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Berkeley Breathed speaks again

The guys over at Tall Tale Features scooped another e-mail interview with Opus, Outland, Bloom County creator Berkeley Breathed. Here’s an excerpt. Visit blog to read all eight questions and answers.

Question the First, from Chip Skelton, “Broken Things”

Mr. Breathed, a good many artists tend to be loners. You’re very active physically and deeply committed to causes and ideas outside yourself. In your opinion, does a creator become a better storyteller if he/she moves beyond the books, movies, comics, video game, etc, and lives their lives beyond the fantasy and into the real world?

Your question belies the answer, Chip. Related to this, when I have spoken to college audiences, I ask them how many in the audience want to write in one fashion or another. Half the hands go up. I ask them what they’re majoring in. Usually communications, or journalism, or Film. Then I tell them they’re all the same idiots that I was in school. History is what every writer should study. Whether they be a novelist or a comic book creator. Study the world and it’s resident species. The rest is learned in an afternoon.

Community Comments

#1 Scott Kurtz
June/24/2008
@ 9:25 am

God, I love that guy. Bloom County was my graduation from traditional goofy-gags to a more sophisticated humor. I was too young to really grok Doonsebury, but Bloom County enthralled me.

I would pay good money to sit down and share some beers with Mr. Breathed.

#2 Lucas Turnbloom
June/24/2008
@ 9:37 am

I’m with you on that one, Scott. A beer with Mr. Breathed would be awesome.

#3 David Reddick
June/24/2008
@ 9:42 am

Ditto!

#4 Norm Feuti
June/24/2008
@ 9:53 am

Yeah, I got my first Bloom County collection book as a gift when I was 12 and there was just no turning back. Pure genius.

Bloom County was the first strip that made me want to be a cartoonist.

#5 Norm Feuti
June/24/2008
@ 9:54 am

Oh, great interview by the way!

#6 Chris Evans
June/24/2008
@ 10:38 am

I read the interview in it’s entirety. I was surprised how stressful it was — specifically how many “death trips” BB had to take to get the work in on time. But I’m not syndicated. I wasn’t surprised how much fatherhood, and parenting, has had an impact on his approach, or view of his work. It was like that for me, too.

Now, Mike Whitmer, on the site, states that “Itâ??s no big revelation that the internet has all but destroyed â??the distanceâ? between the artist and the reader.” And Mr. Breathed says online comments “Are the stuff of suicide.” and Salon.com is “…occupied by angry little insane people.”

On point one, maintaining distance, isn’t that up to the artist? Why blame the internet? I think in some ways, the internet makes it easier for an artist to show their work, and to hide. On Mr. Breathed comments to the question, I was surprised he was so negative…if you find an appropriate forum, you can definitely get feedback, constructive criticism, and encouragement.

#7 Barry Smith
June/24/2008
@ 10:50 am

Great interview. And it seems Mr. Breathed is of the same opinion that you need to have a life before you can share it.

#8 Stacy Curtis
June/24/2008
@ 11:29 am

Chris, show me one forum on the internet where a pissing match hasn’t ensued.

#9 Chris Evans
June/24/2008
@ 11:48 am

“Chris, show me one forum on the internet where a pissing match hasnâ??t ensued.”

Point taken.

#10 Norm Feuti
June/24/2008
@ 12:02 pm

“On Mr. Breathed comments to the question, I was surprised he was so negativeâ?¦if you find an appropriate forum, you can definitely get feedback, constructive criticism, and encouragement.

I don’t know, I tend to agree with him. While criticism can be helpful, the internet all too often makes a sport out of it. 1000 anonymous voices all trying to out-snark one another isn’t going to help anyone find their own voice as an artist or writer.

#11 Tom Racine
June/24/2008
@ 2:11 pm

I’m going to get the reclusive bastid on the microphone someday, darn it! It’s a quest.

