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Interview: Berkeley Breathed (2009)

opusIf you’re crossing the street in Austin at 24th and Guadalupe, tread carefully: You may be stepping on a Pulitzer Prize-winner’s autograph. Back in the 1970s, while cutting his artistic teeth at The Daily Texan with his college-based comic strip Academia Waltz, a young Berkeley Breathed (kinda rhymes with “method”) carved his name into some concrete in front of the United University Methodist Church. Hired straight out of college by The Washington Post, his Bloom County daily strip became an internationally syndicated phenomenon that combined the charm of Walt Kelly’s Pogo with the political edge of Garry Trudeau’s Doonesbury. It also gave the world a new Everybird in the sweet-natured and perpetually flustered Opus the penguin. Over the course of nearly three decades, and through successor Sunday strips Outland and Opus, he was a pet, a suspected terrorist, a vice presidential candidate, a fill-in for Santa’s reindeer, and a tuba player with punks Billy and the Boingers.

In 2008, Breathed drew what he has sworn is his final panel containing his most famous creation. (It ended with Opus shown sleeping peacefully in the bed from the beloved children’s book Goodnight Moon.) With his Opus opus now complete, he’s concentrating on his illustrated kids’ books, and this year jumped into the world of young adult literature with Flawed Dogs: The Novel: The Shocking Raid on Westminster. While his name in the Drag’s sidewalk is starting to fade, rubbed away by decades of students’ shoes, comics firm IDW Publishing is preserving Breathed’s complete Bloom County as part of its Library of American Comics imprint (placing him in the esteemed company of Dick Tracy and The Family Circus). The first volume of a planned five-book set takes readers back to the opening days of the 1980s, when America’s idea of an incompetent president was Ronald Reagan and nothing in the world couldn’t be solved with a trip to the dandelion patch.

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