Berkeley Breathed Pokes Fun

Bloom County cartoonist discusses neuroses, anxieties and his in-laws, among other things.

By William Whitney, published January 1, 2004 - last reviewed on June 9, 2016

Berkeley Breathed is the Pulitzer Prize-winning creator of the Bloom County and Outland comic strips. Breathed pokes fun at politicians, celebrities and nuclear weapons. His characters have run for president, hacked the New York Stock Exchange and joined the occasional religious cult. To this day, his quirky perspective continues to influence young cartoonists. Breathed retired from cartooning in 1995 to write children's books; in 2003, he published Flawed Dogs. Soon after, he returned to the Sunday comics' page with the strip Opus, featuring Bloom County and Outland's Opus the penguin.

Many of your characters have neuroses and anxieties. Do they reflect your own personality?

The interesting thing is that I have absolutely no neuroses. I have no mother issues, no issues of self-actualization, no sibling envy or weight issues. Although I'm an atheist, I don't fear death more than, say, sharing a room in a detox center with a sobbing Rush Limbaugh... This is why I'm returning to Opus. One of us needs to be a mess if this writing business is going to work.

You've taken swipes at the culture of "victimhood." What motivates that?

I love victims. If we didn't have victims, then we wouldn't have lawyers, alien-abduction psychiatrists like John E. Mack, Oprah, Dr. Phil, daytime talk shows, lawyers, made-for-TV movies, Oprah weeping, lawyers, Dr. Phil weeping, Oprah hugging and Opus.

You seem to have a good idea of how therapy works. Have you ever been in therapy?

I'm married to a psychologist. I'm in a permanent therapy group of two.

Outland started with new characters, then characters from Bloom County crept back in.

They were like in-laws. You send them home, try to get on with your life, and then wham, doggone if it's not Thanksgiving again. With the new Opus strip, I've warned all the old characters that they'll be shot if they try to come back. Not that this worked with my mother-in-law.

Do you have a rigid routine? Do you keep traditional hours? Has fatherhood changed your habits?

Let me answer those in order. Oh, yeah, right. Oh, yeah, right. Changed? What would change? I rule my house.

Is your sense of humor and direction strong enough for you to ignore what others think?

We're artists with a small "a." My fans own my ass, that's with a small "a," too. If we get full of ourselves, we get slapped back pretty fast. But if I'm not giggling myself, it doesn't see ink.

If you hadn't been a cartoonist, what would you be today?

Video clerk.