Bloom County

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Bloom County
Loosetails cover.jpg
The cover of the first Bloom County collection
Author(s) Berkeley Breathed
Current status / schedule Discontinued by author
Launch date December 8, 1980
End date August 6, 1989
Syndicate(s) Washington Post Writers Group
Genre(s) Humor, Politics, Satire
Preceded by The Academia Waltz
Followed by Outland

Bloom County was an American comic strip by Berkeley Breathed which ran from December 8, 1980, until August 6, 1989. It examined events in politics and culture through the viewpoint of a fanciful small town in Middle America, where children often have adult personalities and vocabularies and where animals can talk. It originated from a comic strip known as The Academia Waltz, which Breathed produced for the student newspaper, The Daily Texan, while attending the University of Texas.

Production[edit]

Breathed set Bloom County in a small town, despite the fact that, during the time, small towns in the United States became increasingly marginalized due to cultural, economic, and political forces. Breathed said he made the choice because he had followed a girlfriend to Iowa City, Iowa; Breathed commented "You draw—literally—from your life if you’re going to write anything with some juice to it. I did just that."[1]

Breathed's hand-printed signature on his strips is usually presented in mirror image, i.e. right to left.[2]

Berke Breathed was awarded the Pulitzer Prize in editorial cartooning in 1987 for Bloom County.[3]

Characters[edit]

Core characters[edit]

At the very beginning of the strip (December 1980), the central setting was the Bloom boarding house run by the grandparents of Milo Bloom. As the strip continued, various boarders (and/or pets) moved into the boarding house. In the order the characters debuted:

  • Milo Bloom is a 10-year-old newspaper reporter and probably the most worldly-wise of the bunch. Milo was the original protagonist of Bloom County, and much of the action takes place at the boarding house owned by his family. In the very earliest strips, Milo's grandfather ("The Major") was a central character, although after the first year or so, The Major's role diminished and the character soon vanished.
  • Cutter John is a wheelchair-using Vietnam veteran, noted for indulging in Star Trek fantasies with the meadow animals (Hodge-Podge, Portnoy and Opus), as well as anti-war protests. He is not a womanizer like Steve Dallas (below), but he is more popular with the ladies. His visage is nearly identical to that of Berkeley Breathed.
  • Steve Dallas was introduced in May 1981, but was actually originally a featured character in Breathed's previous strip, The Academia Waltz. Steve is Bloom County's sole defense attorney. Dallas was either directly or tangentially involved in most of the conflicts which occurred in the strip over the years. Chain smoker and former "frat boy", Dallas spends most of his free time either trying to seduce women or concocting get-rich-quick schemes, including forming and then managing a heavy metal band Billy and the Boingers (previously known as Deathtöngue).
  • Michael Binkley was also originally introduced in May 1981. Binkley was a schoolmate of Milo's who did not live in the boardinghouse, but with his father, Tom Binkley. He is wishy-washy and overly reflective (in the mold of Charlie Brown), when not contemplating the lives of famous figures in pop culture, often at his father's bedside in the middle of the night. His "anxiety closet" has been a staple of many storylines.
  • Opus is a large-nosed penguin (occasionally mistaken for an iguana) with a herring addiction who lost track of his mother during the Falklands War. (They were later reunited in a closing storyline at the end of the strip's series.) He was originally introduced as the pet penguin of Michael Binkley ("A boy and his penguin!" "A penguin and his boy!") in June 1981. However, Opus was only seen in a few strips that month before disappearing. He was then re-introduced as a full-time cast member in January 1982. By this point, Opus was no longer Binkley's pet, and he eventually became a boarder at the Bloom house. Opus' hopeless naïveté and optimism made him a fan favorite, and he quickly became the center of the strip, as well as the subject of two "sequel" strips (Outland and Opus), three children's books, and a television special entitled A Wish for Wings That Work.
    Milo Bloom
  • Bill the Cat is a large orange tabby cat. Introduced originally in the summer of 1982 as a parody of the comic character Garfield, and saying little beyond his trademark responses, "Ack" and "Pbthhh", he has become something of a blank slate around which various plots revolved. Numerous strips indicated that his persistent near-catatonic state was the result of drug use or brain damage resulting from once being legally dead and then revived after too long of a period. In the Christmas video A Wish For Wings That Work, Opus recounts having rescued Bill from a University Science Lab where they had replaced his brains with Tater Tots. He's been a cult member ("Bhagwan Bill"), televangelist ("Fundamentally Oral Bill"), perennial Presidential candidate (for the National Radical Meadow Party), heavy metal rock star ("Wild Bill Catt"), nuclear power plant operator at Chernobyl, and, in the last months of the series, had his brain surgically replaced with Donald Trump's. He has been known to speak on occasion, most notably during the Communist witch-hunt trials of which he has been a subject, when he remarked, "Say, you don't suppose the 'Jury Box' is anything like a litter box, do you?" Bill has apparently had affairs with Jeane Kirkpatrick, Princess Diana and Socks the cat.
  • Hodge-Podge is a rabbit who is best friends with Portnoy and Cutter John. He is politically conservative and fanatical about various issues, despite the fact that he is extremely ignorant about those same issues. Both Hodge-Podge and Portnoy (below) started off circa 1982 as unnamed minor characters, whose roles gradually increased as the strip continued.
  • Portnoy is a groundhog, although his species was a mystery for most of the strip's run. Before the revelation that he was a groundhog, he was portrayed as a squirrel, gopher, and possum. Portnoy was the grouchiest and most bigoted character by far and has in a few strips been a bully to Opus.
  • Oliver Wendell Jones is a schoolmate of Milo and Binkley, introduced in 1983. He is also a young computer hacker and gifted scientist, having invented a miracle hair-growth formula, among other things. He once tried to bring an end to the Cold War by introducing onto the front page of Pravda the headline, "Gorbachev Urges Disarmament: Total! Unilateral!", but faulty translation caused the headline to read, "Gorbachev Sings Tractors: Turnip! Buttocks!"[4] He has a fairly extensive criminal record as a result of his numerous computer pranks. An African-American, Oliver's mother has dressed her son to resemble Michael Jackson, much to Oliver's chagrin.

