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Mike Russell Traipses Through The BLOOM COUNTY Library With Editor Scott Dunbier!

(Above: Scott Dunbier [left], as drawn by J. Scott Campbell. "I was a recurring character in Danger Girl," says Dunbier, "and this was published in issue #1, page 1." At right: The "Bloom County" Vol. 1 cover.)

The AICN Q&A: 'Bloom County Library' editor Scott Dunbier

I met Scott Dunbier in kind of a strange way. I was devouring IDW's "Bloom County: The Complete Library, Volume One (1980-1982)" -- the first of five hardbound books collecting every last installment of Berkeley Breathed's popular, reckless, influential newspaper comic. I was, to put it mildly, obsessed with this strip as a kid -- "Bloom County," along with "Calvin & Hobbes" and "The Far Side," marks the last time newspaper funnies were an actual destination for me. I'd argue (as I do below) that it's the closest a comic strip ever got to capturing Chuck Jones' comic timing in print. I've been wanting a complete collection of this series forever. I noticed the top tiers of two Sunday strips (out of about 600 strips in the book) were missing some art. Wondering why, I pointed this out on Twitter (here and here), sent a few e-mails, and went back to my book and bourbon. The next morning, I got an e-mail: "Saw your tweet about 'Bloom County.' Would you be available to talk a little later today, so I can fill you in?... Scott Dunbier, Special Projects Editor, IDW Publishing." (He apparently made a similar overture to another guy who found a few wording variations and posted them on Amazon.) I called him. "My nemesis!" he said, and laughed. And Mr. Dunbier -- who's also edited books by Alan Moore ("League of Extraordinary Gentlemen," "Top 10"), Darwyn Cooke ("The Hunter"), and Dave Stevens ("The Complete Rocketeer") -- proceeded to tell me about his real nemesis: the frustrating scavenger hunt (detailed below) that was required to pull together this first collection. Short version: He told me the definitive Washington Post printer's proofs of the strip were loaned out and, well, they haven't quite been returned. This meant Dunbier had to reconstruct the complete run of "Bloom County" from a mix of incomplete scans, Breathed's remaining disorganized originals, and in some cases scanned microfilm -- using a fan-made "complete collection" of newspaper-clipped strips as one of his ordering guides. Dunbier also told me the missing elements -- some of which turned up after he had to pull the trigger on the print job -- have since turned up, and would be included in the second printing of Vol. 1. (I thanked him for turning my first printing into a variant collector's item. History does not record if he found this amusing.) Nitpicks aside, IDW's first "Bloom County" volume is a revelation. The book starts out sampling Breathed's rude college comic "The Academia Waltz," and then runs "Bloom County" from Dec. 8, 1980 to Sept. 26, 1982 -- with annotations by Breathed and Dunbier, plus bonus material, including emergency fill-in strips given to newspapers in case Breathed was hit by a meteor or stray kayak. There's so much previously uncollected material here, Vol. 1 doesn't even catch up chronologically with the end of Little/Brown's first (and three times smaller) "Bloom County" collection, 1983's "Loose Tails." The resulting reading experience is leisurely and weird in a way the Little/Brown collections really aren't. There are entire characters (including the Ted Turneresque owner of Bloom County's TV station and a generic talking dog) and character arcs (Milo and Binkley crash the Oval Office and almost start World War III) I'd never seen before. Prince Charles and Lady Di were major characters for a while. Had no idea. The cast everyone associates with "Bloom County" -- the woodland creatures and a penguin on Cutter John's wheelchair playing "Star Trek" -- doesn't turn up until two-thirds of the way through the book. The comic starts out focusing on a bunch of cranky old people (the sort Breathed draws so well) living in a boarding house.

It's fascinating to watch Breathed working out in public how to cast and construct a comic strip, and to watch him shake off his naked theft of "Doonebury"'s style and find his own voice. And a lot of the humor holds up, even without the annotations on the margins explaining the Ed Meese references. In a 21st-century world full of uncensored webcomics, "Bloom County" still has bite -- and what Dunbier calls a "cynically naïve, or naively cynical" quality. Anyway. Mr. Dunbier -- who was kind of weirdly cool about everything -- agreed to expand our discussion into an interview for AICN. We talked about how Dunbier managed to talk Breathed into releasing a complete collection; the artwork scavenger hunt that ensued; why "Bloom County" still matters (and why it probably couldn't exist today in all its politically incorrect glory); why Vol. 1 of that collection is a sort of "living document"; cartoonists who thrive (or snap) under insane deadline pressure; the future of the "Complete Library" -- including possible inclusions of the "Billy and the Boingers" single and Breathed's sequel strips "Outland" and "Opus"; the whiting-out of firearms; and much more. An edited transcript follows. -- Mike Russell, CulturePulp.com

PERSUADING MR. BREATHED

MIKE RUSSELL: Well, first: How the hell did you talk Breathed into doing this collection? I seem to recall that as recently as when he was ending "Opus," he was saying he wasn't interested in doing a "Complete Bloom County" because he thought no one really cared enough to buy it.

SCOTT DUNBIER: That's true. I e-mailed him, and he pretty much told me that in his reply. Bloom County was on my list of projects I wanted to do when I landed at IDW in April 2008. It turns out that Chris Ryall, the editor-in-chief of IDW, had approached Breathed about a "Bloom County" collection a couple of years back, and Breathed politely declined. So I asked Chris for Breathed's e-mail -- and I sent Berkeley a message that basically laid out for him what I thought the series should be. I told him I'm more of a phone person than an e-mailer, and that I'd love a chance to talk to him. So he wrote me back, and basically said, "Look, the series has come and gone. Nobody cares any more. But here's my phone number." So I just called him then and there. I think he was a little bit taken aback at how quickly I called. [laughs] I sent him an e-mail, I got a reply in 10 minutes, and I called him two minutes later. So we had a nice chat. I told him some of my ideas, and I was pretty adamant in my feeling that he was wrong -- that people do still care about the strip, very, very much. Eventually, I wore him down.

RUSSELL: How long did it take?

DUNBIER: Maybe a week or two. Nobody likes to be bugged. I wasn't calling him every day. I told him I thought it should be in line with the other IDW newspaper-strip collections -- it should be a beautiful hardcover set on really nice paper with a bookmark. I mailed him some samples of the books we've done. He was afraid people wouldn't get a lot of the gags -- that the context of the time would be lost. And I told him my idea about doing "context pages" that had fake headlines of real events, as well as doing annotations. Luckily, he liked the ideas.

