There’s no comic strip that epitomized the ’80s as well as Bloom County.
Unlike current nostalgia-laden depictions of the ’80s, what the comic highlights is how acerbically pop culture was riffed on at the time. In this way, Bloom County shares a lot of turf with the punk music and low-budget filmmaking scenes of the late ’70s and ’80s that spent a great deal of time tearing to pieces the glossy, depthless culture of the decade that is now so celebrated.
This sardonic take extends to Bloom County’s political stance. President Ronald Reagan was a popular target of the strip, but so were both the political class as a whole and the national political obsessions of the time.
Launched on Dec. 8, 1980, it satirized – and reveled in – the fascination with pop culture, high-stakes but morally vacuous politics and immense self-regard that defined that decade.
That first strip is available at GoComics, as is the whole run.
UCR gives us some stats on Bloom County:
This satirical gang – at once both sentimental and cynical – catapulted Bloom County‘s popularity, and by the middle of the decade it was appearing in more than 1,200 newspapers nationwide, with a readership of more than 40 million people.
And a Pulitzer Prize a little later in the decade.
The New York Times has a short interview with Berkeley on the 40th anniversary. Berkeley Breathed tells how Bloom County began:
In 1980, two months out of college, the Washington Post sent me a syndication contract. Under “Name of Feature and characters” was a blank space. I wrote in “TBD.”
Nobody had the faintest idea what comic strip I should concoct, least of all me … I named it a place — Bloom County — and figured I’d decide later who should live there. Hadn’t a clue. If you were to substitute “Maycomb, Ala.,” the setting for “To Kill a Mockingbird,” for “Bloom County,” you would have guessed the correct literary inspiration for the setting …
Of course there was a prototype for Bloom County, Berkeley’s college strip Academia Waltz, which was good enough and funny enough to get that initial invite from The Washington Post.
Though the Bloom County comic strip ended after ten years, Berkeley didn’t. Back to Ultimate Classic Rock:
By 1989, Breathed decided that the strip had run its course and moved on to something mostly new in Outland, a Sunday-only strip that ran until 1995. Although Opus was at first the only main Bloom County character in Outland, soon others of the gang began to appear until they dominated it. Breathed also ran a Sunday strip called Opus from 2003 until 2005, and in 2015 he restarted the official Bloom County comic on his Facebook page.
Of late new stuff from Berkeley has been sparse and he has asked for patience from us fans, noting on his Facebook page that he is, “Still up to my ears working on a new project…about which I can soon share news.” That may be what he talked about at the end of the N.Y.Times interview.
below: The IDW Collection (minus Academia Waltz)