Cartoonist to Put 'Opus' on Ice

Imposing a term limit: Berkeley Breathed and his rare bird.
Imposing a term limit: Berkeley Breathed and his rare bird. ("America's Most Wanted" via Associated Press)
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By Amy Argetsinger and Roxanne Roberts
Tuesday, October 7, 2008

As a Republican president prepares to exit, so does "Opus" cartoonist Berkeley Breathed -- again. (The GOP-bashing artist prefers to make his exits stage-left, thankyouverymuch.)

The Pulitzer Prize-winning creator of the '80s super-strip "Bloom County," which wrapped up shortly after President Reagan 's second term, announced yesterday that he will end his Sunday-only strip, "Opus," on Nov. 2 -- as in, two days before the presidential election, reports our colleague Michael Cavna, who writes the blog Comic Riffs.

"With the crisis in Wall Street and Washington, I'm suspending my comic strip to assist the nation," said Breathed, 51, through his syndicate, The Washington Post Writers Group. Even in announcing his retirement from cartooning, he couldn't resist satirizing the campaign scene: "The best way I can help is to leave politics permanently. . . . I call on John McCain to join me."

Rumors had circulated for months that Breathed might end his strip just as a fellow Texan saddles up for good. Last year, the cartoonist teased in an interview with Texas Monthly: "I'd like to see Opus go out with George Bush, both headed into the sunset."

For many readers, Breathed was at his best when skewering right-leaning administrations. Opus, the beloved bow-tied penguin, and his cohorts took flight -- at least creatively -- during the Reagan era in "Bloom County": the Meadow Party presidential campaign, the fictional basselope deployed for Reagan's "Star Wars" defense initiative, Sean Penn punching out the strip's sleaze-attorney Steve Dallas, the fleet of Mary Kay lab-testers.

Breathed's follow-up strip, the Sunday-only "Outland," lost some of its spark during the Clinton years. The cartoonist retired from the comics pages in 1995, but returned in 2003 to sink his pen into a new wartime administration with his third strip, "Opus."

As the strip winds down, the ever-flappable Opus has been shipped to Gitmo, reminiscing about his heady decades and troubled love life. The "Opus" finale in newspapers will feature a contest asking readers to guess the orphaned penguin's fate. The answer, interestingly, will appear only in an online version of the strip.

What's next? Breathed has his pen poised for more children's books. But what if another Republican administration comes in next year? He swears he's leaving the game permanently this time.

Opus, on the other hand, would probably invoke a Breathed favorite:

"PBTTTF!"

Playing Rough, but With Whom?

With just a few months left in the Bush administration, it's time to answer those nagging questions -- such as, who the heck is the other guy in this picture?

George W. Bush played rugby during his years at Yale, although this shot of a 1968 game appeared in the 1969 Yale Banner yearbook (p. 204), a year after Bush graduated. That's the future president on the left, delivering an "illegal, but gratifying right hook to opposing ball carrier," according to the yearbook caption. The picture is well-known among aficionados of the game, but the identity of Bush's opponent is a mystery.

"It's been bugging me," said Buzz McClain, contributing editor to Rugby Magazine. "I know we can find this guy and find out what the real story is." The photo appears in the magazine's current issue with a plea to ID the player running into Bush's fist, but no luck so far. (Clues: Probably an Ivy Leaguer, might even be a classmate, judging by the uniform.) We called the White House, but no one there knows either.

Dust off your yearbooks, Yalies, and send your guess to reliablesource@washpost.com.

THIS JUST IN . . .

· Stephen Sondheim will be center stage when Signature Theatre launches its new Sondheim Award next April. The Arlington theater, which has received national acclaim for producing 18 of the award-winning composer's works, will honor artists for distinguished interpretation of Sondheim's music.

· Angelina Jolie showed off two new tattoos on her left shoulder Saturday. Some moms wear a locket with pictures of their kids; Jolie added latitude and longitude tattoos of twins Knox and Vivienne's birthplace in France, just below the birth coordinates of her four other children.

* * *

"I broke up with my boyfriend, and two weeks later he was sent to prison for fraud. I mean, we've all been there -- right, ladies?"

--Actress Anne Hathaway, mocking her high-profile breakup with Italian conman Raffaello Follieri during her appearance on "Saturday Night Live."


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