‘Bloom County’ blooms, at least once, after 25-year absence

16 Jul 2015 | Author: | No comments yet »

After 25-year hiatus, comic strip ‘Bloom County’ returns … to Facebook.

Berkeley Breathed, as you likely know by now, delivered the superb return of “Bloom County” on Monday, a quarter-century after the Pulitzer-winning, Reagan-era strip put itself out to pasture, heading to the great Milo’s Meadow in the sky. SEVEN YEARS AGO, Berkeley Breathed, trim and grinning, sat in the D.C. offices of his then-syndicate, the Washington Post Writers Group, and shared old stories and well-remembered personal anecdotes.Opus the Penguin and his comic strip world of “Bloom County,” absent for a quarter-century, are back along with the ridiculous times that suit them, creator Berkeley Breathed said.

Cartoonist Berkeley Breathed and his son Milo sign copies of “Mars Needs Moms!” at Dutton’s Brentwood Books on May 11, 2007 in Brentwood, California.Breathed, who’s worked on children’s books, films, and other projects in the intervening years, just hours ago posted a photo on Facebook that showed “Bloom County 2015” above a work-in-progress storyboard on a computer screen. But because the only means of distribution for “Bloom County” 2.0 is Facebook, those same heart-palpitatin’ masses were left to wonder: When, O heavens, might we see the second installment of “Bloom County 2015″?

In it, Opus awakens after what he discovers was a 25-year nap. “Bloom County operated on far less bile than people suspected, and far more whimsical effervescence. The whimsical strip, which viewed politics and culture through the lens of a small town in Middle America, began in 1980, appearing in newspapers daily. The new comic is labelled “Bloom County 2015″ and shows penguin Opus awakening from a nap, turning to his human friend Milo and asking, “How long was I out?” One of the iconic newspaper strips of the 1980’s, it ran alongside legends such as “Calvin and Hobbes,” “The Far Side” and “Doonesbury” before ending its run. “Bloom County” will now appear on Breathed’s Facebook page.

But as Breathed told me Monday, the fun, for him, is now in the freedom to publish when he wants — when inspiration and the Wacom stylus so move him. Breathed said his hatred of deadlines contributed to the decision to publish primarily online. “Like my departed friend Douglas Adams used to say, the only part of deadlines I enjoyed was the whooshing sound as they sped by,” he wrote in an email to The New York Times. At the same time, Bloom County’s large stable of fully realized characters, with breakout stars like Opus the penguin, Bill the cat and Steve Dallas, the unrepentant womanizing frat boy lawyer added a humanizing presence to the storytelling, keeping the politics from ever coming across as shrill. Absolutely, say a developmental psychologist and a successful public relations company founder who have teamed on a new book, “Raising Can-Do Kids.” Self-entitled kids may be able to navigate their way into the Ivy League, but it’s the self-motivated ones who have the skills to be trailblazers, said Richard Rende, the psychologist and researcher who wrote the book with Jen Prosek, CEO of Prosek Partners. We’ll slip away for the impromptu rendezvous when the mood strikes him, via social media, where only he, we and all of Facebook is privy to the wiles of Opus, Milo and Quiche Lorraine.

His Facebook postings, Breathed said earlier this month, are “nicely out of reach of nervous newspaper editors, the PC humor police now rampant across the web… and ISIS”. Then yesterday, we were rewarded: Breathed posted a full strip of an awakened Opus who had Rip Van Winkle’d his way through a quarter-century and now was freshly aroused.

A conversation with Richard Rende, also a dad of a 15-year-old daughter and director of curriculum and instruction at a college preparatory school in Phoenix: Rende: What was interesting to me about it was the idea of taking on seminal issues, revisiting key concepts but looking at them with a fresh eye. In a Facebook post that appeared roughly ten days before “Bloom County” re-debuted, Breathed recounted a dispute with a newspaper editor shortly before he quit cartooning. “Yes, these two little events were organically connected,” he said in the post. Which is all prologue to gleefully declaring: Two strips in after 25-plus years, and the elastic band in the tighty-whities that is Breathed’s bright wit has lost absolutely none of its snap. Yes, “Bloom County,” the Pulitzer-winning ’80s strip that once attracted tens of millions of daily readers on the still-mighty wings of the Reagan-era newspaper syndication model, was back.