RUSSELL: Does he understand how influential he was on a generation of aspiring comic-strip artists?

DUNBIER: I think he has an inkling, just because of the sheer numbers. The strip ran in 1,200 newspapers at its peak. We're talking about a guy who walked away from a strip that really was at its peak in terms of sales. That first "Loose Tails" collection sold over a million copies. And the merchandise -- the Opus dolls, the Bill the Cat t-shirts. He must know.

RUSSELL: Why wasn't a New York publisher -- like, say, Little/Brown, publisher of the original collections -- already working on something like this?

DUNBIER: I think a lot of publishers look at something like "Bloom County" and say, "Oh, there've already been a bunch of paperbacks." But as a fan of comic strips and comic books, what I want is a complete collection -- like the "Calvin & Hobbes" and "Far Side" books. Something nice on my bookshelf. I think a specific type of peculiar person wants to make things like that. [laughs]

RUSSELL: Does Breathed own the strip copyright now, or does the syndicate?

DUNBIER: He owns it.

ANNOTATING A POLITICALLY INCORRECT HISTORY

RUSSELL: Breathed has a rep for being "famously reclusive." What was your experience of the fellow?

DUNBIER: He has this rep of being sort of difficult -- and that is so different from my experience of him. He's been an absolute pleasure. He's the kind of person who will say, "Oh, I don't want anything to do with this thing. Go off and do it." But then the more I send him, the more he wants to be involved. Like his margin annotations in the book. I started out pitching the idea of IDW doing [historical-context] annotations. I sent him the ones I put together -- with just a not-so-subtle hint that maybe he could add some of his own. He did. We had a conversation a few days ago, and he told me he's planning on writing a greater volume of annotations for the second book. I'm happy about that, because it's less work for me. [laughs]

RUSSELL: One of my big concerns was that the book would rewrite history as far as the Trudeau-ripoff talking-mirror strips were concerned. But no, it's there -- with Breathed completely owning up to using "a warmed-over Garry Trudeau routine from his Yale strip, alas."

DUNBIER: He's very up-front about anything like that.

RUSSELL: Or when he draws a racial-tension joke and adds an annotation that reads, "Couldn't do this strip today."

DUNBIER: And there will be more of that in all the volumes. His comments really add something wonderful to the collection.

RUSSELL: Could a syndicated comic strip like "Bloom County" exist today? One thing I've noticed in re-reading these strips is how much bite some of them still have -- and how politically incorrect they can be. Bobbi Harlow is a feminist, and Breathed clearly sympathizes with her, but he has a LOT of fun tormenting her with Steve Dallas.

DUNBIER: Could "Bloom County" exist today? Sure it could. Could it be as biting? You're at the whim of your advertising and legal departments. That's really why he walked away.

RUSSELL: Has he told you stories of what the breaking points were for him, personally? Why he walked away?

DUNBIER: Not the final one, no.

RUSSELL: I know he mentions in your Volume 1 collection that he ran into trouble when he made fun of Scientology.

DUNBIER: Oh, yeah -- that might be it. [laughs] He gave a great presentation in Long Beach where he talked about his troubles dealing with the syndicates. He related a couple of immensely funny, heartbreaking stories. [Editor's note: You can watch that presentation in six parts on YouTube right here: Part 1, Part 2, Part 3, Part 4, Part 5, Part 6.]

RUSSELL: I wonder if Breathed could have done the Mary Kay jihad strips today.

DUNBIER: I doubt it . And I don't think he could have done the Betty Crocker strips, either.

FIGURING IT OUT IN PUBLIC

RUSSELL: The weirdest thing for me, reading the complete collection, was watching Breathed figure out how to make a comic strip in public. Almost the entire cast from the first six months of strips ends up being jettisoned. And the syndicate, to its credit, gives him a lot of time to figure it out. I doubt they'd do that today.

DUNBIER: Well, you have to remember how few papers it was in at the very beginning. I think it was printed in 11 or 12 newspapers. It wasn't a big deal. And when you're not a big deal, you get a lot more leeway. It's once you have success and the attention of a mass audience that the powers that be affix their gaze on you.

RUSSELL: When "Bloom County" begins, Milo Bloom is literally the only recognizable character in the story.

DUNBIER: And he isn't even in the first couple of strips.

RUSSELL: No. It's a comic about a bunch of old people in a house.

DUNBIER: Opus doesn't even show up until the middle of '81. He isn't there for six months. And then he disappears again for a while. He's doesn't really start appearing in earnest until more than a year in.

RUSSELL: Yeah. Opus starts out as the punchline to a joke about Binkley getting a penguin for a pet.

REAGAN, OUTLAND, OPUS

RUSSELL: I posted on Twitter that I was doing this interview and I got a few questions....

DUNBIER: [laughs] Oh my God. I can't believe anyone cares what I have to say.

RUSSELL: You sound like Breathed now. Here's one: "Did Breathed in fact sell one of the strips to President Reagan? (The story was Reagan called Breathed liking a strip 'cause Nancy was in it.)"

DUNBIER: He either sold it to him or gave it to him -- I can't remember which. This is a story Breathed told during the Long Beach panel. Basically, Reagan called Breathed, and at first Breathed didn't believe it was Reagan, of course -- and Reagan told him how much he'd enjoyed that strip with the picture of Nancy in it. He also showed a really funny photograph of himself meeting Reagan at the White House.

RUSSELL: Here's another Twitter question: "Will the collections extend to OUTLAND and OPUS?"

DUNBIER: That would be my choice.

RUSSELL: The three strips really do end up being just one continuum of storytelling.

DUNBIER: We've talked a little bit about this -- but I think Breathed wants to see how the volumes are received. I would like to go on and have "Bloom County Presents: Outland" and "Bloom County Presents: Opus." I think each would be a single volume. I would love to do that. But it's up to Berkeley and the buying public. So all you readers at Ain't It Cool News: Buy this book so we can see more of them. [laughs]

RUSSELL: Here's another one: "What's the editor's favorite example of the 'context' these collections will have?"

DUNBIER: My favorite one is Breathed's commentary on the strip about a Bloom County farmer growing pot: "Almost 30 years later and I still get this one quoted to me. I believe we quadrupled our college newspaper clients the next week. Potheads."

