante on mellow, proving there is far more slack in a dude than social scientists had previously imagined. Expanding on the legacy passed down from such unplugged progenitors as Maynard G. Krebs and Jughead, the Z-man added his own baked-in-the-'60s style of endearing cluelessness to the essential but underappreciated American tradition of laissez-faire. With uncompromising commitment to a life of flow, Zonker has served as a role model and inspiration for several generations of latter-day dudes, from Jeff Spicoli to his own nephew Zipper.

Dubbed Walden's "Greatest Living Slacker" by his alma mater, Zonker has shown that winging it is a viable survival strategy, and has ever held true to his 'tude. As an undergraduate communard, he savored the natural glories of Walden Puddle (named as a tip of the visor to New England's founding chillhead). Now a professional nanny who took his charge surfing while still in diapers, Zonker Harris, man-child of the Golden West, continues to pass on the gentle wisdom of his kind.

Q: Are you going to make a cartoon response to the plight of your fellow cartoonists in Denmark who are now in hiding, in fear for their lives? Will you be making any sort of public statement?
- - Larry, Santa Rosa, CA | February 09, 2006
A:This issue may or may not prove to be something GBT addresses in the strip itself, as he did when the fatwa was declared against Salman Rushdie. However, we're happy to share with readers his recent comments to the San Francisco Chronicle:

What do you think of the State Department's statement, essentially condemning the publication of the cartoons in European newspapers?

A concession to reality. It's the State Department. What is the U.S. supposed to say -- that it approves of cartoons that set off demonstrations around the world? Just how much more hated in the Muslim world do we need to be?

Why has the U.S. news media (broadcast and print), almost universally refused to publish the cartoons?

I assume because they believe, correctly, it is unnecessarily inflammatory. It's legal to run them, but is it wise? The Danish editor who started all this actually recruited cartoonists to draw offensive cartoons (some of those he invited declined). And why did he do it? To demonstrate that in a Western liberal society he could. Well, we already knew that. Some victory for freedom of expression. An editor who deliberately sets out to provoke or hurt people because he's worried about "self-censorship" is not an editor I'd care to work for.

Will you be including any images of the Prophet Muhammad in upcoming cartoons?No. Nor will I be using any imagery that mocks Jesus Christ.

What do you think of the Joint Chiefs issuing a protest to The Washington Post over the cartoon of the U.S. soldier/amputee returning from Iraq?

Well, it was a literal reading on their part. Toles wasn't mocking wounded soldiers -- he was just using a strong metaphor. I thought it was an effective cartoon, but the blowback was understandable, and I'm sure Tom was ready for it.

Is there an echo?

If you mean a personal echo, not really. I have 600 client editors, and I don't for a moment expect them all on any given day to judge my work suitable for their wildly different audiences. We have editors for a reason. Just because a society has almost unlimited freedom of expression doesn't mean we should ever stop thinking about its consequences in the real world. If The New York Times had commissioned a dozen vicious, anti-Semitic cartoons, would we be having a comparable debate about freedom of expression? I don't think so.

Q: Are you going to make a cartoon response to the plight of your fellow cartoonists in Denmark who are now in hiding, in fear for their lives? Will you be making any sort of public statement?
- - Larry, Santa Rosa, CA | Storyline | February 24, 2006
A:This issue may or may not prove to be something GBT addresses in the strip itself, as he did when the fatwa was declared against Salman Rushdie. However, we're happy to share with readers his recent comments to the San Francisco Chronicle:

What do you think of the State Department's statement, essentially condemning the publication of the cartoons in European newspapers?

A concession to reality. It's the State Department. What is the U.S. supposed to say -- that it approves of cartoons that set off demonstrations around the world? Just how much more hated in the Muslim world do we need to be?

Why has the U.S. news media (broadcast and print), almost universally refused to publish the cartoons?

I assume because they believe, correctly, it is unnecessarily inflammatory. It's legal to run them, but is it wise? The Danish editor who started all this actually recruited cartoonists to draw offensive cartoons (some of those he invited declined). And why did he do it? To demonstrate that in a Western liberal society he could. Well, we already knew that. Some victory for freedom of expression. An editor who deliberately sets out to provoke or hurt people because he's worried about "self-censorship" is not an editor I'd care to work for.