Other characters[edit]

  • Bobbi Harlow is the feminist schoolteacher of Milo and Binkley and the love interest of both Steve and Cutter. She was a major character until 1983, when she disappeared. She appeared only once in the strip's later years, when Opus learns she has joined the crew of The Phil Donahue Show.
  • Quiche Lorraine, cousin of Bobbi Harlow and one-time girlfriend of Steve Dallas. Was only dating Steve because of his body.
  • Tom Binkley, Binkley's father, usually distraught over his son's behavior, his own divorce or mid-life crisis.
  • Frank Jones, Oliver's father, who funds his son's scientific endeavors, particularly his cure for baldness made from cat-sweat.
  • Mrs. Jones, Oliver's mother, distrustful of technology and science, usually with good reason
  • Lola Granola, briefly Opus' fiancee.
  • Milquetoast the Cockroach
  • Rosebud the Basselope
  • Ronald-Ann Smith

Notable storylines[edit]

For detailed summaries of all storylines, see the entries for the individual books.

  • Opus was originally intended to have a run of just two weeks, but his status was cemented with a memorable Sunday strip involving a Hare Krishna asking for money. Opus continued to misunderstand the Krishna's request for money before finally misinterpreting "Prayer temples for Hare Krishnas" as "Pear pimples for hairy fishnuts!" Breathed wrote in one of the Bloom County books that the reaction was so overwhelmingly strong he made Opus a permanent member of the cast.
  • In 1984 the American Meadow Party ran Bill the Cat as its presidential candidate opposing Ronald Reagan and Walter Mondale, with Opus as the vice presidential candidate. The sequence parodied the entire campaign season and the lengths some parties would go to, with Opus becoming near suicidal when told he is running behind pickled prunes in popularity polls. It did lead to the slogan of disaffected voters everywhere, "Don't blame me. I voted for Bill and Opus."
  • Steve forms a heavy metal band with Opus, Hodge Podge, and Bill, initially called "Deathtöngue". Steve is forced to rename the band "Billy and the Boingers" after he is brought before a congressional hearing investigating the effect of heavy metal music on youth, similar to the Parents Music Resource Center.
  • Opus decides to reunite with his long-lost mother for Christmas in Antarctica, only to discover that his mother supposedly died saving soldiers in the Falklands war. Her gravestone reads, 'The Falklands Martyr: She Loved her Boy'. She is later revealed alive.
  • The cast of Bloom County goes on strike. W. A. Thornhump refuses to concede to any of their demands and attempts to have his office staff fill in. Things get ugly when Steve Dallas crosses the picket line and Thornhump hires strike-breakers to play Opus, Bill, and Oliver. In the end, the strikers are defeated, although Opus still throws eggs at Steve, saying "Here comes breakfast from Aunt Opus!!"
  • Oliver invents Dr. Oliver's Scalp Tonic using Bill the Cat's perspiration motivated from the thought of Dan Quayle becoming US President. The tonic miraculously will restore hair on anyone, but has the side effect of users coughing up hairballs. The US government bans it, but the gang decide to continue producing it illegally after discovering that desperate customers are willing to buy it at exorbitant prices. In a parody of the war on drugs, the gang is extremely successful while thwarting the ineffectual government attempts to stop the illegal trade. As violent crime arises from the trade, the tonic operation is fatally undermined when the government legalizes it. The effects are later to be shown as temporary, leaving Oliver's father totally bald.
  • Oliver learns of the Apartheid system in South Africa. He invents a "pigmentizer", which will temporarily turn a white person black. Cutter John and Opus are dispatched to Washington to zap the South African ambassador, but their balloon-powered wheelchair crashes into the Atlantic Ocean and they disappear. Though officially listed as "Eaten By Squid", Opus reappears some time later, suffering from such strong amnesia that he initially has no idea he is even a penguin. Eventually the fake news of a secret wedding between Eddie Murphy and Diane Sawyer, Opus' longtime crush, shocks him into recalling what happened. After drifting for a while between lost islands, using the wheelchair as a raft, Cutter John and Opus were rescued by a Soviet submarine and arrested as spies. In order to rescue him, Steve Dallas meets with Russian envoys to trade Cutter John in for the one thing they want from Bloom County: Bill the Cat.
  • Donald Trump is accidentally and fatally injured by the anchor of his own yacht. Incredibly, surgeons turn to Bill the Cat as a donor body in which to inset Trump's still-living brain. Trapped in Bill's body, Trump finds himself disinherited from his financial empire and estranged from his wife Ivana. With nowhere else to turn, he takes Bill's place in the Bloom County boarding house, making unsuccessful attempts to start from scratch and occasionally being given equally unsuccessful lessons on the value of life by Opus. This eventually culminates in Trump regaining power and using it to buy out Bloom County, firing the entire staff of characters in the process.