ON HOW ASSEMBLING THIS BOOK WAS KIND OF A PAIN IN THE ASS

RUSSELL: You've described elsewhere the scavenger hunt required to track down and in some cases literally reconstruct these early strips. What was involved there, precisely?

DUNBIER: It really was one of those situations where "It was the best of times, it was the worst of times."

RUSSELL: Was there kind of a "Yay, I got the gig! Oh, shit!" moment?

DUNBIER: We got really lucky on a couple of fronts. Breathed very kindly lent us a lot of his original art -- pretty much everything he had. Of course, there were some good-sized gaps in there -- he'd sold a number of his originals over the years, he's given away a number of originals. Probably lost some. [laughs]

RUSSELL: Didn't I read somewhere that they were in a box under his guest bed or something?

DUNBIER: Oh, no -- that's completely inaccurate. Completely inaccurate. They were in five of those big 2-by-3-foot Tupperware containers that you put coats in to store under your bed. But they weren't under his bed. They were actually in his garage. [laughs]

RUSSELL: Oh, God. [laughs] It's terrifying to think of that particular treasure trove moldering in a garage.

DUNBIER: Well, California's low-humidity. So. They weren't damaged -- but they also weren't like they were archivally stored in Mylars, individually packed. They were just stacked up in giant Tupperware.

RUSSELL: Were they stacked up in order?

DUNBIER: Oh, no. [laughs] That was actually a lot of fun, putting them in order -- although it was more difficult than I thought it was going to be. Luckily, my gorgeous wife, Amanda, was a big help with that. If you look through the book, you'll notice that there are some strips that have the wrong years in the copyrights. They're just all over the place. Some strips have copyrights from as many as two years off. What happened was, when the strip got more popular, they started printing art boards with the year pre-printed on them. And so Breathed would grab art boards from 1983, 1985, whatever he had lying around. I'd be going through the strips, and all of a sudden I'd find I had two complete years' worth of 1983 strips. So I'd have to go back and compare.

RUSSELL: What did you use as a comparison measure?

DUNBIER: Luckily, Berkeley had a complete set of the strips that a fan had given him -- copies made from the newspaper. That's my basic way of going through and putting them in order. Then, when the book was going to the printer, I didn't want to use that as the only source to make sure they were in order -- so I went down to the San Diego Library. They have on microfilm The Washington Post going back to when the strip started. I used that to check every daily and every Sunday to make sure they were in the correct order.

RUSSELL: The complete archives are also online, right?

DUNBIER: A lot of them, but not all. They're on GoComics.com.

RUSSELL: What were the hardest bits of scavenger work you had to do? You were scanning in microfilm to get certain strips, correct?

DUNBIER: Yes, unfortunately. We had a lot of originals from Berkeley -- although in the first book, not nearly as many as we have for the second and third books. For the first book, we were missing a number of dailies and Sundays. The first thing I did was, I went to The Washington Post. Amy Lago, who's in charge of the comic strips over there, is a wonderful and very, very helpful person. Unfortunately, they didn't have any printer's proofs of the strip at all. And, remarkably, The Washington Post did not run the strip in its full format from the beginning.

RUSSELL: You mean they ran it without the top tier of the Sunday strips?

DUNBIER: Yeah. If you actually go back and you look at The Washington Post run from the beginning, you'll see a lot of two-tier Sunday strips. It was three tiers sometimes, but mostly it was two-tier. But Amy did give me a lead.... Well, the reason that the Post doesn't have the printer's proofs is because they lent them all to a company that put them online, and that particular company didn't, um, return them. [laughs] But that company was very helpful in giving us scans they shot from the proofs. But that wasn't complete, either. We had all the dailies, but we were missing many Sundays. At the end of the day, the only way I was able to get the final three Sunday strips for the book was to go to a place that specializes in scanning from microfilm. So there are three Sundays that are definitely of lesser quality, unfortunately -- but the book is complete. The irony is that I was able to track down those three originals after the book was printed. So when we go back for a second printing, we'll replace those three Sundays.... We'll always be updating it, in subsequent printings.

RUSSELL: It's a living document, as it were.

DUNBIER: That's my hope.

THE JOKES STILL PLAY

RUSSELL: As you're taking delivery of comics no one has seen in print since they first ran, and you're seeing the full scope of story arcs for the first time, what were the biggest revelations for you personally?

DUNBIER: You know, I guess the "revelation" was that it was just as funny now as it was when I was reading it 25 years ago.

RUSSELL: Yeah. The jokes still play. That surprised me, too.

DUNBIER: Yeah. My wife, Amanda, as I mentioned earlier, has been wonderful in helping me put the strips in order. It's a big job -- there are thousands of them to sort. But she's been going a lot slower lately because it turns out she never read "Bloom County," but now she's become a big fan -- she keeps stopping and reading them.

RUSSELL: Any strip a personal favorite?

DUNBIER: I really like it when Milo and Binkley go to Washington and wind up in the Oval Office. And that's an arc that was never collected. All the stuff with Steve Dallas when he's trying to measure up to Cutter John -- when he's in the wheelchair.

RUSSELL: Yeah, Steve Dallas' meltdown with Bobbi Harlow is a beautiful thing. He turns into a complete, pathetic stalker. Personally, I'm looking forward to your series collecting the "Death of Bill the Cat" saga. "Folks, he died of acne."

DUNBIER: I was actually going through those strips a couple of weeks ago. I'm not exactly sure which book it's going to be in yet.

THE GRANULAR DECISIONS

RUSSELL: When you were putting this book together, did Breathed have to fight the urge to revisit history? Did he ever want to restore elements the syndicate had cut? I'm thinking specifically of a strip in Vol. 1 -- never collected until now -- in which you can clearly see that the syndicate made Breathed white out a handgun. Breathed makes a joke about it in his annotations.

DUNBIER: Yeah, actually, what's funny is that I noticed that -- and I sent him an e-mail and asked him to comment on it in the annotations. I had the benefit of having the original right in front of me -- and so I was able to see that something had been whited over, and I held it up to the light, and I could see it.

RUSSELL: And he didn't want to put the gun back in?

DUNBIER: Well, no. That's how it was originally published.

RUSSELL: And also, it's funnier to comment on that way.

DUNBIER: Right. Exactly.

RUSSELL: You've obviously had some obsessive readers -- me for one -- noticing some differences between the wording in a few of the strips you've collected and the strips published in the collections by Little/Brown. What was the decision process there?

