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Mike Russell Talks BLOOM COUNTY And More With Pulitzer-Prize Winning Humorist Berkeley Breathed!

Published at: Nov. 4, 2010, 5:11 p.m. CST by headgeek

THE AICN Q&A: BERKELEY BREATHED

Berkeley Breathed spent years saying in interviews that no one would want to buy an omnibus collection of his rude, rash and much-loved 1980s newspaper comic "Bloom County." So how the hell did editor Scott Dunbier finally talk Breathed into allowing IDW to publish the five-volume "Bloom County: The Complete Library"? "By getting Scott to agree to do it himself," wrote Breathed in an e-mail. "It's really 'Bloom County by Scott Dunbier' now. A jaw-droppingly monumental job, compiling all that stuff. Most of the originals looked like the Dead Sea Scrolls. The difference being that my material actually did prove that Jesus existed." For newspaper-comics fans of a certain age, Breathed was sort of the Chuck Jones of the funny pages -- a storyteller with ridiculously sharp comic timing who worked with a cast of talking animals and screwed-up humans. He could make you laugh with tiny facial expressions and anarchic bits of slapstick, much of the latter involving a diseased cat. Drawn in feverish, last-minute all-nighters, the strip was so reckless and awesomely crass that finding it on the same page as "Marmaduke" and "Garfield" almost felt like getting away with something. Breathed tends to play his gifts down in interviews: He told me he was "destined to be an outsider" in the cartooning community -- despite winning a Pulitzer prize for it in 1987, at age 29 -- "because cartooning was a means to an end: humorous expression and storytelling in whatever medium would have me. Cartooning happened to lay in my path and I rode it." He's selling himself wildly short. If Bill Watterson was Disney Studios, Breathed was Termite Terrace -- and part of the last truly comedically badass trio of newspaper cartoonists, along with Watterson and "The Far Side"'s Gary Larson.

Breathed ended his second "Bloom County" sequel strip, "Opus," in 2008, and seems to have quit the business for good this time (his third attempt, after retiring "Bloom County" in 1989 and "Outland" in 1995). These days, he develops TV projects and makes children's books, including "Mars Needs Moms!" -- which is being made into a film by Disney and Robert Zemeckis' production company. (A teaser trailer should debut any day now.) He's also become something of an elder-statesman cartoonist, which probably gives him hives: He enjoyed a blockbuster appearance at his first San Diego Comic-Con this year, and starting in February 2011, he'll have his first-ever retrospective exhibit at the Cartoon Art Museum in San Francisco. "The show is scheduled to run February to June, and will be split between Berkeley's children's-book work and 'Bloom County,'" said Dunbier. "There will be a reception at some point with Berkeley in attendance." Almost exactly one year ago, I interviewed Dunbier about his mad scavenger hunt to assemble "Bloom County: The Complete Library." Now Dunbier's paved the way for an interview with Breathed himself -- in support of the just-released "Complete Library" Vol. 3. Breathed agreed to be interviewed by e-mail, as is his wont. He answered over 40 questions -- talking about deadlines, copyrights, Watterson, Schulz, Trudeau, college, editors, newspapers, disrespect, IDW, "Opus," the Internet and Hollywood triumphs and horrors. (God, the stuff about the Weinsteins.) An edited transcript follows. -- Mike Russell, CulturePulp.com

'BLOOM COUNTY' MEMORIES

MIKE RUSSELL: I'm told that Scott Dunbier is constantly egging you to let IDW reprint more of your pre-"Bloom" college comic strip "The Academia Waltz" than makes you comfortable.

BERKELEY BREATHED: Much of it is embarrassing. Not from the lack of professionalism -- that's sorta cute -- but from the idiot callousness of the humor. Nineteen-year-olds should not have access to a newspaper page.

RUSSELL: For me, the biggest revelation of the IDW's first "Bloom County" collection was watching you learn how to make a comic strip in public. Almost the entire cast from the first six months of "Bloom County" was jettisoned. Was the syndicate cool about giving you time to figure it out?

BREATHED: The Washington Post syndicate had little option, as they hadn't a clue what I should do. They were smart about the fact that they were only slightly dumber than me vis a vis what a comic strip is supposed to be. They'd tried to make a strip by committee just before they stumbled on my work: "Dupont Circle." A magnificent failure, of course. By the time they got to me, they were flummoxed and just threw me a bottle of Vermouth and the keys to the Ferrari. Yep -- you can see me learning to drive and destroying the neighborhood in the process. All in the books now, alas.

RUSSELL: On your children's books, you've said you lay out the story in pictures, then write it. What was your construction process for "Bloom County"? Did you work backwards from a punchline -- i.e., Steve Dallas turned into a giant can of SPAM -- and then figure out how to get there?

BREATHED: Indeed -- you start with the image, idea or gag you want to finish with, and then work backwards to find the simplest, most efficient way to get to it. Not that I did this well during much of "Bloom County." I see it now as shockingly overwritten. Today, I'd edit the dialogue down nearly 50% with half the strips. Becoming a screen- and TV writer teaches you much about word discipline.

RUSSELL: One thing that distinguished "Bloom County" from other strips was that it wasn't just a single type of comic -- it had political and cultural satire, but also continuity, lyrical moments, deep characterization, slapstick. Was there a conscious sense of juggling these tones?

BREATHED: I wouldn't use the word "conscious sense" in any context regarding my approach to work. Honestly, one tempts the gods with that. Nothing in the history of creativity was done with less calculation than "Bloom County." The good ol' days. And, I might add, lovely irony, as it followed the aforementioned "Dupont Circle," which was cobbled together each week by a committee of editors from the Washington Post. I use this story now to steer away nosy producers as we put together a kids' TV show right now -- which, by the way, is EXACTLY like producing a comic strip, from a creating point of view. I'm back home.

