Saturday, November 22, 2003

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Opus lives!

Right before Star Wars: The Phantom Menace came out, I remember overhearing a conversation between two guys who were two young to have seen the original Star Wars in theaters. The conversation was dripping with irony until it turned to the imminent arrival of The Phantom Menace, at which point one of them said in as earnest a tone as possible, "I just hope it doesn't suck."

I'm sure that guy has been embracing his inner core of bitterness ever since.

I raise this because of the combination of excitement and dread I'm feeling at the moment. Eight years after Outland and fourteen years after Bloom County, Berkeley Breathed is bringing back Opus!! Breathed will be penning a Sundays-only strip à la Outland. Here's what appears on Breathed's web site:

On November 23rd, after an absence of almost ten years, Opus returns to the nation's Sunday comic pages.

We can't, at this time, go into detail as to what he's been doing during his mysterious missing decade, although Opus is deeply embarrassed about the rumors, especially the one naming him as the catalyst behind the unfortunate break-up of J Lo and Ben. It will all become clear soon.

For more, check out this MSNBC interview with Opus himself, and Breathed's e-mail interview with Salon this past week.

As someone who remembers breaking out in fits of hysterical laughter reading the first Bloom County compilation while sitting in my freshman physics class in high school, I'll confess to some nervousness here -- how can I be sure that what happened to George Lucas won't happen to Berkeley Breathed?

Fortunately, this Washington Post discussion with Breathed suggests he's still got game -- which is to say, he's still got the refined sense of whimsy that made Bloom County a must read when it was around. Some highlights:

I'm not the same knucklehead I was in 1989. I'm an all new knucklehead. A knucklehead with small children -- which, you know, is the worst kind. Look what happened to Dave Barry. Opus will be at once, new and the same. Like each of us as we glide down the different hallways of time in the labyrinth of our lives. It's incredible just how poetic one can be when there isn't time to edit it out....

Washington, D.C. What do you think of today's political comics such as "The Boondocks"?

Berkeley Breathed: Aaron McGruder cites me as a major influence, which is always flattering of course. He's a terrific talent and his graphics sing... but I wonder, sometimes, if he misses a delicate lesson from Bloom County... one that I learned after painful missteps with... uh, outspokenness. Let's just say that if a comic strip tree falls hard in the forest and no [one] hears it because they're wincing... does the Pope, then, you know, poop in the woods. Okay, the metaphor collapsed but you get my meaning....

Harrisburg, Pa.: Children read the news section; adults read the comics.
Opus has to appeal to adults, at least initially. Most 10-year-olds had diminished reading skills when Opus last appeared. How do you intend to reach out to the young and get their minds off of reading for current events classes?

Berkeley Breathed: Nudity. It works for Hollywood.

Please, God, just be funny. That's all I ask.

P.S. For those wondering about Breathed's political orientation, he gave a pretty funny interview to The Onion in 2001, in which his political views were somewhat de-mystified:

O: Is the liberal stance of the early strips indicative of your own personal politics?

BB: Liberal, shmiberal. That should be a new word. Shmiberal: one who is assumed liberal, just because he's a professional whiner in the newspaper. If you'll read the subtext for many of those old strips, you'll find the heart of an old-fashioned Libertarian. And I'd be a Libertarian, if they weren't all a bunch of tax-dodging professional whiners.

posted by Dan on 11.22.03 at 02:43 PM



I imagine some think of you as a Rhino, but I noticed one difference between your site and a Democrats site.

No censorship!

No little difference that. There you have it. The main difference in the current politic tribes of America.

And I thank you.

posted by: Papertiger on 11.22.03 at 02:43 PM [permalink]

Re the previous comment: oh, yeah, the main difference between Democrats and Republicans is that the Democrats are pro-censorship. Right.

Dan, is this your way of confessing that you're a tax-dodging professional whiner?

posted by: Frederick on 11.22.03 at 02:43 PM [permalink]

Outland sucked so horribly it completely destroyed any residual goodwill I had toward the original and sublime Bloom County.

