Friday, November 21, 2003

Magnum Opus

Fourteen years after ending his brilliant comic strip "Bloom County" and eight years after retiring its ambitious but overreaching follow-up, "Outland," Berke Breathed will return to the comics pages this Sunday with a weekly strip called "Opus." The star, of course, is the penguin himself, the central character in each of Breathed's two previous strips.

Breathed's political viewpoint often earned "Bloom County" comparisons to "Doonesbury," but the truth is that Garry Trudeau's strip is much more overtly political -- or, perhaps, satirical -- than "Bloom County" ever was. In lobbing grenades at the targets of the '80s, whether Reaganomics or Tipper Gore's record-labeling crusade, Breathed seemed to be aiming less for the "Good zinger!" response and more for "Hey, that's funny!"

Indeed, in an interesting and wide-ranging e-mail interview with Salon, Breathed was quick to emphasize comedy over parody. Asked whether "a strip [can] be socially relevant without resorting to pop-culture references," he replied:

Ya know, just reading those words "socially relevant" made me physically wince just now. Our job is to make people smile. If my cartoons stray into -- I'm sorry, I can't type them again . . . those words you used above -- it's an accidental byproduct in the effort to make ME smile.

I'll be reading Sunday.


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