RUSSELL: Re-reading "Bloom County" now, the sheer rudeness of some of these comics is still sort of breathtaking. What sort of editorial gauntlet did you have to run at the time to preserve what you've called the comic's "up yours" attitude?

BREATHED: Few fights then. Almost none. Interestingly ... probably impossible now. Fear rules in the pages today. Shivering, pee-in-your-pants fear that another subscriber will cancel. So the editors edit everything and anything out that could possibly offend. Or be vaguely interesting. A brilliant, sad strategy to speed up the inevitable collapse.

RUSSELL: Could "Bloom County" even exist in syndication today?

BREATHED: "No" is the short answer. Papers would be flummoxed by "Bloom County" now. It was meant for youthful eyeballs -- and there be none of those ogling newspaper comic pages now. Old-timers chuckling over "Doonesbury" and "Beetle Bailey" are pretty much all that's left. They clip out their favorites, stick 'em on the fridge, and put the rest under their parakeets to shit on. The good ol' days.

RUSSELL: You've talked at length about your deadline insanity in "Bloom County"'s early days -- epic all-nighters, finishing comics on the plane ride over to the syndicate, etc. Did a passenger sitting next to you on a plane ever freak out to see you speed-drawing in the air?

BREATHED: They were understandably intrigued, and often peppered me with questions while I tried to work. Not so interestingly, it was usually "What's it like to be a cartoonist?" An impossible question to answer -- even while one isn't on deadline trying to ink on a piece of 28-inch-wide paper balanced on a 14-inch-wide airline table while going through thunderstorms over St. Louis. I remember answering it with, "Well, what's it like to be a nose picker?" It made no sense, but that was the point, and they'd usually go quiet until Washington. The good ol' days.

RUSSELL: How long did it take you to produce a finished "Bloom County" strip when you were working on all fear-fueled cylinders?

BREATHED: Don't hafta tell you.

RUSSELL: You've said middle age gave you a bit more discipline, deadline-wise. Was this a gradual process, or was there an actual come-to-Jesus moment in there somewhere?

BREATHED: Maturity just handled it eventually. After 20 years, it simply became too embarrassing to seem that much of a juvenile dolt about deadlines. Plus, I had kids. They don't need to observe and learn that extra dollop of adolescent dweebishness from their dad when he's a walking manifestation of arrested development already.

RUSSELL: Steve Dallas' arias of foul behavior were always my favorite part of "Bloom County." I believe you've said he was based somewhat on a real person. Did that person ever catch on?

BREATHED: No, no. Steve Dallas was a synthesis of all the frat boys I went to school with. There was a suicidal kid at U of Texas that came to believe that he was Steve Dallas and I was listening through his walls. I'd wake each morning to find him sleeping on my front porch. 'Twas my first hint as to the can of worms that I'd opened with cartooning. And their weird power. Then.

RUSSELL: One reason the IDW reprints are possible is because you fought to win back your copyright in 1989, and encouraged peers like Gary Larson to do the same.

BREATHED: I had to swindle my rights back, which was unpleasant. A necessary evil. I told them I was going to quit "Bloom County" unless I got the rights back which they should have never owned to begin with. They thought I was bluffing until a week before my deadline. A Post exec flew out and hurriedly signed the papers. A week later I told them I was retiring anyway, but now with my rights. War is messy.

RUSSELL: You went to your first Comic-Con this year. Were you surprised by the enduring love for "Bloom County," which you'd described in older interviews as having a topical sell-by date? Did it make you feel like less of -- as you've put it -- "a fraud and a cheat"?

BREATHED: Ha. Oh, I'm still a fraud, but I'll take "Appreciated Fraud" these days. Comic-Con was a marvelous experience. I relished being around so much creativity ... as nutcake as it was. I walked the insanity and breathed it in -- savoring it like a vaguely unpleasant odor from one's past that still brings on a smile nevertheless. I live in a community where the only creativity expressed is at tax time. [You can find videos of Breathed's 2010 Comic-Con presentation right here: 1 2 3 4 5 6 7 ]

RUSSELL: Did you always see yourself as an outsider in the cartooning community?

BREATHED: I was destined to be an outsider because cartooning was a means to an end: humorous expression and storytelling in whatever medium would have me. Cartooning happened to lay in my path and I rode it. But the True Believers knew a part-timer when they saw one. Not in my DNA.

RUSSELL: You've talked about the "ridicule and disrespect" you've endured in certain quarters, especially early in your career. But now that print retrospectives are being issued of your work, do you sense that changing? Are you an elder statesman now?

BREATHED: "Ridicule"? Where'd I say that? The only disrespect I got was from the editorial cartoonists royally pissed I won a Pulitzer. Now there's some ill-treatment that one can relish. It's like being disrespected by your mother-in-law who sawed her own legs off during a drunk. Good simile.

ASTONISHING HOLLYWOOD TALES

RUSSELL: Before Zemeckis came along for "Mars Needs Moms!," you had frustrating Hollywood experiences: an animated "Wish for Wings that Work" special that you mildly dismiss in the Vol. 3 side-notes as "sentimental"; a production of "Edwurd Fudwupper Fibbed Big" that you've called "unfinished and unwatchable"; and a recent Miramax development process for an "Opus" movie that your recent comments suggest is best forgotten. (They wanted to redesign Opus? Really?) What are some of the most dunderheaded notes you've gotten during a Hollywood development process?