By the way: Yes. The Democrats are most definitely pro-censorship. Their response to every disagreement is to claim that you can't say something. You're not allowed to point out the flaws in the Dems' arguments about Iraq. You're questioning their patriotism (while they question Dubya's). You're not allowed to speak your mind about affirmative action. That's racial harassment. You're not allowed to point out the Muslim/terrorism correlation. That's a hate crime. You're not even allowed to have the Senate vote on judges or Medicare reform or an energy bill. Go to any college campus in America with a speech code and explain to me why the whiney left isn't the voice of censorship.

posted by: Charlie in the Trees on 11.22.03 at 02:43 PM [permalink]

As someone who gets the Sunday paper on Saturday (I don't have a time travel machine, most papers put out an early version), all I can say is, it looks like another Outland.

Half a newpaper page for a one line joke which wasn't very funny. Seems to me it's more about Mr. Breathed's ego than anything else.

posted by: Jeremy on 11.22.03 at 02:43 PM [permalink]

Back in the mid-late-'80s Breathed had Opus shout "Reagan Sucks." The San Diego Union refused the run the panel.

I wrote an editorial for my paper blasting the Union's lack of free-speech spirit. Won my first journalism award for that editorial. And I sent a copy of the paper to Breathed and he returned it signed. I've always wanted to get that framed ...

posted by: Howard Owens on 11.22.03 at 02:43 PM [permalink]

Forget Berkeley Breathed. Bring back Gary Larson.

posted by: Cracker Barrel Philosopher on 11.22.03 at 02:43 PM [permalink]

I imagine some think of you as a Rhino, but I noticed one difference between your site and a Democrats site.

No censorship!

No little difference that. There you have it. The main difference in the current politic tribes of America.


I've read a lot of stupid delusional crap in the comments here recently, but this has to be the stupidest, most delusional thing I've read in weeks.


As an American, I will defend your right to say stupid, delusional things.

BTW, how's the weather on your planet?

posted by: uh_clem on 11.22.03 at 02:43 PM [permalink]

Forget Gary Larson. Bring back Bill Watterson.

posted by: Alan S. on 11.22.03 at 02:43 PM [permalink]

...and tell Garry Trudeau (and Matt Groening, for that matter) to call it a day.

Or is that "censorship"?

posted by: David Poe on 11.22.03 at 02:43 PM [permalink]

Calvin & Hobbes,

There are none better. Don't fight the power, ignore it.

Please Mr. Watterson.



posted by: Jim Hanson on 11.22.03 at 02:43 PM [permalink]

Could Papertiger, in drawing a distinction between this site and "a Democractic site," have been talking not about the Democractic party or Democrats in general, but the receptiveness of Democractic-leaning blogs and message boards to dissent?

Just an example, quoted from the forums on


We welcome Democrats of all stripes, along with other progressives who will work with us to achieve our shared goals.

This is a "big tent" message board. We welcome a wide range of progressive opinion. You will likely encounter many points of view here that you disagree with.

We ban conservative disruptors who are opposed to the broad goals of this website. If you think overall that George W. Bush is doing a swell job, or if you wish to see Republicans win, or if you are generally supportive of conservative ideals, please do not register to post, as you will likely be banned."

Of course, if that's what Papertiger means, he should convince us that conservative sites do not tend to do the same thing, which I doubt. (In my experience, the harder-right or -left a site gets, the more intolerance to dissent is reflected in editing decisions and in the hive/swarm behavior of frequent posters).

posted by: Mr. Fed on 11.22.03 at 02:43 PM [permalink]

Of course, the sentence "The main difference in the current politic tribes of America" could be read differently than I suggested.

posted by: Mr. Fed on 11.22.03 at 02:43 PM [permalink]

Guys. Guys.

