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Comic Strips: Bloom County

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About This Strip

About This Strip:

Let's face it, Opus makes this comic strip.  OPUS!  OPUS!  OPUS!  Opus forever!  Penguins are naturally funny, anyway.  I don't know what inspired creator Berke Breathed to put a penguin in such interesting social situations, but Opus is by far the funniest penguin of all time.  Even better than my beloved Chilly Willy of cartoon fame.

It may surprise you, but Opus was not originally intended to be the star of this satirical strip.  It took a while for him to come into view, and in the beginning he looked and acted much different than he would later become.  Opus was first the pet of Binkley and he didn't speak English.  Then he spoke broken English.  Opus soon became downright eloquent.  And his look became a lot softer and more loveable.

But who was the first major star of "Bloom County"?  Of course, it was Milo Bloom.  The tow-headed, bespectacled, and politically-minded youngster was kind of funny, but not really funny.  That trend continued.  I'm surprised this character lasted the whole run of the strip.  He doesn't add much at all.  I think it's because of the strip's namesake.

Then came his grandpa, Major Bloom.  Him and the wife ran the boarding house and raised Milo.  Major Bloom was a blowhard traditionalist.  Now this character is kind of funny, but there just isn't much an old retiree can bring to a strip that promises such elaborate, action-filled storylines.  There were many strips that didn't feature either of these two principal characters.  A lot of unnamed and uncontinued characters were introduced along the way.  The most interesting of these early strips were the funny talking animals.  It seems Mr. Breathed kept this in the back of his mind because the funny animals, especially Opus, is what brought real structure into the strip.  Very wise thinking.

There was a middle-aged bum by the name of Limekiller that drifted into the boarding house.  He didn't last long.  The smoking, sunglasses-wearing dude had some of the crass qualities of Steve Dallas (who would be introduced later), but Limekiller himself just ran out of possibilities.

Then came sexy young Bobbi Harlow, the schoolteacher for Milo Bloom.  This was a good character.  I always liked Breathed's women characters.  For some reason they were just funny and they acted a lot like real women would.  She's the first character that really brought ongoing story possibilities to the strip, in my viewpoint.  It was through her that Steve Dallas and Cutter John were introduced.  In a roundabout way, she was also responsible for Binkley, who in turn would give us Binkley's father and Opus.

When Bobbi Harlow was made the teacher, it seemed only fitting to give Milo Bloom a school friend.  Here comes Michael Binkley, originally wearing glasses and with a rather short buzzcut hairdo.  Soon he would lose the glasses and grow the tall red pompador we know him for.

Then Bobbi had to have a boyfriend.  Who better than the sleazy young lawyer Steve Dallas?  The ultimate male-chauvenist pig of a man.  It took until 1999 with the animated TV series of "Family Guy" for Steve Dallas to be outshined by the much nastier Glenn Quagmire.  But for many years, Steve Dallas was the #1 sexist macho guy!  He was, and still is, an awesome character!

For the first time in the strip, there was more than one acting storyline.  This was something no other strip had ever really done and it worked for Bloom County.  Simultaneous sagas were seen with:
  • Bobbi teaching Milo and Binkley at school.
  • Major Bloom coaching Milo and Binkley at football after school.
  • Bobbi Harlow dating Steve Dallas.
  • Binkley with his long-suffering father, and introduction of pet penguin (not yet named Opus)

All these characters would somehow intertwine and voila, comic strip magic was made.  Bobbi would later dump Steve Dallas for a wheelchair bound Vietnam War vet named Cutter John.  But after that, her story possibilities evaporated and she disappeared.  The little-seen talking dog of Milo, name of Rabies, was dropped.  The frustrating relationship of Binkley and his father flourished.  Steve Dallas was just too funny of a character so he had to be left in.  Cutter John was kind of funny, but most of his humor came with the interaction with Opus and the other talking woodland animals.  I definitely like it that this became more of a funny animal strip than a strictly political people strip.  No one needs another "Doonesbury".

Another super-popular and highly-marketed character in Bill the Cat popped up as a gag in a Sunday strip.  He, himself, is not funny which is the main idea.  It's the way others react around him that makes Bill the Cat a witty, recurring theme.  He mainly looks blankly into space and utters an occasional "Ack!".  This character's kind of ugly and I'm glad he wasn't used a whole lot, but when he was it seemed to go over big with fans.  I like Opus the best because he's cute and he says funny things.  And he has adventures.  Bill doesn't offer much but sometimes the Bill stories are funny.  He's kind of detached and separated from the rest of the cast because he's so strange.

Binkley was given his anxiety closet, which was a funny theme.  Milo was made head of the Bloom Beacon newspaper, which helped make more sense of the increasingly social-political feel of the strip.  To make the endearing Opus more visible, he was given a job at the newspaper.  It started out with classified personals and would change from time-to-time, but it gave Opus a purpose and reason for still sticking around.  I thought it was cute that he tried to be like people.  The idea of him being Binkley's pet was dropped, but he still remained a tenant of the Bloom Boarding House.

Opus was given little woodland buddies in Portnoy (eventually revealed to be a groundhog; for a long time his species was uncertain) and Hodge-Podge (rabbit).  Portnoy was a loudmouth while Hodge-Podge was fanatical conservative.  These three usually palled around with Cutter John because he was nicer, but sometimes associated with Steve Dallas (usually in some sort of business arrangement).

Oliver Wendell-Jones was another prominent character introduced as a school buddy of Milo and Binkley.  He was black and a super-genius.  His inventive nature typically brought a lot of wild fantasy into the stories.  A good move, really, and he had great dialogue.  We also see him with his similar-looking father.  A lot like the Binkley arrangement.


Characters In Order of Introduction:

Milo Bloom
Major Bloom
Rabies (Milo's Dog)
Limekiller (Charles)
Bobbi Harlow (Milo's Teacher)
Michael Binkley
Steve Dallas
Tom Binkley (Binkley's Father)
Cutter John
Hodge-Podge (Rabbit)
Portnoy (Groundhog)
Bill the Cat
Purple-Spotted Snorklewhacker (Leader of Binkley's Anxieties)
Blondie (Black Girl; Binkley's Girlfriend)
Oliver Wendell Jones (Black Boy; Genius)
Frank Jones (Oliver's Father)