Wednesday, September 10, 2003

OOP! ACK!

The comic strip, at its best, is a minor wonder of modern American life; though not wholly an American creation, and not necessarily confined to the United States of America, fine comic strips--funny, sharp, whimsical, bitter, and sometimes even wise--are arguably as thoroughly American a contribution to world culture as jazz. Of course, like most such contributions, comic strips go through ups and downs, and the newspaper comic page has been down now for quite a while. Which is a just a long-winded way of welcoming back Berkeley Breathed, the creator of Bloom County (and Outland, though that one wasn't nearly as successful) to the comic world. Opus the penguin is definitely back--and hopefully, so will the rest of the gang, in particular--as the Washington Post put it--"his hairball-spitting sidekick, Bill the Cat." The Sunday-only strip won't begin until November 23, but already I can't wait. For millions of us who were teen-agers in the early to mid-1980s, Breathed's stupendously wacky skewering of sacred cows left and right were an essential part of our political education (perhaps second only to David Letterman's late night run on NBC)--as well as a way to get into the art and satire of the comics page in general. Breathed commented recently that "it was painful to sit through the war without a public voice." And a loss for us too. I'm glad to hear that loss won't continue much longer.

Incidentally, check out this interview with Breathed from a couple of years back. Despite deprecating himself as "just scampering nude through the aisles [of the comics page] before anybody could kick me out," he shows himself as one who really understands the achievement of the American comic page, and a sharp insight into what makes it tick--and sometimes, tick very well. On Doonesbury: "Garry Trudeau was our greatest satirist in the second half of the century." On the brilliant, lamented Calvin and Hobbes: "[It] was the real thing....Crazy ol' Bill Watterson created the purest comic strip, after Peanuts, probably. Or before Peanuts became a shadow. Bless him for quitting at the top. It's not easy." And what of the canonical Peanuts itself? "Sparky Schulz never owned the Peanuts characters. Technically, they could have fired him and hired college kids to do the strip. Maybe they did, for those last 20 years. Good ol' Sparky. He was our Elvis, in his prime." As they say, read the whole thing.