Censorship is an official governmental action. Even when the Catholic Church censored books it was through the state. State officials, not the priest, came out to arrest you, throw you in jail, vandalize your business and burn it down.

What the Left does is propaganda, not censorship. They grabbed control of the means of communication last century: the publishers, Media, the schools and Hollywood. They could then ignore, intimidate and ridicule their opponents which is protected by the US 1st amendment. Not displaying an opponent's remarks is unfair, rude and ultimately, self defeating. But, it isn't censorship. It indicates their true feelings about freedom of speech.

But, times are changing; the Left's propaganda isn't going over well. They are getting a taste of competition and condemnation from the alterative media (Fox news, talk radio and the internet) and don't like it.

Now, they are the one's screaming censorship. Too bad. Turn about is fair play.

posted by: Lou Wheeler on 11.22.03 at 02:43 PM [permalink]

Nice to see Opus will be/is back.

Couldn't care less about the "my side censors people less than yours" debate...

posted by: Chris Lawrence on 11.22.03 at 02:43 PM [permalink]

Censorship is by the gummint, NOT by individuals at blogs or websites.

Dissent is the stating of differing opinions, viewpoints or observations, whereas TROLLING is leaping into a thread of comments, flinging verbal feces, and leaving...

Dissent I support. Trolling I find abominable, and only done by trolls.

posted by: Straight_Talk on 11.22.03 at 02:43 PM [permalink]

You notice my post is still on the top of this thread. I have no idea if it has anything at all to do with the topic of the post. I didn't read the post.
I have never been to this site before. All I know of Daniel Drezner is that he defended Salam Pax from Lileks. I came to that post from another link by Misha. I read through most of the 300 or so posts on that thread. Couldn't post my opinion because it was turned off.
My comment is based on experience. Left leaners, not just mostly, always delete the posts they don't agree with.
To tell you the truth I was heartened by Daniel when I thought he was a democrat. He would have been the first that I came across that allowed dissent on his page.
Somewhere about post 100 someone on the Salam Pax thread spilled that you were Republican.
I should have guessed.

posted by: Papertiger on 11.22.03 at 02:43 PM [permalink]

Of course, if that post claiming Daniel as GOP was a mistake, and Mr. Drezner is a Democrat, then change the above to read -Left leaners mostly delete the posts they don't agree with.

posted by: Papertiger on 11.22.03 at 02:43 PM [permalink]

Bring back Bill Waterson!! Yeah, there might still be one or two Peanuts cartoons he hasn't ripped off. Outland did really suck, so I am hesitant to get too excited about the return of Opus. I am hoping, however, that he was out of ideas by the time Outland was written and that the absence has given him so new ideas.

posted by: John on 11.22.03 at 02:43 PM [permalink]

Garry Trudeau lost it many years ago. He's just an embarassment to himself now. First, because he doesn't even bother drawing (how tired is that symbol-for-a-politician thing?) Second, because he uses his alter-ego of Mike to indulge his sad middle-age male fantasies (nailing a hot, multi-culti hip, very young girl.) Jane must be mortified.

posted by: Dave S. on 11.22.03 at 02:43 PM [permalink]


That's right, er left, follow the yellow line...

posted by: grid willing on 11.22.03 at 02:43 PM [permalink]

I dunno about Outland. Sure, it didn't begin to touch Bloom County...but judged on its own, against the tripe that litters the comics pages today (does Rose is Rose make anyone else homicidal?), it wasn't all that bad, even if I no longer subscribe to most of Breathed's political views. (I actually liked Ronald-Ann, who wasn't a Bloom County character.)

I would agree with the calls to bring back Watterson, as long as he's come up with some new ideas since he retired Calvin & Hobbes — the only worse thing than no Calvin at all would be Calvin jumping the shark.

As far as Larson goes, I salute his genius as a pioneer of oddball cartooning, and I do miss his work ... but (in part thanks to the Internet) there are now so many oddball cartoonists, some of them actually quite good, that IMHO new cartoons by him would no longer stand out so prominently from the crowd.

