Monday, August 10, 2015

Connecting Sherlock Holmes to Bloom County - But Just Barely . . . .

As I’ve been finishing up the final editing on The MX Book of New Sherlock Holmes Stories, with all royalties going toward the restoration of Undershaw . . .

. . . I’ve been overjoyed to be able to visit an old friend, here again after a long absence: Bloom County is back! It’s now appearing at Berkeley Breathed’s Facebook page, with new strips appearing every few days.

It pains me to think that some of you don’t even know what Bloom County is. Well, keep reading, and you can even see how (or if) I (barely) tie it to Sherlock Holmes.

Many people probably think that my recreational reading is solely concerned with the activities of Mr. Holmes. This isn't the case, as I’ll no doubt explain in other blogs, and a great example of another interest is my enjoyment over the years of Berkeley Breathed’s cartoons. I first found Bloom County in 1984, when I was a sophomore in college and observed friends reading it. I didn’t know who the characters were then. It was like sitting down to watch a long-running television show and figuring out who is who from the context. At that time, there were only a couple of published Bloom County books available for someone like me to catch up on what he’d missed, but I bought them and re-read them endlessly. And I started following the strip in the daily newspaper.

Not long after, I found the latest Doonesbury book and read it as well. I’ve since collected all of the Doonesbury books, and continue to read it to the present, even now in its abbreviated weekend format. I also devoured The Far Side and Calvin and Hobbes as well, but to me, Bloom County is and always has been the very best of them.

When I was a junior in college, I started drawing my own cartoon. It was extremely libelous and never published in the school newspaper. Only selected friends and trusted college staff members were allowed to read it. It was 100% popular in its extremely limited market, and for a time I thought I might pursue cartooning. (That was the same vague time when I was switching my major from music to business management, so anything was possible.) Around then, one of the librarians where I worked as a student assistant – and one of my faithful readers – attended a convention and brought back a signed copy of Breathed’s Penguin Dreams and Stranger Things (1985). It’s still a treasured possession.

I spent part of the summer of 1986 staying with a friend in Washington, D.C. While he held down an intern job during the day, I explored the city. I spent several afternoons in the Library of Congress, requesting and viewing microfiche of old issues of the Washington Post, where Bloom County first ran. It was strange to see all of the strips that appeared before the ones collected in the first book. It was almost like a different strip entirely.

During that period, Breathed started marketing character dolls in various poses, mostly featuring Bloom County’s most famous character, Opus. College friends began buying them for me to mark special occasions, and I soon had a shelf full of them in my dorm room. (And I still have them.)

Unfortunately, for a year or so then my mother decided that I apparently liked penguins in general, and I couldn’t get her to understand that Opus was different. I ended up with quite a few little knick-knacks with penguins on them before I could get her to stop. It almost sounds like something that would happen to a character in Bloom County.

I had once been given a little Sherlock Holmes bear, and I discovered that his deerstalker looked much better on Opus. The other day, as I’ve been editing the new Sherlock Holmes collection, I decided to pull him back out of storage to honor the return of Bloom County and the upcoming Holmes anthology, The MX Book of New Sherlock Holmes Stories:

In 1988, about a month after my wife and I were married, we were in New Orleans for her to attend a conference. As I wandered the city during the day, waiting for her to be liberated, I found another doll, this time of Bill the Cat. That ended up being my New Orleans souvenir, and another early indicator to my wife about what to expect from me.

Mr. Breathed ended Bloom County in 1989, but he returned with Sunday-only comics featuring some of the Bloom County characters, the first being Outland (1989-1995), and then Opus (2003-2008). Throughout that time, he continued to publish collections of the strips, as well as many well-regarded children’s books. Later, IDW began issuing the complete run of all the Bloom County-related comics in really excellent hardcover editions, filling in all the missing strips that weren’t included in the previous collections.

At about the same time a few weeks ago that I learned that Bloom County had returned on Facebook, I also saw that IDW had just published a new book of Breathed’s complete cartoons that had been drawn for his college newspaper. Berkley Breathed’s Academia Waltz has cartoons from 1975-1980, and gives valuable insights to what would become Bloom County, as well as showing where ideas and characters were first tested. It’s fascinating to read this book, and I highly recommend it, along with all the other IDW entries. I’ve just finished it, and I’m continuing right on into re-reading the first of IDW’s Bloom County titles.

So that’s how I tied Bloom County to Sherlock Holmes – barely. They’re both in my head right now, and I’m currently being visited by the deerstalker-wearing Opus. I think that Mr. Breathed missed out by not putting Opus in a deerstalker long ago, but now that Bloom County is back, and the marketing machine will likely be starting up again, it isn’t too late, especially considering that, while Bloom County has been gone for a while, Sherlock Holmes never left, and he's more popular than ever!

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