BREATHED: Bob Weinstein in 2006: "You can't have a penguin talk to people." The project only had one place to go from there. It's very funny now. In the end, it cost him an astonishing amount of money to be allowed to say that.

RUSSELL: You've said, "Opus shall remain unsullied by another director's vision. He's mine." If "Mars Needs Moms!" goes well, is there any chance you'd pitch a Breathed-helmed "Opus" movie?

BREATHED: I've got nothing to do with "Mars Needs Moms" as a production. They declined my invitation to participate in development ... as well they should, in retrospect. They wanted freedom to re-invent. I granted. They went in an unexpected but nonetheless exciting direction with the movie. I'll tell you a secret (this won't get on the Internet, will it?) -- I haven't told my kids that they've made a movie from my book. So I'll take 'em to the movies on opening day, but tell them we're going to see a Michael Moore lefty commie documentary on TARP. The opening bits for "Mars Needs Moms" will come up, and then I get to say, "Whoa. What the heck? Man, I'm always the last to know. Good title, though." Being a smart-ass is a DNA thing in the genes. Trying to run away from it would be like expecting a llama to quack. And no, there won't be an "Opus" movie. Bob and Harvey Weinstein own it and they don't think penguins should talk to people.

RUSSELL: What was it like directing Jonathan Winters in "Edwurd Fudwupper"?

BREATHED: I dearly love this story, because it's so instructive about life in general. The great man arrived royally pissed-off to have been conned into such a cheesy production. So I stuck him in a chair with several pretty make-up girls fussing over him, and he started telling funny stories and making people laugh, as I suspected. Boom. Like touching a match to some nitrates. He exploded, and I got a great little performance. The only successful thing about that disaster. Actually, we had Haley Joel Osment and Frances McDormand as voice talents, and they were wonderful. But the animation simply never got done to my satisfaction and it was never finished. Hiding in a vault somewhere.

RUSSELL: With "Mars Needs Moms!," do you finally feel you've gotten the toehold in Hollywood that you wanted? Did you think it would take this long?

BREATHED: Hardly a toehold, but it will be great fun seeing one's imagination realized in a movie. The movie business is all the crap and ego and greed that people have always laid upon it. But it is also the present depository of the most unabashedly creative people on the planet. They're not trying to invent the next fucking Facebook. They're trying to tell you a story and carry you somewhere. All of us -- whether we get into production or not -- are lucky to work in such a business. But they are all twisted nuts. Buried the lead.

REMEMBERING SPARKY

RUSSELL: You, Bill Watterson and Gary Larson all called your signature strips quits after about a decade, before you'd all lost your fire. What did the three of you understand that others creators don't?

BREATHED: Always leave them wanting more. Oh, how cartoonists ignore that one.

RUSSELL: You participated in the "Dear Mr. Watterson" fan documentary. Is he aware of the effort?

BREATHED: Oh, I'm sure he is. But he ain't poking his head out.

RUSSELL: Are you and Watterson still in touch?

BREATHED: The boy has gone to ground. We exchanged a large number of letters many years ago, where he'd penned brilliant, hilarious, deeply cruel cartoons of me or Opus at both our expenses. But now? Only quiet. I've got a very solid report that he was seen working at a Six Flags doing caricatures for 5 bucks. I'm serious. They said he looked really happy, albeit completely insane. I put out a bowl of milk for him on the porch on warm summer nights.

RUSSELL: Have you ever reflected on how Charles M. Schulz squeezed about three decades of prime greatness out of his 50-year run? (If you've read "The Complete Peanuts," the sheer stamina of that run becomes overwhelming.)

BREATHED: Cartooning coursed through his veins like cholesterol. His wife Jeannie once explained to me that he couldn't quit -- as I had suggested he consider -- because he drew to live. It would have killed him to stop. And indeed, he died the day that last strip appeared. I'll be checking out in a different way.

RUSSELL: Schulz sent you some get-well art when you broke your back. [In early 1986, Breathed -- as he writes in a Vol. 3 endnote -- "ran out of gas in a homebuilt ultralight and crashed into a boulder." It's why Vol. 3 ends with three Sunday strips in a row -- the last dated Feb. 23, 1986 -- and Vol. 4 starts when Breathed's injury-induced hiatus ended, on March 31, 1986.] Please explain what Schulz's gift meant to you, at the time and now.

BREATHED: To be truthful, not that much at the time. But I will always harbor a deep, deep regret that I didn't make it a point to get to know him. He lived relatively close ... and was an odd, unexpected genius in a charmingly dumb way. The best kind of genius. The fact that they never gave him a Pulitzer Prize should be a curse upon the souls of the Columbia people. What simpletons -- they were so easily cowed when the editorial cartoonists raised a ruckus when I won. Such a narrow, parochial view of cartooning they and the editorial cartoonists have.

THE ART OF THE REVISIT

RUSSELL: As the IDW books have gone on, you've offered more and more remarks in the "sidebar" commentary that accompanies some of the strips. Why the increased participation?

BREATHED: Having fun looking back. In many ways, I'm almost just another reader. Most I barely remember. Most, in fact, seem to me to have been written by someone I don't know well. It's an odd bit of dissonance for me.

RUSSELL: Is there a "sweet spot" for you, reading over the entire run of "Bloom County" -- a point where you feel the strip peaks, narratively and artistically?

BREATHED: I came across my favorites ... and I point them out in the volumes. It's fun putting enough distance between me and my work where I can read it like a fan. I'll laugh. It's a weird feeling. But a good one. Like sex with cows. I'm sorry. I shouldn't have said that. Please don't include. [Readers -- this is an e-mail interview. -ed.]