I'm sure that last opinion will provoke cries of "Sacrilege!" :-)

And, yeah, Trudeau's retirement would be A Good Thing overall for cartooning. Groening, on the other hand, might just need a loooooong vacation.

posted by: Reginleif the Valkyrie on 11.22.03 at 02:43 PM [permalink]

Howard Owens:

A geek-like correction here: it wasn't Opus that bellowed "Reagan Sucks!", it was the creature that appears in Pat Oliphant's political cartoons. Breathed was satirizing Oliphant's penchant for blaming everything on Reagan...

In the following strip, Opus was bemoaning his inability to have the political "insight" of "L'il Ollie Funt" -- the best Opus was able to come up with was, "Reagan Socks!"

posted by: Brian Swisher on 11.22.03 at 02:43 PM [permalink]

I opened my local paper this morning and I found Opus. It was a pleasant surprise and the strip was droll. For those of you in deprived metro areas, unfortuneately Berk has decided to not post them on the Net.

I agree with the posters above. Gary Larson, Bill Watterson please come back. Gary Trudeau, its Time baby.

posted by: Robert Schwartz on 11.22.03 at 02:43 PM [permalink]

RE: Opus. I, too am leery about Breathed's third coming. I'm glad to see the penguin, but I really want to catch up on Steve Dallas and Bill the Cat. (We never did hear learn the resolution of Bill's long-standing lust for Jeanne Kirkpatrick!)

posted by: Chuck Moss on 11.22.03 at 02:43 PM [permalink]

THIS is the article of interest...let's see, a guy who swiped from Trudeau, Peanuts & Garfield ripping on Charles Schultz & Jim Davis, Irony? Check.

posted by: FlyingJ on 11.22.03 at 02:43 PM [permalink]

FOX News is "alternative media"? The left has control of the media?


Oh you were serious? Really? *rolls eyes*

posted by: stickdoctor on 11.22.03 at 02:43 PM [permalink]

Ya'll are a little out of touch with the facts. Breathed's first take was the Academia Waltz*. Bloom County was a watered down version of that, and Outland just struck me as tired.

*This is soon to be reprinted! Now that is welcome news.

posted by: wpeak on 11.22.03 at 02:43 PM [permalink]

"And I'd be a Libertarian, if they weren't all a bunch of tax-dodging professional whiners."


posted by: rooser04 on 11.22.03 at 02:43 PM [permalink]

Larson, a pioneer?! Please, let me point you at this bio of B. Kliban. Larson is Kliban without artistic talent.

The less said about Trudeau, the better.

posted by: James on 11.22.03 at 02:43 PM [permalink]

Stickdoctor, Rolling eyes is so last century.

Smerks are the rage.

BTW, the Liberals did grabs hold of the big three news organizations. They still have them

Yawn. Who cares?

posted by: Lou Wheeler on 11.22.03 at 02:43 PM [permalink]

Papertiger claimed: My comment is based on experience. Left leaners, not just mostly, always delete the posts they don't agree with.

Then you have a very limited experience.

I've only ever been thrown off one discussion community for my politics, and that was a rightwing community: the livejournal forum Conservatism.

Here's what I wrote about that experience on my livejournal.

posted by: Jesurgislac on 11.22.03 at 02:43 PM [permalink]

Mr Jesurgislac, stop with the adverts - very unbecoming, considering your usually well-reasoned posts.

Mr. Wheeler, excellent reminder on "censorship", that should probably be made to auto-input at the top of everyone's "comment box". Thank-you.

posted by: Art Wellesley on 11.22.03 at 02:43 PM [permalink]

Forget Berke Breathed. Forget Gary Larson. Forget Bill Watterson. Bring back Al Capp.

posted by: Lee Dise on 11.22.03 at 02:43 PM [permalink]

Well, "Rose is Rose" is interestingly drawn, at least.

