Monday, November 3, 2008

Goodnight, My Little Friend

Awwww, CRAP! I knew it, I just knew it! I was so freaking excited for the election to almost be here so that it can be done already, that I kind of, sort of, but not totally (but almost) forgot that I was going to hate this weekend that we just had. On Sunday, the last of Berkeley Breathed's comic strip Opus was published. That's it. He says he's done. Granted, he's done this to me twice before; once when he stopped drawing Bloom County (but I don't know if that counts because he immediately took up drawing Outland only on Sundays, so I wasn't totally deprived) and once again when he stopped drawing Outland. The latter gave me approximately eight years of naive, flightless waterfowl deprivation (and/or depravity, depends on who you ask. And what my mood was on a given day. Sometimes, it's just not pretty.). But this time feels different.

Breathed says that the way things are going in this country, well, he doesn't exactly see the future as all sardines and dandelions (two of a penguins favorite things). He says that the gloom and doom that is in the future awaiting us mere mortals will negatively affect his humor and his drawing and, ultimately, the deposition of the one beloved, Opus. And I'll give the guy this: He's always done what has been best for Opus and what has been the best for the strip. Without the breaks that he needed and without his different methods of artistically creating the weekly panels (he quit doing Outland so that he could learn how to paint. Good thing, too. He's fabulous at it.), the strip could have ended up in a largely unfunny rut, not unlike those of Cathy, Garfield and any other comic strip whose characters look the exact same way that they did 25 or 30 years ago. And while it pains me greatly to say this (and it only pains me greatly in this instance. It's not like I can't say this at other times. I swear!), he was right and he did the right thing both times before and :::gulp::: I guess he's doing the right thing now. Dammit!

In an email that he wrote to the AP, (which I'm sure that he knew would neither appease, nor satisfy anyone) 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."

So the thing was that the little penguin who I have grown to love (as if it were my alter ego or a circus freak worthy extra appendage) needed to end up somewhere. It's the "where" that has been in question for the past couple of months. Rumor had it he was going to be imprisoned at Guantanamo Bay! But I just couldn't see it. When Breathed was asked if he had a message or anything to say for folks who would miss Opus, he said, "He's me....I'd like to think he will still be found, in a sense." Yeah, see, I met Breathed once about a year ago. No way is that guy going to have himself end up in Guantanamo Bay. He's far too....cartoonist-y for that. You know, the "indoor/desk job" kind of a guy (perhaps at the Bloom Picayune). I'm not saying he looks wimpy or anything, but he sure doesn't look like he could hang at Guantanamo with Cheney and his boys, that's all.

So considering trusting Opus with Breathed was like trusting Breathed with Breathed, I felt OK that he'd end up in a very pleasant spot, one that would be fitting for my little pear-shaped, big beaked friend. After my initial freak out session (upon learning of the ending of the Opus strip), I managed to calm my destitute state of mind by reminding myself to "never say never". And those that say "never" rarely mean "never". And while Breathed didn't exactly say "never" he did say it was over for good. "For good" is like two words that mean "never". So he'll leave himself an out, won't he? I've been reading his damn comic strips for over twenty five years! There had better be a bloody out! Sir! (Don't want to offend the only one who is capable of giving the out.)

And there was. There was an out. True to his word and to his penguin and to himself, Breathed ended the publicly chronicled comic in a way that worked for me. (Yes, this one is all about me. That's right.) Opus was safe and warm and comfy and happy and all of the things that he has always been...on the inside. Sometimes, it was hard for others (in the strip) to get that about him. Mostly they just thought of him as a big-schnozzed, turnip twaddling, dimwit with such an inflated sense of naivete about him that you wondered how he made it through each day. And while he was, in fact, a big-schnozzed, turnip twaddling, dimwit who was incredibly naive about everything around him, inside...well, inside he was this lovable little penguin who valued and appreciated his friends, longed for his family and loved those who loved him too. (And he had a thing for the women in the strip as well. The bigger the bimbette, it seemed, the more frantic the antic.) Hmmm...he sounds vaguely familiar to me.

In the ::::gulp::::: final strip, Breathed gave us two parts. The first part was published on whatever web page you read it on. It had Steve Dallas (who, without his glasses on, looks remarkably like one cartoonist who decided to pull the plug on a lovable little penguin that did nothing but make him rich and happy!) finding a bag of Opus's things (including a copy of To Kill A Mockingbird, his 'Gone To Rio' fruit basket hat and an aerosol can of Right Guard) at the County Animal Shelter. And he reaches in and pulls out....