RUSSELL: When the IDW collections were coming together, were you ever tempted to restore elements the syndicate had cut -- restoring a gun removed from a man's hand, for example?

BREATHED: We handled each case differently. We usually fell back on what was actually published. Other times, I made them the way I had intended. Tough calls, often. It was very, very, very hard to resist re-writing many of the Sundays. Some were in simply hugely ghastly in need of editing. Like that sentence.

RUSSELL: What's an example of a strip you did revisit?

BREATHED: I won't tell you. Won't. Can't. But I did. I cut about twenty unnecessary sentences out of some needless Opus oratory that made my teeth hurt. Ruined the spirit of the enterprise. But I did it, I'm not proud, and it's my book and I get to break the rules. I think I was high on horse tranquilizers when I wrote it in 1984, so there's my moral license.

RUSSELL: I just want to say: I hope there's a way to get the "Billy and the Boingers" floppy LP single from the Little, Brown books into one of these collections. That issue of the "Bloom Picayune," as well.

BREATHED: You will have to die unhappy. You find me a record player and I'll put the records in.

RUSSELL: How about a CD single?

BREATHED: I'll tell IDW that Mike Russell will be paying for this.

RUSSELL: Given any thought to having IDW collect "Outland" and "Opus"?

BREATHED: I've found that with Dunbier and IDW ... it's best to never say never. And then change your phone number.

GOING DIGITAL, GOING VINTAGE and SETTING THE RECORD STRAIGHT

RUSSELL: You've embraced digital tools for coloring and painting. Have you experimented with going digital on the linework, as well?

BREATHED: Ha! If only. I just can't free up and get loose without a pencil. They may be the bridge too far for me, digitally. No surprise-- painting digitally changed my career. My old painting table sits behind me now, gathering cobwebs. I miss only the beautiful painting to hang on a wall that used to be the result. Tangible, physical art can now be thrilling to look at. But far too slow for storytelling ... which is really my job. I don't paint. I draw stories.

RUSSELL: What was the learning curve to ramp up on the digital-painting process?

BREATHED: Steep for me. Hair-pulling incline. Career-changing once I went over the top.

RUSSELL: I've read that you have an impressive vintage-toy collection. What's your most prized piece?

BREATHED: An original Buck Rogers Disintegrator pistol from 1935. Ray guns. I was born too late.

RUSSELL: Has treatment for your Spasmodic torticollis [referenced on Breathed's Wikipedia page] proven effective?

BREATHED: I mis-diagnosed myself. I just had a whopper of a neck spasm that dropped me for several days -- literally -- then lingered for a year. It was a great opportunity to put myself in the cartoon again. I love the drama.

'OPUS' AND THE END

RUSSELL: How would you describe your relationship with a syndicate editor? I remember I was having a late dinner with your then-editor Amy Lago at a 2005 journalism conference, and she was called away in the middle of it to help you make an "Opus" deadline. "He always gets a special dispensation from me," I recall her saying before she left. Nice person.

BREATHED: Amy was the only editor that I allowed to truly edit my cartoons. She knew the game. She knew that her job was not to tell me something wasn't funny ... but that it wasn't clear. She's the last of a dying breed. Like a vodka-swigging unicorn with a hell of a sense of humor. She spanks cartoonists, by the way. We need to be on the record with this.

[I e-mailed Breathed's remarks to Ms. Lago for comment. She responded: "Mr. Breathed is, obviously, in need of another spanking."] RUSSELL: The Internet's biggest impact on culture has been the fragmentation of discourse -- there's no one central album or TV show or comic strip that's a universal discussion point any more. How blessed do you feel for having gotten out of the game before that fragmentation really set in?

BREATHED: Your question is my answer. Blessed. The last hurrah. People think that things will unravel with rising sea levels. I happen to think that it's because we won't all ever be humming the same song at the same time around the country… or laughing at the same cartoon.

RUSSELL: You're somewhat unusual in having retired from comics three times and returned to them twice. Why do you think both "Outland" and "Opus" reintroduced tropes and characters from "Bloom County" (and cut down on what you've called "stylistic detours") as they went along?

BREATHED: Because I do as all artists and writers should do: Write what we know. I knew Opus.

RUSSELL: When you launched "Opus," you scored a glorious contractual obligation that the strip run large. The strip did not appear online, either, initially, in a bid to boost print-newspaper circulation. But changes followed. "Opus" shrank in size, lost some detail in its color palette and ended up syndicated on Salon.com. And when you ended the strip, you in fact asked readers to go online to see the final panel (a generous gesture on behalf of the Humane Society). How did your consideration of the Web and the newspaper industry change over the run of the strip?

BREATHED: I knew I was on borrowed time -- and hence announced on the first day that it would go for five years and not a day more. Our culture has moved on from newspapers, and the cartoon strip as we know it has sailed off into the sunset. The Web will be a home for graphic humor. But it will be different. There are tribes of Indians in the jungles of Brazil that have never seen a spoon. But when one of them tries to get another to step into their canoe while holding an armload of bananas, promising to hold the canoe steady, the other guy will say "Oh right, and Lucy won't yank the football away at the last second, asshole." We've lost that.

RUSSELL: Do you follow any webcomics?

BREATHED: I've never read comics anywhere. I will die wondering if I would have read mine if someone else created it.

RUSSELL: You've cited the "coarsening national dialogue" as spurring the end of "Opus." It was, you said, a bitterness-avoidance measure. Has it gotten coarser since?

BREATHED: I've gotten pissier, and hence, my cartoons would too. No fun, those. When you're 24, you don't see the bullshit in quite the stark relief that you do in later years. That filter of youth helps you keep having fun with self-expression. I can't see this screen without reading glasses now. But I don't need glasses to see the strings yanking on events now. Anger is usually a poor lubricant for mirth. The kind that doesn't tear up the ground behind it, anyway.

