Penguins and things
I got the chance to meet Berke Breathed early in my career while visiting a girlfriend of mine who was attending UT Austin. Berke was the second most famous guy on campus at the time just behind this running back named Earl Campbell. Breathed had just published a book of his wildly popular cartoon strip “The Academia Waltz” that he was doing for the Daily Texan, UT’s student newspaper.
The thing that struck me most when first meeting Berke was how absolutely accidental the whole cartooning thing was for him. Here I was, doing everything I could to become a cartoonist, drawing constantly, studying the art form and immersing myself in anything that had to do with comics. And there was Berke, doodling these amazingly hilarious strips about college life, seemingly unaware he was creating brilliance along the way, with this “I could really care less about cartoons” kind of attitude. It was, as you can imagine, somewhat maddening. We crossed paths now and then throughout the years but, unfortunately, never became friends.
But his work was another matter. It became, at the time anyway, the ultimate example of a successful comic strip. Millions of adoring fans, millions of dollars in the bank account and millions of cartoonists who wanted to be just like him. The first complete anthology of Bloom County strips is now available, a worthy exploration into, perhaps, the last great social-political cartoon commentator of our time (no offense to Garry Trudeau and Doonesbury). I highly recommend it.
One of the things that has driven me crazy about Breathed is his flippant and canned answers he has given in the numerous interviews he has given during his career. It was if he was running a marketing campaign to spin his career into cutesy, dismissive quotes, with little substance or insight into the real human being who drew penguins with big noses and influenced an entire generation with his own unique brand of humor and satire. Finally someone got it right. Rather than bore you any further with my ramblings into the creative genius of Berke Breathed, I’ll simply point you to this new LA Times interview, where finally, Breathed drops his guard long enough to show us the real and authentic voice behind Bloom County.