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Going back to Bloom County

October 13, 2009

The American male at ages 10-34

The American male at ages 10-34

I have my brother to thank (and you can use ‘thank’ in its normal or sarcastic tone) for a lot of my pop culture tics — he’s to thank for my forty years worth of X-Men comics knowledge and also my eternal crushes on Hitchcock’s ice blondes. But the thing I thank him most for is introducing me to Berkeley Breathed’s Bloom County comic strip (he bought me the Classics of Western Literature collection as a gift), because there’s no other way I would have even considered reading it. Bloom County was before my time and seemed like a hallucination, a cultural trip that placed American rural life beside pop celebs and world politics and played like a mad puppet show, yet had an honest charm that reached me as a kid even though the Ayatollah digs went over my bowl-cut head.

Breathed just released The Bloom County Library: Volume One: 1980–1982, the first of five volumes that will collect the strip’s entire run. This week’s New York Magazine has a feature story about it and the Culture Vulture blog has a Breathed Q&A where the retired cartoonist, now screenwriter and children’s book author, reveals that his unique scatter-shot approach to comics that you can see now in DNA of The Boondocks, South Park and even The Colbert Report, was mostly him just bullshiting.

One thing any discerning comic reader could tell is that I had almost no experience with comic strips. I didn’t grow up on them. You could see me struggling; I had no idea what Bloom County was supposed to be about, who the main character was going to be. I was moving to Iowa, so I just shoved everything into a rural landscape, and started cartooning totally by the seat of my pants. There was always this constant tension: I don’t even know what this strip is. Sometimes, it was this vicious satire on Michael Jackson, sometimes it was political, and sometimes it was Opus, lying in a dandelion field, musing about life. They didn’t fit easily together, and not always happily, but they fit for a while.

“For awhile” because, unlike The Simpsons, Breathed ended Bloom County before the inanity completely took over, which makes the collection one of those rare bits of nostalgia that doesn’t come with a largely embarassing final act. Until, of course, someone in Hollywood greenlights a Bloom County cgi film where the 80s are the 90s and Billy and the Boingers are a rap group. *pours out liquor for my childhood*

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4 Comments leave one →
  1. Simon permalink*
    October 14, 2009 12:24 am

    Unlike cartoons, I tend to agree that the golden age of sunday funnies was just a wee bit before our time. Strips like Pogo, Bloom County and Peanuts begat the beauty that was Calvin and Hobbes, Farside et al. After that? Well… it’s been a not so gradual decline. The Boondocks is a valiant effort, but black Calvin just lacks the quiet poignancy of the OG.

    Comic strips are probably one of the art forms I most regret watching fade away. Kids today don’t even have it in their pop-culture vocabulary since they are so obscure and irrelevant now.

    I propose we do a comic strip post.

  2. October 14, 2009 4:14 pm

    I’d like to see a comic strip post from you guys. I read the Globe & Mail’s comics every day (well, only the ones in the review section – I won’t read Dilbert any more, certainly not now that the guys from Pearls before Swine killed him off). Let me ruin it for you with my impressions.

    Pooch Cafe: awesome
    Betty: inoffensive
    Fisher: the child must die
    Drabble: once in a very long while actually funny. otherwise rubbish
    Overboard: well executed formula
    Pearls Before Swine: evil good fun
    Cornered: solid single panel fare
    Backbench: the Vogon poetry of the comics page
    Speed Bump: see Cornered – I can’t really tell them apart
    Bizarro: the best draftsman on the page, fantastic combo of wit, intelligence, and artistic flair

    And on Saturdays, Pud: twee crime against humanity

    You can tell I’m no critic – I like just about anything.

  3. October 16, 2009 12:51 am

    Simon: The Boondocks really could have been great. It IS great, the first part of its run, but somewhere down the line McGruder decided the politics were more important than the characters, and well, yeah. I’m totally down for a comic strip post though.

    Pete: At least you don’t like Pud. I guess this shows I don’t read newspapers anymore, but I don’t know any of those other than Pud and Dilbert (RIP?)

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