Network News

X My Profile
View More Activity
E-mail Michael  |  On Facebook: Comic Riffs  |  On Twitter: Comic Riffs  |  RSS Feeds RSS Feed
Posted at 2:26 PM ET, 10/ 6/2008

This Just In: OPUS, and Breathed, to Retire Next Month...

By Michael Cavna

Cartoonist Berkeley Breathed is announcing today that not only will he retire his weekly strip "Opus" on Nov. 2 -- right before the election -- but that he himself is also walking away from his 30-year career in cartooning.

His trunk packed, Opus says a sweet-eyed goodbye. (Copyright 2008 Berkeley Breathed. Dist. by The Washington Post Writers Group)

"With the crisis in Wall Street and Washington, I'm suspending my comic strip to assist the nation," said Breathed, 51, satirizing politics even in his news release from Washington Post Writers Group. He added: "I call on John McCain to join me."

Breathed -- who won a Pulitzer in the mid-'80s for his strip "Bloom County," which was followed by his Sunday-strip "Outland" -- is ending "Opus" with a contest (which Comic Riffs has been privy to see) asking readers to guess his dear penguin's ultimate fate.

We should note that when we sat with Breathed earlier this year in his syndicate's offices, he sounded energized when discussing his art -- but not as much when the subject was his production of "Opus." He talked of being in a different place since turning 50 -- how writing children's books (his new one, "Pete & Pickles," is due out this month) feels so much more expansive compared with comic-stripping, which he said often seems to call for a too-quick, pays-to-be-mean punch line.

Farewell, Opus -- and good luck, Berkeley. You greatly enriched our comics reading for many years (and you two weren't insignificant in my becoming a syndicated cartoonist myself). And in the many collections, may Billy and the Boingers rock on forever.

It's your turn, comics fans. We invite your comments about the cartoonist, and remembrances of his bowtied pudgy penguin.

By Michael Cavna  | October 6, 2008; 2:26 PM ET
Categories:  General  
Save & Share:  Send E-mail   Facebook   Twitter   Digg   Yahoo Buzz   StumbleUpon   Technorati   Google Buzz   Previous: The Riff: Appreciating a Great Post Journalist
Next: The Morning Line: When Pastis Goes for "Peanuts"


Say it ain't so BB! The number of comics I adored oh these many years is fast dwindling...

Posted by: TC | October 6, 2008 3:42 PM | Report abuse

You can't go home again and Breathed has tried twice. Hang it up.

Posted by: yellojkt | October 6, 2008 3:46 PM | Report abuse

Does the fact that the Post squeezed Opus into postage stamp sized real estate on the comics pages contribute to the demise?

But Breathed was IMHO was of the most asute observers of human nature, American culture and politics I am aware of.

Seems strange to get dewey eyed about comic character, but Opus and friends have been around for decades and have become good friends. They will be greatly missed.

Posted by: Kashe | October 6, 2008 3:54 PM | Report abuse

Aww man, another giant falls to enui.

Opus will probably retire to a beach in the Bahamas and live happily ever after. Alternately, he'll get hit by a bus.

Posted by: EricS | October 6, 2008 3:58 PM | Report abuse

...or he finds his mother at long last!

Posted by: Zero | October 6, 2008 4:01 PM | Report abuse

He will retreat into a mental closet when he runs into (and is replaced by) Mallard Fillmore.

Sad news this.

Posted by: BP | October 6, 2008 4:03 PM | Report abuse

This guy's creativity and originality waned years ago. Not to be cruel, but good riddance; his space can be filled with better stuff.

Posted by: Rasheed | October 6, 2008 4:16 PM | Report abuse

I've lived through this before, haven't I?

He'll be missed....

Posted by: JkR | October 6, 2008 4:21 PM | Report abuse

Its more than Opus. Its Steve (and baby Steve), its Milo, and its Bill the Cat. These characters made indifference, selfishness, and shear excess, resp., entertaining and sympathetic. Go Berkley, and do some more good. Teach our Next Generation how to find humor in the Outlands.

