Bloom County is an American comic strip by Berkeley Breathed which ran from December 8, 1980, until August 6, 1989. It examined events in politics and culture through the viewpoint of a fanciful small town in Middle America, where children often have adult personalities and vocabularies and where animals can talk. It originated from a comic strip known as The Academia Waltz, which Breathed produced for the student newspaper, The Daily Texan, while attending the University of Texas.
Breathed set Bloom County in a small town, despite the fact that, during the time, small towns in the United States became increasingly marginalized due to cultural, economic, and political forces. Breathed said he made the choice because he had followed a girlfriend to Iowa City, Iowa; Breathed commented "You draw--literally--from your life if you’re going to write anything with some juice to it. I did just that."
Breathed's hand-printed signature on his strips is usually presented in mirror image, i.e. right to left.
Berke Breathed was awarded the Pulitzer Prize in editorial cartooning in 1987 for Bloom County.
At the very beginning of the strip (December 1980), the central setting was the Bloom boarding house run by the grandparents of Milo Bloom. As the strip continued, various boarders (and/or pets) moved into the boarding house. In the order the characters debuted:
- Milo Bloom is a 10-year-old newspaper reporter and probably the most worldly-wise of the bunch. Milo was the original protagonist of Bloom County, and much of the action takes place at the boarding house owned by his family. In the very earliest strips, Milo's grandfather ("The Major") was a central character, although after the first year or so, The Major's role diminished and the character soon vanished.
- Cutter John is a wheelchair-bound Vietnam veteran, noted for indulging in Star Trek fantasies with the meadow animals (Hodge-Podge, Portnoy and Opus), as well as anti-war protests. He is not a womanizer like Steve Dallas (below), but he is more popular with the ladies. Like Steve Dallas, he first appeared in Breathed's college strip, The Academia Waltz. His visage is nearly identical to that of Berkeley Breathed.
- Steve Dallas was introduced in May, 1981, but was actually originally a featured character in Breathed's previous strip, The Academia Waltz. Steve is Bloom County's sole defense attorney. Dallas was either directly or tangentially involved in most of the conflicts which occurred in the strip over the years. Chain smoker and former "frat boy", Dallas spends most of his free time either trying to seduce women or concocting get-rich-quick schemes, including forming and then managing a heavy metal band Billy and the Boingers (previously known as Deathtöngue). Some time midway through the strip, Steve was abducted by aliens, who scrambled his brain, turning him into a feminist. The shock of being cheated on by his girlfriend reverted him back to his original personality.
- Michael Binkley was also originally introduced in May, 1981. Binkley was a schoolmate of Milo's who did not live in the boardinghouse. He is wishy-washy and overly reflective (in the mold of Charlie Brown), when not contemplating the lives of famous figures in pop culture, often at his father's bedside in the middle of the night. His "anxiety closet" has been a staple of many storylines,
- Opus is a large-nosed penguin (occasionally mistaken for an iguana) with a herring addiction who lost track of his mother during the Falklands War. (They were later reunited in a closing storyline at the end of the strip's series.) He was originally introduced as the pet penguin of Michael Binkley ("A boy and his penguin!" "A penguin and his boy!") in June, 1981. However, Opus was only seen in a few strips that month before disappearing. He was then re-introduced as a full-time cast member in January, 1982. By this point, Opus was no longer considered Binkley's pet, and he eventually became a boarder at the Bloom house. Opus' hopeless naïveté and optimism made him a fan favorite, and he quickly became the center of the strip, as well as the subject of two "sequel" strips (Outland and Opus), three children's books, and a television special entitled A Wish for Wings That Work.
- Bill the Cat is a large orange tabby cat. Introduced originally in the summer of 1982 as a parody of the comic character Garfield, and saying little beyond his trademark responses, "Ack" and "Pbthhh", he has become something of a blank slate around which various plots revolved. Numerous strips indicated that his persistent near-catatonic state was the result of drug use or brain damage resulting from once being legally dead and then revived after too long of a period. In the Christmas video A Wish For Wings That Work, Opus recounts having rescued Bill from a University Science Lab where they had replaced his brains with Tater Tots. He's been a cult leader ("Bhagwan Bill"), televangelist ("Fundamentally Oral Bill"), perennial Presidential candidate (for the National Radical Meadow Party), heavy metal rock star ("Wild Bill Catt"), nuclear power plant operator at Chernobyl, and, in the last months of the series, had his brain surgically replaced with Donald Trump's. He has been known to speak on occasion, most notably during the Communist witch-hunt trials of which he has been a subject, when he remarked, "Say, you don't suppose the 'Jury Box' is anything like a litter box, do you?" Bill has apparently had affairs with Jeane Kirkpatrick, Princess Diana and Socks the cat.
