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 lens of a fanciful small town in Middle America, where children have adult personalities (and vocabularies) and animals can talk. It grew out of a strip called The Academia Waltz, which Breathed produced for the student newspaper while attending the University of Texas.
- Opus is a large-nosed penguin (often mistaken for a puffin) 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 run) Initially, Opus was only a bit player in one of the strip's throwaway gags, but his hopeless naïveté made him a favorite, the center of the strip, and 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 is a 10-year-old newspaper reporter and probably the most worldly-wise of the bunch. Milo was the original protagonist of Bloom County. Much of the action takes place at the boarding house owned by his family.
- Steve Dallas is Bloom County's sole defense attorney and the strip's antagonist/anti-hero. Dallas was either directly or tangentially involved in most of the conflicts which occurred in the strip over the years. A former frat boy, Dallas has held onto the mentality into adulthood, and spends most of his time off either trying to pick up women or concocting get-rich-quick schemes, including forming and then managing a heavy metal band Billy and the Boingers (previously known as Deathtöngue).
- Bill the Cat is a large orange tabby. Originally introduced 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 have 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. He's been a cult leader ("Bhagwan Bill"), televangelist ("Fundamentally Oral Bill"), perennial Presidential candidate (for the National Radical Meadow Party), heavy metal rock star ("Wild Bill Catt"), 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 he conducted, when he remarked, "Say, you don't suppose the "Jury Box" is anything like a litter box, do you?"
- Michael Binkley originally owned Opus ("A boy and his penguin!") and is wishy-washy and overly reflective (in the mold of Charlie Brown), when not contemplating the lives of pop culture icons. His "anxiety closet" has been a staple of many storylines, and appears in sequel strips without Binkley.
- Oliver Wendell Jones is 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!" He has a fairly extensive criminal record as a result of his numerous computer pranks.
- Cutter John is a wheelchair-bound Vietnam veteran, noted for Star Trek fantasies and anti-war protests. He is not a womanizer like Steve Dallas, but he is more popular with the ladies.
- 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.
- 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.
- 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, woodchuck, gopher, and possum. Portnoy was the grouchiest and most bigoted character by far.
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!"(causing the Hare Kirshna to say "Just cough up some dough, Mac!") 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.
- A common gag in early strips was to have Opus and other characters riding on Cutter John's wheelchair, often in parody of Star Trek. One strip featured the gang turning and fleeing from the AT&T globe logo of the 1980s, calling it "the Death Star!" Bloom County was the first major pop culture outlet to point out the resemblance between the AT&T logo and the iconic Star Wars space station, and the analogy stuck for many years.
- 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 dragged before a congressional hearing investigating the effect of heavy metal music on youth, similar to the Parents Music Resource Center. The Boingers disband after their frontman, Bill the Cat, is caught attending a Bible study group with a woman whose character is based on Mother Teresa. Ironically, the group suffers but the woman ends up with a Pepsi endorsement.
- Oliver Jones finds out about Apartheid and builds an "electro-photo-pigmentizer" (a device that resembles a camera's flashgun, which temporarily turns white people black) with which he plans to start an international brouhaha by using it on the South African ambassador to the US. Oliver sends the machine to Washington D.C. with Cutter John on a balloon chair, and Opus is accidentally dragged along. While airborne, several balloons are popped by shotguns, sending the two plummeting into the Atlantic Ocean. Both are assumed dead, so Opus' money is given to Bill the Cat, who wastes it all. Eventually, Opus turns up at the Bloom County Boarding House with amnesia, which lasts until he is shocked by an erroneous news report that Diane Sawyer has married Eddie Murphy, after which he reveals that he and Cutter John survived the splash-down and were captured by Russians. The Russians kicked Opus off the submarine and took Cutter John back to Russia. The citizens later swap Bill the Cat for Cutter John. When Opus reads a 'catch-up' letter from him, it is revealed that Bill was accidentally responsible for the Chernobyl disaster.
- Opus decides to reunite with his long-lost mother for Christmas in Antarctica, only to discover that the ship he's traveling on is the Rainbow Warrior. Escaping Russian whalers with his next-door neighbor, Mrs. Limekiller, he enters the world's least despoiled civilization only to be attacked by American troops invading. Opus later discovers that his Mother supposedly died saving soldiers in the Falklands war. Her gravestone reads, 'The Falklands Martyr: She Loved her Boy'.
- Opus discovers that his mother is alive. (He screams to Milo, "SHE ISN'T DEAD!", to which Milo replies "Who? The Democratic Party?"). He tries to rescue her from captivity in the Mary Kay cosmetics testing centre. He discovers his Mother in a cage (she vaguely resembles Opus wearing Mary Poppins' hat) only to be caught in a firefight between Mary Kay ladies with pink uzis and the Animal Liberation Guerilla Front.
- In a spoof of Ayatollah Khomeini's fatwa on Salman Rushdie, Opus is the subject of a fatwa by the Mary Kay cosmetics company for writing an editorial suggesting that women wearing too much makeup look "ungodly." A woman in the role of Khomeini bellows for "the nose of the infidel!"
- Donald Trump's body is damaged by his own anchor, but his brain is successfully transplanted into the body of Bill the Cat. Trump/Bill sees the brighter side of the situation: "Legally, I can poop in Ed Koch's flower bed."
