Random Musings 10-22-2009


  Bloom County fans take note. IDW is releasing the entire run of that great 1980s newspaper strip in five volumes through its “Library of American Comics” imprint. Volume 1 of Bloom County the Complete Library was published earlier this month, and collects strips from 1980 to 1982.

        Again, these five volumes will include every Bloom County strip, including many never before reproduced in earlier collections.

     Written and drawn by Berkeley Breathed, Bloom County ran from Dec. 8, 1980 to Aug. 6, 1989 and earned Breathed a Pulitzer in editorial cartooning in 1987.

     It was a great strip, with Breathed, through his characters, addressing (and sometimes skewering) politics, religion, the media, and popular culture. Bloom County was also one of those strips that become cultural touchstones, both reflecting and being a part of the times in which they appeared.

     A reading of vol. 1 of Bloom County the Complete Library reveals it took Breathed a while to introduce the familiar cast of characters, a mixture of precocious children, adults and talking animals who live in a small community. As he himself admitted in a side note to the Dec. 12, 1980 strip, he had no idea at that point what  Bloom County would be about, having not read any comic strip but Doonsebury. In fact, his early work shows influences from that strip, has Breathed himself has admitted.

     The earliest of the familiar cast, 10-year-old reporter Milo Bloom, was introduced Dec. 11, 1980. Mike Binkley, Milo’s neurotic best friend, was introduced on May 12, 1981. In a note adjacent to that day’s strip, Breathed observed that Bloom County was starting to come into focus.

     Steve Dallas, the frat-boy lawyer and carry over from Breathed’s college strip, Academia Waltz, first appeared on May 20, 1981.

     But the true heart and soul of Bloom County was Opus the penguin, accurately described in the first Bloom County collection, Loose Tails, as “gentle, but opinionated.” And it took Opus (who would work in various capacities at the local paper; and as Steve Dallas’ legal secretary; play tuba in a heavy metal band; serve as two time vice presidential candidate for the “Meadow Party” (with the occasionally dead Bill the Cat as his running mate); and would go on to feature in Breathed’s later Sunday-only strip, Outland, and star in the Sunday-only Opus) a while to show up. An unnamed penguin, whom Binkley mistook for a German Shepherd, appeared June 26, 1981. The penguin appeared in three more strips between then and July 3, only to disappear until Jan. 18, 1982, still unnamed.

     According to Breathed, the strip found its voice, tone and POV on Jan. 28, 1982 when Opus ordered a herring burger with heavy mayo at a fast food restaurant.

     But it was a week later that Opus was first identified by name, during a sequence that parodied the 1925 Scopes trial in Tennessee. Milo had been doing a school report on the evolution of the penguin and it turned out a new state law had been passed about teaching penguin evolution without alternate theories.

     Beyond detailing how Bloom County evolved and Breathed found the strip’s voice, Bloom County the Complete Library also features slightly different versions of strips that appeared in earlier collections. To give one example, in the Jan. 16, 1981 strip, Major Bloom (Milo’s grandfather), after beating some cockroaches with a bowl, refers to them as “filthy little subversives.” In an earlier collection, Bloom County Babylon, he simply says “ha!”

     At first glance it might seem that the strips in Bloom County the Complete Library are what Breathed originally intended and the those in Bloom County Babylon and other collections are what appeared in newspapers. Except the differences in the Aug. 3, 1981 strip suggests what appears in Bloom County the Complete Library was what appeared in newspapers, while the version in the earlier Bloom County Babylon reflects Breathed’s original intent.

     The strip in question features schoolteacher Bobbi Harlow being visited by her parents. Her mother finds a bottle of FlintstonesTM vitamins, and exclaims, “oh God… birth control pills!” in Bloom County Babylon and “oh, my. Pills!” in Bloom County the Complete Library.

     While I wish it were clear whether the strips in this collection are the ones that appeared in newspapers, what Breathed originally intended to appear, or a mix, that slight confusion doesn’t distract from the fact that Bloom County the Complete Library is a great addition to any Bloom County fan’s collection. Or, for that matter, to that of anyone who appreciates what a newspaper comic strip can offer.

     Volume 2, which covers 1982-1984 is scheduled for release in April.


Copyright 2009, Patrick Keating

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