DUNBIER: We used what we had in the source material. For instance, I told you we used that handmade collection one fan gave to Berkeley; that fan collection contained the strips published in newspapers. I went and checked the strips in our book against them, and that's how the strips were published. We could go back and make changes -- but again, it goes back to: "Do we put back that handgun?" I mean, we could -- but should we? For the next book, I've actually contacted one gentleman who wrote me a nice note asking about specific changes.

RUSSELL: This is the guy who posted about the changes at Amazon?

DUNBIER: Yes. We had a very nice talk, and I've enlisted his help for the second book. I asked him if he wouldn't mind having a look and telling me if there are any strips he remembers as being different -- because he remembered some remarkably obscure things I -- and Berkeley -- couldn't believe. There are also a couple of examples he sent me later on where it looks like "Loose Tails" published censored versions of the strips. So it goes both ways.

RUSSELL: I read his comments at Amazon, and they're absolutely granular. Will any of that be changed in the second printing of Vol. 1?

DUNBIER: I don't have any hard-and-fast rule, except one: I want to make sure Berkeley is happy with the presentation. If he wants to keep it as it is, we'll keep it as it is. If he wants to do the other version, we'll do the other version. In the first book, we were missing a lot of the original art, compared to what we have for the second and third book. What I suspect is that the printer's proofs contain a lot of the changes made at the syndicate level. Those changes may or may not have been made on the originals.... I don't know. What I can tell you is that in the second book, we have almost every original. For instance, of all the dailies in the second book, we're only missing 47 originals out of nearly two years' worth. And then for the Sundays, we have 79 out of 92 original Sundays, and we have proofs for the other ones. And for Book 3, we have even more. Those will be closer in intent, I believe, to the way Berkeley had originally done them.

RUSSELL: Is Breathed any help when you talk to him about this?

DUNBIER: Oh, sure. He remembered very well the incident with the gun. Some things aren't as important and he doesn't really remember them. Changing the word "Horny" to "Hey Baby"? He's probably not going to remember that. But I'll run any by Berkeley if situations like these arise again and he can make the call.

BILLY AND THE BONUS FEATURES

RUSSELL: One of the things people loved about the Little/Brown collections were the little inserts they used to put in the books -- the "Billy and the Boingers" floppy record, that issue of The Bloom Picayune. Are there any plans afoot to recreate that stuff for your book series?

DUNBIER: It's something we're definitely talking about. I don't know if that means we're going to have an actual flexi-disc or CD -- but we're discussing doing something.

RUSSELL: How much discussion was involved in figuring out what to include in Vol. 1 from Breathed's college strip, "The Academia Waltz"?

DUNBIER: That discussion was me saying, "Come on, Berkeley -- let me put all of it in," and him saying, "No! No!" [laughs]

RUSSELL: How did you end up getting what you got -- which is a pretty generous sampling?

DUNBIER: We talked about it a couple of times. The first time, Berkeley said he didn't want to put any of them in; the second time, he said, "Well, pick out some." I did, and he nixed a few, but he let me most in.

RUSSELL: Steve Dallas emerges fully formed in that college strip.

DUNBIER: I was happy that we were able to publish the last "Academia Waltz" Strip.

RUSSELL: Right -- the one where Dallas gets married. Does "Bloom County" ever mention that Dallas got a divorce?

DUNBIER: You know, I don't look at "Bloom County" as a continuation of "The Academia Waltz." Might be true with "Secret Agent Man" and "The Prisoner" -- don't think it is here. It's more like the mirror universe from Star Trek.

RUSSELL: Working on this, what bits of "Bloom County" history have you found that we never would have seen otherwise? Any sketches?

DUNBIER: We've been scanning the back of the strips if there are any doodles on them -- you'll see some of those in Book 2, which comes out in April 2010. There aren't a lot, but there are some. They generally don't have anything to do with the strip on the other side. Sometimes he's working out layouts and placements of characters, that sort of thing. One of the sketches is the AT&T Death Star logo [that turns up in a later strip].

RUSSELL: When does Book 3 come out?

DUNBIER: Six months after that -- October 2010.

CONTENT UNDER PRESSURE

RUSSELL: I think it's very telling that the three lions of the '80s comic strip -- Bill Watterson, Gary Larson, and Breathed -- all completely fried out and quit after about 10 years of that relentlessness. The toll it takes on their minds seems to be extraordinary.

DUNBIER: Yeah. I have great respect for cartoonists who go in day after day and tell something that's in some kind of continuity while also being funny. That's very difficult. And to have that deadline looming day after day after day for years? The other cartoonist that I didn't mention earlier -- mainly because I think of him as a '70s cartoonist, though he's still working -- is Garry Trudeau. I mean, how many sabbaticals has he taken? Is it two or three now?

RUSSELL: I remember Trudeau taking one really long sabbatical in the 1980s [January 1983 to October 1984 -- not coincidentally when "Bloom County" gained prominence] during which he totally reinvented the strip and suddenly the characters all seemed to be in their 30s.

DUNBIER: I have tremendous respect for Trudeau. He doesn't have the same lunacy Breathed has -- but there's something there that's really beautiful. You look at the war stuff he's doing now -- it's tremendous. Really, really engaging. I think that's the last great strip that hasn't been collected the way it should be. I'd love to do a "Doonesbury Library."

RUSSELL: But yes -- the toll the work takes on these guys is ridiculous. Breathed rather famously struggled with his muse. He tells stories about literally drawing the strips on the airliner that's flying him to the syndicate offices so he can turn them in at the last minute. I once had dinner with an editor of his who got called away to help him with a deadline crunch at 11 p.m.

DUNBIER: Well, some of these guys work best under pressure. There are some guys who are workhorses who can sit down day after day and do this stuff. But not everybody is built that way. Al Williamson, Angelo Torres, Frank Frazetta, George Woodbridge and Roy Krenkel, sometimes called "The Fleagle Gang." They'd go out and play baseball and goof around for the entire week. And Al Williamson would have an assignment for a 14-page Western story, and on Saturday morning he would go, "Holy crap! This is due on Monday!" And then the four or five or six of them would sit down in Al's living room and jam it out and get it all done. Some guys just work really well under that kind of pressure. I mean, Frank Frazetta -- some of his great paintings were done under tremendous deadlines for Warren Publishing. One of my favorite Frazetta paintings is called "The Neanderthal" -- it's of -- surprise -- these Neanderthals coming through this mist. I remember being really impressed by the pattern in the background -- "Wow! He went in and did all this crazy stuff!" -- and then I saw the original at the Frazetta Museum, and he'd painted it on Masonite board, and he didn't paint anything over the Masonite texture -- that's like the original Photoshop! [laughs]

RUSSELL: Yeah, I suppose that pressure is responsible for "Bloom County's" anarchic quality. I really think that strip is the closest newspaper comics ever got to feeling like a Chuck Jones cartoon --

DUNBIER: That's completely fair, yeah.

