I’m fascinated by unintentional time capsules. A week ago I picked up The Doonesbury Chronicles (1972) at Phoenix Books for a dollar and I’ve been thoroughly enjoying it. To be clear, it isn’t nearly as funny -nor as insightful- as most of my favorite comics (http://xkcd.com/, http://www.smbc-comics.com/, Calvin and Hobbes). It isn’t even as “good” as the Doonesbury comics I read in high school, written about the early part of the war in Iraq. Trudeau is (and was) topical and immediate. Looking back at what he wrote in the early ‘70s is informative. You can look at the media made about a particular time (The Amazing Adventures of Kavalier and Clay, Boardwalk Empire, That ‘70s Show) or you can look at what was created at the time.
I was born shortly before the Berlin Wall came down. I have no personal schema for understanding what it’s like to live under the immediate reality of mutually assured destruction, but the closest I’ve ever come to that was reading Watchmen. Alan Moore’s graphically novel is a particularly effective example of the power that a piece of work has in evoking its time. This seems strange; the book moves around through the ‘40s and the ‘80s and the story is set in a parallel world where Nixon has been re-elected 4 or 5 times, yet Moore manages to capture everything in and leading up to the moment of his writing, even as he deconstructs our beloved conception of the superhero.
Watchmen is timeless in its literary merit in a way that Doonesbury is not, but they are both incredibly evocative of the time in which they were written. The format of daily serialization gives Doonesbury an incredibly short focus. The jokes are dated, the ideas have been done to death, but I still love reading it. Sometimes Trudeau makes a particularly scathing bit of criticism that only becomes more acute with with the perspective of 40 years, and it’s interesting to see the scaffolding on which so many other things have been built.