Bloom County: Real, Classy, & Compleat 1980-1989

By Berkeley Breathed (Little, Brown & Co./IDW)
ISBN: 978-1-63140-976-9 (HB)

Win’s Christmas Gift Recommendation: Because it Ain’t Seasonal Without Svelte Yet Approachable Waterfowl… 13/10

This review is a blatant deception. As usual, I’ve cited a specific release you should have – especially if you’re a hedonistic sucker for the comfortingly tactile and simultaneously intoxicating buzz of a sturdy, well-bound block of processed tree, glue, stitches and inks containing wonderful stories and images – and it’s worth every penny, but I’m really telling you to take a look at one remarkable creator’s entire output…

For most of the 1980s and half of the 1990s, Berké Breathed dominated the American newspaper comic strip scene with his astoundingly funny, edgy-yet-surreal political fantasy Bloom County (8th December 1980 – August 6th 1989) – and latterly, its Sunday-only spin-off Outland (3rd September 1989 – March 26th 1995)

They are all fully available digitally – so don’t wait for my reviews, just get them now!

At the top of his game and swamped with awards like Pulitzers, Breathed retired from strip work to concentrate on a series of lavish children’s fantasy picture books – such as Red Ranger Came Calling and Mars Needs Moms! They rank among the best America has ever produced. Get them too.

His first foray into the field was 1991’s A Wish for Wings That Work: a Christmas parable featuring Breathed’s signature character, and his most charmingly human. Opus is a talking penguin, reasonably well-educated (for America), archaically erudite, genteel, emotionally vulnerable; insecure yet unfalteringly optimistic. His two most fervent dreams are to be reunited with his absent mother one day, and that one day he might fly like a “real” bird…

From 2003 to 2008, Breathed revived Opus as a Sunday strip, but eventually capitulated to his career-long antipathy to manic deadline pressures in newspaper production and the often-insane, convoluted contradictions of editorial censorship. It seemed his ludicrous yet appealing cast of misfits – all deadly exponents of irony and common sense residing in the heartland of American conservatism – were gone for good.

And then the internet provided a platform for Breathed to resume his role as a gadfly commentator on his own terms. Since 2015, and thanks to Facebook, Bloom County has returned to mock, expose and shame capitalism, celebrities, consumerism, popular culture, politicians, religious leaders and people who act like idiots.

These later efforts, unconstrained by syndicate pressures to not offend advertisers, are also available in book collections. You’ll want those too, and be delighted to learn that all Breathed’s Bloom County work is available in digital formats – fully annotated to compensate for the history gap if you didn’t live through events such as Iran-Gate, Live-Aid, Star Wars (both cinematic and military versions), assorted cults and televangelists experiencing less that divine retribution and the other tea-cup storms that have made us Baby Boomers so rude and defensive…

Once more, I find myself recommending an entire canon of work rather than a specific volume, but Bloom County, Outland, Opus and – oh, Joy of Joys, unbound! – the triumphant second coming of Bloom County in recent years are absolute classics of comics creation: political, polemical, sardonic, surreal, groundbreaking, witty, acerbic frequently angry and always, ALWAYS cripplingly funny.

I barely survived those years and can honestly admit it’s probably the best treatise of modern history and social criticism you will ever see.

Set firmly in The Heartland – what we’ve recently accepted as Trump’s fact-resistant base territory – the strip lampoons fads, traditions and icons through the lens of young kids and a menagerie of astute talking animals all living in or around the Bloom Boarding House. Also adding to the confusions are bastions and bulwarks of American society: horny ambulance-chasing jock lawyer Steve Dallas, Vietnam survivor Cutter John, liberal feminist school teacher Bobbi Harlow, New Age hippie Quiche Lorraine, corrupt Senator Bedfellow and many more lampoonable archetypes…

The true stars though are the kids and beasts who perpetually vex, perplex and test them, asking questions and taking actions to set the old order “all higgledy-piggledy” – such as their creation of a third force in politics: The Meadow Party that has (unsuccessfully, thus far) fought every presidential election since 1980…

Hilarious, biting, wildly imaginative and crafted with a huge amount of sheer emotional guts and empathy, these strips are simply incomparable. If you love laughter, despise chicanery and adore unique characters and great art, this is a universe you simply must inhabit.

And while you’re at it, get those other books I mentioned. It can’t be Christmas without them. When the family have almost ruined the holiday, of if you find yourself somewhere other than where you’d want or expect to be, this is what you want to restore your spirits. Kids too…
© 2017, 2020 Berkeley Breathed. All Rights Reserved.