Posted by: Bails | October 6, 2008 4:23 PM | Report abuse

"Bloom County" was the best cartoon of its age. "Outland" and "Opus" were unworthy and half-hearted follow-ups. I know that Breathed was tired of doing the same old thing, but in that case he should have just stopped and retired the characters. "Bloom County...but not Bloom County, Parts I and II" lacked the vitality of the original. They were retreads.

I think what I liked most about "Bloom County" was its ability to have the political snark of "Doonesbury" with the sweetness of "Calvin and Hobbess" and the intelligence of "Frazz," all rolled into one. The comic still stands apart, even after all of these years.

Posted by: James Markels | October 6, 2008 4:23 PM | Report abuse

Anyone want to place bets that in a year or so he'll come out of retirement? He's one of these Lance Armstrong types. He won't know what else to do with his life. I hope he can find another hobby; I did stop reading his strip quite a while ago.

Posted by: Phoebe | October 6, 2008 4:28 PM | Report abuse

Hairy fishnuts! We'll miss him. I didn't mind the reincarnations.

Posted by: gpmega | October 6, 2008 4:31 PM | Report abuse

Bad Breathed should have never came back. He was a relic of the 80's. Not funny.

Posted by: adam256 | October 6, 2008 4:41 PM | Report abuse

will the last scene of opus be opus over a campfire roasting...

Posted by: Dwight | October 6, 2008 4:43 PM | Report abuse

Bugger. Bugger, bugger, bugger.

I'd like to see Cutter John and the other field animals return and they can ride off into their Star Trek fantasies...

Posted by: Chasmsoaur | October 6, 2008 4:44 PM | Report abuse

Wow. Nice to see the "I hate this topic so I'll post a comment about it in a blog posting" commenters are here today.

Posted by: Anonymous | October 6, 2008 4:51 PM | Report abuse

"...or he finds his mother at long last!

Posted by: Zero "

Hear, hear. I can't think of a better ending.

Posted by: stubbyflightlesswaterfowl | October 6, 2008 5:00 PM | Report abuse


(translation: We expect to be voted into the White House in November, on the Meadow Party's ticket, at long last.)

Posted by: Bill the Cat | October 6, 2008 5:02 PM | Report abuse

One fewer intelligent voice on the comics page.... Opus wasn't always laugh-out-loud funny, but it was wry and smart and perceptive, and that's more than can be said for, say, Little Dog Lost. More comics for smart people, please!

Posted by: smartcomix | October 6, 2008 5:07 PM | Report abuse

I lived in Seattle years ago, when a fire hit a great comics shop in the Pike Place Market...fortunately, not much was lost...but the seriously scorched Bill the Cat stuffed dool was at the entry way, with a sign "I survived the fire..."

After the elections, and not having breathed arround, I'm already feeling scorched

Posted by: Speters | October 6, 2008 5:07 PM | Report abuse

I really like that he is going to continue do children's books. "A Wish for Wings that Work" is one of my all time favorite books.

Posted by: debit | October 6, 2008 5:13 PM | Report abuse

Without a doubt, the best comic strip ever was Bloom County, with Calvin and Hobbes being a VERY close second. Now Opus will be able to enjoy his Sunday NY Times each and every weekend, further demonstrating the meaning of " Quality Time "

Posted by: Peter | October 6, 2008 5:26 PM | Report abuse

To quote Colby Cosh, on the occasion of the strip's over-hooplaed launch:

You will pardon me, I hope, for retiring unobtrusively from the lavish celebration in honour of Berkeley Breathed's imminent return to the comics section. I know there are millions out there who still miss "Bloom County", just as there are millions still waiting for Kajagoogoo to get back together. I spent as much time reading "Bloom County" on the toilet as anybody, but I gradually came to recognize the strip as an odious, barbless swirl of untethered political references and hypercommercial sentimentality, all strained through Garry Trudeau's lower intestine. "Doonesbury" for Dummies. The strip is so middle American, in the worst sense of the phrase, that reading it now is like choking to death on apple pie.

