It was a book no larger than the annual Garfield collection of comics. It formed the basis of most of my sociopolitical knowledge of the 1980s. Its contents represented the genesis of a body of work that would earn its creator a Pulitzer Prize — only the second one awarded for work of such kind. Sometime in college, a friend of mine who stumbled across my battered and dog-eared copy held it in his hands like The Grail and offered me forty bucks for it.

I turned him down.

The book was Loose Tails, the first collection of Berkeley Breathed's Bloom County cartoons, and by the time I was offered those forty dollars, it had been out of print for years, and eBay wasn't yet common cultural currency. Even if it had been, nobody I knew was selling their copies either.


Now, thanks to the Bloom County Complete Library and its lovingly footnoted and full-sized reproductions, nobody has to.

Perhaps many of you only remember Opus the Penguin dolls, but for the kids of Generation X, Bloom County (along with The Far Side) was a sublimely subversive, hilarious and endearing cultural icon that could be experienced every morning over Pop-Tarts. It was for many of us what Walt Kelley's Pogo and, later, Doonesbury were for the Boomer Generation. Pogo said, "We have met the enemy, and he is us." Bloom County looked at Reagan and Mondale and said, "Don't blame me; I voted for Bill and Opus."

The grassroots cry of political resentment was at once both sincere and absurd. Bill and Opus talked more sense in four panels on a newsprint page than the people running government. On the other hand, Opus was a penguin, and Bill was a celebrity cat that had expired like John Belushi, then come back from the grave. Like the indestructible cat, the strip is finally back on the shelves.

What may seem like 1980s nostalgia is, in its new and full presentation, surprisingly timeless. For every joke like Milo Bloom running a science experiment where he feeds bunnies named after social programs to a python named after Reagan Budget Director David Stockman, there are strips that resonate today. In one from 1982, Milo faces prosecution for teaching penguin evolution in schools. The fact that Inherit the Wind was about a 1925 trial, a movie released in 1960, parodied on a comics page in 1982 and is still equally plausible today is a little depressing. The fact that Opus refers to his antagonist as, "O Balding Monkey" and suggests to a tantrum-throwing judge that he must feel like "a total ape" is simply hilarious.

Bloom County sent up both sides of the culture war with a dual acidity and tenderness that is hard to imagine encountering on the comics page today. Unless you've grown up with Doonesbury, its concerns can seem dated and generational. On the other side, Mallard Fillmore's "walk from one side of the panel to another, marry talking points with a zinger" format seems too mean-spirited and pedestrian to be trenchant.

In Bloom County, penguins can talk, and Hare Krishnas confuse them. The rabbits and groundhogs can talk, too, and they like pretending they're in a Star Trek adventure on the lap of a disabled Vietnam vet. Oliver Wendell Jones not only objects to having to answer questions as a token representative of African Americans, he also wants his mom to stop trying to make him look like Michael Jackson, because he's busy hacking the world. Michael Binkley is terrified of his anxiety closet, and his dad is terrified he going to grow up a wuss. Pre-adolescent Milo Bloom is already the voice of the press and the ultimate political fixer. All Opus wants to do is find love and his long-lost mother.

There were so many good gags and so many tender moments that I could fill up a thousand words on memory alone. It's my immense pleasure that I no longer have to. The new editions beautifully compile and elaborate on the collections people like me grew up with.


First and foremost: each volume contains hundreds of strips never before collected. Breathed was (and is) viciously critical of himself and cut tons of funny stuff from the early collections. It is now all restored. Sunday comics are finally given the full space needed to spread across the page, with flowery title drawings previously omitted. Each collection comes in a solid hardback edition designed both to withstand compulsive re-reading and also look sober and important on a shelf.

Best of all, to those who don't remember the bizarre news cycles of the day, footnotes accompany comics with dated references, explaining their relevancy. Even though it's funny on its face, it's easier to understand the greater humor in an alien Zygorthian Raider (who looks like an adorable puppy) being lauded for his "honor" by the same congressional committee investigating him for an orbital attack when you realize he's a satire on Oliver North. It's pretty funny that Opus beat a mime half to death with an olive loaf, but it's better when you know that's a riff on Bernie Goetz.