And still frisky, at that. “Opus’s [voice] came screaming back at me — true— when I faced those four empty panels that I hadn’t done since 1989,” Breathed tells me on Monday (fresh off his appearance at IDW’s Comic-Con booth to promote a new collection of his college strip, “Academia Waltz”). Opus Van Winkle, by contrast, is the historical somnambulist we can snicker at, like Austin Powers trying to get up to speed on how to rock new DVD’s (if not BVD’s). And the strip, in this case, provides the bracing reminder: “Bloom County,” for all of Oliver’s past hacking high-jinks, shuffled off the page before we even had. the.

And it’s a blow to the ecosystem to “lose” three of the latter species in sudden quick succession. 1995 was a cruel year for comics fans, tolling a certain cultural diminution of the page. Yes, some ’80s relics seem utterly ageless in their talent and artistic gifts, and some others do because of their unflagging bluster and braggadocio.

Then, last year, came the latest glimmer of return: Watterson, now a father in his 50s, made his first appearance on the comics page in nearly two decades when he “ghost-drew” several strips of “Pearls Before Swine” in a guest-artist collaboration with Stephan Pastis. Our perspective isn’t so much that kids should grow up to be entrepreneurs in that classic sense but that they share entrepreneurial traits, like exploration and innovation, developmentally. Some fans insist that the left-wing-flapping Breathed — the man who once authored a “Bloom County” collection titled, ” ‘Toons for Our Times” — has long found greater inspiration when commenting during Republican administrations. (And if you subscribe to that theory, read what you will into this election-cycle return.) I’m of the belief, though, that comic-strippers thrive and stay inspired if finding joy in their work, and it helps if the ever-shifting culture and arena remain receptive to their style of the “silly.” Because that joy can be deflated or tamped down if it for too long comes up against too much pressure. In the film adaptation of Stephen King’s “Shawshank Redemption,” Morgan Freeman’s prisoner character says in omniscient voiceover: “Geology is the study of pressure and time.” The same can be said of “cartoonology.” You don’t get diamonds, or “Pearls,” without the right sustained mix of Father Time and the grandfather clock. When Watterson made his brief return within “Pearls” last year, he told Comic Riffs: “I had expected to just mess around with his characters while they did their usual things, but Stephan kept setting up these situations that required more challenging drawings . . . so I had to work a lot harder than I had planned to!

That’s where the entrepreneurial framework was helpful to me as a developmentalist, to think about what we really want our kids to be doing, as opposed to jumping off of a building because it’s a risk. It was a lot of fun.” And when I hear from Breathed this week, he speaks of a “joy” that can become flattened — like a soda without its fizz, with no buoyancy in its (word) bubble. It’s knowing how to push yourself a little bit to climb up a tree because it’s interesting to you to climb up a tree and not do it in a crazy way that will land you in the emergency room. It’s an interesting trade-off, isn’t it?” Yet if your long-dormant characters can still turn a side profit while you create gorgeous children’s books and explore other projects, the trade-off can well be worth it for the midlife artist.

Breathed tells Comic Riffs that “much of the past two decades [has] been fallow ground for whimsy,” then acknowledges that’s a “glib” answer. Times change, but sometimes it is characters who need to lie fallow for years till the terrain is fertile again, and Opus can rise anew from the daisies and lilies and daffodils, ready to satirize sweetly in his tighty-whities. I don’t think they’re necessarily growing up in a social void, but I do think there’s so much pressure on them to achieve that it does take away from their ability to have the opportunity to learn about being more connected to people and the value of that. For example, at Princeton, they revisited their grading policy because they’ve been known for having a real strict quota about what percentage of kids could get an A in a class.

The top ebooks for adults this summer are “Unbroken” by Laura Hillenbrand, “The Girl You Left Behind” by Jojo Moyes and “What Alice Forgot” by Liane Moriarity. Some specific titles young people might want to check out this summer include, “Drive” by Larry Bird, “Unlikely Hero of Room 13B” by Teresa Toten and “Mercy Fights Crime” by Kate DiCamillo. She noted that since the library is part of the Quad Cities-area library cooperative River Share, if the book a patron wants is not available at Musser, they can easily be requested and sent by other libraries, allowing it to save shelf space for in-demand books.

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