Worst Comic Strip Ever has to be "Arlo & Janis." It's not that it's merely unfunny; it's that it's so unfunny you can't even figure out what the joke was supposed to be. "Arlo & Janis" is to "unfunny" what the Hiroshima bomb was to "bang."

posted by: Dave S. on 11.22.03 at 02:43 PM [permalink]

My all-time favorite Bloom County strip was the one where the Meadow Party is having its 1984 convention across the street from the Democrats and a guy walks in with a Mondale/Ferraro sign & buttons and asks, "so who are you running against Reagan?" (I'm leaving out a few nasty adjectives I can't remember offhand), and Milo says "A dead cat."


The guy drops his sign and says "what the heck," and walks into the Meadow Party hall.

That cartoon just said it all about the Mondale campaign.

posted by: Crank on 11.22.03 at 02:43 PM [permalink]

"Bring back Al Capp."

I don't think that even Dan could do that.

posted by: Robert Schwartz on 11.22.03 at 02:43 PM [permalink]

Various comments..

Ronald-Ann acutally turned up in the twilight of Bloom County, before moving over to Outland.

Yes, Larson owes a debt to Kilban. But Kilban would never, ever have been able to publish his work on the comics page. The world is a better place having The Far Side in it. I wish I had the extra $80 to spend on the new collection...

While Trudeau certainly has his weaknesses, Doonesbury is still a scintillating masterpiece when compared with Mallard Fillmore.

Of course, picking the worst comic around is like picking the wettest part of the Pacific Ocean; I could count the number of mainstream strips I care about on one hand.

posted by: Geoduck on 11.22.03 at 02:43 PM [permalink]

Mr Jesurgislac, stop with the adverts - very unbecoming, considering your usually well-reasoned posts.

Art, thanks for the compliment. I didn't intend the link to my livejournal as an ad: I wrote about the experience of being kicked out of a right-leaning community for having left-leaning opinions at length on my livejournal, and saw no reason to copy and paste the whole story about it here when a simple link would suffice.

posted by: Jesurgislac on 11.22.03 at 02:43 PM [permalink]

Wake me up when "Calvin and Hobbes" returns. Life hasn't been worth living since their departure from the daily newspaper.

posted by: erp on 11.22.03 at 02:43 PM [permalink]

Outland: Good draftsmanship, which is one of the things he wants it to be. He scorns the 3-panel style, but #1 is a 3-panel cartoon. Given his background, I'll keep reading and see what happens.

In the interview, he complains about the cartoons drawn by dead white guys. OK, I'll buy into that. Little Orphan Annie must be abut 70 now - time to retire. The current incarnation is a bit forced. Dick Tracy? Pushing 80.

Rose is Rose is in the top 10. If you don't get Pasquale and Peekaboo, you have no heart.

But Breathed also complained about today's drawing. Al Capp was great, but there will never be anybody that can touch Walt Kelly and Pogo for drawing. The most beautiful character in all cartoondom - and I include today's anime - is Miz Hepzibah. And Walt knew how to deflate the political hot-air balloons of his time. His send-up of Joe McCarthy is a classic.

Pogo and "Calvin and Hobbes" are the only cartoon collections I have.

posted by: Mike on 11.22.03 at 02:43 PM [permalink]

I have never forgotten Opus, even though it has taken 10 years to return! I am now well into my 50's and I am still comtemplating an Opus tatoo on my "right" cheek.
My Opus T-shirt finally disengrated and if you can direct me where to purchase a new one I thank you. My Opus stuffed animal that my daughter gave me one Christmas sits proudly on my dresser. Even though my wife continually tries to put him away.

Welcome back Opus, be cool.

posted by: Freddy on 11.22.03 at 02:43 PM [permalink]

Did you see the Non-Sequitor on Sunday (12/28), Somehow I thought it was apporopriate, I've been reading Opus, but don't get much out of it. Oh well.

posted by: Joel B. on 11.22.03 at 02:43 PM [permalink]

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