RUSSELL: -- and I suspect that was probably in part because he wasn't giving himself the time to think too hard about it. He was too busy panicking.

DUNBIER: But the sources of inspiration he had were wonderful. He's got this reputation for being cynical, and Bloom County can definitely be cynical in places. But it's also very naïve -- and I think that's part of Berkeley's makeup. He's cynically naïve, or naively cynical. I think he wants to believe in something; he wants to believe in people. And that's a very endearing quality.

COMING SOON: 'THE OUTFIT' and 'THE ROCKETEER'

RUSSELL: What does a "comics editor" do, exactly? I'm not asking this to be a dick -- I think people genuinely don't know.

DUNBIER: Really, the biggest part of my job is making sure that my name is spelled right. [laughs] It's not all that glamorous; it's a lot of fun, though. The fun part is either coming up with an idea for something like "The Bloom County Library," or calling up someone like Darwyn Cooke and saying, "Hey, let's do something together." And then Darwyn saying, "Well, I really want to do this character Parker." I'd never read any of the Richard Stark stuff before; Darwyn told me, "That's what I want to do" -- so we went out and we got it. I've been having a hell of a time working on that with him. I joked earlier about just needing to spell my name right -- but Darwyn delivers that book and it's 100-percent done. I made some minor suggestions here and there, but he's such an incredible talent. We're planning to do at least three more Richard Stark books; the next one will be "The Outfit," and that will be released in October of next year. That's the great part of my job. But then there's the worrying. A lot of my life is spent with this knot in my stomach, going, "Ah, what did I miss?" The one I'm agonizing over right now is "The Rocketeer: The Complete Adventures." That's one I feel passionately about, and it'll be coming out in two different versions in November. The regular edition will be a 144-page hardcover with the complete stories -- nearly re-scanned from the originals. Completely re-colored by Dave Stevens' personal choice to color it, a woman named Laura Martin, who colored "Authority" and "Planetary." The second book is the deluxe edition; it'll be larger in size -- 8 by 12 inches -- and it will have about 130 extra pages. Just tons of unpublished roughs and preliminaries, all this great stuff shot from the originals. A wonderful book. Honestly, I have the best job in the world. I get paid to read great comics and work with brilliant artists. For me, there's nothing better.



"Bloom County: The Complete Library, Volume One (1980-1982)" is in stores now. "Volume Two (1982-1984)" is set for release in April 2010. -- Mike Russell: the personal site, the e-mail addy.

Readers Talkback
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  • Nov. 2, 2009, 1:28 a.m. CST

    Doonesbury?

    by Galactic

  • Nov. 2, 2009, 1:30 a.m. CST

    Fox Trot is still the best.

    by Galactic

  • Nov. 2, 2009, 2:05 a.m. CST

    "A Wish For Wings That Work"!!!!!

    by bigbaldpapa

    Would like to see them run it on TV again this holiday season.

  • Nov. 2, 2009, 2:31 a.m. CST

    More of a Bloom County kid than a Garfield one

    by Cagliostro

    That's for sure. Glad to know there's a lot of this stuff I haven't read yet.

  • Nov. 2, 2009, 2:50 a.m. CST

    Thanks, Mike

    by Rebeck2

    Great piece! Best thing I've read on here in ages.

  • Nov. 2, 2009, 3:03 a.m. CST

    GREAT

    by happyboy

    this is what AICN should be about. bloom county is cool and geek in a way that couldn't exist today. probably the smartest strip from the 80s and culturally relevant in a way that cartoons, comic strips and comic books aren't any longer in American culture. the talkback also reflects how stupid and ignorant this site can be. 2nd post :" Fox Trot is still best." Fox Trot has nothing to do with Bloom County which was political satire and commentary. It's like some idiot comparing Family Matters to Archie Bunker.

  • Nov. 2, 2009, 3:28 a.m. CST

    After this series comes out

    by hst666

    The only one left for me is Doonesbury (although I do like Foxtrot, I probably won't buy a hardcover collected version). If they release two year volumes every 6 months of that it will be a long time before it's all collected even with the hiatuses.

  • Nov. 2, 2009, 3:29 a.m. CST

    I'm torn

    by hst666

    between buying this now, or waiting until the second edition comes out with the complete versions of the Sunday strips.

  • Nov. 2, 2009, 3:43 a.m. CST

    I like Foxtrot too

    by happyboy

    but it has nothing to do with Bloom County. it's also on a lower tier along with For Better or for Worse or any number of other popular strips. by sales and influence the big 3 were Calvin and Hobbes, Far Side and Bloom County. Foxtrot was funny but it was basically a family comic like Family Circle. Bloom County was political like Doonebury but more creative and less didactic. Calvin was child-centric like Peanuts. Probably the one innovation Foxtrot had fully true tonal voice. The kids talked and thought like kids not little adults and shit like the iguana just being a fucking animal eating bugs instead of speaking and cracking jokes.

  • Nov. 2, 2009, 4:13 a.m. CST

    I want a reprint of the square Billie & the Boingers record

    by JT Kirk

    Until that day, no collection will be complete. Of course, I have the original so I'm just making trouble, but it's great to hear Bloom County complete is getting out there after all these years (sorry Outland, but you didn't do it for me).

  • Nov. 2, 2009, 4:24 a.m. CST

    Bloom County, Far Side, Calvin & Hobbes

    by FlandersBum

    Grew up with the big three myself...Bloom County, Far Side, Calvin & Hobbes. The comics page was full of talent then. Now it's mediocre pap churned out without anyone noticing or caring for the most part.

  • Nov. 2, 2009, 4:38 a.m. CST

    Calvin & Hobbes has aged the best. Bloom County is very 80s.

    by Flim Springfield

    I loved it as a kid, but I enjoy it now mostly out of nostalgia. Calvin & Hobbes holds up as well today as it did twenty years ago.

