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Berkeley Breathed laments portions of his career

Tomorrow, Berkeley Breathed’s first Bloom County collection from IDW Publications hits the book store. Several major newspapers are running their interviews with him.

From the L.A. Times, regarding what it was like to be cartooning in the 1980’s,

“Not to sound like someone swinging their cane, but in the 1980s there weren’t a thousand other voices screaming to be heard at the same time,” Breathed said of the decade when his “Bloom County” was featured in more than 1,200 newspapers and he won the Pulitzer Prize for editorial cartooning. “There was a quiet in the room that made being a commentator very exciting. There was no Web, there was barely any cable TV. If you were looking for humorous topical commentary, you would go to the Johnny Carson monologue, ‘Saturday Night Live’ and ‘Doonesbury.’ That was it. After you have the silence of that room, you get really weary with the screaming it takes today. There’s also this bitterness in the public square now that is difficult to avoid. I never did an angry strip, but in recent years I saw that sneaking in.”

From USA Today on it’s impact,

Q. Do you recognize â?? embrace? â?? the lasting impact of the strip and the characters?

A. An understandable but unfair question for any writer. If you say yes, you’re an arrogant dâ??-head. If you say no, you’re a clueless dolt. Interestingly, if you ignore the question entirely, you’re seen as both, my specialty. I can tell you this: There was a woman in 1989 that was committed by her family to an Ohio mental health facility largely because she thought she was pregnant by Bill the Cat. If this is what you meant, I’m happy to say yes, I recognize Bloom County’s influence but I’ll stop short of embracing it, as I do a porcupine.

Community Comments

#1 Mark_Tatulli
@ 8:16 am

I don’t think this headline is quite accurate…Breathed isn’t “lamenting portions of his career”…that implies he regrets things that he did. He’s really just saying that things were different in the 1980’s, when his was a clever voice among a select few. Now, with the internet, there are millions of voices to chose from and it’s hard to be heard. I wouldn’t call that “lamenting portions of his career”.

#2 Steve Greenberg
@ 9:04 am

I read the L.A. Times piece. He did express regrets at his younger arrogance, such as not responding to a kind gesture by Charles Schulz or by an immature response to criticisms by Garry Trudeau.

#3 Garey Mckee
@ 11:02 am

“I read the L.A. Times piece. He did express regrets at his younger arrogance, such as not responding to a kind gesture by Charles Schulz or by an immature response to criticisms by Garry Trudeau”

Yes but in Breathed’s defense he was young and unfamiliar with the industry (as he has so often pointed out), so perhaps he was unequiped to deal with those situations properly.

#4 Joshua Skurtu
@ 11:41 am

I have to agree with the regret part. This quote:

â??When you write about it you should say, â??This guy is a fraud and a cheat.â?? Thereâ??s your headline.â?

Pretty much sums it up. It sounds like he didn’t ever feel like a “cartoonist.” He just did his job because he didn’t fit in anywhere else.


#5 Howard Olson
@ 11:57 am

You would think the man would be more ashamed of the childish groin-centric strips he produced in what appeared to be the last half of his cartooning career. It seemed like 80% of the strips dealt with nudity, somebody stuffing something into their underweat, Elvis on a toilet, or jokes having to do with body hair. That Pulitzer was a long time ago.

#6 Wiley Miller
@ 12:08 pm

I have always believed that one’s reputation, both good and bad, is deserved. The flip side of that coin is that people are rarely as good or as bad as their reputation. Berkeley pretty much runs the gamut of all this.

#7 Ed Power
@ 12:57 pm

I really don’t care about his reputation. ‘Bloom County’ made me laugh…HARD, and did it at a time I was starting to lose interest in comic strips.

‘Bloom County’, ‘Late Night with David Letterman’, Eddie Murphy on SNL, and Bill Murray movies were the 80’s, and hence my chilhood, to me.

It’s still my favorite strip (after Peanuts, of course).

I L-O-V-E ‘Bloom County’…even if Berke never did answer my fan mail. ;)

#8 Ted Rall
@ 1:15 pm

It’s important to separate the artist from his/her art. I love Polanski’s films. But he deserves to face justice for what he did.

#9 Joshua Skurtu
@ 1:22 pm

Ed Power: “even if Berke never did answer my fan mail. ;)”

If you read the articles, he never even answered fan mail from famous authors and even Charles Shultz. :)


#10 Jeff Darcy
@ 1:33 pm

Don’t tell me Polanski’s messed with Opus in a hot tub too !?
Was it at Letterman’s?

#11 Stan Arrowood
@ 2:14 pm

When you think about it it’s a rare thing to find someone who doesn’t regret something about the things they did. This applies to everything in life including careers. I can’t tell you the number of times I regret not using spell check.

#12 Shane Davis
@ 6:47 pm

Line up all the cartoonists in the world (and heck, the wannabee’s too) and offer them the career he had. How many would take it?

The problem with setting the bar so high and doing something so fresh and so well, is that every flaw glares out. It’s unfair, but often truly great work is a victim of it’s own success.

I think comparing Breathed to Polanski is not apt at all and way out of focus.

I think Berkely Breathed bears a much closer resemblance to Orson Welles. With such monumental success at such an early stage in his career, it set him up to be called a ‘one hit wonder boy’ later in his career by critics who thought his later work was lame. Kind of the “Ah ha! We knew you weren’t that good, and NOW it’s showing!” game.

And of course those critics are full of excrement. Breathed OWNED for 10 years wiht his political/pop culture comic strip. Folks may not like the style, but ignoring his market domination and landmark impact in the industry is just stupid.

I hated Joe Montana in the 1980’s but I’m not dumb enough to say he was overated or not as good as advertised. He was an icon and, yes, REALLY that good.

So was Breathed. But at least he didn’t beat my Dolphins in the Super Bowl, so I still hate Montana.

(And yes, let me save you Miami haters some typing by cutting you off at the pass with the inevitable “but Breathed probably COULd have beat them! Har! Har!” joke. There. Feel better?)

#13 Garey Mckee
@ 7:07 pm

Howard, Breathed’s later Outland strips fall far short of the mark compared to his work on Bloom County for a couple of reasons.

For one, I think the cultural and political climate changed too much for Breathed’s style of lampooning to remain relevant.

Secondly, and perhaps most importantly, Breathed was a MUCH better writer in the daily 4 panel format than he was in his Sunday only 6 panel format. The writing in his dailies were paced so much better than his writing for Outland and Opus. To me that is not to be overlooked.

However having said that there are some Outland strips that stand out as well done strips for me.

#14 Howard Olson
@ 7:15 am

Garey, there’s probably something to your point about Breathed being a better writer in four panels versus six, as if he perhaps thought the bigger venue of the Sunday-only strip warranted a broader, less subtle brand of humor to compensate for all that extra space. If so, I just think he was wrong. And I get the impression from his later strips that he assumed everything he put on paper was brilliant. I sensed arrogance in those strips. And it was depressing, considering how much I once loved Bloom County.

#15 Garey Mckee
@ 3:16 pm

By the way. It’s very exciting to me to see every Bloom County strip in it’s unedited entirety from 1980-82, rather than just the perennial selections published in all of the previous Bloom County collections that we’ve all seen over and over again. Good side notes are also provided along side strips referencing political and pop cultural events from the time.

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