Bloom County memes and stranger thingsPosted: Tuesday, October 13, 2009
“Before there was The Daily Show or South Park, there was Bloom County, Berkeley Breathed’s satirical eighties comic strip that centered around a sensitive penguin named Opus, and ribbed such cultural cartoons as Donald Trump, Al Sharpton, and George H.W. Bush.”
Growing up in the Eighties, I didn’t read political news in the A-section. I assuredly devoured newspapers, but it was 80% sports pages and 5% movie reviews and entertainment news. The other 15% was the funnies, particularly Berkeley Breathed’s Bloom County. I would clip comics and stick them in a manila folder. At one point, I had several folders stuffed with the musings of Opus, Steve Dallas and Bill the Cat. I had folders for For Better or For Worse, Garfield, Family Circle (why I don’t know), and, of course, Peanuts, too, but Bloom County was my favorite.
Having little use for political news at the time, I didn’t even get most of the jokes — or rather, I just assumed all politics were a running joke, but somehow cool at the same time (a worldview I still hold today).
I certainly caught on to the pop culture references though, and I even had that floppy, square 45ish record by “Billy and the Boingers” that came with one of the compilation books that were released every other year or so (which I used to buy, even though I had already clipped the comics that were collected in those editions).
Even more, at one point I wanted to be a cartoonist, and would imitate (read: steal) Breathed’s style in my own comics, which I cut-and-pasted into my own two-page neighborhood newspaper I produced in my teens. (I was thrilled to bike down to the local “Copy-A-Second” place and plunk down 5 bucks for like two dozen photocopies, thrilled that the place could print on both sides of a sheet of paper, giving my Commodore 128-produced 8½ × 11 tabloid a sheen of pure professional.)
Bloom County spoofed the Era of Reagan, but, like a lot of Eighties critique during the Eighties (and 20+ years later, my memory is hazy to be sure, so I’m probably mangling this), I don’t remember Reagan himself getting skewered much in the land of Opus. His policies and his clique, sure, but not Reagan himself so much. (Or maybe I’m just confounding my memory with the line from Raising Arizona: “They say he’s a decent man, so maybe his advisors are confused.”) Breathed himself recently said he felt he was trying to play it more down the middle, and that jives with what I can remember.
Perhaps that was part of the reason (confession) that, without really understanding what the parties meant, but succumbing to the cult of personality that was Ronald Reagan, I self-identified as a teen-age Republican. Maybe it helped that I grew up in a GOP enclave (the eight Democrats in town often didn’t bother running candidates for local offices). Thankfully, after four years of President George H.W. Bush, plus going away to college and finally reading the A-section regularly, I smartly changed course.
So I’m happy to see Breathed in the news again with the release of some of the collected verse of Bloom County. And I’m happy to recall (even if this makes the cynic in me sound hypocritical), in the words of Brian Raftery of New York magazine, “what seems spectacularly fresh now is Breathed’s complete absence of snark. His weird whimsy and lack of cruelty are positively quaint today.”