Will you be including any images of the Prophet Muhammad in upcoming cartoons?

No. Nor will I be using any imagery that mocks Jesus Christ.

What do you think of the Joint Chiefs issuing a protest to The Washington Post over the cartoon of the U.S. soldier/amputee returning from Iraq?

Well, it was a literal reading on their part. Toles wasn't mocking wounded soldiers -- he was just using a strong metaphor. I thought it was an effective cartoon, but the blowback was understandable, and I'm sure Tom was ready for it.

Is there an echo?

If you mean a personal echo, not really. I have 600 client editors, and I don't for a moment expect them all on any given day to judge my work suitable for their wildly different audiences. We have editors for a reason. Just because a society has almost unlimited freedom of expression doesn't mean we should ever stop thinking about its consequences in the real world. If The New York Times had commissioned a dozen vicious, anti-Semitic cartoons, would we be having a comparable debate? I don't think so.

Q: B.D.'s counselor, Elias, started out black. Now he's white. What gives?
-- Terence, Paris, FRANCE | Characters | March 01, 2006
A:Actually, Elias has always been Latino, born in Puerto Rico. The confusion is strictly the result of a technical problem. In the b&w dailies, a crosshatch pattern was used to indicate Elias' skin. The 2-19-06 Sunday strip shows the correct color tone. But when the dailies were colored at the syndicate for online posting, the combination of color and crosshatching made Elias too dark -- hence the confusion. The problem was recently addressed, and the Elias strips in the DTH archive have been corrected. We apologize for the cognitive dissonance.
Q: The story of B.D.'s wounding and recovery has been fascinating to follow, and brings to mind, vaguely, the memory that his buddy Ray got blown up back in Gulf War I. Obviously Ray survived to serve in Iraq, but what exactly happened to him back then?
-- C. Douglas, Wellington, NZ | Characters | March 31, 2006
A:Almost twelve years before B.D. lost his leg in Iraq, he lost his first Humvee when the vehicle he and Ray Hightower were riding in was destroyed by an artillery shell. Ray's injury was serious enough to take him well out of the combat zone, but put him in psychological jeopardy by placing him under the jurisdiction of Navy morale officer Trip Tripler ? former college roommate of Sal Doonesbury. We are pleased to present Ray's not-so-excellent adventure for you here.
Q: Okay, is there any truth to the assertion in a recent strip that close to 90% of the U.S. military in Iraq think Saddam Hussein had a role in 9/11? I'll admit to feeling a little ridiculous asking that question - it seems impossible. Then again, close to 50% of all Americans believed it as recently as the last presidential election, so it isn't completely out of the realm of possibility. If I'm betraying my own gullibility, you can thank me for the laugh.
-- Jon Olson, Washington, D.C. | Storyline | April 11, 2006
A:No joke. Not funny. Here's a Stars and Stripes story about the recent real-world poll the strip was referring to.
Q: Where can I buy Doonesbury action figures? I am particularly interested in a figure of Duke.
-- Ed Landale, Medford, OR | Out There | April 17, 2006
A:Actually, Duke is thus far the only Doonesbury character so rendered. In 1992, when Andrews McMeel published ACTION FIGURE: The Life and Times of Doonesbury's Uncle Duke, the book was packaged with a 3-D figure, artfully crafted by the wizards at Industrial Light and Design. Wearing a "Death Before Unconsciousness" t-shirt, Duke came fully equipped with removeable cigarette holder, weapons and martini glass. Regrettably, subsequent editions of the book (which is still in print) do not include the figure, re-production of which proved too costly. But the book-and-figure package pops up regularly on eBay, where one was recently snapped up for $23.96. Good luck!
Q: Those who have followed B.D.'s journey will be surprised to learn that the Washington Hilton has served eviction papers on Fran O'Brien's Steakhouse, the host of the Friday night dinners for amputees and seriously wounded (covered in Doonesbury during B.D.'s time at Walter Reed). Hilton "generously" provided two weeks notice on the eviction papers, which comes after months of requests by the owners of Fran O'Brien's for renewal of the lease. Shame on Hilton.

Fran O'Brien's is due to close at the end of the month. Until then, if you would like to meet two people that America's wounded see as their heroes, stop by and thank Hal Koster and Marty O'Brien for hosting their Friday Night Welcome Home dinners. And it might help to let the Hilton organization know how you feel.

