Berkeley Breathed

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Berkeley Breathed
Breathed and his statue Opus the Penguin
Born Guy Berkeley Breathed
(1957-06-21) June 21, 1957 (age 60)
Encino, Los Angeles, California, U.S.
Nationality American
Area(s) Cartoonist, illustrator, screenwriter
Pseudonym(s) Berke
Notable works
Bloom County comic strip (1980–1989, 2015–present)
Outland Sunday strip (1989–1995)
Opus Sunday strip
Awards Pulitzer Prize – For editorial cartooning

Guy Berkeley "Berke" Breathed (/ˈbrɛðɪd/ BREDH-id; born June 21, 1957) is an American cartoonist, children's book author/illustrator, director and screenwriter, best known for Bloom County, a 1980s cartoon-comic strip and more recent Internet cartoons that reflect sociopolitical issues as understood by fanciful characters (e.g., Bill the Cat and Opus the Penguin) and through humorous analogies. Bloom County earned Breathed the Pulitzer Prize for Editorial Cartooning in 1987.

Early life[edit]

Born in Encino, California,[1] and raised in Houston, Texas, Breathed attended Westchester High School[2] in Houston.

Cartooning career[edit]

Breathed became published first when he was hired part-time by the Austin American-Statesman to draw editorial cartoons for the newspaper. This job was short-lived; he was dismissed shortly after one of his cartoons caused outrage.[3] His first comic strip published regularly was The Academia Waltz, which appeared in the Daily Texan, in 1978 while he was a student at the University of Texas. During his time at the University of Texas, Breathed self-published two collections of The Academia Waltz, using the profits to pay his tuition. The comic strip attracted the notice of the editors of The Washington Post, who recruited him to do a nationally syndicated strip. On December 8, 1980, Bloom County made its debut and featured some of the characters from Academia Waltz, including former frat-boy Steve Dallas and the paraplegic Vietnam war veteran Cutter John. In the beginning, the strip's style was so similar to that of another popular strip, Doonesbury, that Doonesbury's creator Garry Trudeau wrote to Breathed several times to indicate their similarities.[4] Breathed has acknowledged that he borrowed liberally from Doonesbury during his early career. In the Outland collection, One Last Little Peek, Breathed even put an early Bloom County side-by-side with the Doonesbury comic strip from which it obviously took its idea.

Bloom County earned Breathed the Pulitzer Prize for editorial cartooning during 1987.[5] The strip eventually appeared in over 1,200 newspapers around the world until Breathed retired the daily strip in 1989, stating that he wanted to terminate the strip while it was still popular. At that time, he said, "A good comic strip is no more eternal than a ripe melon. The ugly truth is that in most cases, comics age less gracefully than their creators".[6]

He replaced this strip with the surreal Sunday-only cartoon Outland in 1989, which reused some of the Bloom County characters, including Opus the Penguin and Bill the Cat. He ended Outland in 1995.

In 2003, Breathed began the comic strip Opus, a Sunday-only strip featuring Opus the Penguin, who was one of the main characters of Bloom County.

Several newspapers chose not to run the August 26, 2007, Opus cartoon because it might offend Muslims.[7]

On October 6, 2008, Breathed announced plans to discontinue all work on comic strips with the final Opus strip to run on November 2, 2008.[8] Breathed planned to focus on writing children's books.[2] Breathed explained that he felt that the United States was going to face "tough times", and that he wanted to end the saga of his most memorable character "on a lighter note".

The last Opus comic strip appeared on schedule, but in what may be a comic first the final panel required an online link. The final panel of the strip showed Opus sleeping peacefully in the bed depicted in the classic children's book, Goodnight Moon. This panel was available only online, and the Humane Society of the United States page that displayed it no longer exists.

Breathed said that he had no regrets in leaving political cartooning, as he believed the atmosphere became too bitter for him to make quality cartoons.[9]

In July 2015 Breathed hinted at a return to the strip when he posted a photo to Facebook of him at his computer, starting a cartoon entitled "Bloom County 2015". He added: "A return after 25 years. Feels like going home."[10] The strip was later posted to Facebook.[11] He has subsequently been posting new Bloom County 2015 strips via Facebook on an almost-daily basis.

Other works[edit]

In addition to his syndicated cartoon work, which has produced eleven best-selling cartoon collections, he has also produced five children's books, two of which, A Wish for Wings That Work and Edwurd Fudwupper Fibbed Big, were made into animated films. Since 1992, he has designed a greeting card and gift ensemble collection for American Greetings, featuring the "Bloom County" characters Opus, Bill the Cat, and Milquetoast the Cockroach. Breathed's writing has also been featured in numerous publications, including Life, Boating, and Travel and Leisure, and he produced the cartoon art for the closing credits of the Texas-based film, Secondhand Lions, which featured a strip called Walter and Jasmine. The panels he drew for Secondhand Lions appear in Opus: 25 Years of His Sunday Best, in which Breathed terms them "the comic strip that never was".

Breathed has been a supporter of the animal rights group PETA and illustrated the cover of PETA's Compassionate Cookbook, T-shirts, and other merchandise.

Breathed cameos as himself in the short film Tim Warner: A Life in the Clouds, a fictional tale about an unhappy cartoonist and his unfunny strip, The Silver Lining.[12]

Breathed adapted his children's book Edwurd Fudwupper Fibbed Big into a short film produced by Nickelodeon Movies in 2000.

The 2011 motion-capture Disney film Mars Needs Moms was based on Breathed's picture book of the same name.

Personal life[edit]

Breathed is a fan of outdoor activities such as powerboating and motorcycling. In 1986, he broke his back in an ultralight-plane crash, later incorporated into a Bloom County storyline in which Steve Dallas breaks his back after being attacked by an angry Sean Penn. Breathed also nearly lost his right arm to a boating accident.[4]

Breathed once stated he is an atheist.[13]

On May 18, 2008, in his comic strip Opus, he announced he was suffering from a condition known as spasmodic torticollis.[14]


Cartoon compilations
Children's books
  • A Wish for Wings That Work: An Opus Christmas Story, 1991
  • The Last Basselope: One Ferocious Story, 1992
  • Goodnight Opus, 1993
  • Red Ranger Came Calling, 1994
  • Edwurd Fudwupper Fibbed Big, Little, Brown and Company, 2000
  • Flawed Dogs: The Year End Leftovers at the Piddleton "Last Chance" Dog Pound, 2003
    • Breathed said that Flawed Dogs's intended audience is different from the intended audiences of his other picture books. He said that Flawed Dogs would be "perfect" for 8-12 year olds, but that he would not read the book to his (in 2009) 5-year-old son.[9]
  • Mars Needs Moms!, 2007 (adapted into the film Mars Needs Moms! released in 2011)
  • Pete & Pickles, 2008
  • Flawed Dogs: The Shocking Raid on Westminster, 2009



Further reading[edit]

  • Strickler, Dave. Syndicated Comic Strips and Artists, 1924-1995: The Complete Index. Cambria, CA: Comics Access, 1995. ISBN 0-9700077-0-1

External links[edit]