The comic-strip world was rocked when Pulitzer-winning “Bloom County” cartoonist Berkeley Breathed announced he was returning to the Funny Pages with a Sunday-only-strip starring, and named after, his most beloved character, “Opus”.
MSNBC MANAGED to get a few minutes to talk with the star of the strip.
MSNBC: Opus, what have you been doing since your last stint in the comics?
Opus: I’ve done three children’s books with Berke (Breathed) and Bill (the Cat). And a Christmas TV special, “A Wish for Wings That Work”: I was in a studio full of fake snow for so long I thought I’d gone home to Antarctica after Global Warming. Now, Berke wants to do a movie, but this time I’m insisting on location work in Spain.
MSNBC: So you haven’t spent all your time in the dandelion patch?
Opus: Those rumors about my dandelion addiction are nothing but media confabulation! I own my own meadow now, and I always find time to enjoy it, but I haven’t snorted a dandelion since ’88.
MSNBC: Anything in your personal life?
Opus: I admit I was devastated when Diane Sawyer married that Nichols guy. But I’ve found inter-species relationships too difficult and now I’ve got a thing going with a lovely young penguin. She’s the co-host of “Good Morning Antarctica”.
MSNBC: So what motivated you to return to the comic strip biz? The money?
Opus: Who says there’s money in comics? Besides I invested in herring futures and did quite well. I’m just happy to work with old friends again.
MSNBC: So the other “Bloom County” characters are coming back?
Opus: Some of the old cast for sure, but I hear the negotiations with Bill are not going well. He got a raw deal the first time around: he was paid per word, and all he usually said was “Ack!” and “Thppt!” And Berke’s trying to bring in some of the mutts from his new book, “Flawed Dogs”, but apparently they’re in a different union than the meadow animals. I just don’t get all of this legal mumbo-gumbo-rambo.
MSNBC: Any new characters in the “Opus” strip?
Opus: Yeah, but some of them will look real familiar, if you get my driftwood. Personally, I suggested that computer mogul from Microsquish who looks like Bill Gates.
SARDINES & DING DONGS
MSNBC: What about your relationship with Berkeley Breathed? There were stories that it was rather tense.
Opus: Not for me. As long as the lunch table had sardines and Ding Dongs, I was one happy waterfowl. You gotta remember, Berke started the strip in college, with some weird title like Macadamia Walt (Editor’s note: it was “Academia Waltz”). When it first got sold to newspapers, some suity guy decided to name it “Bloom County”, which sounds a lot like “Doonesbury.” So everybody compared it to the other comic, and Berke worked real hard to be different. He put little kids in the cast (Milo and Binkley), a guy in a wheelchair (Cutter John) and a few meadow animals with attitudes. But he never really got into talking animals ‘til I came along. And I had to work with him a lot.
MSNBC: Why was that?
Opus: He didn’t know how to write dialogue for me. Sure, “Pear pimples for hairy fishnuts” was a comedy classic, but I didn’t want to be a one-trick bird. Anyway, the only thing he did right in the early days was he drew my nose a lot smaller. You see how much better it looks in real life than in the comics, right? Right? Anyway, I walked him through developing my comic persona as a mix of honesty and innocence.
MSNBC: Actually, Berkeley Breathed said your personality is a mix of “vanity and naïveté”.
Opus: He did? Is that a compliment? I’m not sure. Anyway, I was the only one in that strip with the integrity to talk directly to the audience, even when everybody was screaming at me “Don’t look at the camera!” Besides, my nose looks smaller when it’s not in profile.
MSNBC: But didn’t Breathed try to kill off your character?
Opus: I had a few dramatic cliffhangers and one near-death fantasy sequence. But it was Bill the Cat who actually was dead for several weeks. Of course, they had to bring him back. Now when the daily strip ended and he started doing “Outland” on Sundays, they gave everybody in the cast the pink slip. But then Berke got too far out. Weird scenery, weird characters. . . He needed to take a step back to normal-tude, and I was delighted to come back and help.
MSNBC: “Opus” is going to be a Sunday-only strip, too. Do you think it’ll avoid the same problems “Outland” had?
Opus: Berke’s really settled down. He’s written several children’s books, and he’s got a kid of his own now, a three-year-old named Sophie who’s cute as a puffin.
OPUS & OZZY?
MSNBC: Breathed said several months ago that “It was painful to sit through the war without a public voice.” Does that mean the new strip will be more political?
Opus: Well, I don’t know about him, but I’m glad I wasn’t working during the war. I heard the Pentagon used ‘embedded comics characters’, and when I have to wear an Army helmet, I get the worst case of hat hair. But Berke always told me his goal was to figure out how to take an issue and make it funny. The more serious an issue, the bigger the challenge. And since he just finished a children’s book about animal shelters (“Flawed Dogs”), I think he feels ready for any challenge.
MSNBC: Do you think you’re going to be influenced by any of the newer comics?
Opus: Berke always said he never read any other comics, but he also always complained that the print was too small, so what can you say? He also said that the really old comic strips should be forcibly removed to make room for ‘new blood’, so I think he’s going to let his three-year-old do most of the writing.
MSNBC: Didn’t he predict that “Dilbert” would be a hit, a year before it debuted?
Opus: I think he said the comics syndicates were looking for a disaffected office worker who couldn’t draw. Berkeley Breathed knows the business better than he lets on. He always knew when to throw in a reference to “Marmaduke”.
MSNBC: One more personal question: have you ever gotten back together with your mother?
Opus: Yes, we had a big reunion five years ago, and I’ve set her up in a nice place in Florida.
MSNBC: A condo?
Opus: Sea World.
MSNBC: Anything else you’d like to say?
Opus: Remember our pop music project: “Deathtöngue”, a.k.a. “Billy and the Boingers”? Well, I’ve recently had a chance to record some tracks with one of my musical idols, so I hope everybody will look for the new CD coming out sometime next spring: “Opus and Ozzy Duets.”
MSNBC: Ozzy Osbourne?
Opus: Yep. Great guy. Can’t understand a word he says, just like Bill.
Wendell Wittler is the online alias of a freelance writer from Southern California.