---- Lawrence Kelly, Stony Brook, NY | Out There | April 28, 2006
A:Good idea! We are happy to provide contact info for two Hiltonians: Dan Boyle (212) 838-1558, daniel_a_boyle@hilton.com; and Brian Kellaher (202) 393-1000. Here's a Washington Post story about the closing, video of a local TV station report, and a letter/petition you can sign/send.
Q: I read a post on your BLOWBACK page from a vet who says B.D.'s story has helped her decide to seek counseling. I'm at that same point myself, and would appreciate your advice on how to get the ball rolling. Who do I call?
-- M.B., Seattle, WA | Storyline | May 25, 2006
A:We checked with our VA sources, and they suggest that you begin by going to the Vet Center main page HERE for information regarding readjustment counseling for combat veterans and their families. This includes contact information for all 207 VET CENTERS, links for PTSD information at the NATIONAL CENTER FOR PTSD, and numerous other resources. Vet Center staff can be reached at 1-800-905-4675 (during normal business hours - Eastern). All of these services are part of the DEPARTMENT OF VETERANS AFFAIRS. Welcome home.
Q: The Straw Poll about Alex's college future was supposed to end at midnight, Monday 5-21. So what happened? Where's she going to school?
-- G.J., Portland, OR | Characters | June 08, 2006
A:Interesting question. Pull up a chair.

The previous Straw Poll invited readers to choose among three academic futures for Alex Doonesbury: Should she go to Rensselaer, Cornell, or MIT? Voting was brisk. Wait, let us rephrase that: Voting was insane, rampant, ingenious, and impressively ruthless. An MIT student put up "Doonesbury Voting Hack", a web site (adorned with art borrowed from the Town Hall) which enabled would-be-ballot-stuffers to spew out over a million votes in a single night. "We're all running cgi hack scripts" lol'd one MIT blogger, "I've voted 3 or 4 thousand times!" Fortunately the prophylactic measures swiftly implemented by the DTH's crack tech crew kept most of the votes from making it into the poll.

The idea of outing the main culprit was briefly considered (a 5'8", 115-lb. freshman from New York -- it's amazing what you can find out about a person online), but as he left a clear trail and probably didn't expect the hack to be as successful as it was, it seemed enough to deny the MIT network access to our servers. Besides, we had to take his thoughtfulness into account: "Please," he cautioned on the updated version of his hack site, "only keep one instance of the program running at a time so we don't kill the server again."

Meanwhile Rensselaer had also stepped up to the plate -- or rather made their own attempt to move it. As campus blog entries indicate, token reservations were overcome ("It would be entirely unethical of me to stuff a ballot box, or suggest any others use the same, with command lines such as...") and a curl was disseminated, intended to accomplish pretty much what the MIT script had done using Flash. The Rensselaer effort was less successful -- still, several hundred thousand votes bounced off our servers. By the time a handful of indy hackers made their run at the Straw Poll, the ballot box was adequately unstuffable.

Cornell blogage shows that students there were watching the fray ("Me thinks the site is being bombarded by a script war between Troy and Cambridge..."), but a higher, or more urgent, course was taken. ("We're at a disadvantage, because we've got finals now and presumably no one has the free time to write a Cornell spamming script.") The Cornell alumni office had early-on taken an above-board interest, alerting alums to the situation and urging them to vote, but this effort did not bring Cornellians to the poll in numbers sufficient for Big Red to catch up. "We're obviously not trying hard enough to cheat," lamented a dismayed blogger. However, students and alums managed to post many passionate, articulate, humorous, and convincing posts on our Blowback page, all making the case that Alex should head to Ithaca. In acknowledgement of this impressive and moving effort, the Doonesbury Town Hall is pleased to award Cornell the Doonesbury Straw Poll Congeniality Award.

As for the question at hand -- Where will Alex go to school? -- the will, chutzpah, and bodacious craft of the voting public will be respected. A careful check of the applicable rulebook indicates that queering the results was not specifically prohibited. And by tradition, engineers, hackers and techfolk will assume that in a problem-solving situation of this nature, there is no box out of which they are not expected to climb. The Doonesbury Town Hall thanks all those who took the time and trouble to vote, even those who voted only once.

Ms. Doonesbury will be attending MIT.