Jaime J. Weinman in Maclean's.
The biggest news in cartooning this month is something that hasn’t been big news for a long time: a daily comic strip. When Berkeley Breathed, creator of the satirical strip Bloom County, announced that he would revive the strip on his Facebook page, it got coverage in outlets like the Washington Post and NPR that wouldn’t normally cover your local newspaper comics page.
The original only ran from 1981 to 1989, but it’s still more famous, with a more ardent fan base, than any current daily comic. “I loved Bloom County,” says Noah Berlatsky, editor of the comics website The Hooded Utilitarian. “The strip was a glorious mix of invention and deflation.” It may be too early to tell if Breathed’s new instalments will live up to the original, but one thing he’s already proven is that the ’80s was the last era when people cared about comic strips.
Daily strips have long been mocked for being old-fashioned and appealing mostly to aging newspaper readers; the original Bloom County would often make fun of Nancy, Blondie, and other legacy strips that go on long after their creators die. But in the 1980s, a small group of young cartoonists made comic strips that were genuinely relevant. Bloom County was in that group, along with Bill Watterson’s Calvin and Hobbes and Gary Larson’s The Far Side.
All of these strips ended early, because the creators burned out from the pressure of having to produce a strip every day. And not all of them were respected by their peers; though Bloom County won the Pulitzer prize, it was also denounced for imitating Garry Trudeau’s Doonesbury (something Breathed freely admitted) and for, in the words of editorial cartoonist Pat Oliphant, “passing off shrill potty jokes and grade school sight gags as social commentary.” But even those who didn’t like these strips had to care about them: For a few years, people would discuss them every day the way they now discuss the latest instalment of Game of Thrones.
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