Wed. Nov 30th, 2022

When Bloom County first appeared in the Rocky Mountain News in December 1980, 13-year-old me noticed it right away. The style and characters were reminiscent of Doonesbury (Bloom County author Berkeley Breathed has acknowledged the influence of Garry Trudeau’s comic), but it was fresh, wacky, and mostly hilarious. Not only was Breathed’s artistic ability evident even when compressed into a few square inches of newsprint, it also stood out from those of BC, Wizard of ID, blonde, and other steadfast comic pages for its sharp and satirical humor. Every character Breathed introduced quickly found a home in it Bloom County‘s twisted little world, especially Bill the Cat, who was introduced to satirize Jim Davis’s constant attempts to pump out Garfield merchandise.

The comic had a great run until Breathed went out of business in August 1989, much to the disappointment of its millions of fans. Breathed was the first artist to walk away from a popular comic strip while it was still fresh and funny, and perhaps he was an example to Bill Watterson (Calvin and Hobbes) and Gary Larson (The other side) to follow, as they unexpectedly wrapped up their comics in 1995.

Breathed didn’t completely give up on the comics and moved on to the short-lived, Sunday-only ones Abroadwith an all new cast apart from Bill the Cat and Opus the penguin. Abroad ended in 1995, and we wouldn’t see any other Breathed comics until the launch of Opuswhich ran every Sunday from 2003 to 2008. Breathed hasn’t been present in the comic world since then, but that changed unexpectedly and thankfully in July 2015 when the first all-new Bloom County comic in more than two and a half decades appeared on Facebook.

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The return of Bloom County in July 2015

Berkeley breathed

Times have changed since then Bloomthe heyday of the eighties. The internet has made it possible for talented artists around the world to make anyone, anywhere, laugh. I have bookmarked over 20 webcomics and I visit them daily. And the latest incarnation of Bloom County is certainly not the first online comic to make the transition from the web to print; I have the first three volumes Questionable content as well as the Allie Brosh collection Hyperbole and a half comics.

In addition to making comics more accessible, the internet also excels as a medium for geek nostalgia. I spent hours browsing through the Bloom County archives on comics.com, and like other fans, I was overjoyed when (mostly) new comics appeared daily on Facebook (the comic currently has over 650,000 likes). Earlier this year, Breathed announced Bloom County Episode XI: A New Hope on his personal website, the first printed collection of new Bloom County material in nearly 30 years. My special edition hardcover (and autographed!) copy, due to hit bookstores in paperback September 13, arrived last week.

If you are a fan of the old Bloom County but didn’t keep up with the new one Bloom County, it will be immediately familiar. The comic still focuses on the same characters (including Steve Dallas and Cutter John) with the same personalities and character flaws. Breathed’s art and writing are still spot-on. Some of his targets have changed (e.g. people who can’t look up from their smartphones), but he also berates many of the same targets from Bloom‘s halcyon days. (Hello Donald Trump!)

A real book with real online comic strips

The cover of the beautiful hardcover shows the USS Enterpoop in action, piloted by Cutter John and crewed by Opus, Bill the Cat and others. Inside are the first 173 comics that have since appeared on Facebook Bloom‘s resurrection. I flipped through it back to 1983, when I came home from the bookstore with Loose tailsthe first Bloom collection.

While seeing one of the greatest comics of all time in book form is great, the best part of it Episode XII could be the vanguard. Dubbed “The Fifth Element,” Breathed explains why he gave up the daily strip in 1989 and why he brought it back again. “I wouldn’t have stopped for 26 years if something hadn’t gone wrong,” he begins. “Popular newspaper comics used to make millions a year.”

As he describes 1989, something was not right. The constant stress (and cost of) missed deadlines added to this sense of injustice, but there was more. “Why couldn’t I run the comics in anything but a frenzy of weekly, hurried, and woefully belated panic… I wasn’t sure, but I suspected very strongly that whatever it was, it was identical to the magic, nameless fifth element that had emerged from both Gary Larson’s and Bill Watterson’s creative identities.

Breathed goes on to talk about how his correspondence with Harper Lee van To kill a mockingbird fame—and the appearance of what he called her “exploratory practice notes” brought to press by her “mean publisher”—made him think again about what he was missing. Her passing spurred him to return to his strip. He is writing:

I mourned Miss Lee and her lost world. And then thought of mine. Rare, this one: worlds and characters that are more alive to one’s readers than to their creator. We who encounter them are the Blessed Ones… not as smart as perhaps ordinary happy. We shouldn’t run away too easily… She let her created universe die. Still she demanded mine to go on. She ran out of time. I had some.

If you’ve been following Bloom County since it first appeared in July 2015, there’s very little in it Episode XI apart from the introduction you haven’t seen online yet. (In addition to appearing on Facebook, the comic also runs on comics.com with a three-day delay). In the most basic capitalist sense of the word, there is little “value” in buying this or any online comic. But that’s not why we buy comic book collections. We do it not least because of the escape they provide. Crack open Episode XI took me back in time a few decades, where I could lie on my bed and laugh at the naivety of Opus, the chauvinism of Steve Dallas, and the unwavering dedication to science of Oliver Wendell Jones. And that is worth every penny.

Frame image by Eric Bangeman

By akfire1

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