We don't know. Because then we are directed to the Humane Society's web page to get the rest of the story and find out where he is! Hey, Breathed! It's not Where's Waldo?! It's "What the hell is wrong with you? Ending the strip like this?!" (Breathe. Breathe. Much better. Thanks. That really works wonders.) ANY-way, so when we head over the the Humane Society's web page, we find that Steve is looking at the book Goodnight, Moon. (I loved that book when I was little!) And at the end, there's Opus, tucked in bed with the bunny next to him. And in the corner it reads,

Goodnight Opus.
Goodnight air.
Goodnight noises everywhere.

Now, if you'll excuse me for a minute, I have something in my eye.

Wait. What? Another web site? For cryin' out loud! Yes, from there you can go to Breathed's web site where he provides some glimpse into some of the guesses that readers had as to how the strip would end and where Opus would be. Surprisingly enough (to me, at least) 55 people guessed that he would end up in Goodnight Moon. That's amazing. (Me, personally, I was thinking/hoping dandelion patch.) He offered these words for those of us in despair:

Opus is napping. He sleeps in peace, dreaming of a world just ahead brimming with kindness and grace and ubiquitous bow ties.

Please don't mourn him. He lives in all my childrens' stories, if you look. I hope to meet you again there.

Thank you, truly, for coming along with us on Opus' twenty eight year journey.

--Berkeley Breathed

I wasn't real thrilled about the "He sleeps in peace" line there. (Sounds too much like "Rest in peace". And we all know what that means. That would mean he's not coming back to satisfy my selfish, selfish desire for him to do just that!) But it was nice enough. And I really liked that he's just "napping". (Naps are freaking GREAT. Highly underrated, they are. Just ask anyone who partakes in the occasional weekend nap, preferably in a hammock out back! They'll tell you how great they are.) You can wake up from a nap (if all goes well). I have the feeling we'll see him again someday. When the gloom and doom and darkness and despair have lifted. Then it will be safe for him again.

I'm not much a fan of the goodbye in general. I don't like it so much when things I like have to go away. Sure, sometimes (like now. Grrr.....Thanks, Breathed!) it's inevitable and you can't do much about it. But whether it's inevitable or maybe not inevitable, and you really, really don't want it (or that or them or her) to go away, you'd do just about anything if it meant that whatever or whoever it was could still be around. But whether something or someone stays or not might not be up to you. And that's when you just have to suck it up and say goodbye. (I shall begin the up sucking now. I have the feeling I might need the practice.)

So, goodbye, my little friend. Your indelible tattoo that I have had inked on me for the past twenty-one years will continue to live on until my own demise (which will likely be much less pleasant than yours was). Thanks for the amusement and the insight that you've given me over the time we've known each other (especially in that past couple of hours). I shall think of you from time to time and always keep a safe, warm, and happy place for you anytime you want it. And obviously, I will miss you. Enjoy your nap.

Goodbye, my little friend.

Now, if you'll excuse me, I have something in my eye again.

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Mark said...

In addition to the whole Breathed thing -- I have two stuffed figurines/toys/whatever, Opus and the Vorpal Bunny -- I have a bipolar thing with Bill Watterson. Sometimes I want to thank him for writing, sometimes I want to punch him for quitting. Sometimes both at the same time.

Mare said...


I, too, have a love-hate relationship with Bill Watterson. But it always comes full circle back to Berke Breathed, as he was pretty much the first daily comic strip writer who figured out that they CAN stop doing what they do before they die. Shortly after that "revelation" we lost not only Bill Watterson, but Gary Larsen as well. Thanks for that, Breathed.

I remember hearing/reading that Watterson and Breathed keep in touch via snail mail. How I would love to read through their correspondence. Opus and Calvin - pen pals. Awesome. (whatever that is) managed to get an interview with Watterson about a month ago. It was allegedly his first interview since 1989. I could presume that you've already read it, but to do so and not include a link if you had not read it would be simply criminal.

~ Mary

Mark said...

Don't even get me started on Larsen -- Bummer of a birthmark, Hal and Objects in mirror are closer than they appear might be my favorites -- because that's too much to pile on top of the other two.

A world in which we lose Bloom County, The Far Side, and Calvin & Hobbes but keep Family Circus and Garfield has to disprove the existence of a merciful God. Oh, look, Garfield is eating lasagna again. Wow.

I try not to blame Breathed because he went to my school but I agree that he's the one who showed the other two the way out.

Mare said...

Ohhhh...poor Hal. That's right. Definitely a bummer of a birthmark. A couple of my favorites were the Midvale School For The Gifted and the bear in the circus, holding his muzzle and proclaiming, "Hey! These things just snap right off!"

Is Cathy realizing she's fat again? Is Garfield's nap being interrupted by a lobotomized Odie? And don't even get me started on the insipid Family Circus with it's seemingly unending streams of NOT cute literal translations of everyday life. Their mere presence on the comic pages is an insult to mankind.

~ Mary