Opus the Penguin Back In the Funny Business
'Bloom County' Character to Star In Berkeley Breathed's New Strip
Washington Post Staff Writer
Tuesday, September 9, 2003; Page C01
After eight years away from newspapers, Pulitzer Prize-winning cartoonist Berkeley Breathed is creating a new comic strip called "Opus," starring his beloved penguin of the same name.
The Washington Post Writers Group, which will syndicate the strip, is expected to officially announce Breathed's return this Sunday. The reclusive Breathed, who rarely gives interviews, could not be reached yesterday for comment.
The new strip will appear on Sundays in The Washington Post starting Nov. 23.
Breathed drew the wildly popular "Bloom County" and "Outland" comic strips, which introduced the world to the naive Opus and his hairball-spitting sidekick, Bill the Cat. "Opus" will run on Sundays only and will fill half a page in the comics section.
"Bloom County" began in 1980, and Breathed won the Pulitzer Prize for editorial cartooning in 1987. He quit drawing "Bloom County" in 1989, when the comic was running in nearly 1,300 newspapers, according to Editor & Publisher magazine. Shortly after that, he began drawing "Outland," a Sunday-only strip featuring many of the same characters, but retired that strip in 1995.
Since leaving the world of newspaper comics, Breathed has written children's books, including "Goodnight Opus" and the upcoming "Flawed Dogs." He sold the rights to a movie about Opus to Dimension Films. The movie will be written and directed by Breathed, and could start filming before the end of the year.
Breathed has lamented the state of modern newspaper cartooning, which has had to deal with papers fitting more and more comics into a smaller and smaller space.
"Pity the poor modern comic page," Breathed said in a 2001 interview with the humor newspaper the Onion. "Frames the size of thumbnails. . . . It's just a page of inky blur that only a 10-year-old's eyes could focus upon."
At the National Cartoonists Society meeting this May, he seemed itching to return to his old broadsheet format.
"I can't say it wouldn't be appealing to bring back Opus to the Sunday pages," Breathed told those gathered, according to Editor & Publisher. "It was painful to sit through the war without a public voice."
After that, rumors began circulating on the Web of his imminent return, and the prospect of a once-a-week dose of Opus has been welcomed by his fans.
"It's one of those strips that, when it left the comic pages, the comic pages were quite a bit lesser for its absence," says Harry Knowles, editor in chief of the Web's Ain't It Cool News and an avid fan of newspaper comics. "I think there's been three great strips that have gone away over the last five, 10 years that I really miss: 'Bloom County,' 'Calvin and Hobbes' and 'The Far Side.' Those are the three strips that never should have ceased."
© 2003 The Washington Post Company