RUSSELL: Ever feel the urge to call Garry Trudeau and finally make the peace? Your statements in recent interviews almost feel like ramp-ups to this act.

BREATHED: Good ol' Garry. Ever see the interviews with Elizabeth Edwards where she's asked about Rielle Hunter and she can't get herself to actually say Hunter's name? Calls her "that woman"? He's sorta like that with me. Come to think of it, I'm sorta like Rielle. I just want all of us to be a big happy family even while I hold his fat homely bastard love child that looks like a penguin.

RUSSELL: What was the final straw with "Opus"? The blowback with the Lola Granola-converts-to-Islam strip? (I can't believe you could have Mary Kay declare a bloody fatwa on Opus twenty years ago, but have papers pull that Lola Granola strip today.)

BREATHED: I was already headed out the door when I spent an evening standing in the produce section of a Trader Joe's talking with the publisher of the Washington Post Company directing me over the phone as to how much hair should dangle down from the forehead of Steve Dallas' newly-converted Islamic girlfriend. Bo Jones -- a big, delightful, shrewd man in the tough job of sounding very, very small due to the times and pressures of a business that was wallowing in panic. It was a sad moment. But not unfunny. I announced the final day for "Opus" within a week. An era had closed. What a good time was had, though.

RUSSELL: So you're standing in a Trader Joe's going back and forth on the phone with Bo Jones about a strand of hair on Lola Granola's head. How pissed-off are you becoming as this conversation goes on?

BREATHED: Aggravated, not angry. It'd be like getting angry at the fact that my kids are texting their lives away with the new technology. It just is. But that moment was galvanizing: time to say goodbye. The room in which you're singing is now empty except for the sound of your own echo. The good news is that if you're willing to step through some new doors, there's always other rooms with people to serenade. Or in my case, to moon.

"Bloom County: The Complete Library, Volume Three (1984-1986)" is in stores now. You can buy it at Amazon, Barnes & Noble, and BooksAMillion, among other retailers. -- Mike Russell: the personal site, the Twitter account, the e-mail addy.

Readers Talkback

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  • Nov. 4, 2010, 2:22 a.m. CST

    Greatest comic strip ever.

    by jrb

  • Nov. 4, 2010, 2:58 a.m. CST

    This & Calvin & Hobbes best comic strips ever.

    by Dogma_Jedi

    Remember when you could read Bloom County & Calvin & Hobbes back to back.... I miss those times.

  • Nov. 4, 2010, 3:03 a.m. CST

    Great guy, great strip

    by VanGoghX

    Thx much for the years of smiles and mirth, Mr. Breathed!

  • Nov. 4, 2010, 3:22 a.m. CST

    Pogo is the greatest ever.

    by Dennis_Moore

  • Nov. 4, 2010, 3:39 a.m. CST

    Agreed! Greatest comic strip ever!

    by NeverTalksBack

  • Nov. 4, 2010, 4:12 a.m. CST

    A classic through the ages

    by keltic1701

    They have classic Bloom County of Yahoo! comics and it still makes me laugh out loud after all these years. Even though the names and faces of the people who were poked and prodded by Mr. Breathed's rapier sharp wit have changed or are gone, it's still the same old wacky story....even today!!

  • Nov. 4, 2010, 4:57 a.m. CST

    I love Bloom County!

    by Griefo

    and I still have the flexi from Billy and the Boingers.

  • Nov. 4, 2010, 6:21 a.m. CST

    Digital Tools

    by CharlesG

    Speaking of Breathed's use of digital tools, my favorite Bloom County anecdote involves Xeroxed pictures of celebrities that sometimes appeared in the background. In 1985, President Reagan liked a "caricature" (actually a Xerox) of his wife so much that he called Breathed. Breathed said that he offered Reagan the "original drawing" but "couldn't find it". (Miami Herald, 1/30/85, p. A2)

  • Nov. 4, 2010, 6:34 a.m. CST

    What Bill the Cat and Hobbes were doing to Blondie...

    by Chewtoy

    ...I never quite expected to see in my lifetime, somehow. Drawn by Watterson and Breathed, no less. I can't see how she'll ever go back to Dagwood now. <p> Bloom County, Calvin and Hobbes and The Far Side really did make up the last great age of newspaper comics. Some good stuff has been done since, but they were the last to really shift what the comics page could be before that medium began to die out with the rise of the Internet.

  • Nov. 4, 2010, 6:43 a.m. CST

    Re: Digital Tools

    by RamonCarlos

    I remember that story about President Reagan! Obvious to anyone younger than Reagan's 74 that it was a Xerox of Nancy Reagan. Here's the Bloom County episode -- see for yourself: http://bit.ly/9THkvX

  • Nov. 4, 2010, 7:06 a.m. CST

    Larson, Breathed, Watterson -- that was the trifecta

    by The McPoyle Clan

    A pity that later generations are occupied instead with pictures of cats with captions.

  • Nov. 4, 2010, 7:18 a.m. CST

    Wish for wings that worked...

    by Dazzler69

    Ruled...too bad it never made it to series if that was the goal back then.

  • Nov. 4, 2010, 8:02 a.m. CST

    god did i love this strip

    by palewook

    twenty years later and its still hard for me to enjoy the comics page without bloom county in it.

