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ICv2 Interview: Berkeley Breathed

On Bloom County, the Future of Strips, More!

Published: 09/17/2009 12:00am
ICv2 recently caught up with Pulitzer Prize-winning Bloom County creator Berkeley Breathed to talk about IDW’s Bloom County Library (see “IDW’s Bloom County Library”), the future of comics in newspapers, and more.

 

Some of the strips that will be included in IDW’s Bloom County Library were left out of the previously published Bloom County collections.  Why were they omitted?  Are you happy to see them included in the new complete collection?

Because the bastards wouldn’t let me publish 400 page books every year, I had to make the painful cuts.  I could print about a third of any one year’s strips.  I think I just closed my eyes and dropped a dart on the ones to be included.  What a relief they didn’t have to ask me to do this again.


Can you tell us how the strip began?  Did you create an early version of it in college?  A number of strips owe their origins to college papers like The Daily Texan, can you say something about the importance of college papers as incubators for comic strips?

I have no idea what it’s like now.  The problem with college being the incubators for strips is that those are precisely the type of strips newspapers don’t really need, as they don’t have young readers anymore.  At all.  None.  Gone.  If I was starting out today and felt I simply had to get in a newspaper, I’d do a strip aimed squarely at people 60 and over.  That ain’t Doonesbury or Bloom County.

 

Bloom County was extraordinarily popular in the 1980s, a decade where along with Calvin & Hobbes, Doonesbury, and The Farside, it created a kind of renaissance for the funny pages.  How different is the situation with newspaper strips today?  Did the changes in the size of panels play a role in your recent decision to abandon newspaper strips?  Will newspaper comics (and newspapers) survive?  Have you ever thought about doing an online comic strip?

This is a sad topic but I’m going to be blunt.  Newspapers have about five years left.  Young readers of the newspaper comics simply don’t exist anymore in numbers that count.  Those eyeballs are elsewhere and will not come back.  Online comics are terrific.  But they will never have 1% of the readership any major comic had 20 years ago, by the nature of the technology.  They’re different beasts now.  No, after having 70 million daily readers in 1985, getting 3000 a day online isn’t terribly energizing at this stage.  I’m happy to go to the storytelling potential of film and books now.   My heart was always there anyway, to be honest.


Bloom County was certainly one of the most politically-themed satirical comic strips of all time taking on apartheid, whaling, Khomeini’s fatwa on Salman Rushdie, Reagan’s Star Wars missile defense, George Lucas’ Star Wars movies, televangelism, Reagan’s mass firing of the air controllers, the war on drugs, music censorship, and Dan Quayle to name just a few Bloom County riffs that we can remember.  Are you (or the editors at IDW) going to do something to provide the historical context for these strips since a good portion of your potential audience was born after the strip ended in 1989?

Oh, we got annotations galore!  Some simple and straightforward, some personal ones from me including a glimpse into what I was thinking or going through at the time to put it all in context.  It’s the reason any fan would want to buy these really--a terrifying peek into the horror that is my head.

 

Why did you set Bloom County in a small Midwestern town in an era in which small towns were increasingly marginalized by political, cultural and economic forces?

Because I followed a girlfriend out of college to Iowa City.  You draw--literally--from your life if you’re going to write anything with some juice to it.  I did just that.

 

Do you still read the funny pages?  If so, what are some of your favorite contemporary comic strips?

I’ve never read the comic page in my life.  I read Doonesbury in college.  Honestly, it’s a reasonable outrage that I was allowed onto the page to begin with.

 
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