Now, Breathed isn’t laughing so heartily at Trump.
Editorial artists and journalists alike “look like kickboxers swinging underwater,” Breathed tells The Washington Post’s Comic Riffs of media attempts to land a critical harpoon into Candidate Trump’s hide. Which is why Breathed himself has decided to stand down.
“I have declared my strip Trump-free at this point,” Breathed tells Comic Riffs. “He may get only a glancing mention as subtext … even if he and his family get control of the free world.”
There you have it. Opus and “Bloom County,” which formally migrated from Facebook to Universal Uclick last year, will continue without their frequent satiric chum.
This week, Comic Riffs caught up with Breathed, whom I will introduce Saturday evening at D.C.’s National Book Festival (where the author-artist will have his new book, “The Bill the Cat Story, A Bloom County Epic,” in tow):
Michael Cavna: From “Bloom County’s” takes on the new iPhone to Binkley’s deplorable-ready dad to the gender-neutral burkini, the Interweb now provides means for your lightning-quick response to the headlines — your Zen-hacking into the zeitgeist. Does the short-window immediacy of delivering an online “Bloom County” provide you with extra creative juice? In other words: How much are you loving technology in 2016?
Berkeley Breathed: Being out of newspapers brings a tsunami of editorial benefits. The immediacy of topics heads the list. Flexibility of deadlines provides a life without stress — new for me with a reasonably daily strip. Connection to the readers is a sea change. On the other hand, it also brings a tsunami of poverty. I’m not being paid anymore. This provides its own challenges.
MC: Would Berkeley the Cartoonist — as distinct from Berkeley the American Citizen — like to see a Trump presidency? Would you embrace four years of The Donald from a creative standpoint?
BB: Honestly, George Bush [the Younger] was far, far, far a richer vein to excavate in the American Gold Mine of Presidential Foolishness. He was [in] over his head, obviously, but his heart was true and uncorrupt. This is funny. Remember him running into a conference room and squeezing the German chancellor’s shoulders like an idiot frat boy, or trying to open a fake door on a stage and making a goofy face. This is funny. He became unfunny, of course, when he started wars born of that cluelessness.
Trump is crushingly unfunny because the swamp from which he rose is not funny. I — like all of us — drew him as a clown in the beginning. A desperately false underestimation. The veneer of civility to our — and Europe’s — culture has been pulled up, and it’s not going back down any time soon. This is not my comic gold mine. My job is to keep people feeling good about their lives in the face of this, not to keep pointing out the crap getting increasingly revealed.
MC: In your beautiful new Bill the Cat book, there is a sense of tremendous journey. So often when Opus is involved, there is a quest of seemingly superhuman — or super-“humanimal” — endeavor. What is it about Opus, or you, that is drawn to the Miles-Spanning Journey of Self-Discovery — if not Comedic Thwarted Expectations?
BB: Prescient observation. Cartooning is a journey of discovery, therapeutic solace and personal embarrassment precisely because it’s so obviously the cartoonist making it, not his characters. That transparency is not the part I like about the job. I’m a weirdly private chap doing a strip dance in front of my readers, and it’s not any more comfortable now that it was in 1985. But as a mobster in “The Godfather” said, it’s the business we have chosen. Sigh.
MC: Your Bill the Cat” book is a dazzling blend of different artistic media — from pencil to ink to lush [digital] paint colors. Could you talk about why you provide so much diverse virtuosity — or “diversuosity”? Is that more to keep you visually entertained/engaged, or your young readers?
BB: The technical challenge we laid out for that little project … was to see if we could make the first, true “Bloom County” picture book — one that was textually organic to the strip, born from the same world. The other books I have done may have borrowed the characters, but [they] left behind the comic strip. So I sketched, I drew line drawings and I did the occasional full painterly renderings … just as you would see in the new “Bloom County” collection of strips released simultaneously this month. They should fit nicely, leaning next to each other on a bookshelf.
MC: What might we hope to see in the weeks or months ahead in “Bloom County”? And if Trump wins, are you changing your name, location or Apple serial number to lie low for a while?
BB: I have declared my strip Trump-free at this point. He may get only a glancing mention as subtext … even if he and his family get control of the free world. I sense a paradigm press shift now … after last week, when he punked the media to a heretofore new level of humiliation — announcing the birth legitimacy of our president as he was promoting a new hotel. Western civilization might yet be saved if the New York Times, The Washington Post and AP would simply, cleanly, devastatingly stand down. You too, cartoonists. They look like kickboxers swinging underwater. Everyone should stop looking at the wreck and keep driving.
Me, I’m looking for things that make me smile. They’re still there.
Note: The National Book Festival’s Graphic Novel Night programming is scheduled to run 5 to 10 p.m. Saturday at the Walter E. Washington Convention Center. The Post is a charter sponsor of the event.
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