- Hodge-Podge is a rabbit who is best friends with Portnoy and Cutter John. He is politically conservative and fanatical about various issues, despite the fact that he is extremely ignorant about those same issues. Both Hodge-Podge and Portnoy (below) started off circa 1982 as unnamed minor characters, whose roles gradually increased as the strip continued.
- Portnoy is a groundhog, although his species was a mystery for most of the strip's run. Before the revelation that he was a groundhog, he was portrayed as a squirrel, gopher, and possum. Portnoy was the grouchiest and most bigoted character by far and has in a few strips been a bully to Opus.
- Oliver Wendell Jones is a schoolmate of Milo and Binkley, introduced in 1983. He is also a young computer hacker and gifted scientist, having invented a miracle hair-growth formula, among other things. He once tried to bring an end to the Cold War by introducing onto the front page of Pravda the headline, "Gorbachev Urges Disarmament: Total! Unilateral!", but faulty translation caused the headline to read, "Gorbachev Sings Tractors: Turnip! Buttocks!" He has a fairly extensive criminal record as a result of his numerous computer pranks. An African-American, Oliver's mother has dressed her son to resemble Michael Jackson, much to Oliver's chagrin.
- Bobbi Harlow is the feminist schoolteacher of Milo and Binkley and the love interest of both Steve and Cutter. She was a major character until 1983, when she disappeared. She appeared only once in the strip's later years, when Opus learns she has joined the crew of The Phil Donahue Show.
- Quiche Lorraine, cousin of Bobbi Harlow and one-time girlfriend of Steve Dallas. Was only dating Steve because of his body.
- Tom Binkley, Binkley's father, usually distraught over his son's behavior, his own divorce or mid-life crisis.
- Frank Jones, Oliver's father, who funds his son's scientific endeavors, particularly his cure for baldness made from cat-sweat.
- Eleanor Jones, Oliver's mother, distrustful of technology and science, usually with good reason
- Lola Granola, briefly Opus' fiancee.
- Major Bloom, one of the original characters, Milo's grandfather.
- Charles Limekiller, a vagrant, resident of the Bloom boarding house, and at one point Meadow Party Presidential candidate.
- Banana Junior 6000, Oliver's self-mobile computer.
- Opus was originally intended to have a run of just two weeks, but his status was cemented with a memorable Sunday strip involving a Hare Krishna asking for money. Opus continued to misunderstand the Krishna's request for money before finally misinterpreting "Prayer temples for Hare Krishnas" as "Pear pimples for hairy fishnuts!" Breathed wrote in one of the Bloom County books that the reaction was so overwhelmingly strong he made Opus a permanent member of the cast.
- Steve forms a heavy metal band with Opus, Hodge Podge, and Bill, initially called "Deathtöngue". Steve is forced to rename the band Billy and the Boingers after he is brought before a congressional hearing investigating the effect of heavy metal music on youth, similar to the Parents Music Resource Center.
- Opus decides to reunite with his long-lost mother for Christmas in Antarctica, only to discover that his mother supposedly died saving soldiers in the Falklands war. Her gravestone reads, 'The Falklands Martyr: She Loved her Boy'. She is later revealed alive.
- The cast of Bloom County goes on strike. W. A. Thornhump refuses to concede to any of their demands and attempts to have his office staff fill in. Things get ugly when Steve Dallas crosses the picket line and Thornhump hires strike-breakers to play Opus, Bill, and Oliver. In the end, the strikers are defeated, although Opus still throws eggs at Steve, saying "Here comes breakfast from Aunt Opus!!"
- Oliver invents Dr. Oliver's Scalp Tonic using Bill the Cat's perspiration motivated from the thought of Dan Quayle becoming US President. The tonic miraculously will restore hair on anyone, but has the side effect of users coughing up hairballs. The US government bans it, but the gang decide to continue producing it illegally after discovering that desperate customers are willing to buy it at exorbitant prices. In a parody of the war on drugs, the gang is extremely successful while thwarting the ineffectual government attempts to stop the illegal trade. As violent crime arises from the trade, the tonic operation is fatally undermined when the government legalizes it and it is discovered that the stimulated hair growth is extremely unstable and will fall completely out at the slightest physical shock such as sneezing and leave the subject completely bald.
