Monday, November 02, 2009

Bloom County

Ain't It Cool News is a mixed bag at best for me these days, what with its crudity and self-importance, but every once in a while they come up with well-written content that reminds me why I bookmarked them a decade ago and have been a regular visitor ever since. Today they have a new interview up with Scott Dunbier, editor of the new Bloom County: The Complete Library.

My love affair with Bloom County dates back to 1983, before I'd ever read a single strip in any newspaper. Growing up as a book-loving kid, Columbus was a virtual wasteland. No bookstores, unless you count the best-selling paperbacks at the checkout lines in Wal Mart or the Brookshire Brothers grocery store. The local library had an anemic SF section, and I lived for visits to Victoria, so I could spend my carefully hoarded dollars at Waldenbooks. In this context, imagine my delight when a bookstore opened up in downtown Columbus! Unfortunately, it didn't last long, due probably in no small part to the fact that it carried very few actual books. But as I was perusing their selection--single books arranged on sparse shelves like some museum display of rare crystal--I came across "Bloom County: Loose Tails." I'd never heard of this before, but flipping through I was taken with the artwork and found the content hilarious. In fact, one of the opening strips--cited by Breathed in the interview linked above--in which Senator Bedfellow meets up with a farmer who's doing great business growing marijuana instead of corn and invites the senator to "Take a few pounds home to the wife." Man, that was comedy GOLD, and the joke still holds up. Brilliant timing and execution, not to mention fine artwork. I bought the book on the spot and still have it on my bookshelf to this day.

It was shortly thereafter that I discovered Bloom County in the Houston Post. Needless to say, that became my favorite newspaper for the next decade, and I don't think it entirely coincidental that the Post went belly-up shortly after Breathed ended Bloom County. I became a genuine devotee of the strip. I clearly remember Breathed lampooning Texas A&M during the whole mid-80s "Let women into the Band" controversy, with the punchline of "Mainly manly moral values." Those strips have never been reprinted, although presumably they will be now in this "complete" collection. As a junior in high school, I got a Bill the Cat tee-shirt that I wore for years until it disentegrated, ala Jerry Seinfeld's "Golden Boy." I bought every collection as they appeared, and even had a Breathed-signed copy of Bloom County Babylon, which a guy named Paul "borrowed" and never returned my freshman year of college. He cheated at Dungeons & Dragons, too, so that tells you his moral character. I had a Bill the Cat for President poster on my bedroom door throughout college, which I believe my brother John inherited eventually. In high school I bought a plush Bill the Cat doll, a scraggly thing, which I had up through my years in Temple on a perch of honor atop my bookshelves. Somewhere between then and now it vanished, which blows because those same dolls go for $100 or so on Ebay today. The Wife remembers it, so it either walked off with a visitor at some point, or it may be packed away in a long-forgotten box from our various moves over the years. Either way, I miss it.

I have the floppy 45 rpm single of "U Stink But I Love You" and "I'm a Boinger" from Billy & the Boingers Bootleg. My fave college band, Dr. Love and the Erogenous Zones, made "U Stink But I Love You" a staple of their playlist back in the day, although they didn't have a tuba solo.

The current prize of my Bloom County collection, however, isn't Bloom County at all. It's volume 2 of Berke Breathed's Academia Waltz self-published while he was a student at t.u. That's right--my favorite cartoonist of pretty much all time (tough call between him and Charles Schultz, but Breathed was more of my time, you know?) is a tea-sip. Horrors. But I'm not alone, as Bloom County was the most popular strip in Texas A&M's student newspaper The Battalion for many, many years until it ended. It's also the only syndicated one the Batt ran--after Breathed pulled the plug, the Batt comic page was strictly local. Academia Waltz ran for several years in The Daily Toxin and is somewhat crude in content and execution as you'd expect a student comic to be. But flashes of genius are also evident, as is Breathed's cynical with and sense of the absurd. Early incarnations of Steve Dallas and Cutter John are present, and Breathed recycles several strips later on in Bloom County. I stumbled upon my copy at the Half Price Books off Broadway in San Antonio back in 2002. I normally don't look through the humor section, but for some reason that day I did--it was a very small set of shelves--and Academia Waltz immediately caught my eye. I had to look at it for several moments before it actually sank in what I'd found. And the price was $2.50--for context, these go for hundreds to collectors these days. Needless to say, I've been exceptionally happy with the pickup, and even emailed Breathed to express my pleasure and request he put out a collected volume of his early Academia Waltz strips for us die-hard Bloom County fans. Alas, his response was negative, although he congratulated me on my find, pointing out that it was "worth a lot of money."

So now IDW has released the first volume of The Complete Collection, with Volume Two due in April. Finally I'll get to see those long-forgotten Aggie strips. There will be some Academia Waltz as well, but only a taste. Most importantly, there will be many early strips that have never been collected, strips that predate my discovery of this great comic strip, which means there is new Bloom County for me to read for the first time in decades. Yay!

If anyone is stumped as to what to get me for Christmas, consider this a big hint.

Now Playing: Eurythmics Greatest Hits


  1. My Bill the Cat doll is sitting on a high shelf looking down on me even now.

  2. Scott Cupp1:15 PM

    I don't have Bill the Cat (I think Crider stole mine) but I have several Opus dolls, including the wonderful Penguin Lust. And I have the Complete Bloom County Volume 1. I will be getting the remainder as they are released. AACK!

  3. Strangely enough, I have no Opus dolls. I do have several Opus Christmas ornaments, however.