Fans of the series should be happy to re-experience old favorites and discover forgotten strips. Kids who never got to see Bloom County in the paper will enjoy encountering it for the first time. (I got a collection for a family member in his teens, and he loves them, even if he can't yet understand everything. He's in good company: that's how a lot of us experienced them at first, too.) Meanwhile, adults will be able to (re)discover a body of work tender and sweet enough that it brought people to tears when it ended and whip-smart and sharp enough to be the second comic strip to win the Pulitzer Prize for political cartooning.

Altogether, Breathed's Bloom County represents such a remarkable combination of sweet family comedy and political satire that it makes one wonder: will we ever see such an ambitious and intelligent comic strip in our newspapers again?


Who is your favorite Bloom County character?


by Moderator Melissa_W on ‎02-04-2010 12:47 PM

Pear pimples for hairy fishnuts!!!!!!!!!!  And wasn't Ralph Nader represented as an armadillo in a ten-gallon hat (maybe I've got the wrong politician)?


I love Opus...and Bill...and Milo...and Cutter John...and Steve (even though Steve is such a butt-head) but I think my favorite character is the Basselope.  They like their Pop-Tarts with butter...which is why he's the last one.


There is nothing like Bloom County.


Two-bajillion laurels to Monty for writing such a great post about my favorite comic strip. :smileyhappy:

by Blogger L_Monty on ‎02-04-2010 01:09 PM

Hahaha, thanks. You know, if I stop and think about it, I'm pretty sure my wife and close friends and I could communicate pretty much indefinitely solely through lines from the Simpsons and Bloom County.


For instance, a friend of mine sent me an Instant Message after watching the news of an April 15 Tea Party protest last year. He was dismayed at seeing a lot of people protest a tax structure either disingenuously or because they didn't understand it. Basically, that they reaped the benefit of federal funding from it incommensurate with their regional burden. Anyway, he didn't actually say any of this. When I asked him what he thought about the protest, his only reply was this:


Opus is learning to be a farmer and has a hayseed stuck in his mouth. He is wearing overalls.

MILO: Say the following two things in one breath without cracking up.

OPUS: Okay, shoot!

MILO: "Keep those flat-footed goombahs in Washington out of my hair..."

OPUS: Keep those flat-footed goombahs in Washington out of my hair...

MILO: ..."Hurry up with my federal bailout check."

OPUS: Hurry up... Hee! Hee! Hee! Hee!

by Moderator Melissa_W on ‎02-04-2010 02:08 PM

That is awesome!


(I forgot to say earlier that Hare Krishnas confuse me, too...)

About Unabashedly Bookish: The BN Community Blog
Unabashedly Bookish features new articles every day from the Book Clubs staff, guest authors, and friends on hot topics in the world of books, language, writing, and publishing. From trends in the publishing business to updates on genre fiction fan communities, from fun lessons on grammar to reflections on literature in our personal lives, this blog is the best source for your daily dose of all things bookish.


Since 1997, you’ve been coming to to discuss everything from Stephen King to writing to Harry Potter. You’ve made our site more than a place to discover your next book: you’ve made it a community. But like all things internet, is growing and changing. We've said goodbye to our community message boards—but that doesn’t mean we won’t still be a place for adventurous readers to connect and discover.

Now, you can explore the most exciting new titles (and remember the classics) at the Barnes & Noble Book Blog. Check out conversations with authors like Jeff VanderMeer and Gary Shteyngart at the B&N Review, and browse write-ups of the best in literary fiction. Come to our Facebook page to weigh in on what it means to be a book nerd. Browse digital deals on the NOOK blog, tweet about books with us,or self-publish your latest novella with NOOK Press. And for those of you looking for support for your NOOK, the NOOK Support Forums will still be here.

We will continue to provide you with books that make you turn pages well past midnight, discover new worlds, and reunite with old friends. And we hope that you’ll continue to tell us how you’re doing, what you’re reading, and what books mean to you.