If there was ever a fire at Chez Rude, there are precious few items the Rude Pundit would risk his life and lungs to save. Once you get past the stuff in the lockbox and pre-digital photos, there ain't much. Not his phone or laptop because everything is stored on many clouds. Not his well-used Tom of Finland volumes. Not any of the original art he owns, not even the Blue Dog by George Rodrigue. Not his paperback copy of In Cold Blood signed by Truman Capote, not his books signed by Toni Morrison or Michael Chabon or any other authors living and dead. But one thing he would fight past the flames to grab would be a first edition of a children's book, The Wish for Wings That Work, because of this:
It's signed by its author and artist, Berkeley Breathed, who was kind enough to draw Opus, the penguin who starred in the book and the author's classic comic strip, Bloom County.
Bloom County ran from December 1980 until August 1989, or, really, the Reagan administration plus a few months. People sometimes tell the Rude Pundit that he helped them survive the Bush II years, which he's not really sure we survived. But, for him, Bloom County was what allowed him to not go mad during the headiest days of the Gipper's reign of madness. The Rude Pundit was an editor at his college paper in Louisiana, and the town paper refused to carry the best strips of the time. So, screw it, he did, with a line-up that included The Far Side, Calvin and Hobbes, Matt Groening's Life in Hell and Bloom County. When a new sheet of a week's worth of strips arrived, the staff would gather around to read them all. By the time it ended, even though it was followed by the immensely well-drawn but lesser comics Outland and Opus by Breathed, the influence it had had on this blogger was profound.
With muckraking Milo Bloom, computer hacker Oliver, and perpetual worrier Binkley, all children, and wheelchair-bound Vietnam vet Cutter John and sexist pig Steve Dallas, as well as Opus and Bill the Cat, a rancid middle finger to all the comic strips that created cutesy characters to sell shit, Bloom County was Generation X's Doonesbury, a daily reminder of how you could readily and scathingly mock the powerful in hilarious ways, from politicians to the media to the wealthy to the bigots and misogynists to celebrities. Indeed, you could make an argument that the way Breathed constantly
attacked a worthless, scandal-mongering press planted the seeds for one
of the driving forces of the rise of blogs.
As for politics? To this day, the Rude Pundit can't hear the word "caucus" without thinking "a raucous caucus." Go read some of Breathed's strip collections. They are still hilarious.
This week, Berkeley Breathed decided to return to drawing Bloom County after 25 years, posting so far daily strips on Facebook. Breathed said that, by publishing online, he has freedom and no constraints of editors, censorship, or deadlines. He only needs to draw his comics. He recognizes that times have changed: "There is no media that will allow a Charlie Brown or a Snoopy to become a
universal and shared joy each morning at the same moment across the
country," he told the Washington Post. Yes, it's true. We do not have much of a common culture anymore.
But for a generation who came came of age with Bloom County, it is like discovering that a long-lost friend is still alive years after a plane crash. You didn't know you felt a little less whole until that piece returned.
Now all we need is a Far Side restoration and a Calvin and Hobbes resurgence.