'Doonesbury' turns 40 -- strip has a life of its own

The characters have aged. Some have died. New ones have been born and grown up during the 40 years of syndication of Doonesbury.

Yep. Doonesbury, the first comic strip ever to win a Pulitzer Prize, completed 40 years in late October with Universal Syndicate.

It is, for many millions of readers, their favorite strip. And we can assert from 40 years of reading, it is better than ever.

Among the newest characters are the beloved Toggle (real name Leo DeLuca), whose nickname came from his uncanny ability to put together music for his combat buddies. Ambushed, he lost an eye and after prolonged therapy and the finding of a girlfriend, Alex Doonesbury, is recovering slowly from aphasia -- a speech impediment.

Also from the war front is Sgt. Melissa Wheeler, a helicopter mechanic on her second tour in Afghanistan, volunteering to come back after being the victim of a "command rape" by one of her superiors. Her recovery is being helped by an understanding chaplain and, in Melissa's own word, God.

Toggle and Melissa are so true to life mostly because of Trudeau's own sensitivities and personal visits to military hospitals.

But they also are helped along by the Department of Defense which, in Trudeau's own words, felt that "if I was going to write about wounded warriors, it might be better if I got it right."

That death, rape and God are materials for a comic strip indicates just how influential this strip is.

It lives.

Although some political figures don't like the strip, little of it deals with politics. It deals mostly, instead, with childhood illusions, a quirky college, gays, fatuous broadcasters, would-be spies, marijuana and family life.

Also, newspapers.

Nearly 14,000 newspaper strips have been published so far.