Unexpected recognition

The other day, my brother sent me a link to an interview with Berkeley Breathed, creator of Bloom County (and other later, lesser strips, as well as some charming children's books). When I was in middle school, I discovered a Bloom County collection, and I immediately loved it. Even though I didn't get most of the political humor or cultural references, I thought it was hilarious. I once laughed for fifteen minutes straight after rereading a strip about Gene Simmons and personal computers. I read those collections over and over, and their tattered remains still sit on my shelf.

It never occurred to me that there were other kids like me in this regard. (With the exception of my old friend Ken, who could quote strips with me for hours when we hung out together.) It was kind of shocking to read the following: [Note: I prefer to avoid profanity in my posts, but I also think we're all adults here, so I'm not going to edit the quotes.]
For those of us who grew up as weird kids in the 1980s, the work of Berkeley Breathed was as important as those twin eternal pillars of weird-kid-dom: Monty Python and Mad magazine. In a word: seminal. In two words: fucking seminal.

Breathed’s comic strip
Bloom County ran from 1980 until 1988. It crossed the goofiness of talking penguins and drug addict cats with the topicality of stuff like nuclear anxiety and the evils of consumerism. (Remember when Opus would compulsively buy Ronco products because of infomercials?) It even won a Pulitzer Prize in 1987, though at the time we were more impressed with the Billy & the Boingers flexi-disc than some boring grown-up award.

A five-volume compilation of every Bloom County strip is being released now, and it’s a trip to go back and reread all the stuff that we practically had memorized over 20 years ago. It’s still as smart and hilarious as we remember it being, though it’s amazing to realize how much of the satire went over our heads. Did 12-year-old us even know who Bella Abzug was? (Actually we kinda still don’t know who that was.)


As a ten-year-old kid reading your comics, a lot of the political humor went right over my head. I remember having to ask a grown-up who Jeane Kirkpatrick was because she kept popping up in Bloom County. It’s interesting that a comic could encompass a range of characters and references that has Jesse Helms on one side and the Giant Purple Snorklewacker on the other.
I drew what seemed amusing to me. That was the extent of my thoughtfulness when it came to designing the Bloom Countyworld. As with most cartoonists, a comic strip is an unsavory peek into the head of its maker. Having said that, I have no inkling as to the inside of Jim Davis’s head from a reading of Garfield. It was the classic corporate invention—drawn by a staff—which made it fun to skewer. It was there to sell shit.
(Note to Better Half -- I want that collection.)

Anyhow (and not to get all maudlin on you), I was a dizzying, moving moment for me to realize that I wasn't the only weird kid back in the 80s laughing at jokes about Jeane Kirkpatrick or Tip O'Neill without having any idea who they were. (Make no mistake -- I was a very weird kid.) There were other kids just like me.

I never would have guessed. It makes me happy in the strangest way to have found out, all these years later.


  1. You were not the only one. Have we never talked about this?I I was obsessed! I still have a fondness for Yuri "The Kid" Andropov.

  2. I remember jumping on the Ownby's trampoline throwing quotes with you back and forth.

    I probably knew the names of more people, since I was a news junkie even back then, but really didn't know the nuances as much. Example, I knew who James Watt was, but didn't get the significance of Milo feeding him bunnies named after social programs.

    About 5 years ago, I went back and re-read all my books, and about every tenth strip I laughed out loud again, as I finally got the joke, or understood it better.

    Jesus, comics today suck in comparison. I blame Thornhump.


  3. Oliver Wendell Jones. I still laugh at "Avast ye scurvy dogs, Bank of America is about to go belly up!" Although I suppose today it hasn't quite the same sense of unlikelihood.

  4. I cannot believe that this has never come up in our years of friendship, Elizabeth. (Add this to our "reasons we're friends" list.)

    I once used the word "lesbian" in a conversation without having any idea what it meant, simply because it was part of a Bloom County punchline. The result was... awkward.

  5. More proof, if any were needed, that you and me were meant to be.

  6. I guess one of the benefits of being in my 40's is that I got all of it (well, most of it, remember this was way before google) the first time around. I was really small when Peanuts was great, and grew up to Calvin and Hobbes, Doonesbury, Bloom County, etc.