Berke Breathed brings back ‘Bloom County’

Posted at 1:20 PM, Jul 14, 2015
and last updated 2015-07-14 13:21:41-04

“Bloom County” is back on the beat.

On Sunday, cartoonist Berkeley Breathed — who created the Pulitzer Prize-winning comic strip “Bloom County” — announced on Facebook that he was returning to the strip, and he followed it up Monday with the first publication of “Bloom County 2015.”

Fans were immediately besotted with the return of Opus the Penguin and the ever-cynical Milo Bloom.

“This makes me unreasonably happy – Opus the Penguin is coming back!” tweeted Daryl Orts.

Other fans posted photos of Opus lying in the strip’s bucolic meadow or favorite editions of the 1980s strip.

Though Breathed didn’t give a specific reason, he alluded to the appearance of a certain billionaire presidential candidate as an impetus.

“This creator can’t precisely deny that the chap you mention had nothing to do with it,” he said in response to Larry Warshall, who posited that Donald Trump had prompted Breathed to bring back the “Bloom County” gang.

Before the Internet

During its run from 1980-89, “Bloom County” was one of the most popular strips in America, up there with “Doonesbury” (to which it was often compared) and “Calvin and Hobbes.”

The strip began as “The Academia Waltz,” which Breathed created while a student at the University of Texas. In converting it to “Bloom County,” he moved the setting to the household of Milo Bloom, a wisecracking child newspaper reporter.

Besides Milo and Opus, the gang included:

• Binkley, a neurotic boy about Bloom’s age who was forever terrorized by his Anxiety Closet.

• Bill the Cat, an absurd feline — a response to “Garfield” mania — who hawked up hairballs, said “Ack” and “Pftttb” and ran for president.

• Steve Dallas, a conniving lawyer who embodied the worst of ’80s yuppie excess.

• Cutter John, a wheelchair-bound Vietnam veteran and often the strip’s conscience.

Topics of the strip were often political, making it a hot button of the Reagan era. Besides Bill the Cat’s run for president, there were plotlines concerning moral hypocrisy, rampant commercialism and heavy-metal music. Breathed named names, which sometimes got him in hot water.

“It was shocking only because the Internet had yet to be invented,” Breathed told Comics Alliance in 2014.

At its height, “Bloom County” — which started in about 40 newspapers — was carried in about 1,200. Its merchandise, particularly Opus and Bill the Cat mugs and renderings, was a huge seller. Breathed won the Pulitzer for editorial cartooning in 1987.

“It got the attention … of the people who bought books and T-shirts and wrote the articles,” Breathed told Comics Alliance. “The readership was relatively narrow … but very, very intense and loyal and protective.”

Back to the grind?

But Breathed — who often signed his name as a mirror image — grew tired of the daily grind and announced the end of the strip in 1989.

He returned with a weekly Sunday strip, “Outland,” the next year. “Outland” eventually added some “Bloom County” characters and ran until 1995. Breathed returned to comic strips with another weekly, “Opus,” in 2003. It ran until 2008.

Rather than comic strips, since the 1990s, Breathed has primarily dedicated himself to children’s books, including “A Wish for Wings That Work” and “Mars Needs Moms” (which became a movie in 2011).

Though he told Comics Alliance that he planned to focus on movies, it appears he still sees possibilities in “Bloom County.” After all, he had a lot of fun with Trump in the ’80s.

As Bill the Cat might say — proudly — “Ack.”