  • Nov. 4, 2010, 8:21 a.m. CST

    "Pear Pimples for Hairy Fishnuts"

    by Quackfu

    Best line ever!!!!!!!!! Opus razing a Hari Krishna....Great stuff

  • Nov. 4, 2010, 8:59 a.m. CST

    Bloom county, Calvin and Hobbes and far side

    by Powerring

    real comics that were actually funny. RIP to excellence. The comics now are lame, witless wanna be's.

  • Nov. 4, 2010, 9:10 a.m. CST

    You make me sick Way-OH, Way-OH, Way-OH......

    by Nice Marmot

    I love you, Mr. Breathed.

  • Nov. 4, 2010, 9:10 a.m. CST

    I'm loving these collections

    by superfleish76

    Obviously, a lot of the pop culture references are lost to the sands of time, but the basic humor still holds up. Breathed definitely does not give himself enough credit. Interesting that the Weinsteins would buy a property about a talking penguin and then insist that you can't have a talking penguin. Kinda' missing the whole point. Regardless, Mr. Breathed, please allow them to collect Outland and Opus in the same way, so that we can have all of your brilliant work in this wonderful form.

  • Nov. 4, 2010, 9:29 a.m. CST

    Very bittersweet

    by Big_Daddy_Nero

    Man, this is tough for me. I was in college in the mid-80's, and those three strips were (and still are) integral parts of my life. The ONLY 'anthology-type' books of comics I have ever bought have been of those three comics. I have multiple large-sized books of Bloom County, Far Side and Calvin & Hobbes. each of them in their own way helped create in me a love of looking at the world through the eyes of someone who has no idea what they are looking at, which allows us to see both the beauty and the horror that exist in almost everything. But it is too true, they all three abandoned us to that horror far too soon. I love Dilbert and Pearls and Real Life Adventures, they are truly great, and I don't think the genre is dying, as Breathed insists. I always got the sense from him, even in his youth, that he was bitter and cynical on the inside, and this interview does nothing to dissuade from that position. So now they all three are like the Beatles in their own way - complete finite works, endlessly replayed and re-anthologized. I guess we should just feel lucky.

  • Nov. 4, 2010, 9:55 a.m. CST

    "CONQUESTS OF A STUD MONKEY"

    by gopher

    Needs more sex, Bekeley!...

  • Nov. 4, 2010, 10:05 a.m. CST

    really good interview

    by Rupee88

    He is just as smart as you would expect him to be.

  • Nov. 4, 2010, 10:05 a.m. CST

    Bloom County is awesome.

    by TV's Frank

    That's all. I gotta go. <p>Bill n' Opus 2012!

  • Nov. 4, 2010, 10:15 a.m. CST

    Show me a record player

    by Life Proof

    Ok. I have one, everyone I know has one, and we have ALL lost our copies of the Billy & The Boingers flexi.

  • Nov. 4, 2010, 10:29 a.m. CST

    My favorite as well

    by Acappellaman

    I used to cut out each and every Bloom County comic strip and store them in cigar boxes. I felt pretty foolish once they started releasing the books, though. Good times.

  • Nov. 4, 2010, 12:22 p.m. CST

    Billy and the Boingers record

    by monkeyboy666

    "Ok. I have one, everyone I know has one, and we have ALL lost our copies of the Billy & The Boingers flexi." Uh, no. I still have mine attached to the original book. I intend to sell this on e-bay one day to finance my retirement in Tahiti.

  • Nov. 4, 2010, 1:32 p.m. CST

    Berkeley Breathed, Comic God

    by Sonny_Williams

    I discovered him back in his "Academia Waltz" days when I moved to Austin in '76. It blew my mind when "Bloom County" came along and was embraced across the universe. I never figured his insanity would work outside the pocket of wierdity that was Austin in those days.

  • Nov. 4, 2010, 1:35 p.m. CST

    Billy and the Boingers

    by Sirmausalot

    I wonder where that is? Could I have tossed in in one of the moves. Say it aint so.

  • Nov. 4, 2010, 2:04 p.m. CST

    Wish For Wings That Work

    by OldDickLemon

    I've enjoyed this special on video every year since it debuted, but to this day, I am still stunned at how far off the chosen Opus voice was from my expectations. It just so absolutely doesn't work for me.

  • Nov. 4, 2010, 2:07 p.m. CST

    What was Billy And The Boingers original name?

    by SnootyBoots

    Death Tongue!

  • Nov. 4, 2010, 2:08 p.m. CST

    Why would you avoid a question...

    by rev_skarekroe

    ...about how long it takes to finish a strip?

  • Nov. 4, 2010, 2:33 p.m. CST

    Some of the best laughs I've ever had reading a strip...

    by DadTimesTwo

    Were had reading Bloom County. Full on, burst out loud, gut constricting laughs. Sometimes, all that set me off was Opus giving the reader a blank look. If Breathed is reading this, thanks for giving me SOMETHING to enjoy in the '80s. The good 'ol days...

  • Nov. 4, 2010, 2:55 p.m. CST

    Such a great strip

    by Darkefire

    I feel sad that I can no longer glean any new humor from the comics. I actually didn't start reading them until long after they'd left newspapers (I was born in '85), but my parents had a great number of the books and I devoured them alongside their Calvin and Hobbes books. Re-reading them over the years has been an absolute treat as more and more of the funny kept coming out as my mind developed and my knowledge of the references increased. While the jokes themselves reference people and places long gone, if you insert their successors in the same place it's still eerily accurate at times (proof that politics and political humor never changes).

  • Nov. 4, 2010, 3:13 p.m. CST

    Thank you Mr Breathed

    by SilentBob X

    This set is definitely on my want list for Xmas. And great interview with a great writer and cartoonist. Bloom County kept me sane in the 80s. Thank you, Mr. Breathed

  • Nov. 4, 2010, 3:21 p.m. CST

    When Steve quit smoking is one of my favorite stories...

    by Chewtoy

    ...in any medium, actually. From Bill smoking every remaining cigarette at once to Steve tied to the chair to Opus cowering in the toilet, just thinking about it now still cracks me up.

