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Berkeley Breathed returns to Bloom County

imageHere’s another old media legend making a timely splash in new media. Berkeley Breathed, creator of Bloom County, has been drawn back into the satirical fray. Apparently the sublime silliness of Donald Trump was simply too much for him to be able to resist, and four new Bloom County strips so far have found their way onto Breathed’s Facebook account.

It’s interesting to consider what brings Breathed back. In 2008, he retired from comics because he felt he couldn’t compete with the new digital comics world. In a 2009 LA Times interview, he explained:

“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.”

But when he returned with the new comic, also digital, posting it to his Facebook account rather than to a website of its own, Breathed was surprised by the huge delighted fan reaction there. In a conversation with the Washington Post, his thoughts on new media seem to show a marked contrast to those of six years ago.

“Honestly, I was unprepared for it,” Breathed tells me of the public outpouring. “It calls for a bit of introspection about how characters can work with readers… and how they’re now absent as a unifying element with a society.

“There is no media that will allow a Charlie Brown or a Snoopy to become a universal and shared joy each morning at the same moment across the country,” Breathed continues. “Maybe the rather marked response to my character’s return is a reflection of that loss. A last gasp of a passing era.”

I would tend to disagree just a little. Maybe there’s no newspaper that brings shared comic strip joy each morning at the same moment, but the Internet serves much the same purpose these days. Many people read their regular digital comics every day, or week, depending on when they update.

Regardless, the four strips so far prove Breathed still has his thumb on the pulse of the zeitgeist. Watching Opus deal with the new realities of the Internet is hilarious, and it just goes to show how much still remains the same even as things change. I do hope this is a long-term return, not just a temporary resurgence. Either way, I’ve found another new digital comic strip to love every day.

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