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Posted at 4:15 PM ET, 07/23/2010

COMIC-CON 2010: 'Opus's' BERKELEY BREATHED talks pigs, penguins & the thrill of adapting 'Pete & Pickles' for animation

By Michael Cavna


During the '80s heyday of "Bloom County," its many convention-attending fans was never enough to lure creator BERKELEY BREATHED to San Diego Comic-Con. All it took, it turns out, was a whimsical children's book and an airborne leap into animation.

Breathed is adapting his successful recent book "Pete & Pickles -- about the friendship between a free-wheeling circus elephant and a button-down swine -- for an animation with the digital production division of the French firm Technicolor.

The company has nearly a century-long history of working with creators, but its animation partnership with Breathed represents a whole venture. Technicolor -- long a film-processing company and massive DVD producer -- is moving toward animated series and feature films.

Comic Riffs caught up with Breathed -- who is appearing as a featured-artist "Spotlight' today at Comic-Con -- to talk penguins, pigs and the risk of flying headlong into animation:

MICHAEL CAVNA: So what excites you about this creative partnership with Technicolor? After surely decades of being wooed by producers, why jump now to the small screen?

BERKLEY BREATHED: Technicolor wants to prove themselves and their animation company with stuff that doesn't look like the usual fare. And it's a chance to stretch the old cartoonist idea muscles again. The comic page is about dead, so animation is now the place. And Technicolor is hungry. I like hungry.

MC: What's your own role in the TV project? Are you the guiding "hand"? And are you providing your own "static" drawings for the Technicolor team to animate?

BB: It'll be "Created by" me. Like everything, it's all a hugely joint creative effort. But it will all start with my drawings, my characters, my show "bible" and my ideas. I will get the baby up and walking and then hope it doesn't cross the freeway.

MC: Can you briefly describe what this TV show will "be," what will look like? For readers not lucky enough to be at Comic-Con, how would you describe this show?

BB: Bloom County meets Winnie-the-Pooh meets Chuck Jones... in full CG.

MC: Have you had a chance to preview animated versions of your work ? If so: What was your first reaction?

BB: We're just starting tests for "Pete & Pickles" now, so we're feeling our way. Animation is a long hard slog ... and requires huge patience to get what you're aiming at. I'm not an animator myself, so it's awkward. But I've been working within in for 25 years now, so I at least know the language.

Breathed's children's book "Pete & Pickles."Enlarge Image

MC: Can you promise all the young-reader fans of "Pete & Pickles" that the wonderful tone, tenderness and sensibility will remain in the show?

BB: The book was written for a 4-year-old, and the show will need to skew older. But if it doesn't have the same heart at the center of its silliness, we will have failed. Everything I write is probably distinguished more by the sentiment than by any particular graphic style. Can't imagine we'd lose that. But this is a cartoon and not a book. Different beasts.

MC: What's your own personal litmus test for what determining whether this show is a "success"?

BB: Success is a sliding scale. The first success will be to get it on the air: a huge hurdle. The next will be to get enough interest to see a second season. I won't even look beyond that.

MC: Being a father, have you become a "connoisseur" of kids' programming -- and if so, what do you aspire to or, perhaps, despise on the current creative landscape that is kiddie TV?

BB: I've never watched a children's cartoon show. Not since I was 10 myself. And I won't watch them now. I have no idea what they're like ... but I don't want to know. I have never read a comic strip, either, beyond a year of Doonesbury during my college years. Bloom County was the result of that ignorance.

MC: So, anything you miss about being an "active" syndicated newspaper cartoonist?

BB: I miss the 70 million readers if you want to know the truth. Who wouldn't. But it's an era that's past forever. I'm an author. It's fun to have readers. But they're elsewhere now.


MC: Have you done San Diego Comic-Con before? If not: How do you fairly brace yourself for the adoring throngs? Do you rely on the kindness of beefy security dudes who make the Mary Kay Cosmetics Commandoes look like meek baby waterfowl?

BB: Never been. I am indeed bracing myself.. but remember, these are fickle folk. And mostly young enough now not to have read much of "Bloom County".. or any newspaper comic strip. I'd be more intimidated if I were Christopher Nolan, to tell you the truth.

Lastly, do you care whether the ever-burgeoning Comic-Con stays in San Diego or relocates to Anaheim, L.A. or Vegas?

BB: Vegas, please. I'm advocating for all the hookers. All those fanboys would be like manna dropping from heaven. Honestly, some of those folks in the Storm Trooper suits really need a little action. Now that I've said that, I should mention that I'll be appearing for my Comic Con speech in a storm troopers costume. I take it back.



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By Michael Cavna  | July 23, 2010; 4:15 PM ET
Categories:  Interviews With Cartoonists, San Diego Comic-Con, The Animation, The Comic Strip  | Tags:  Berkeley Breathed, Bloom County, Pete & Pickles, San Diego Comic-Con 2010  
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