I am stone blind with indignation that anyone would dare elevate "Bloom County" into a notional triad of lost great newspaper cartoons alongside "Calvin and Hobbes" and "The Far Side". Gary Larson is perhaps the greatest gag writer in the history of the medium, and Bill Watterson certainly its last poet. The best I can find to say about "Bloom County" is that it was somewhat sharper, most days, than "Marmaduke". It's true that the new-millennium edition (tentatively entitled "Opus") will probably stand out from the common run of present-day newspaper comics, for what little that's worth.

Posted by: whosis | October 6, 2008 5:49 PM | Report abuse

Yet another terrific writer thinks he can do children's books. Sorry, Berke, but just because you have kids doesn't mean you can write for them.

Betcha after two or three more so-so books that adults buy and children ignore, Breathed will get back to what he does best--cartooning.

Posted by: Library Lady | October 6, 2008 6:03 PM | Report abuse

I will miss reading Opus and am interested in seeing his children's books. I am surprised at the negative comments...bitter and unpublished/syndicated writers/cartoonists perhaps?

Posted by: comic reader | October 6, 2008 6:29 PM | Report abuse

I am disappointed, but I sincerely thank Breathed for all those years of enjoyable satire that helped get many of us through bad years and bad presidents.

My hope is that Opus will enjoy retirement along side Calvin and Hobbs.

As to you naysayers, I have several short Anglo-Saxon expletives that I would gladly apply to your shallow, meaningless lives, but since they wouldn’t get printed here, I’ll settle for….PBBBBBBFFFFTT!

Posted by: Hankster | October 6, 2008 6:32 PM | Report abuse

I'll miss Opus. I wasn't a great Outland fan, though I liked Bloom County a lot. This latest reincarnation seemed to do a lot of what I liked best about BC. I just hope my paper replaces it with something good - they haven't been running Cul de Sac's Sunday strips, so maybe we'll get that.

Posted by: marshlc | October 6, 2008 6:38 PM | Report abuse

Bloom County was funny; Outland never was. BB should have quit while he was ahead.

Posted by: tom | October 6, 2008 6:49 PM | Report abuse

Opus the Penguin, in all his incarnations over the years, has been the only reason I've even bothered to open the Sunday comics. This is a personal loss on a large scale.

Posted by: rah62 | October 6, 2008 7:15 PM | Report abuse

I always preferred Brethed's long-ago strip "Academia Waltz," which he penned for The Daily Texan student newspaper at the University of Texas at Austin while we were both undergrads there in the late 1970s. He had the whole "Preppy Handbook" vibe that ruled Greek culture down to a "t". We couldn't wait to pick up each day's installment and see what frat rat "Steve Dallas" was up to. After that, "Bloom County" never held any appeal for me.

Posted by: Scott | October 6, 2008 7:26 PM | Report abuse

BTW, Colby Cosh, Kajagoogoo IS back together. Yes, even Limahl. You'll have to "try a little harder" to find an obscure broken-up band reference. Maybe Frankie Goes To Hollywood? No, make that Tess Turbo and the Blackheads.

Posted by: Too Shy | October 6, 2008 7:56 PM | Report abuse

The latest incarnations weren't Bloom County, true. I didn't care. Just being able to connect with the penguin from my teens years was a nice weekly dose of good karma. I hope Berke brings back all the old Meadow friends, but I don't think that's his style. A guy can dream though. I will miss the strip, and I wish Berke great success in whatever he does next. And I hope Opus finds his mother.

Posted by: Supo | October 6, 2008 8:19 PM | Report abuse

Opus will admit that the two sequels to "Bloom County" really haven't worked, so rather than trying yet a third follow-on, he will join "Peanuts" and "For Better or Worse" in simply re-running the old stuff, every day from now on out. He will ask, "And how do you feel about **that**?" as he steps into the Closet of Anxiety and closes the door behind him.

Posted by: Seismic-2 | October 6, 2008 9:16 PM | Report abuse

First time around: Oh, NO! Don't go! WAAAAH!

