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‘Bloom County: Real, Classy, & Compleat: 1980-1989’ (review)

Bloom County: Real, Classy, & Compleat: 1980-1989
Written and Illustrated by Berkeley Breathed
Published by IDW Publishing
ISBN-13: 978-1631409769
Released 10/31/17 / $99.99

 

What can one say about the phenomenon that is cartoonist Berkeley Breathed’s Bloom County?

When it first hit daily newspapers nationwide back at the end of 1980, it seemed just another comic strip. The art was a little messy, sort of a combination of Doonesbury’s Gary Trudeau and Herman’s Jim Unger.

The characters, at least for the first few days, were mostly a bunch of senior citizens.

Then, on December 11th, 1980, we met young Milo Bloom.

On that date, he’s used as nothing more than exposition, telling a newcomer to Ma Bloom’s boarding house about the other residents.

Presumably, those other residents were intended to fuel the strip’s plots and gags going forward but soon enough, they’d fade deep into the background.

Within a month, not only was Milo carrying the strip but he was dealing with things comic strips didn’t usually deal with…like puberty.

Oh, and did I mention Milo had a dog that talked? A harbinger of things to come.

A Mr. Limekiller shows up as early as March. Although mostly forgotten today, he becomes a major player as the strip continues to carve out its own path, moving further and further away from the overtly political Doonesbury it resembled.

A month later, Ms. Bobbi Harlow, Milo’s new feminist schoolteacher, hits town for a long stay. Her arrival gives us a chance to focus on some of the other students, too, including Binkley, who becomes Milo’s best friend and sidekick. We also meet one of her dates, a “new young lawyer in town,” misogynist supreme, Steve Dallas.

A color Sunday strip starts up in late Spring! In late June, we meet Binkley’s macho father when his son brings home a dog…which turns out to be a penguin. In what has to be one of the most surreal instances of a secondary character taking over a strip, that Penguin, named Opus, finally heads Breathed in the direction he’s been searching for all along.

Still to come were memorable characters such as the wheelchair-bound Cutter John, the disgusting but lovable Bill the Cat, Rosebud the Basselope, and young African-American super nerd Oliver Wendell Jones (and his IBM 6000).

Breathed developed a deft knack for tugging at the reader’s heartstrings while poking his or her brain and at the same tickling the funnybone. Many of the old-time cartoonists could do it and it’s what separates good strips from classic ones. In just a few years, Bloom County had become a classic.

A tentative book collection was released and soon enough there were more, all of which could be found atop the bestseller lists. There was even a one-off Opus animated Christmas special!

In 1987, Breathed won a Pulitzer Prize for editorial cartooning for the strip, in spite of the fact that it was never presented as editorial cartooning. In a way, it WAS, though, as Bloom County regularly skewered both political and sociological targets on all sides of the spectrums.

After nearly nine years, though, Berke Breathed bid farewell to Bloom County, abandoning his by now iconic characters to present Outland, a new strip starring a little African-American girl named Ronald Ann, who was introduced in the last few Bloom County strips. But that’s another story.

What IDW has done is to give us, in two thick volumes, Bloom County—all of it, in all its original glory.

I knew some folks back in the ‘80s who never “got” Bloom County. They aren’t likely to grok it now either. But for the rest of us, the fans who enjoyed the feels, the laughs and the deeper meaning behind it all, for those of us who watched it slowly find its way and stand out from the rest of the Funnies, for those of us who appreciated the artist’s capriciousness, these collections are pure gold.

But wait, there’s more!

After Outland came a Sunday strip starring Opus but then it all ended for good…or so we all thought! A couple of years back, Mr. Breathed once again just had to be different and actually revived the original Bloom County as a state of the art webcomic!

Judiciously using digital tricks that would be impossible in newspapers, Opus, Milo, Steve Dallas, Binkley, and yes, even Bill the Cat, have returned! Unlike many similar attempts at revivals, this one actually works! There’s no question that Breathed is now a much better artist and his creative use of color and digital effects has been impressive, as has his skewering of modern day socio-political issues. And not content to just coast, he’s even presented us with a number of downright amazing and endearing all-new characters. These include the tiny, philosophical ballerina Abby, the sickly but strong little boy, “Sam the Lion,” and, perhaps best of all, Frank the janitor, a surprising figure of hope, calm, and wisdom at a time when we can all use it.

As they have with the classic strip, IDW is collecting the new Bloom County strips, with the latest volume, Brand Spankin’ New Day, recently out. Old fans should just naturally adore it and it has brought the artist many new fans as well.

 

Booksteve can’t recommend highly enough!

 

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