  • Nov. 2, 2009, 4:42 a.m. CST

    I never thought Bloom County was funny

    by rctowns

    It always struck me as Doonesbury Lite. And that's over-complimenting it.

  • Nov. 2, 2009, 4:49 a.m. CST

    Wow.. This is great seeing this here.

    by soup74

    also grew up on it.. i remember looking for something to take it's place after it ended, but nothing ever did. ( i dont know why i never read doonesbury, i know it inspired bloom county. i was probably too young and didnt connect with the characters.) I lost track after Outland though, and would love to get there.

  • Nov. 2, 2009, 5:34 a.m. CST

    Love Bloom County.

    by Sal_Bando

    Good interview!

  • Nov. 2, 2009, 5:35 a.m. CST

    FlandersBum

    by happyboy

    Long gone are the days when Americans would tear open the paper right to the funnies before anything else to get the daily fix. I remember laughing my ass off to the social commentary/observations on those pages back in the day. These days when you can sit through 30 minutes of the Office or an hour of Leno without getting a true laugh, it's a lost art how truly talented artists could make you laugh out loud with 4 panels of black and white ink(or 1 in the case of Far Side). Where did that talent dissipate to? It's truly a lost art.

  • Nov. 2, 2009, 5:43 a.m. CST

    I wish that were weren't penguins...

    by GeorgeDorn

    and that out show wasn't cancelled.

  • Nov. 2, 2009, 6:03 a.m. CST

    Trudeau's 80s sabbatical

    by RenoNevada2000

    The changes that the DOONSBURY characters went through during the 18-month sabbatical gap - graduating college, entering the job market, getting married - were all covered in the short-lived Doonsbury Broadway musical. I still have the cast album and the book they published with the script.

  • Nov. 2, 2009, 6:15 a.m. CST

    Watterson

    by The McPoyle Clan

    is the one who's a complete recluse, like Hughes and Salinger. Funny how there's no mention that Breathed is currently writing children's books. With the big 3, that was truly a great time for comics.

  • Nov. 2, 2009, 6:23 a.m. CST

    Don't Blame Me

    by Mockingbuddha

    I Voted for Bill and Opus!

  • Nov. 2, 2009, 6:30 a.m. CST

    Fucking LOVED Bloom County as a kid. It was

    by CreasyBear

    occasionally political, but to compare it to Doonesbury is inaccurate. Granted, I soaked in a lot of 80's politics as an 11 year old that I wouldn't have cared about at all otherwise, but the Bloom County storylines covered everything under the sun (and some outer space ones as well). Hadn't thought about this strip in years. Wish I could post some of my favorite strips on the talkback to show people just how great BC was.

  • Nov. 2, 2009, 6:34 a.m. CST

    Cannot...F'ing...Wait...

    by MJohnson

    So there.

  • Nov. 2, 2009, 6:35 a.m. CST

    Foxtrot?

    by jameskpolk

    Foxtrot got the "family" dynamic right for the first time in a daily comic. At least in earlier years, the kids and parents and their situations and relationships rang true.<br><br>Foxtrot simply does not have the genius for commentary that Brethed managed so well.<br><br>Remember when the meadow party nominated Bill and Opus to run for the Pesidency? Attracting the attention of a Mondale support who asks who they got to go against Reagan the tell him "Dead cat", Mondale's guy looks over his shoulder, mutters "what the hell" and joins them. <br><br>Still makes me chuckle 20+ years on.

  • Nov. 2, 2009, 6:36 a.m. CST

    sorry about my lousy proofaeding

    by jameskpolk

    I nevur lerned much about tyupng

  • Nov. 2, 2009, 7:03 a.m. CST

    So...is there anything that is missing?

    by Phimseto

    I want to buy the volumes, but am nervous about doing so if there's stuff missing that a second or third printing will include.

  • Nov. 2, 2009, 7:45 a.m. CST

    only one comic for me

    by palewook

    bloom county. <p> been looking for some strip that makes me want to read it everyday since. never found another strip like bloom county. it was an addiction. <p> boondocks and sinfest are the closest strips i've found over the years. and still miss bloom county. i always will.

  • Nov. 2, 2009, 8:13 a.m. CST

    CreasyBear Bloom County was social commentary

    by happyboy

    Trudeau was more pointedly political He talking about Vietnam, Communist China and even had his characters interact with members of the Administration. Doonesbury was a darling of the Left because he took those shots they wish they could at Nixon, etc. Bloom County was more social commentary... oil drilling, book burnings, materialism, McCulture etc. Occasionally Opus and Milo would be in some directly referenced political storyline but Bloom County's commentaries were more generally observant about America in general, whereas Doonsbury was more literal in terms of lecturing what Trudeau thought about specific issues. For example, if pictures of Reagan were in Bloom County it wouldn't necessarily be a direct Leftist comment on some policy but more because he was this funny looking smooth talking old man who so heavily influenced yuppies like Steve Dallas. They were both social and political commentary but if Trudeau was Jon Stewart Daily Show, Bloom County was more South Park. Although South Park sucks shit, and is 1/20th as funny, subversive or original as Bloom County... I've always thought both it and Family Guy owe a lot and are evocative of the social commentary (and randomness) you used to find on the comic pages. 20 years ago some of the shit like making Bill the Cat a surrogate for commentary on Michael Jackson's weirdness was totally random, but somehow true and also groundbreaking. Or seeing Opus walk ass backwards to get embroiled in some major political row totally random wasn't something you'd see on TV or in the comics but which is old hat with the 2 kids on South Park.

  • Nov. 2, 2009, 8:16 a.m. CST

    Steve Dallas quitting smoking had me in tears...

    by Chewtoy

    Loved Bloom County, and the three genius strips of the 80's were definitely it, Far Side and Calvin & Hobbes. The story arc format of Bloom County combined with biting satire and just plain silliness into such a wonderful creation.

  • Nov. 2, 2009, 8:19 a.m. CST

    Best. Series. Ever.....and I'm TOTALLY getting this

    by damagedinc

    I'm 28 and got into Bloom County through the Billy and the Boingers Bootleg collection (complete with record) that I got at a white elephant sale at a Convent (which is kinda weird). Breathed's series was extremely influential for me and was my window into understanding a lot of more adult news items and concepts (how else would I have known or cared who Lee Iacocca was unless a cockroach had a song and dance number about him?). Larson and Watterson have all recieved their due, but Breathed deserves some recognition. I'm so happy about this set coming out...