- Opus receives 779 million dollars in cash from the U.S. Government under the mistaken belief that he is a scientist working on missile defense research. Opus uses the money to buy Bolivia, neglecting to keep the receipt. When another boxful of money turns up asking for a Space Weapon, he and Oliver create a plan entitled 'Net Wars'; a suggestion that $500 billion should be sewn together and made into a ring around the earth, similar to those of Saturn. The government buys it.
- After the breakup of Billy and the Boingers, Bill the Cat becomes a Fundamentalist televangelist, "Fundamentally Oral Bill" (a play on Oral Roberts). He declares "penguin lust" to be the biggest scourge on society. As a result, Opus is banished from Bloom County and briefly becomes a male stripper (who refuses to remove all his clothes).
- 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 USA's contemporary drug war, 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 and it is discovered that the stimulated hair growth is extremely unstable and will fall completely out at the slightest physical shock such as sneezing and leave the subject completely bald.
Breathed's hand-printed signature on his strips is usually presented in mirror image, i.e. right to left.
Among the topical issues discussed at length in Bloom County are US anti-drug policy (Dr. Oliver's Scalp Tonic, Snorting Dandelions), Christian televangelist scandals (Fundamentally Oral Bill), animal testing (Attack of the Mary Kay Commandos), hard rock and censorship (Deathtöngue and Billy and the Boingers), and mass-media advertising (Opus and his weakness for infomercials). On a Sunday Strip, Bloom County also made fun of the controversy surrounding the change in the formula used to make the Coca-Cola soft drink.
Breathed decided to end the strip in 1989. In keeping with the continuity of the Bill the Cat/Donald Trump storyline, Trump "bought out" the comic strip and fired 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 got jobs as janitors behind the scenes at Marmaduke; Steve Dallas joined the cast of Cathy, but was quickly fired; Michael Binkley became a wild boar skinner for Prince Valiant. Lola Granola said she had been offered to be a Playboy bunny, which Opus disliked. Milo Bloom was seen with a snake swallowing him head first and informing Opus he would be appearing Tuesdays in The Far Side. Oliver Wendel Jones was seen with the distinct features of Family Circus characters. He informed Opus he was being "bussed in" to the strip as part of a court order. Once Bloom County characters were scattered, only Opus was 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.
Bloom County has had an influence on other cartoonists, particularly cartoonists who have a particularly irreverent bent or tackle political topics in their work.
For example, Scott Kurtz, creator of the popular 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 itself in the final panel.
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, and an episode of the animated series wherein the character Uncle Ruckus calls Breathed "Master Penguin Draw'er".
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. 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)
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 took place in Bloom County.
Real world referencesEdit
The setting of Bloom County resembled Iowa City, Iowa in several ways; Breathed lived there at the time. The Bloom Boarding House, for example, which appeared as a high contrast photo within the strip, is the Linsay House located at 935 East College Street in Iowa City.
In addition, Breathed used the call letters KRNA to refer to Bloom County's rock radio station featuring "Rockin' Charmin' Harmon". The call letters belonged to an actual rock station based in Iowa City in the 1980s, which featured a disc jockey named "Charmin'" Jeff Harmon. The station still operates in Iowa to this day. 
Several Iowa City local news items also directly inspired Bloom County storylines. For example, Ronald Reagan's 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.
Another Iowa City landmark, The Prairie Lights Bookstore, was referenced in the strip as the Prairie Lights Newsstand.
"Milo's meadow" may be a reference to "John-Boy's meadow" in the television show, The Waltons (1972-81), whose final years coincided with Bloom County's earliest ones.
Further, the final Bloom County strip hangs in the Iowa City Public Library.
The strip's fictional newspaper, "The Bloom Picayune" is based upon the real-life newspaper the New Orleans, Louisiana, Times Picayune (Picayune, MS/New Orleans, LA).
Bloom County booksEdit
As with many other popular comic strips, Bloom County has been republished in various collections and anthologies. Template:As of, the comic strip has been officially reprinted in a total of 11 books, the first having been published in 1983 and the last in 2004.
None of the reprints contain complete runs of the strip, although Bloom County Babylon contained many of the strips that preceded Loose Tails. Many Sunday strips have never been reprinted. All of the daily strips have been reprinted in Comics Revue magazine, however.
IDW Publishing recently announce the upcoming release of the Bloom County Library, a five volume hardback collection of all Bloom County strips beginning in October of 2009. This series will be part of their Library of American Comics series.
Anthologies featuring content from previous collections are listed in bold.
- Loose Tails (1983)
- Toons For Our Times (1984)
- Penguin Dreams and Stranger Things (1985)
- Bloom County Babylon: Five Years of Basic Naughtiness (1986)
- Billy and the Boingers Bootleg (1987)
- Tales Too Ticklish to Tell (1988)
- The Night of the Mary Kay Commandos (1989)
- Happy Trails! (1990)
- Classics of Western Literature (1990)
Other reprints of the stripEdit
- One Last Little Peek, 1980-1995: The Final Strips, the Special Hits, the Inside Tips (1995)
- Opus: 25 Years of His Sunday Best (2004)
- Berkeley Breathed's website
- Breathed interview in The A.V. Club, August 15, 2001
- Bloom County Zone
- 935 East College Street, Iowa City-- "The Bloom Boarding House"
- The Dandelion Patch - Tribute Song to Bloom County
|This page uses Creative Commons Licensed content from Wikipedia (view authors).|