End and spinoff strips[edit]

Breathed decided to end the strip in 1989. In keeping with the continuity of the Bill the Cat/Donald Trump storyline, Trump "buys out" the comic strip and fires all of the cast. The strip's final weeks were centered around the cast finding new "jobs" with other comic strips. A "goodbye party" was held over the course of the week where characters talked about joining new strips. Portnoy and Hodge Podge get jobs as janitors behind the scenes at Marmaduke; Steve Dallas joins the cast of Cathy and attempts to pitch himself as a new superhero, but is quickly fired from both jobs; Michael Binkley becomes a wild boar skinner for Prince Valiant. Lola Granola says that she's been invited to pose for Playboy, which Opus dislikes. Milo Bloom is seen with a snake swallowing him head first and informing Opus he would be appearing Tuesdays in The Far Side. Oliver Wendell Jones is seen with the distinct features of Family Circus characters. He informs Opus he is being "bussed in" to the strip as part of a court order. Once Bloom County characters are scattered, only Opus is left as part of a plot to transition to Breathed's next strip in Bloom County's final week.

Shortly after Bloom County ended, Breathed started a Sunday-only strip called Outland with original characters and situations introduced in Bloom County's final days. However, Opus, Bill and other characters eventually reappeared and slowly took over the strip. Outland ran from September 3, 1989, to March 26, 1995. Another Sunday-only spinoff strip called Opus ran from November 23, 2003, to November 2, 2008.

Impact[edit]

Bloom County has had an influence on other cartoonists, particularly cartoonists who have an irreverent bent or tackle political topics in their work.

For example, Scott Kurtz, creator of the webcomic PvP, acknowledged Breathed's contributions at one point with a strip expressing the opinion that "so many webcomics. ..are nothing but Bloom County ripoffs", then lampooning itself by mimicking Breathed's art and dialogue style in the final panel.[5]

Aaron McGruder, creator of the comic and later animated series The Boondocks, has paid homage to Breathed's work as well, with a few aspects of the strip bearing more than a passing resemblance to important Bloom County features (including at least a couple of artistic similarities), and an episode of the animated series wherein the character Uncle Ruckus calls Breathed "Master Penguin Draw'er".

The series was adapted into the 1991 animated Christmas special entitled A Wish for Wings That Work, which is now available on DVD.

Bloom County[edit]

The fictional setting of Bloom County served as a recurring backdrop for the comic and its sequels, although the nature of the setting was frequently altered.

In the comics, the county is presented as a stereotypical American midwestern small town. The small town setting was frequently contrasted with the increasing globalization taking place in the rest of the world; though Bloom County contained the likes of farmers and wilderness creatures by default, it was frequented by Hare Krishnas, feminists, and rock stars.

