On my way into the office yesterday, I read that Bloom County cartoonist Berkeley (“Berke”) Breathed was retiring from the funny pages to focus on writing children’s books. It’s not the first time Breathed has “retired” from cartooning, but it sounds like his move out of the medium could be more or less final this time around. In his typical tongue-in-cheek style, the reclusive Pulitzer Prize-winning cartoonist said in a statement, “With the crisis in Wall Street and Washington, I’m suspending my comic strip to assist the nation….The best way I can help is to leave politics permanently and write funny stories for America’s kids.”
I can’t say I’ve kept up with Opus, Bill the cat, Steve Dallas, Bobbi Harlow & Co. since 1988, when Breathed retired what for me was once the king of all comic strips, Bloom County, in favor of the – to my mind – less funny and pertinent Outland strip. (He retired that, too, in 1995, and eight years later, introduced to the world Opus, the strip he’s retiring come Sunday, Nov 2.) For that reason, this news made me wistful rather than sad – I never read his column in syndication, only in three beloved, dog-eared collections of the Bloom County cartoon in books: Loose Tails, Penguin Dreams and Stranger Things, and Billy and the Boingers Bootleg. In the few interviews he’s given over the years – this one in The Onion is snark-full and funny, if not exactly illuminating – Breathed credits Doonesbury artist Garry Trudeau for inspiring him, and apologizes for copying his work early in his career. (He also says that Opus was named after a Kansas song, something I never knew.) But to a pre-teen me, his work, which touched on social and political issues of the ‘80 without being preachy, AND featured talking animals – I love talking animals! – was much easier to understand and enjoy than Trudeau’s more complex political satire. To this day, whenever I buy an “embarrassing” item at a drug store, I flash back to a panel where the fratty lawyer Steve Dallas is buying several “embarrassing” products from a drug store and the cashier keeps yelling things to the manager like, “Price check on the back-hair remover!!!” as Steve looks like he wishes the floor would swallow him up.
How about you, PopWatchers – were you a fan of Bloom County, or any of Breathed’s other strips? If so, share your favorite Breathed comic moments in the comments section below.