Second time around: Aw, nutz.

This time: Don't let the door hit your @$$ on the way out, bub.

Seriously, anyone who yearns for the return of Calvin & Hobbes should be forced to go through this dreck, just to show when to leave well enough alone.

Posted by: Alexander the Great | October 6, 2008 9:37 PM | Report abuse

I can't stand it...I just can't stand it!

Posted by: overhereontheleft | October 6, 2008 10:05 PM | Report abuse

Classic example of leave while you are ahead. And that would have been back with the original Bloom County. The 2nd revival was tough; the third terrible. Nothing lost. Good bye and good night.

Posted by: Eric | October 7, 2008 8:36 AM | Report abuse

He'll be back within three years, I'll bet, with something even shriler, more overbearing and ersatz. And his fans will go wild.

Posted by: riotous | October 7, 2008 9:15 AM | Report abuse

fr gpmega:

Hairy fishnuts! We'll miss him. I didn't mind the reincarnations.<

Ah yes, pear pimples for hairy fishnuts and watching the hare krishna guy get madder and madder.....

Posted by: Alex | October 7, 2008 9:35 AM | Report abuse

I kept my "Don't Blame Me, I Voted for Bill & Opus" T-shirt until it literally fell apart. The flightless one has long been a part of my life and I will miss him greatly.

Posted by: Annlindgk | October 7, 2008 9:56 AM | Report abuse


Posted by: Daniel J. Drazen | October 7, 2008 10:09 AM | Report abuse

Well, I guess it couldn't go on forever (only Doonesbury goes on forever), but this is the third time that Berkeley Breathed has broken my heart, abandoned me in the wastelands, relegated my daily and weekly comix to the bland and the banal. I just don't know if I could stand another Opus-related heartbreak, but I'd love to try.

Perhaps my old (where the hey is Milo???) and new (that little dog in the shelter sure is cute) loves can live on in book form? And why not? They're easily as entertaining as Edwurd Fudwupper.


Yours in a great deal of pain, already dreading Nov 2.

Posted by: weeping and gnashing of teeth | October 7, 2008 2:45 PM | Report abuse

Odds are good Breathed'll have Opus shot from a helicopter by Sarah Palin, who at some point will be shown in a bikini or with underpants on her head. This will be seen by the credulous as vicious satire, Breathed will collect another Pulitzer and then he'll produce an endless string of tiresome, underwhelming, van-art children's books, each one preceded by self-indulgent claims of how he's stretching the medium. Next, the Caldecott. Like his sentimental, comics-ignorant, cuteness-blinded fans would say, PPBBBFFFFLLLT!

Posted by: whosis | October 7, 2008 6:13 PM | Report abuse

and where will I find anything to equal Opus' trial (paralleling the Clarence Thomas confirmation hearings) where he was forced to admit that he was a "sexual hamster"?

This is no surprise, given the past month's strips, and the current series can't hold a candle to Bloom County, but it was still better than anything else in the Sunday funnies...

Posted by: a sad flightless one | October 7, 2008 6:15 PM | Report abuse

Bloom County, and Opus, in particular are part of comic strips (Calvin and Hobbes, Peanuts, Farley and The Far Side) that brought levity to reading the morning newspapers. I just hope that no harm comes to Opus and or the shelter dog the final comic strip. Go in peace, Opus and Berkeley.

Posted by: Frankel | October 7, 2008 7:37 PM | Report abuse

What a bummer. And I hope Whosis and all you other naysayers enjoy the rapier wit and biting social commentary of "Garfield", because that's pretty much all we're left with. If Darby Conley stops drawing "Get Fuzzy", there'll be no reason to read the comics anymore.

Posted by: Lucy | October 8, 2008 12:23 AM | Report abuse

Out of all the comic strips I've ever read in my lifetime, I consider Bloom County, Opus, and Outland my favorites. I still have my stuffed Opus penguin, t-shirt, and sweatshirt, so you can imagine my sadness to see Opus retired for good. However, I can also understand wanting to move on and do other things, so BB I wish you well and continued success.

