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TOONS FOR OUR TIMES: Berkeley Breathed's "Bloom County" reboot needed now more than ever

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Bloom County Episode XI: A New Hope by Berkeley Breathed (IDW Publishing) 2016

The Bill The Cat Story: A Bloom County Epic for Ages 4-33 and 36-89 by Berkeley Breathed (Philomel Books) 2016

Back in early 2014 I wrote a fun essay titled “Cosmic Kingfishers” which was a wild-ride-of-a-read where (among other things) I talked about the creative energy that began really flowing through me in the period of 1984-85 when I was an adolescent who loved quirky humor and poignant political commentary.

And much of that was channeled through the work of brilliant cartoonist Berkeley Breathed and his syndicated comic strip Bloom County.

Now, as a 13-year old in the kooky, jelly-bean-choked world of Reagan America, Bloom County couldn’t have come at a better time. My smarter and more politically-astute friends (Kelsey, Walter, Nick – yer out there, somewheres …) shared my love of Opus the Penguin, Milo Bloom, Michael Binkley, Oliver Wendell Jones, Bill the Cat, Steve Dallas, Cutter John and the rest of the Bloom County gang who brightened our day every morning, when Beetle Bailey and Marmaduke just wouldn’t do.

It was a male-oriented comic strip, about males who have troubles with female relationships, while often taking on philosophical conversations, pop culture observations and the foibles of daily life.

But it was a place that was welcoming. It was a home-away-from-home, without trying to sound too sentimental. I think it really struck me as smart and above the fray of the dull and repetitious nature of the comics pages (save for other highlights like Calvin & Hobbes and The Far Side).

So, by ’85, I was copying Bloom County (and my friend Kelsey, with his Scranton Village strip) with Kimball Parish (the name “Kimball” was an homage to one of the hibernating astronauts aboard the Discovery One spacecraft in Stanley Kubrick’s 1968 masterpiece 2001: A Space Odyssey), which later morphed into The Kingfishers, about a Monkees-like band from Louisiana and involving a sunglasses-wearing, cigarette-smoking guitarist and leader named Buncombe Shurgar. It was fun while it lasted, with one panel actually appearing in my college newspaper in the early 1990's.


Oddly, Bloom County launched on December 8, 1980, the same day Beatle John Lennon was assassinated.  And it ended in early August of 1989, at the end of the Reagan era (the Gipper left office earlier that year).

And when Breathed finally closed shop on Bloom County, I was sad, but not surprised. I had the collections, including Toons For Our Times, Penguin Dreams and Stranger Things and Billy and the Boingers Bootleg. There was so much material to work with in the wild 1980's, and Breathed attacked them all, from Hare Krishna cultists to decency-obsessed prudes like Tipper Gore and the PMRC. Nothing was off limits.

Something had changed and I think Breathed sensed it too, although Outland and some other side projects were appealing, it never reached Bloom County levels in my mind. 

So, Bloomies around the world were ecstatic when Berkeley Breathed returned with Bloom County on his Facebook page. You could like/follow his page and get daily strips. And it was like an old friend you haven’t seen in years – you just pick up where you left off, like no time had passed.

So, when I bumped into a copy of the newly-published cartoon collection Bloom County Episode XI: A New Hope, my heart filled with, well, joy, or as Breathed writes in the prologue: “Read the strips in this book with a discerning, jaundiced eye and compare to the Bloom County of old. There is plenty of shared DNA. But there is something else. You can see it in the faces of my characters and the attitude of the prose. I am having as much fun as you are.”

Indeed, Mr. Breathed. Indeed!

And like Rip Van Winkle, the first strip, which appeared in July 2015, Opus, the beloved penguin with a big honker awakes from his long, meadow-drunk nap, like Dorothy and her three friends in The Wizard of Oz, in that field of poppies. And like Twin Peaks, showing up once again after a quarter-of-a-century, Opus and human-boy pal Milo realize that a lot of time and a lot of new things – The Internet, for one - which are blowing Opus's easily rattled birdbrain.

The jokes are there and better than ever. Breathed is clearly on a roll and as politically engaged as ever as the Donald Trump jokes and Opus n' Bill presidential campaign (remember the American Meadow Party run they made in '84 against Reagan and Mondale?) and plenty of gags about life in a 'Net-fueled/social-media Tweeting society, one with a Tweet-obsessed president. The jokes write themselves! 

And there are new characters - and plenty of heart as we have come to expect from the denizens of Bloom County, USA.

The above panel was a loving - and funny - homage to the late David Bowie (oddly, Elton John's Bowie-styled song "Rocket Man" is playing as I write this).

An added bonus in this new collection are samples of letters and emails Breathed has recently received from people, like Joy Sequoia, who wrote: "Sir Breathed, you left Bloom County as a brilliant artist and returned as the Buddha."

As for the The Bill the Cat Story book, it's shorter but Breathed's artwork is more intricate and the images are bigger, as this is an actual story - one about the origins of the ACK! cat Bill and his numerous adventures, all of which lead the anti-Garfield back to the bucolic environs of Bloom County, a place I love visiting and hope to live in someday ...

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Andrew W. Griffin

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Andrew W. Griffin received his Bachelor of Science in Journalism from...

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Red Dirt Report was launched July 4, 2007 as an independent news website covering all manner of news, culture, entertainment and lifestyle stories that affect and interest Oklahoma readers and readers outside of our state. Our mission is to educate, promote civic engagement and discourse on public policy, government and politics. Our experienced journalists provided balanced in-depth coverage of news stories that affect Oklahomans. Our opinion/editorial stories come from a wide range of political view points. We carry out our mission by reporting, writing, and posting news and information. read more

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