End and spinoff stripsEdit
Breathed decided to end the strip in 1989. In keeping with the continuity of the Bill the Cat/Donald Trump storyline, Trump "buys out" the comic strip and fires all of the cast. The strip's final weeks were centered around the cast finding new "jobs" with other comic strips. A "goodbye party" was held over the course of the week where characters talked about joining new strips. Portnoy and Hodge Podge get jobs as janitors behind the scenes at Marmaduke; Steve Dallas joins the cast of Cathy, but is quickly fired; Michael Binkley becomes a wild boar skinner for Prince Valiant. Lola Granola says that Playboy has offered her a job as a bunny, which Opus dislikes. Milo Bloom is seen with a snake swallowing him head first and informing Opus he would be appearing Tuesdays in The Far Side. Oliver Wendell Jones is seen with the distinct features of Family Circus characters. He informs Opus he is being "bussed in" to the strip as part of a court order. Once Bloom County characters are scattered, only Opus is left as part of a plot to transition to Breathed's next strip in Bloom County's final week.
Shortly after Bloom County ended, Breathed started a Sunday-only strip called Outland with original characters and situations introduced in Bloom County's final days. However, Opus, Bill and other characters eventually reappeared and slowly took over the strip. Outland ran from September 3, 1989, to March 26, 1995. Another Sunday-only spinoff strip called Opus ran from November 23, 2003, to November 2, 2008.
Bloom County has had an influence on other cartoonists, particularly cartoonists who have an irreverent bent or tackle political topics in their work.
For example, Scott Kurtz, creator of the webcomic PvP, acknowledged Breathed's contributions at one point with a strip expressing the opinion that "so many webcomics. ..are nothing but Bloom County ripoffs", then lampooning itself by mimicking Breathed's art and dialogue style in the final panel.
Aaron McGruder, creator of the comic and later animated series The Boondocks, has paid homage to Breathed's work as well, with a few aspects of the strip bearing more than a passing resemblance to important Bloom County features (including at least a couple of artistic similarities), and an episode of the animated series wherein the character Uncle Ruckus calls Breathed "Master Penguin Draw'er".
The series was adapted into the 1991 animated Christmas special entitled A Wish for Wings That Work, which is now available on DVD.
Bloom County booksEdit
As with many other popular comic strips, Bloom County has been republished in various collections and anthologies. By 2004 the comic strip was reprinted in a total of 11 books, the first having been published in 1983 and the last in 2004. None of the reprints contained complete runs of the strip, although Bloom County Babylon contained many of the strips that preceded Loose Tails. All of the daily strips have been reprinted in Comics Revue magazine.
IDW Publishing published The Bloom County Library, a five volume hardback collection of all Bloom County strips, beginning in October 2009. This series is part of their Library of American Comics series. It is a complete reprint of the strip, including side notes about cultural and political references made in the strip, "Headlines" breaks to identify the top stories of the day, and commentary from Breathed. Each volume will see three separate releases; a standard edition, a signed edition, and a signed, remarqued edition.
Breathed said that the reason why the strips printed in Bloom County Library were not posted in previous anthologies was that the publisher would not let Breathed publish 400 pages each year, so Breathed had to reduce the content in each anthology. Breathed said that he believes that "I just closed my eyes and dropped a dart on the ones to be included." He felt relieved that the publishers did not "have to ask me to do this again."
Anthologies featuring content from previous collections are listed in bold.
- Loose Tails (1983)
- Toons For Our Times (1984)
- Penguin Dreams and Stranger Things (1985)
- Bloom County Babylon|Bloom County Babylon: Five Years of Basic Naughtiness (1986)
- Billy and the Boingers Bootleg (1987)
- Tales Too Ticklish to Tell (1988)
- The Night of the Mary Kay Commandos (1989)
- Happy Trails! (1990)
- Classics of Western Literature (1990)
- One Last Little Peek, 1980-1995: The Final Strips, the Special Hits, the Inside Tips (1995)
- Opus: 25 Years of His Sunday Best (2004)
The Complete Bloom County LibraryEdit
- 1980-82 (October 6, 2009)
- 1982-84 (May 4, 2010)
- 1984-86 (October 26, 2010)
- 1986-87 (April 12, 2011)
- 1987-89 (October 25, 2011)