As for Opus, I hope he's sprung from the shelter and retires to an anxiety-free island with lots of massages, coconuts, and pretty girls! "Slap my hine with some melon rind; I've got a penguin state of mind!"

Posted by: Krissi D. | October 8, 2008 3:20 AM | Report abuse


I highly agree with Hankster, Rah65, and Lucy.

And yo, Whois, I send you a big "PPBBBFFFFLLLT!" and hope you end up stuck on a toilet somewhere with McSame and Plain who you are clearly so in love with!

Now, shoo!

Posted by: Krissi | October 8, 2008 3:31 AM | Report abuse

McSame & Plain? PPBBBFFFFLLLT to them, too.

Posted by: whosis | October 8, 2008 4:51 AM | Report abuse

fr whosis:

>...This will be seen by the credulous as vicious satire, Breathed will collect another Pulitzer and then he'll produce an endless string of tiresome, underwhelming, van-art children's books, each one preceded by self-indulgent claims of how he's stretching the medium....<

So don't READ it! There, now was THAT so hard? No.

Posted by: Alex | October 8, 2008 9:42 AM | Report abuse

A couple of years ago I found a book of early Bloom County strips and gave it to my son. He said, "So it really was good at the beginning."

In contrast to the latest incarnation which was as bad or worse than Outland or whatever that thing was called when Breathed didn't leave well enough alone the first time. And Bloom County stunk when he retired the first time too.

Posted by: SteveH | October 8, 2008 1:33 PM | Report abuse

The first Bloom County strip I remember reading was the one where Steve Dallas was berating Opus for waddling "Nobody waddles!" which ends with Milo, Binkley, and Opus waddling off into the scenery. That gentle spirit of individualism struck my searching-for-identity teen-age self, and became part of who I am today.

That insightful yet gentle view into human nature is what I've loved most about the strip. It has sometimes lost the gentleness, has sometimes become difficult or discomforting to read. However, it has never lost the spark of insight. Even in the period I considered it's darkest hour--the end of the engagement with Lola to the introduction of Ronald-Ann--there was an intensity lacking in most of the comics page.

I am glad that Opus is learning the purpose of life after a fashion, and I'm extremely glad to see it including that gentle insight I've loved in the strip whenever it appeared over the years. I can only hope for as much for myself and for all of us (of course, I'd like a lifespan considerably longer than 30 years).

Posted by: kc | October 8, 2008 2:08 PM | Report abuse

Well, I for one shall be sorry to see the strip gone. I enjoyed it!

Posted by: Jorindovsky | October 8, 2008 8:13 PM | Report abuse

Well, I for one enjoyed Opus and friends. I shall miss them.

Posted by: Jorindovsky | October 8, 2008 8:15 PM | Report abuse

Didn't Opus meet his mother at the end of Outlands and the beginning of "Opus"? And she was a big, fat disappointment, if I remember. Don't you people read this stuff?

Posted by: jimbosalaambo | October 8, 2008 11:18 PM | Report abuse

I read when he began Opus that an Opus movie was in development. I assumed that Opus was revived basically to support the movie. If the strip is ending, I guess that means the movie idea was nixed. Too bad.

Posted by: Jeff | October 9, 2008 8:23 AM | Report abuse

I will miss Opus, terribly, he is so vulnerable and just like my dog at the end of the bed. You have given us so much entertainment. i still want to warm up some milk for Opus after one of his adventures! Many thanks for the enjoyment@

Posted by: Texas | October 9, 2008 8:16 PM | Report abuse

Berkeley is an incredibly talented genius. Part of who I am is because of him. There were times in my life when Bloom County was the only thing I had to look forward to, the only good thing in my life. There's no way I can put into words what Opus, Bill, Milo, Steve, and the rest of the guys mean to me. They will live forever in reprints and books. Good Luck in the future, Berke, and thank you.

Posted by: Greg | October 11, 2008 3:16 PM | Report abuse

The comments to this entry are closed.

RSS Feed
Subscribe to The Post

© 2011 The Washington Post Company