  • Nov. 4, 2010, 3:39 p.m. CST

    Garfield gets flack

    by Dennis_Moore

    but it's humor was perfectly understandable and relatable to me as a kid growing up in the 80's. Not everything has to be for adults in the comic strips. As great as Bloom County is, it made no bloody sense to me until I got older. That and Jim Davis is a lovely man. Have his autograph on my wall.

  • Nov. 4, 2010, 5:06 p.m. CST

    Read "Penguin Dreams and Stranger Things" about 100

    by CreasyBear

    times when I was a kid. Would just pick it up and read and laugh at a few strips, go about my kid business, then read some more later on. I learned about 80's politics by accident, the way some kids today get their news from The Daily Show.

  • Nov. 4, 2010, 5:30 p.m. CST

    Chewtoy, I'm right there with you!

    by BackRiverCatfish

    I can still picture it vividly.

  • Nov. 4, 2010, 5:52 p.m. CST

    Fuck yea, Boingers rule

    by edwardpenishands

    A bird on the face. A tongue, what a disgrace. At best this music can be described as lame. Sure we look disgusting. But whose chops are we busting. In year or a two will seem lame. And three years down the track. Will be a Las Vegas lounge act. Will be back. Will be back cause were the Boingers. God, I'm a old ass nerd.

  • Nov. 4, 2010, 6:28 p.m. CST

    Garfield was retarded

    by Rupee88

    even as a kid i didn't like it. If you didn't get Bloom County until you got into your 20s, you were just kinda slow. But Garfield was very popular so you weren't the only one into lame "mainstream" entertainment.

  • Nov. 4, 2010, 7:22 p.m. CST

    X-15 Cruise Basselope & Big Dave Diode

    by Sir Loin

    I used to clip and save many of them as a teen, as I'm sure some of you did, to put on my walls at home and then in college. I've never literally laughed out loud at comics at any other comic. Breathed is a genius and his outlandish ideas were great and are still funny today! Oliver using show & tell in school to talk about Halley's Comet impacting the earth...LOL

  • Nov. 4, 2010, 8:56 p.m. CST

    Terrific interview and blast from the past.

    by Laserbrain

    Thanks AICN. You dun good.

  • Nov. 4, 2010, 10:16 p.m. CST

    still got all the books,

    by frank cotton

    and when i'm old and feeble i'll read them again, and maybe die laughing. there are a few good strips out there - GET FUZZY, and ARGYLE SWEATER come to mind

  • Nov. 4, 2010, 10:49 p.m. CST

    Breathed, Bill Watterson and Gary Larson are wussies.

    by BurnHollywood

    Add Aaron Mcgruder to that list...<p> Seriously...all I have to do for a fucking living and to continue being a huge success is come up with six jokes a week and a slightly bigger one on the seventh? Who walks away from THAT?!<p> Charles Schulz almost had to die before he quit, only two months before he passed away. Scott Adams is still chugging and topical, and Wiley Miller more than makes up for Breathed's absence with NON SEQUITUR. You want to be relevant, keep working.

  • Nov. 4, 2010, 11:31 p.m. CST

    Damn, I miss Bloom County.........

    by archer1949

    I like the "Waterson=Disney Breathed=Termite Terrace" comparison. It's a good illustration of why I always prefered Bloom County over Calvin and Hobbes. Except for Pearls Before Swine and occasionally Non Sequiter, nothing has come close to Bloom COunty in my eyes since.

  • Nov. 4, 2010, 11:36 p.m. CST

    Burn, What do you know?

    by Scottadkinsfist

    Have you ever done a creative thing in your life? These guys all said what they wanted to say, and then left when they didn't. Breathed had a great run, and quit when he felt he needed to. Schultz kept going until he died, and guess what? Good for him! Not everyone has to run on the same career track YOU think they should. Also, not one of them gives a fuck whether you think they are relevant or not. They didn't get into this to be relevant to you or anyone else. They simply wanted to make a living making people laugh. They were lucky enough to succeed during their time where thousands failed.

  • Nov. 5, 2010, 12:33 a.m. CST

    In defense of Garfield

    by deelzbub

    the early strips, the ones that Jim Davis actually drew, were funny and different. This was when he was a fat cat with a little bitty head, he was an abrasive smartass who stole his owners food and pushed the dog off the table. Funny shit because he was the opposite of all the sweet little cartoon animals. The anti-Snoopy.

  • Nov. 5, 2010, 12:35 a.m. CST

    Fusco Bros

    by deelzbub

    That was some funny stuff, too

  • Nov. 5, 2010, 1:55 a.m. CST

    Yes! The Comic God!

    by L.H.Puttgrass

    Bloom County, Calvin & Hobbs, The Far Side. The Comic Strip Trinity! I miss them all! <p> And yes, my copy of Bloom County Vol.3 is ordered and will soon join my copies of Vol.1 & 2. and the rest. <p> And, again, yes, I was wearing my "Don't blame me, I voted for Bill n' Opus!" T-shirt when I voted Tuesday! <p> Forgive me. It's the only way I can vote with a straight face and no tears. <p> While I'm on the election, Hey California! You went from The Govinator to Governor Moonbeam!?! It's like watching a WWI fighter that's been spiraling to the ground, suddenly erupting into a fireball and continuing it's death spiral, but now with a really cool trail of black, sooty smoke! <p> Way! To! Go! O-Hi-O! Do-Do-Do-Dooooo!

