Thursday, October 9, 2008

For The Third Time Already, Shoo!

Only two other times in my life have I been as near to completely inconsolable as I am today. And both of the other two times? The same reason. The same damned reason. And at the moment, I'm either a little bit hopeful that things might turn out differently or I'm feeling totally screwed (and not in a good way). But after the events of the past four or five weeks, the hope is diminishing. Rapidly. Why? Because once again (dammit!) my nightmare has come true. Berkeley Breathed is retiring. And he's taking Opus with him. Dammit!

For those who have been living under a rock or just living in a land without comic strips (or naive penguins who wear bow ties, yet forgo pants), Berke Breathed (rhymes with Work Method) is the author, illustrator, God-like Creator of the comic strips Bloom County (awesome), Outland (lots of Bill the Cat) and the currently, but not for much longer, running Sunday-only strip, Opus. From these fine, oddly ingenious strips came characters such as Bill the (dead) Cat, Steve Dallas, Milo, Binkley, Oliver Wendell Jones, and of course, Opus, the beloved and naive penguin and main draw of the gravy train that Breathed came up with back in 1980.

And why, WHY is Breathed doing this to us AGAIN? (He stopped doing Bloom County in 1989. He then immediately began doing Outland, another Sunday-only strip seemingly meant to placate those of us who were curled up in our respective corners and sobbing gently to ourselves. OK, we were hysterical and looking for ammo, but gently sobbing sounds so much more...not psychotic. He stopped doing Outland in 1995. Then in 2003 he started Opus, which he is now ready to yank from underneath our once stupidly grinning existence. Yet AGAIN!) I'll tell you why. (Like I was going to keep it a secret at this point?) The government. Wait. What?

You know, the way things are going right now, what with the Speaker of the House being a cold blooded reptile disguised as Nancy Pelosi, and with our financial system crumbling beneath the feet of seemingly clueless members of committees that were supposed to oversee things to make sure that this very thing did not happen, and with a sitting President who one could legitimately argue is mildly retarded (at best!), and with people in other countries who want to kill us (and we, the kill-ees, responding to their hatred of us by giving them bazillions of dollars for their oil as we bend over to do so), well, it's not looking real good. Breathed sees the same thing. It all just proves my belief that too much government will eventually ruin everything. And once it has, it will ruin comic strips next. Those bastards.

According to the folks over there at the AP (who feel the need to include a little map with every article, even if the map only points out where the AP is located), Breathed "wants to save his strip's main character, Opus, from being dragged down in the current political climate." Sooooo...wait. He's doing it to save my little pengy? Well, it would seem so. He wrote an email to The Associated Press in which he said, "I'm destroying the village to save it. In this case, a penguin ... We are about to enter a rather wicked period in our National Discourse ... bad enough to make what we're in right now seem folksy and genteel. The ranting side of my cartooning impulse will destroy the thing that makes Opus comfortable for his readers. And me. A mad penguin, like a mad cartoonist, isn't very lovable. I like him the way he is now." And that's all fine and good, but I must point out to you sir that "the way he is now" is in my G-D newspaper every Sunday!!! Whoops. Sorry about that. I'm not well.

And here's where it starts to get depressing. Again! He says that "This time the ending is really for good, if not his own. Breathed believes the tone of America's public and political discourse is headed in a dark direction, with the next president — whoever is elected — facing problems that will 'belie palatable solutions.' Inevitably, he said that would color his art." Well, art does have to be colored if it's going to be on Sundays, but I see his point.

And while I do appreciate him trying to save the penguin and his own sanity, I just wish that there was some...other....ah, who am I kidding? There's not. There's no other way to preserve what he has created and maintained in its current form with the way that things are shaping up. You see it. I see it. He sees it. But no one's going to talk about it. And if no one talks about it and it needs to be talked about, that would leave only one left who could talk about it and that would be Opus. And then he'd turn into the equivalent of a rabid penguin, without treatment, with lots of mouth foam, and also with a bitter, bitter taste in his mouth (from all the rabidness, of course).

(You should be able to click on the strip below to see it in a larger, more readable size.)

See, it's one thing to make fun of something and satirize it when it's ridiculous, inexplicable or inane. It's another thing to make fun of something that is downright scary and/or frightening. That's the thing about incompetence. You really can't rely on it to be harmless for too long. Too much incompetence and you'd have a scenario that looks remarkably like how things are going today. And that can't be good. OK, now I'm really starting to see his point.

I can see two half-assed positives in this whole ordeal. The first is that Breathed isn't disappearing completely. (Not that a lot of people would even know if he had. The guy is as reclusive as Howard Hughes. With the money but without the wooden airplanes, of course.) According to the AP, he'll still be writing his children's books (which are merely characters that look similar to those that I love with the same sort of thinking patterns, ie, naive, but rational, and the same humor, just toned down to the level that a small, yet intelligent child would enjoy.). The AP article also says that he'll be pursuing "writing screenplays". (The last time he was involved with a movie which would star Opus, he was working with the Weinstein brothers who were unable to grasp the concept of the talking penguin and other talking animals, needing to know how and why they talked and why humans could understand them. Apparently, "they just can" isn't good enough for the Weinsteins. Thus, that project came to a grinding halt.)

The other half-assed positive that I can see in this is that there aren't a whole lot of comic strips out there right now that are great. When Breathed first quit drawing Bloom County, it was really the first time that a cartoonist had wised up to the fact that he could actually STOP drawing. Until then, they all just assumed they were chained to their drawing board until grim death (which they wished for in the later years) would come and take them away. Next thing you know, you've got the most awesome comic strips ever dropping like flies because their illustrators figured if the Bloom County guy could do it (only two freaking years after he won the Pulitzer Prize), so could they. Next thing you know, my newspaper is without Bill Watterson's Calvin and Hobbes and then it was without Gary Larson's The Far Side. Yeah, thanks for that, Berke. But without any great strips out there right now, I don't foresee this to be a problem. (And if they quit, they quit. What do I care? I just said they weren't great.)

The last strip is November 2, just two days before the election, so he'll be safely tucked away before the new and improved chaos begins a mere 48 hours or so later. And while I'd hate to see the last 30 years of the hilarious naivete that Opus exemplifies be taken over by the Dark Side, it's still hard to let him waddle off into the...hey, where's he going anyway? Oh, that's right. Breathed is having some contest where readers can guess how it will turn out (he'd better be in that dandelion patch with the rest of the gang and his long long mother!). He'll announce that event for his comic strip that appeared in the newspaper, online after the last strip has ran on the 2nd. Seems a little strange to me, but I'll just blame the government again. (It's so easy and oddly satisfying.)

Be well, my little friend. And thanks.

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1 comment:

Anonymous said...

I’m going to miss Opus to. It’s been one of my favorite Sunday strips over the past 5 years. That God I still have my PublicWorksComics: or I’d be even more depressed.