We'll Take It from Here. Sarge is a ba-a-ad book.
Not white folks' conventional notion of bad—invidious, malevolent, and naughty. But black people's revision of bad—hip, together, and super-good.
In this brief but brilliant burlesque on busing (apologies to Spiro Agnew), Garry Trudeau has captured a quality which eluded thousands of newspaper articles, editorials, and television reels on Boston. He has reduced America's cancer of race hate to the essential sadness of its humanity.
Little innocent white Bobby Matthews and his streetwise black friend, Rufus, A. B. (after busing) are juvenile pawns caught up in an adult savagery that is as vibrant today as it was 113 years ago when Lincoln signed that piece of paper.
Bobby's other friend is National Guardsman Sgt. DeRosa, who sits next to him in class, not to help him learn, but to help him survive. (p. 91)
After 113 years of this combative nonsense, an exhausted Sgt. DeRosa must be bewildered by its futility. After only one semester, Bobby Matthews is certainly fed up. From his hospital bed, a victim of racial violence in the school cafeteria, Bobby capsules an American absurdity:
"I mean, I understand busing has brought a lot of ugly passions to the surface. I understand white resentment and I even think I'm beginning to understand black resentment. But what I DON'T understand is all this emphasis on HITTING!"…
We'll Take It from Here, Sarge only touches with merciful brevity on the black self-hatred which frequently explodes into irrational aggression. An older black dude rips off Bobby's coke, a way of life in ghetto schools.
Well, you're not bringing it into my life, Bobby decides. He challenges the bigger black dude …, precipitates a spaghetti-slinging mini-riot and ends up in the hospital.
Yet, he still doesn't hate. Even though his parents do with their yellow plastic hardhats, their pink plastic hair curlers and their minds in Baggies.
Years ago, kings had court jesters. Today, America is blessed with cartoonists who wield satirical crayons with Lady Montagu's admonition that "satire should, like a polished razor keen, wound with a touch that's scarcely seen." America's number one political satirist, Trudeau, daily does exquisite surgery on our foibles in his "Doonesbury" cartoons. (p. 92)
If sanity somehow manages to prevail, it will be due in part to the Garry Trudeaus who will have ridiculed us into reason and the Bobby Matthews and Rufuses, upspoiled by parents, who will have embarrassed us into love. (p. 93)
Chuck Stone, in his afterword to We'll Take It From Here, Sarge by Garry Trudeau (copyright © 1975 by G. B. Trudeau: reprinted with permission from Andrews and Mc Meel, Inc.), Sheed and Ward, Inc., 1975, pp. 91-3.
[In The World of Doonesbury the] lives of Mike, Zonker, Ms. Joanie Caucus and the rest of the Doonesbury gang whimsically and satirically become a commentary on the political and general cultural scene of the Vietnam and Nixon years and especially of Watergate. Trudeau shows that humor can often reveal more about America's values, attitudes and history than any number of learned tomes gathering dust on the shelves. (p. H 10)
Book World—The Washington Post (© 1976, The Washington Post), December 5, 1976.