And I find myself totally agreeing with Mr. B on his assessment of message boards, and completely disagreeing with it. I suspect if I was anywhere near his position (which won’t be happening, but we can hypothesize), I would probably want to stay away from the millions of people who’d want to give me a piece of their mind. There certainly IS a lot of insanity in that crowd. But at the same time, if you’re starting out, a vocal, core group of fans that you interact with seems to be one of the great keys to success, especially in the internet world. I suppose the answer is to strike that balance…don’t let the good comments swell your head too big, and don’t let the negative weirdos deflate your sails.

#12 Brock Heasley
June/24/2008
@ 2:12 pm

Was a true pleasure to ask Mr. Breathed a question. Loved how insightful and forthcoming he was with his answers. I only wish I had had a chance to explain my question a little better! I think I came off like a tool.

#13 Brock Heasley
June/24/2008
@ 2:22 pm

Tom, I think the key there is “starting out.” When you’re just beginning, people are kind of rooting for you if you show even a modicum of talent and promise. Once you get some notoriety on the Kurtz or Breathed level, people tend to feel a little more free to sling those arrows. I think when a person is successful more is expected of them. There’s a sense that the successful among us should constantly justify their position at the top of the ladder. (I feel somewhat fortunate to be somewhere near the lower middle.)

And then there’s the human element. I think people generally like to see others succeed…but not too much or then they start asking “If him, then why not me?” When that happens, it becomes easier to pick apart and slander than it does to offer something helpful.

Who wants to help the guy who’s higher on the ladder than you (or on a ladder you can’t quite get a foothold on)? Some people are nice and will do that, preferring to present themselves as decent human beings rather than ravenous wolves. Unfortunately, wolves are louder.

#14 Declan Byrne
June/24/2008
@ 2:24 pm

I, personally, must say I love getting the feedback. Obviously having cartooned since before I was born, Mr Breathed has a bit more experience than me, but don’t people draw comic strips so people can read them? If you don’t get feedback, you might as well be drawing them for yourself (and a paycheque, if you’re syndicated). I don’t enjoy drawing or writing nearly as much as I enjoy getting emails saying “I love reading your strip” or “It’s not working; try this”, even if they are rare.

http://www.duxtercomic.com

#15 Tom Racine
June/24/2008
@ 2:35 pm

Yep, it’s all a matter of scale, isn’t it? If I get 10 feedbacks about a podcast or a cartoon, I’m pleased as punch. Wow! 10 strangers are taking the time to write me! I’m famous! But if you’re Berke Breathed, you get 10,000 every week. That’s gotta run together in a big haze of love and hate.

There’s got to be a reason why the three biggest from the 80s, Berke, Gary Larson and Bill Watterson, are all famously reclusive and don’t hand out interviews much. Every utterance becomes news…that’s a lot of pressure. (They’re probably just doing the Howard Hughes thing…walking around with Kleenex boxes on their feet, building giant planes out of plywood that won’t fly…)

#16 Garey Mckee
June/24/2008
@ 2:37 pm

“I donâ??t know, I tend to agree with him. While criticism can be helpful, the internet all too often makes a sport out of it. 1000 anonymous voices all trying to out-snark one another isnâ??t going to help anyone find their own voice as an artist or writer.”

Too true Norm! There is, to a certain extent, a marked lack of professionalism in some of the comments people spout of on the internet. That being said, if you need a constant pat on the back by web2.0-ers, then cartooning is definately not the field for you!

#17 Garey Mckee
June/24/2008
@ 2:40 pm

I want to put a little addendum to my last post here. I don’t mean to say it’s a bad thing to have a dialogue with readers and fans, I just feel that shouldn’t be the motivation behind one’s work style.

#18 Stacy Curtis
June/24/2008
@ 2:54 pm

Maybe every utterance from Gary Larson, Berkeley Breathed and Bill Watterson is news because they are reclusive. When Bill Watterson comes down from Mount Crumpet, a crowd is sure to gather for his next word.

I respect Berkeley for not stooping so low as to write a foreward for a Richard Thompson book!

