Book Review: Bloom County Classics of Western Literature

A Fair Trade Book

Title: Classics of Western Literature: Bloom County 1986-1989

Author: Berke Breathed

Author’s web site:

Date: 1990

Publisher: Little Brown & Company

ISBN: 0-316-10754-9

Length: 250 pages

Illustrations: cartoons by the author

Quote: “[A]t seven I was scanning the ‘News Capsules’ section of the Los Angeles Times. Any head­line including the words FIRE or MURDER prom­ised something vital.”

And so Berke Breathed grew up to write a comic strip in which the characters were children and animals and the plots were headline news stories. For ten years he drew the cartoon daily. Toward the end of this book he announces the transition to drawing it weekly…in news-story mode: the plot line is that Donald Trump’s body has died, his brain has been implanted into the brain-dead body of Bill the Cat, and he’s “developing” Bloom County by firing all the other characters.

This Fair Trade Book was discussed on the Blogspot a few years ago (and, yes, it sold). In view of its timeliness, it’s reappearing here.

In this collection we watch Quiche dump Steve because he spends some time in a body brace, Opus jilt Lola because despite his lovableness he’s just another commitment-phobic 1980s youth at heart, Milquetoast the Cockroach test everybody’s commitment to nonviolence, Oliver blow his cool when asked what led up to the Big Bang, “Deathtongue” morph into “Billy and the Boingers” and expire, the other characters banish Opus from the boardinghouse after hearing a sermon about “penguin lust,” Rosebud admit that the character “he” always insisted was male is “played by” a female (who later gets pregnant), Steve sue Santa Claus for delivering violence-promoting toys, Zygort aliens convert Steve into a Sensitive New Age Guy, Opus try to become a smoker, the kids make (and give away) a fortune selling hair tonic made from Bill’s underarm sweat, Opus attempt to rescue his mother from the Mary Kay Cosmetics test lab, and Ronald-Ann lure Opus from reenacting “Star Trek” to sipping pretend tea with her headless doll. Newsmaking people (and products) are mentioned by name every five or six pages and by implication in almost every strip.

If you don’t remember the original news stories, will you still chortle over every page? Probably. If you don’t get a joke, you’re sure to find someone who can explain it. Real cats don’t have underarm sweat glands; real penguins don’t look like Opus, either. According to the stereotype of the 1980s, Vietnam veterans like John  (the most sensible man in Bloom County) were supposed to be the drugged-out wrecks; in Bloom County that social function is taken over by Bill. But Mary Kay cosmetics, which were marketed by and to church ladies, really were “tested” by torturing animals just like Revlon and Max Factor, and there really were religious conflicts, in some Protestant families, between women (stereotypically the daughters) who boycotted the cosmetics for that reason and women (stereotypically the mothers) who wanted to support fellow church ladies’ business. If he’d had a wife or a sister, Breathed might have been able to exploit the further irony that the real reason why girls like me didn’t buy Mary Kay was that smearing any “moist” stuff on our faces aggravated our acne…unfortunately this comedic element was missing even from the full sequence that was published as Night of the Mary Kay Commandos.

However, as with Pogo and Charlie Brown, the humor of these cartoons is so universal that missing a few topical points wouldn’t keep you from enjoying the book. Steve’s “sensitive” phase was part of a trend, but it’s funny because Steve’s only lovable quality is his complete ignorance of what True Love might be. Opus’s persecution reflects 1980s fear of the influence of the Religious Right, but it’s funny because the children and animals care about each other.

Most of the people who wanted this collection already have it, and now it’s possible to get the five-volume collection of Bloom County reprints here…

Classics of Western Literature is, however, a collector’s item and a Fair Trade Book, not to mention being a valuable source of pre-campaign jokes. To buy it online here, send $5 per book + $5 per copy to either address at the lower left-hand corner of the screen, and I’ll send $1 per book to Breathed or the charity of his choice.

This Morguefile book review cat is much cleverer than Bill…

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