Toon Musings: Blooming Terrific
There’s no great shortage of bad news in the funny pages these days. Newspapers are folding like origami cranes, or shedding comic strips like water off a duck’s back. Editorial cartoonists are getting fatwa‘ed abroad, hunted like rhinos; and at home are finding it increasingly hard to find a place in the print world, like mountain gorillas pushed out of their ancestral land by human encroachment. And like renditioned prisoners in some CIA black site, similes are tortured beyond the breaking point. Oh, the Humanity.
Amidst all this sturm und drang (like a community theatre production of Der Ring des Nibelungen!) there recently was a bit of good news: Bloom County is back. Just in time for Campaign 2016, Berkeley Breathed has decided to revive the much-beloved strip and — metaphorically — stir the political pot. (Okay, I’ll stop now.)
Often derided as a Doonesbury knockoff when it first debuted in 1980 (mostly because of its political bent and the way it depicted character dialog), Bloom County soon distinguished itself as loopier and more whimsical, and often more crass and bawdy, than its word-balloon doppelganger. As the years progressed, it became one of the very best strips in syndication.
And then it was gone. At the time, Breathed said he wanted to quit while he was ahead; arguably, he was at the top of his game when he shut it down. Subsequently, he’s said that deadline pressure took all the joy out of cartooning, and that the “sullied air” and the previous administration’s antics prevented the strip’s return in the early aughts. Curiously, he ended the original Bloom County by having his characters all get fired by none other than the current Republican frontrunner for President. Behold, the Circle of Life!
So now, like the quadrennial Trump, he has returned. Much rejoicing, as there are not enough really good strips out there, and judging by his new installments, he’s in top form. But the most interesting feature of this new incarnation of the strip is its method of dissemination: Facebook. Breathed is following a webcomics model and putting it out there for free on the Internet: no editors, no hard deadlines, nice work if you can get it. No income either (as far as I know), but that shouldn’t be an issue for him. With the cash from several best-selling books in his portfolio, I don’t expect he’s missing any meals, unless he has some really expensive hobbies (Powerboats? Ultralights? He does have a couple of kids). And unlike Calvin and Hobbes’ Bill Watterson, Breathed was not averse to marketing his characters. From a business standpoint, this foray into webcomics will introduce a whole new generation of merchandise-hungry fans to Bloom County.
And good luck to him. In this new Stewart-free and Colbert-deprived world, I’m just glad to have him back.
Phil Maish is a freelance cartoonist of no repute. His modest efforts may be viewed at www.myth-fits.com. He has worked for the Government, the Press, the Opera, and a Soulless Corporation. Self-taught and beholden only to his formidable wife and amazing son, he spends his free time gadding about in his vintage autogyro and, with his faithful manservant Nicopol, exploring untrammeled wildernesses, discovering hitherto unknown animal species, smashing spy rings, and regaling fellow members of the League of Intrepid Adventurers with tales of his intrepid adventures.