Little Brown and Co.: 96. pp.: $6.95
There's a problem with Bloom County--well, two problems actually: Doonesbury and impatience.
If, Doonesbury had never been around, everyone would probably love Bloom County and think it was the best comic strip since Feiffer. Doonesbury led people to expect more out of a comic strip than just a half-hearted beginning of an understanding of the way we are. Yet if Doonesbury had never been around, neither would Bloom County--for Bloom County is clearly a child of the Doonesbury era. Politically and sometimes sentimentally accurate. Bloom County makes the best stab around at carrying the Doonesbury torch. But Bloom County too often comes dangerously close of the zone between, say. Donesbury and Garfield, where it begins to remind one of Dennis the Menace. Because he has chosen child rather than adult heroes. Breathed sometimes indulges in "aren't they cutisms," which become a bit of a crutch.
Breathed does have a good sense of self and a good sense of self vs. Trudeau. He tries, somewhat gingerly, to joke about his relationship with his top-box predecessor. In one example. Bloom County star Milo Bloom dreams of being a syndicated cartoonist thrown into the dungeon for missed deadlines, where he is hung on the wall in chains next to a bearded prisoner. The bearded prisoner jokes that he has been in the cellar for nine months, whereupon Milo says "nine months? Wait a minute. Gary Trudeau?...Mum's the word." Nor does Breathed hold back from poking fun at himself. In one of the funniest cartoons in the book, the bewildered young Yaz Fistachio complains that there is no weirder name in the world than her own. Opus, the lethargic penguin, counters "what about Berkeley Breathed."
But if Breathed has a clear sense of himself in relation to others comics, he has a harder time fitting his strip to the current age--the collection's title not-withstanding. Breathed's message lacks coherence, largely because he seems impatient to get on to the next sequence rather than fully developing the one at hand. One of the most irritating examples is a sequence in which Milo sings the rambling, garbled ode to our times called "the eighty-three blues."
Black panthers, libbers, a campus
Now that's what we need, or a
hippie or three.
Yet valley girls sit on our cultural
Gross me out baby, gag me with a
So Mama, help me. I'm losin' all
Bob Dylan's at home, watch in the
Can't say much for my generation, the times
I wish they were a changin'.
The sequence is made still more ludicrous by the subsequent episode in the collection, which shows a construction worker calling for health care and a hippie calling him a comic. Breathed seems to realize that the times are a-changin', but then characteristically avoids any substantive comment on this change, instead retreating into cutisms.
This evasion is irritating because Breathed often comes so close to really super humor, only to fall short at the last moment. One never forgets his short attempts the time that he was Christic Brinkley host the evening news (the voice over: "and now here's Christic with tonight's lead story on a chain-saw murder-suicide in Toledo." Milo: "Go For It!!" Christie: "Hi! Oh Gross..") Or Elvis' secret diaries, or Norma the Nuke--but one is almost always left dissatisfied. More annoying still is Breathed's attempt to pass off his lack of follow-through as creative weirdness. No nationally syndicated comic strip ever got by on weirdness alone, except Ziggy, the continuing story of a small, blob-like character that did a few things and looked bewildered.
Certainly, it is unfair to criticize Bloom County for not filling Doonesbury's shoes, but as Avis to Doonesbury's Hertz, one would just wish that Bloom County would take the lesson from its car-dealing relative--try harder.