It’s completely fair to say that "Bloom County" informed my entire world view. I was an only child. I didn’t have a nanny; I didn’t have an au pair. I had the great Berkeley Breathed and his pointed, hilarious, scathing, insightful, absurd, informative, sweet and sometimes even poignant serial about a penguin and his coterie of misfit friends. Including a spastic cat named Bill and an elegant human named Cutter John, who turned being stuck in a wheelchair into an interstellar excursion of imagination.
And who could forget Steve Dallas? Or Deathtöngue!?!?
Before the internet, I would go to the bookstore every weekend to check whether a new "Bloom County" anthology had been published, most of the time returning empty handed to while away afternoons in the well-creased pages of the collections I already owned. There was always tomorrow, and a brand-new strip in my sad little hometown newspaper.
When our current financial crisis first began to take hold, I immediately thought of Oliver Wendell Jones‘ classic tinkering with the NYSE ticker: "Avast ye scurvy dogs! Bank of America is about to go belly up!" I Googled this phrase and was delighted to find a handful of other fans had the same reaction.
For me, "Bloom County" was a gateway drug. "Like marijuana leads to heroin," as Tom Waits once sang. From Breathed, I flitted to Trudeau and then Thompson, as I fed the beast of political satire. But nothing ever filled the void left by the end of "Bloom County" in 1989.
I briefly followed Breathed’s follow-up strip, "Outland," but the scurrilous wit I so admired seemed to be somewhat muted. By the time that long-suffering penguin settled into his concluding Sunday strip, I had totally moved on, content to flip through my old BC books on those rare trips back home to my childhood home. (Kudos to Mom for not selling them in a garage sale, like she did my fabulous ’70s horror and sci-fi toys that I could put my not-yet-born children through college with!)
Although Breathed and I no longer have the same connection we once did, I will always recognize him as the Mark Twain of our time. If you think that compliment is a stretch (and I assure you it is not), I implore you to read this delightful interview with Breathed in Salon. It’s about the end of "Opus," and, as always, Breathed reveals himself to be both a glittering intellect and an ace humorist.
Breathed will now write children’s books, retiring his most famous character because, "we are about to enter a rather wicked period in our national discourse," and "the real dearth in our world will be sweetness, comfort, thoughtfulness and civility."
When and if we have young ones, I know what they’ll be weaned on.
Thank you, Berkeley Breathed, for all you’ve done for America.
[The "Bloom County" books can still be found used. If you really want to understand the ’80s, I reccommend reading all of ’em.]