This October, IDW is publishing the first of five volumes collecting the entire run of Berkeley Breathed’s Pulitzer Prize-winning comic strip “Bloom County.” Edited by Scott Dunbier and designed by Eisner Award-winner Dean Mullaney, these five hardcover collections will be part of IDW’s Library of American Comics Imprint. The daily “Bloom County” strip started up in December of 1980, not long after Ronald Reagan was elected President of the United States, and Breathed developed a loyal following using the quirky denizens of the fictional Bloom County to comment on the politics of the time. CBR News caught up with Breathed to get the details on this definitive collection of “Bloom County.”
Despite the success of earlier collected editions of “Bloom County,” Breathed had resisted the idea of printing new editions for years. “The fact that so much of the content is so badly dated just kept me from getting excited about it,” Breathed explained. “I knew there was no mass market remaining to make a normal collection at this point.” But IDW managed to convince the writer that the strip’s legion of fans deserved to have a complete and definitive collection of the work as a whole. Breathed’s fans had been encouraging him to release just such a collection for years, but it was IDW that finally wore Breathed's resistance down. “IDW will do it right, which is what it will need.” In part to combat Breathed’s fears that the strip’s topicality has dated its content, “context pages” will be interspersed throughout the collection to bring new readers up to speed on the political humor that may not have withstood the test of time.
Fans can also most likely expect to see a new forward by the strip’s creator. “I'm sure I'll have something to say,” Breathed said. “I always seem to, alas. I don't think the collection will come with a flexible record of an obscene rock song, like one of the Bloom County collections came with. Scratch n' Smell-O-Tunes may be tried again. Really, why not.”
Breathed told CBR News that he appreciates “Bloom County” more now than he ever did when he was in the thick of creating it. “Age is a factor, I suppose,” Breathed said. “I should have gone to college at my present age to really appreciate what stuffing your head is all about. And I should have done ‘Bloom County’ with the sense of the world that I have now, to better appreciate both the art, the politics and the fun of having a successful enterprise against all odds.”
Back when he was writing “Bloom County,” Breathed asserted that the comics page was perhaps the single best venue in a newspaper to put forth political commentary, because most readers avoid opinion columns like the plague. Today, Breathed fears that the medium itself may be obsolete. “Nobody under the age of 60 reads any part of the newspaper anymore,” Breathed said. “Editorial pages are rather musty, empty crypts now. The New York Times op ed page is still fun. And they never had comics. I sense a connection.”
Breathed went on to write two “Bloom County” spinoff strips, “Outland” and “Opus.” The latter, Breathed’s latest, and perhaps final, foray into comic strips wrapped up last year. “Opus” lasted a full five years longer than Breathed had originally planned, due in large part to the political landscape during George W. Bush’s presidency. “I would have deeply missed Mon Amour Bush, it'd be like missing the World Series and you've got box seats,” Breathed said. “Politics is entering a very, very boring stage right now for satirists, I think. On the other hand, the world will soon become quite nuts. A deeply mixed blessing, these times.”
In recent years, Breathed has shifted his focus to writing screenplays and children’s books, because to his mind, the comic strip audience has all but dried up. “[Comics] were the canary in the newspaper coal mine,” the writer lamented. “When young eyeballs left the daily comic page, it was doom.” As far as Breathed is concerned, the last comic strip to become a household name in America was Bill Watterson’s “Calvin and Hobbes,” and he firmly believes that the form’s dwindling audience means that the days of a weekly strip as a cultural zeitgeist have come and gone. Breathed may have hung up his comics spurs, but the writer is just as prolific as ever. “I’m finishing my first chapter book for young readers, due out next Fall, ‘Flawed Dogs: The Shocking Raid on Westminster,’” Breathed said. “We're setting up several film projects on past and future books, and in a couple of months, Bob Zemeckis is scheduled to begin production on the film based on my recent ‘Mars Needs Moms.’ Retired, I am not, dammit.”