The Bloom County Library v.1
Written & Illustrated by Berkeley Breathed
Published by The Library of American Comics/IDW
An admission: Prior to six or seven years ago, I’d never even heard of Bloom County. I mention is because reading this volume got me thinking about how sometimes, for whatever reason (in my case, the strip’s ending when I was still fairly young and, in any event, its lack of inclusion in my local newspaper probably had quite a bit to do with my ignorance) sometimes we all overlook things that really deserve our attention. Now obviously every reader out there can’t read every comic that might possibly appeal to them, but this book served as a notice to me to keep an open mind – just because you or I haven’t heard of a particular comic (or musician or film, etc.) doesn’t mean it isn’t incredibly influential and/or very, very good.
So I finally got to experience Bloom County when I checked this heavy hardcover compilation of the strip’s first two years out of the library. First of all, as is the standard from the IDW and the Library of American Comics, The Bloom County Library is an immaculately assembled book: sturdy covers, large pages that show off the artwork in its intended dimensions, color Sundays, and a handy bound-in cloth bookmark. The introductory material skimps in comparison to other volumes, but they can’t all be Scorchy Smith and the Art of Noel Sickles I suppose. If I had one complaint about this edition, it’s editorial more so than content-based. The editorial notes alongside many of the strips were completely unnecessary. While Breathed provided occasional commentary that offered insight into his growth as a cartoonist, the book’s editors butted in frequently to, for example, explain who Jimmy Hoffa was. It’s totally uncalled for and detracts from the strips – readers will either get the joke or not.
As for the strips themselves – Breathed admits that it took time for the strip to find its voice and for him to grow into a quality cartoonist, and he’s right. The first year or so flounders in predictability and misfires, but little by little, Breathed feels more comfortable getting political and letting his own voice carry into the strips. By the time his famed penguin Opus joins the cast, Bloom County is hearing full, pardon the pun, bloom.
Bloom County won’t avoid any target, but the strip’s focus is clearly left-leaning, which will play to or against specific biases, and the topicality of the jokes will cause a few readers to scratch their heads now that we’re thirty years later. Personally, being utterly indifferent to the British royal family and celebrity culture in general, the Charles and Di gags weren’t favorites, but I can still appreciate the clever punch lines to many of those daily sequences. Despite being firmly grounded in their time, many of Breathed’s jokes still sing today. The names have changed, but the circumstances never seem to.
Clever and biting, The Bloom County Library v.1 lets me know that I missed out on something pretty remarkable (especially if it continues to grow more assured and intelligent as it progress, as the first two years have done) during the 1980s. Of course, I was a child and wouldn’t have appreciated it then, so I’m glad I got to discover it now. It’s not quite a home run at this stage, but the growth and intelligence shown from its 1980 debut until this book’s late-1982 conclusion support the many good things I’ve heard about Bloom County. It’s a strip worth your time.