  • Nov. 2, 2009, 8:45 a.m. CST

    Reading it "live" was bliss...

    by Billyeveryteen

    A part of me has been dead since the big 3 left.<p>Wish I had the cash for this.

  • Nov. 2, 2009, 8:58 a.m. CST

    Gorbachev sings: "Tractors!" "Turnip!" "Buttocks!"

    by Iblis_mage

    And if you don't know by now, Bill bit the head off a cow.

  • Nov. 2, 2009, 9:18 a.m. CST

    BLOOM COUNTY > CALVIN & HOBBES

    by Mr. Nice Gaius

    I know there are some out there who will probably disagree with me on this but I believe it to be true. BLOOM COUNTRY covered so much ground and had so many memorable characters and running stories/gags. I think CALVIN & HOBBES is more of a nostalgic affair and most of the people who started reading it (folks my age and younger) never had a chance to experience BLOOM COUNTY in its heyday. (From what I remember, its run came to an end just as C&H was starting to take off.)<P>From Opus to Cutter John...Steve Dallas to L.H. Puttgrass...Bill the Cat to Hodge Podge...to Binkley and his Anxiety Closet. You really can't beat it.

  • Nov. 2, 2009, 9:48 a.m. CST

    This is the first thing on AICN...

    by herow/1000faces

    ...I've read from start to finish in a looooong time. More stuff like this please!

  • Nov. 2, 2009, 10:09 a.m. CST

    "You make me sick..."

    by firewhale

    "...but I love you!" I still have my stuffed Bill the Cat (who used to hang from a noose in my locker in high school). I seem to remember the Star Trek parodies being my favorite - "Set phasers on slaughter!" Great to see this on AICN.

  • Nov. 2, 2009, 10:23 a.m. CST

    I love you guys!

    by Nice Marmot

    Glad to hear so many of us agree on what is the "Big Three." Because of this talk back I'm finally shelling out the money for that complete Calvin & Hobbes. Also getting all of my old "Big Three" compliation books back from my thieving sister.

  • Nov. 2, 2009, 10:33 a.m. CST

    I am so begging my mommy and daddy get me this for Xmas!

    by Royston Lodge

    'nuff said.

  • Nov. 2, 2009, 10:33 a.m. CST

    Happy Boy

    by hst666

    There is and always was a lot of social commentary in Doonesbury. It's hardly a political polemic. It sounds like you have not read much Doonesbury over the years.

  • Nov. 2, 2009, 10:36 a.m. CST

    Did Cutter John have an exit?

    by hst666

    It seemed like he just stopped appearing eventually. Was he simply phased out?

  • Nov. 2, 2009, 10:38 a.m. CST

    Doonesbury

    by hst666

    By the way, I did not mean to say there weren't overtly political strips and to say it was more overtly political than Bloom County is correct. It's just your description makes it sound like a lecture.

  • Nov. 2, 2009, 10:46 a.m. CST

    I remember Cutter John appearances in Outland.

    by Royston Lodge

    'nuff said.

  • Nov. 2, 2009, 10:54 a.m. CST

    Bloom County was sublime

    by toadkillerdog

    Just a perfect strip. I laughed hard and marveled at the talent behind it. I have every compilation I could lay my hands on. I will get this one as well.

  • Nov. 2, 2009, 11:03 a.m. CST

    What was great about reading Bloom County as a kid.

    by Royston Lodge

    Bloom County wasn't in my daily newspaper. I consumed it exclusively via the books. Started reading it at a pretty young age.<p> What's funny is that I'd re-read the books every year or so, and every time I'd get a joke that had completely escaped me earlier, because I was too young when I'd first read it.<p> Like, at first I just liked the funny kids and animals. Tee hee, they're silly!<p> Then the satire would filter into my brain with each passing year.<p> Like, I never got into Doonesbury because it was so clearly targeted directly at adults. But Bloom County could speak to kids and adults on different levels.<p> I have a feeling a lot of readers experienced Bloom County this way.

  • Nov. 2, 2009, 11:31 a.m. CST

    Hell yeah!

    by smaugchow

    I'll buy it. I've been searching for the original books without much luck, but this is perfect. Bloom County is my all-time favorite comic strip, bar none.

  • Nov. 2, 2009, 11:31 a.m. CST

    Bloom County RIP

    by Powerring

    One of the top three greatest (funniest) strips of all time. The other two slots belong to far side and Calvin and Hobbes. Everything else sucks.

  • Nov. 2, 2009, 12:36 p.m. CST

    "StarChair Enterpoop"

    by Uncle_Al

    Still makes me laugh. Loved the "Fat-bellied Stogie Sucker" and "Elvis on the State Road Crew" strips, too.

  • Nov. 2, 2009, 1:32 p.m. CST

    Favorite Comic Strips

    by Acappellaman

    Bloom County was by far my favorite comic strip when I was a teenager. While I was collecting that, my brother collected Garfield. I think I win that battle. <p>&nbsp;</p> Along with Bloom County, my favorite comic strips are Calvin & Hobbes, Foxtrot, Zits and a fairly new twisted comic I've discovered called Lio. For Better or for Worse also has a lot of charm to it. <p>&nbsp;</p> By far the WORST comic strip ever written is Sylvia. Oh dear LORD that's a horrible strip. Why any newspaper prints it baffles me.

  • Nov. 2, 2009, 1:40 p.m. CST

    "Pitch Black and the seven white honkies"

    by CaptainBass

    I had never seen Bloom County here in the UK. I picked "Bloom County: Babylon" (which seems like a pretty substantial collection in itself) for a dollar at a New Jersey flea market whilst on holiday in 1990 and loved it! I'm glad there will be annotations in this because even in 1990 a lot of the 80's political stuff was lost on me (hey I was a 16-year-old Scottish boy, what did I know of Jeanne Kirkpatrick?) but I still realised that Bill the Cat = GOD!!!

  • Nov. 2, 2009, 1:41 p.m. CST

    big honkies?

    by CaptainBass

    I can't remember, now I'm all confused...

  • Nov. 2, 2009, 3:55 p.m. CST

    Yup, I'm getting these.....

    by maceodkat

    always loved bloom county, meet him once while i was working at midas in redlands, ca. he was super cool, steve dallas-esqe shades on, an aroma of liquor, and he was nice enough to sketch out an opus for me on a napkin.

