Bloom County and the Problem with Complete
Last night I finished the Library of American Comics’ fifth and final volume of The Complete Bloom County. Many of you are probably too young to remember “County”. It was a comic strip that ran throughout the entire 1980s and was, by the end of its run, a cultural phenomenon. There were t-shirts, character plushes, and paperback reprint collections. The attention the comic drew was at once in spite of and as a result of its irreverence. Lovers of the strip tuned in for the sheer loopiness of it all, while detractors read it to see what damn fool thing creator Berke Breathed would do next. Breathed expressed his disdain (and wonder) at 80s pop culture through his well-meaning but naive alter ego, Opus the penguin. Opus was the ultimate culture slave, a waterfowl helpless before the forces of commercialism.
For many years, I relived my love for Bloom County through the aforementioned paperback reprint collections. I would revisit the characters every few years through the magic of those little time capsules. But I didn’t realize how good I had it. “County” was a daily strip running seven days a week in something like 1200 newspapers. The reprints were, by necessity, heavily abridged. Three years ago, when the complete collections were first announced, I was ecstatic. Finally, I’d be able to enjoy the adventures of my old friends in all their unedited glory. At the rate of one book every six months, it took the Library of American Comics until now to complete the saga. And, now that it’s done, I’m feeling ambivalent.
First of all, I don’t regret the investment at all. I’m sure I’ll take the books off of my shelf every so often and give them another spin. That being said, I’m disappointed with the overall sweep of the series. Very often, it simply wasn’t funny. Despite its sporadic brilliance, there’s a lot of flab on Bloom County‘s bones. I should have realized it, but those old paperback books constituted a sort of “best-of”. Rereading them only fostered my rose-colored view of what the strip truly was. Now that I have each and every cartoon, my appraisal of “County” has taken a hit. Oddly enough, I was never much of a fan of Calvin and Hobbes when it was still running in newspapers. Now, having also read The Complete Calvin and Hobbes not too long ago, I have to say that “Calvin” holds up much better as a both a complete narrative and as a relic of its times than Bloom County.