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Garry Trudeau on buttons and more

Garry Trudeau (Provided photo — Garry Trudeau)

SARANAC LAKE — Just because there won’t be a parade doesn’t mean you can’t celebrate the Saranac Lake Winter Carnival with a button or two on your coat, designed by Saranac Lake’s own Garry Trudeau.

It was 50 years ago that Trudeau started his famous Doonesbury comic strip while he was a student at Yale University, and 40 years ago that he started designing a button for each annual Saranac Lake Winter Carnival. Trudeau was raised in Saranac Lake and educated here through sixth grade. For the 1981 Carnival the folks at the chamber of commerce thought it would be nice to have the hometown celebrity design a button for Winter Carnival. They asked his father Dr. Frank Trudeau to ask him, and Garry agreed. He once told the Enterprise that only later did he realize he had made a long-term commitment.

This year’s buttons were released this week — two different kinds, showing different Doonesbury characters wearing masks for this year’s “Mask-erade” theme. The only other year Trudeau designed two buttons was for 2016’s “Superheroes and Villains” theme (one with a hero, one with a villain). It led people to buy more buttons and thus raised more money to help pay for the Carnival.

Trudeau took time this week to answer emailed questions about the new buttons, the COVID-19 pandemic, visiting the Adirondacks, the presidential transition and cartooning.

One of two 2021 Saranac Lake Winter Carnival burrons, designed by Doonesbury cartoonist Garry Trudeau

1. Can you walk me through your thought process on coming up with this year’s poster and button design? Did the pandemic-related theme make it one of the more challenging ones?

I had just finished another project in which I had used character portraits in a grid, so I already had that concept on the brain. I’d also been noticing the tremendous variety of masks people have been wearing, and thought it would be fun to riff off of that. We used an array of images on the masks that evoke the Adirondacks, some of them so subtle you really have to lean in to study them. The poster is designed to engage the viewer.

I’m not sure what I would have done had this concept not presented itself so readily. You can’t turn a deadly disease into a joke. So just showing folks making the best of a grim circumstance seemed like a good solution.

2. Why are there two buttons this year?

One of two 2021 Saranac Lake Winter Carnival burrons, designed by Doonesbury cartoonist Garry Trudeau

The opportunistic reason? We know from experience we can raise more money for the Carnival with two different buttons. Creatively, I wanted the button experience to reflect the crowded feel of the poster. Six little faces on your lapel are better than three!

3. Is that a Hudson’s Bay blanket design on Joanie’s mask?

Yes. I had one on my bed when I was growing up. I wanted to include the little black trading stripes, but it got too crowded.

The 2021 Saranac Lake Winter Carnival poster, designed by Doonesbury cartoonist Garry Trudeau

4. The Winter Carnival Committee is spelling this year’s theme “Mask-erade” to emphasize the COVID angle, but you simply spelled it “Masquerade.” Was that by choice, or miscommunication?

That emphasis looked like overkill on a poster full of masks — this is about masks, get it? — so I asked the committee if they’d mind if I spelled it correctly. They were kind enough to indulge me, but I didn’t realize they were going to keep the original spelling. I hope it doesn’t create confusion.

5. What has the pandemic been like for you and your family?

Like everyone, we greatly miss family and friends, but we’ve been fine. It turns out both my wife and I actually have an aptitude for self-storage. My sister Michelle has fared even better. She told me she’d been social-distancing her whole life.

6. Do you ever get up to Saranac Lake anymore?

I do. And I’ve also been spending time in Lake Placid, which I rarely did when I lived in the area.

7. You have been caricaturing Donald Trump for decades. Now that he’s out of office, what are you going to do about the new president?

We’ve all had our amps turned up to 11 for so long. It’s going to take some time to recalibrate.

8. It’s been 50 years of Doonesbury — what are your plans going forward?

To get through my 51st year sane and healthy. I still love the strip. No immediate plans to retire.

9. What does the future of comics look like from where you sit?

Newspaper comics? Not great. It’s hard for young artists to make a living in syndication anymore. But cartooning isn’t going away: Online comics and graphic novels are flourishing, and animation is a global business.

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