  • Nov. 5, 2010, 7:12 a.m. CST

    I was stationed in Germany from 86-88

    by freerangecelt

    and would read Bloom County religiously in the Stars & Stripes every day. Funny as hell and still makes me smile.

  • Nov. 5, 2010, 11:48 a.m. CST

    The Colonel

    by TurboKitty

    I think my favorite strip, and this happened some time before John Lennon was murdered, was Milo and the Colonel having a discussion of great men in history, the last of which was Lennon. I still have Opus and Bill T. Cat stuffed animals that I bought at some Hallmark store, long ago and far away. Bloom County changed my perspective in so many ways. I hope that maybe someday, I will be pleasantly surprised to find an online (less edited or not edited at all) Berkeley Breathed comic strip somewhere. Thanks for sharing Berkeley Breathed.

  • Nov. 5, 2010, 12:03 p.m. CST

    B. Kliban

    by deelzbub

    Still my favorite. Still influences every drawing that I do. And if you love Larson's Far Side (like I do) you owe it to yourself to look up Kliban's stuff to see how big an influence he was on Larlon's cartoons.

  • Nov. 5, 2010, 12:03 p.m. CST

    Embracing online should be the way to go.

    by mortsleam

    If Breathed took a look at any of the popular webcomics, from Natalie Dee to Questionable Content to MegaTokyo and everything in between, he would know that there's virtually no censorship in what any of them are saying. He could easily publish himself, sitting on that fat stack of bills from Bill'n'Opus merchandising, and say whatever he wanted, make the drawings as large as he wanted. He could draw for himself, rather than an audience or an editor or a deadline. I'd like to see what he came up with. In the meantime, I need to get Bloom County Vol.3.

  • Nov. 5, 2010, 12:04 p.m. CST

    Larlon....no, Larson

    by deelzbub

    my bad

  • Nov. 5, 2010, 4:01 p.m. CST

    Greatest Ever

    by Todd1700

    Best comic of all times to me. Nothing else comes close.

  • Nov. 5, 2010, 5:17 p.m. CST

    BLOOM COUNTY was my favorite strip when I was 12...

    by SnapT

    ...and I had NO IDEA what any of the characters were talking about or what current events references were being made. I just loved Opus and Bill the Cat and Steve Dallas and the rest.

  • Nov. 5, 2010, 5:24 p.m. CST

    I was always sorry to see Bloom County go.

    by Sithtastic

    Berkley Breathed to me was an eternal class act, even if the fight over who owned Bloom County wasn't. I find it unsurprising that Breathed has had such a mixed opinion of both his competition and going into Hollywood, but I suppose he just might be too nice a guy. Nevertheless, I see what he meant about being "pissier" as he aged. Outland and Opus just never achieved the same type of affect for me.

  • Nov. 5, 2010, 6:33 p.m. CST

    I like a woman with nice firm

    by Mockingbuddha

    shoulder-blades. I learned so much about the grown up world from these strips. I used to collect them, until I figured out my parents would sometimes buy me the books. I once got beat up at school. My lip got stuck to my braces and I had to have minor surgery. Afterwards, in a haze of fear and pain, I still managed to get it together to look all sad eyed at my mom and say, "I think if you bought me 'Night of the Mary Kay Commandos,' it might take my mind off of things. She bought it, and you know what. It did make me feel better.

  • Nov. 5, 2010, 7:50 p.m. CST

    AWESOME SAUCE.

    by Mr. Nice Gaius

    No doubt in my mind that BLOOM COUNTY was the greatest comic strip of all time. Has there ever been a better comic-ensemble cast?!<P>I never really understood the fascination with CALVIN & HOBBES...especially when BLOOM did everything so much better - touching upon tons of social-political issues while delivering the zany time after time. Such great stuff.<P>Great interview, guys. Well done.

  • Nov. 6, 2010, 8:22 a.m. CST

    Fantastic interview.

    by Jack Burton

    Bloom County is the greatest ever. Thanks, that interview made my day. The only ones in papers that I think come close to the classics now are Pearls Before Swine and Get Fuzzy. And I know both of those guys are big fans of the 80's Holy Trinity (Breathed, Watterson, Larson).

  • Nov. 6, 2010, 9:36 p.m. CST

    Scottadkinsfist

    by BurnHollywood

    "Have you ever done a creative thing in your life?"<p> Yeah, I AM a freelance artist, fuckhead. I'd fucking KILL for the recognition and success these guys have managed, with what likely amounts to about two hours work a week...and they walked away from it.<p> Fuck them and fuck you.

  • Nov. 7, 2010, 6:12 p.m. CST

    by glenn_the_frog

    If you think its only two hours of work a week, you don't understand a thing about the process, the craft, or the art involved. <p> I'm not saying its the most strenuous job in th world, but there's more to it than you give credit for.

  • Nov. 9, 2010, 10:22 a.m. CST

    BIG FAN!

    by 2for2true

    The only reason I subscribed to newspapers during the 80's and 90's. Opus 'n' Bill were the greatest Sunday comic strip characters ever. R.I.P., guys. You are sorely missed every day.

  • Nov. 17, 2010, 10:30 p.m. CST

    A Great Interview

    by kevinwillis.net

    Whatever else you say about Schulz, sitting down and reading his work, up to the end, in huge--like, three years at a time--style chunks makes you really appreciate what the guy accomplished. It's a frickin' masterpiece, the entire output of his work. And so is Breatheds and Watterson's, et al. I just wish I had 50 years of Gary Larson or Calvin and Hobbes to peruse in my retirement. Because peruse it I would.