  • Nov. 2, 2009, 4:46 p.m. CST

    I'm praying for a Cathy Collection

    by Star Hump

  • Nov. 2, 2009, 7 p.m. CST

    I kid you not, I was just looking at Bloom County last night

    by mortsleam

    Something came up about Michael Jackson and I spent about an hour trying to find the strip where Binkley wakes up his dad in the middle of the night and says, "You know, I've been thinking: Michael Jackson really needs to start dating." Funny and prophetic back in 1984.

  • Nov. 2, 2009, 7:04 p.m. CST

    Steve Dallas' Alan Alda perm

    by Sir Loin

    I read & collected strips "live" as a teenager as well back then, and still have them. Wasn't Steve's perm a jab at the feminization of men that began in the 80's? Can't remember, think he got brainwashed into becoming more sensitive or something. Hilarious. Eventually he ends up sitting on a fire hydrant, buck naked, then reverts back his old self. Breathed's social commentary was unmatched!<p>Also enjoyed the jabs at Burger King's RETURN OF THE JEDI tie-ins, with Binkley saving Princess Pistachio from a Darth Vader Death Glass. LOL

  • Nov. 2, 2009, 7:32 p.m. CST

    The only truly funny comic these days is Pearls Before Swine

    by Clavius

    If you haven't read it before, take a gander at one of the collections of "Pearls" comic strips at your local bookstore.<br> <br>Goofy, funny, often dark. I think Stephan Pastis has picked up the torch from Breathed and ran with it quite well.<br> <br>As a side note, does anyone remember "Arnold" by Kevin McCormick? A truly strange strip that ran for six years which was also required reading for me along with Bloom County, Far Side and of course Calvin. I always wished for an Arnold collection, alas it never happened.<br> <br>Long live Bill the Cat! "OOP, ACK!"

  • Nov. 2, 2009, 8:35 p.m. CST

    The only funny thing about Cathy...

    by Royston Lodge

    ...was the strip at the very end of Bloom County's run where Steve Dallas gets a job as a Cathy guest star.

  • Nov. 2, 2009, 8:44 p.m. CST

    Best comic strip

    by STLost

    Such fond memories of this strip in the 80s. I loved all of the subplots and story arcs. I was so excited to get my Bill the Cat stuff animal. Still have it somewhere. <p> "Run with the devil, shout Satan's might; Deathtongue! Deathtongue! The beast rises tonight."

  • Nov. 2, 2009, 9:56 p.m. CST

    Great strip this is

    by DarthJedi

    but Pearls Before Swine and Get Fuzzy absolutely NEVER cease to just crack me up any time I read 'em.

  • Nov. 2, 2009, 10:09 p.m. CST

    berke breathed

    by mightythor

    was living in iowa city during the bc peak years. so was i. rumor had it, a local lawyer, an acquaintance of mine, was the inspiration for steve dallas.

  • Nov. 3, 2009, 12:27 a.m. CST

    GUMMY BEARS! GUMMY BEARS!

    by frank cotton

    THEY'RE CHEWING ON MY BRAIN! hey, where's the GET FUZZY love?

  • Nov. 3, 2009, 10:32 a.m. CST

    No love for Boondocks?

    by Galactic

    Yes it's a fairly "new" strip but it can have some pretty biting commentary. Again, not in the same category as Bloom County and certainly not on the level of Doonesbury, but pretty consistantly funny social commentary, often satirical but sometimes (sadly) not. And BTW Happy Boy, no I wasn't saying Fox Trot was in the same category as Bloom County in my second post. I was saying Fox Trot was a better comic strip imo. It's like saying you liked Spiderman 2 more than you liked What's Eating Gilbert Grape. They are in nowhere near the same categories, but they're both MOVIES. Same scenario.

  • Nov. 3, 2009, 8:18 p.m. CST

    "Kathleen Sullivan..In Spandex.."

    by MGTHEDJ

    "in a hot tub..filled with warm Jell-o!" That was the best moment for me, for this follow-up incident. Berke Breathed won the Pulitzer and was interviewed in NYC on Good Morning America. That day filling in for Joan Lunden was THE Kathleen Sullivan. As she was reading the telepromter plugging the upcoming interview, they showed the panel with the above quote. Live on the air, Sullivan stopped, and said "Whoa, uhhh, oh my!" and got red faced as the rest of the studio started to laugh hysterically. She then tossed it to the news anchor Edie Magnus, who was in DC, and she was laughing maniacally with her mouth wide open. Berke did the interview about 10-15 minutes later with Sullivan. One of my favorite moments of Live TV.-----later-----m

  • Nov. 4, 2009, 4:40 a.m. CST

    Chuck Jones' Timing?!?!

    by Rowsdower.ZabRowsdower

    Study up some history. Chuck started off with WB as an animator... working for the real deals like Isadore Freling and, the main man himself, Bob Clampett. It wasn't until later that Chuck took it upon himself to (a phrase that is woefully all-too often used these days) "re-imagine" other animators' works into his own. Chuck Jones is/was a hack who, like Newton, stood upon the shoulders of geniuses. Hell... he even put his "own spin" on Tom & Jerry and left that shitty looking until Gene Deitch came along with his own, and original, psychedelic spin on the classic. Will people quit extoling the undeserved virtues of a copy-cat like Chuck Jones and realize that there were far superior animators/directors working for Warners back then? Long live Clampett and Freleng and McKimson!!!

  • Nov. 4, 2009, 4:49 a.m. CST

    Oh, & while we're talking...

    by Rowsdower.ZabRowsdower

    Hells yes, Bloom County was, easily, one of the funniest and most topical strips of the '80's. Doonsbury stood the test of time... Calvin & Hobbes, sadly (and easily the best we've ever had) had to disappear with all of our collective innocence... but BC (no, you knobs, the other one) will always be one of the best-illustrated, best-written & best conceived strips of all time. DEATH TO THE MARY-KAY COMMANDOS!

  • Nov. 4, 2009, 4:58 a.m. CST

    acapellaman????

    by Rowsdower.ZabRowsdower

    Did you seriously just reference the warm, milktoast strip that is "For Better or for Worse" as a "good strip?" Really? You need Juan Valdez and half the coffee in Columbia to stay awake after reading one of those!