#19 Larry Levine
June/24/2008
@ 4:57 pm

I didn’t realize Berke had gone completely digital, never would have guessed Opus was drawn on a Cintiq.

#20 Anne Hambrock
June/25/2008
@ 7:18 am

Was his answer about going digital referring to the strip? I thought it was an answer about his children’s books. I also took it to be a reference to his color work rather than his line work as he mentioned he always used an airbrush anyway.

#21 Rick Stromoski
June/25/2008
@ 7:44 am

Dan Piraro in the last issue of Hogan’s Alley rightly pointed out that Berke’s insistance on the larger space specs for Opus is in theory a noble gesture trying to teach newspapers that comics need more space but in actuality is a pipedream. Newspaper’s financial situation aren’t going to change and they are never going back to a larger format. He also points out that when a comic gets bought, another one is bumped. When Opus gets bought, Two comics get bumped. So in essence, a pretty selfish position to take against one’s colleagues in an ever shrinking market. But then, Berke never was one to be very collegial when it came to other cartoonists.

#22 Rick Stromoski
June/25/2008
@ 7:45 am

Dan Piraro in the last issue of Hogan’s Alley rightly pointed out that Berke’s insistance on the larger space specs for Opus is in theory a noble gesture trying to teach newspapers that comics need more space but in actuality is a pipedream. Newspaper’s financial situation aren’t going to change and they are never going back to a larger format. He also points out that when a comic gets bought, another one is bumped. When Opus gets bought, Two comics get bumped. So in essence, a pretty selfish position to take against one’s colleagues in an ever shrinking market. But then, Berke never was one to be very collegial when it came to other cartoonists or their work.

#23 Rick Stromoski
June/25/2008
@ 7:46 am

Sorry for the dup posts

#24 David Reddick
June/25/2008
@ 12:39 pm

In Berke’s defense, Rick, while obviously your point is valid on the unfortunate subject of the bumping of 2 other comics at a time when Opus appears, he was and is incredibly collegial and gracious to us at Tall Tale Features… He’s answered Tom Racine instantaneously, and has been uber-generous to us with his time, and is genuinely interested in talking comics and shop, and I for one am thrilled and grateful!

#25 Scott Metzger
June/25/2008
@ 1:15 pm

I second what David said. Berke was generous with his time and his responses to the questions were thoughtful and entertaining. I appreciate it.

#26 Rick Stromoski
June/25/2008
@ 2:34 pm

I’m certain that it must have been a thrill to talk to a cartoonist of Berke’s caliber and I’m sure he was gracious to you as the interview illustrates. Perhaps you should ask Garry Trudeau or anyone else who saw his talk to the NCS a few years back how gracious Berke is (was).

#27 Stacy Curtis
June/25/2008
@ 2:38 pm

How rare for a cartoonist to have an ego the size of the Empire State Building and be ungracious to other cartoonists!

#28 Phil Wohlrab
June/25/2008
@ 9:57 pm

I checked out “Mars needs Moms” yesterday. Good story and Berke’s illustrations are great, however, the painting of those illustrations is where I take issue. He said he went digital and no one can tell because he’s cheated with an airbrush and the computor mimics an airbrush without even trying.
The problem is the airbrush is no good when you’re making hard edges. If you use it the wrong way you can blot color in such a way that you can tell you’re using a computor brush. And your hard edges look fuzzy, which is exactly what happend in “Mars needs Moms”. His light sources are great and his clouds look better than anything, but in certain areas it gets too fuzzy for my liking. Digital paint is exploding now. When I was in college a few years ago, computor paint was a joke. We sat in class, using a mouse to create art that was fit only for the trash can. Now, kids that grew up with the software and wacom tablets are tearing it up.
http://acidlullaby.cgsociety.org/gallery/
http://www.furiae.com/index.php?view=gallery
I think Berke would have been better off getting a better handle on digital paint before using it to illustrate an entire book.

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