While the location of Bloom County is never explicitly mentioned, there have been some clues in the strip. When Oliver Jones identified Bloom County as the place where Halley's Comet would crash into Earth, a sign was seen saying that it was at 35.05 N 146.55 E. This would place it in the Pacific Ocean, about 300 miles off the coast of Japan. Oliver's previous calculation was 39.43 N 105.01 W, which would place it just south of Denver, Colorado. In an early strip, Milo gives his address as "Box 163, Bloom County, N.I., 12460", the zip code for which would place it about 30 miles southwest of Albany, New York. Another strip has Opus trying to make airline reservations to Des Moines, Iowa. He balks at the outrageously high quoted price for a ticket stating that "Des Moines is just 94 miles from Bloom County". Geographically, this would place Bloom County in either Iowa or the far north-central tier of counties of Missouri, but likely referring to the distance from Iowa City, where the strip was produced, to Des Moines. (See Real World References below). Also, in a Sunday strip with L.H. Puttgrass, he is holding a King Soopers bag, which would place the comic in Colorado.

The county was home to the Bloom Boarding House, Steve Dallas' law offices, the Bloom Beacon and Bloom Picayune newspapers, at least one pond, and Milo's Meadow. In the comic's later years, the county contained what appeared to be a big-city ghetto ("the wrong side of the tracks", as it was known).

The geographical profile of the county was fluid as the artistic style of the strip evolved. During most of Bloom County's run, the rural meadow setting was presented realistically, while in its later years it became increasingly more abstract.

The Outland setting of the strip was originally set apart from the county by way of a magical doorway. By Outland's end, the Outland appeared to be a part of Bloom County itself.

The final Outland strip listed the characters as living at "555 Hairybutt St. Bloom County, Outland".

Opus also takes place in Bloom County.

Real-world references[edit]

Linsay House, Iowa City, model for the Bloom County boarding house.

The setting of Bloom County resembled Iowa City, Iowa, in several ways; Breathed lived there during the early years of the strip. The Bloom Boarding House, for example, which appeared as a high contrast photo within the strip, is modeled after the Linsay House located at 935 East College Street in Iowa City.[6] Another Iowa City landmark, The Prairie Lights Bookstore, was referred to in the strip as the Prairie Lights Newsstand, original Bloom County artwork from Breathed hangs in the bookstore. An original Bloom County strip hangs in the Iowa City Public Library. Breathed used the call letters KRNA to refer to Bloom County's rock radio station featuring "Rockin' Charmin' Harmon". The call letters belong to an actual Iowa City rock station which featured a disc jockey named "Charmin'" Jeff Harmon in the 1980s.[7] Several Iowa City local news items also directly inspired Bloom County storylines. For example, a fictional Ronald Reagan sexist gaffe, referring to women as "little dumplin's", was lifted from University of Iowa football coach Hayden Fry's comment, infuriating feminists at the university.

The strip's fictional newspaper, "The Bloom Picayune," is named after the New Orleans Times-Picayune.

Bloom County books[edit]

As with many other popular comic strips, Bloom County has been republished in various collections and anthologies. By 2004 the comic strip was reprinted in a total of 11 books, the first having been published in 1983 and the last in 2004. None of the reprints contained complete runs of the strip, although Bloom County Babylon contained many of the strips that preceded Loose Tails. All of the daily strips have been reprinted in Comics Revue magazine.

IDW Publishing published The Bloom County Library, a five volume hardback collection of all Bloom County strips, beginning in October 2009. This series is part of their Library of American Comics series.[8] It is a complete reprint of the strip, including side notes about cultural and political references made in the strip, "Headlines" breaks to identify the top stories of the day, and commentary from Breathed. Each volume will see three separate releases; a standard edition, a signed edition, and a signed, remarqued edition.

Breathed said that the reason why the strips printed in Bloom County Library were not posted in previous anthologies was that the publisher would not let Breathed publish 400 pages each year, so Breathed had to reduce the content in each anthology. Breathed said that he believes that "I just closed my eyes and dropped a dart on the ones to be included." He felt relieved that the publishers did not "have to ask me to do this again."[1]

Collections[edit]

Anthologies featuring content from previous collections are listed in bold.

The Complete Bloom County Library[edit]

  1. 1980–82 (October 6, 2009)
  2. 1982–84 (May 4, 2010)
  3. 1984–86 (October 26, 2010)
  4. 1986–87 (April 12, 2011)
  5. 1987–89 (October 25, 2011)

References[edit]

  1. ^ a b "ICv2 Interview: Berkeley Breathed." ICv2. September 17, 2009. Retrieved September 27, 2009.
  2. ^ My Statement on IE6, www.globalnerdy.com
  3. ^ Berkeley Breathed Sets the Record Straight, Sam Thielman (May 4, 2010)
  4. ^ "Scan of actual strip" Retrieved March 26, 2012.
  5. ^ PvPonline » Archive » Fri Oct 01
  6. ^ Holden, Greg, The Booklover's Guide to the Midwest: A Literary Tour, Clerisy Press, p. 113 
  7. ^ 94.1 KRNA – Eastern Iowa’s Real Rock
  8. ^ IDW Press Release

External links[edit]