Cartoonist Berke Breathed

Berke Breathed is the brains - and the pen - behind Opus (the beleaguered penguin), Bill the (hairball-prone) Cat, and Milquetoast (the first sympathetic literary cockroach since Archy (of Archy and Mehitabel fame).

From 1980 to 1995, Breathed (pronounced BRETH-id) drew these memorable characters and many others in his nationally syndicated cartoon strips, first daily in "Bloom County," and later weekly in "Outland." His work was always a mixture of humor and social commentary. In 1987, Breathed won a Pulitzer Prize in editorial cartooning for "Bloom County."

But in 1995, cartoon audiences received a triple blow when Breathed, "The Far Side" creator Gary Larson, and "Calvin and Hobbes" creator Bill Watterson all announced their decisions to retire from cartooning.

The Monitor contacted Breathed, and he consented to a rare online "interview."

How did you decide to leave the editorial cartooning you did in college and start a cartoon strip?

I got thrown out of the Austin [Texas] American Statesman when I drew a cartoon on busing. Folks had hung the editor in effigy that morning. My future lay elsewhere, the gods were saying.

How do you feel now about your decision to retire "Bloom County" and "Outland"? Would you do anything differently now?

Nope. Left when I was still proud of them. The comic page is dying; I didn't want to go with it. I still think it'd be fun to do it if I sensed that anybody really read the pages. That, and the fact that they're too small to be worth the trouble. It's an art and expressive form that will go the way of buggy whips.

What have you been working on since then?

Five children's books. One I produced as a Christmas special for CBS in the late '80s [called "A Wish for Things that Work"]. The last is a short I just finished ["Edwurd Fudwupper Fibbed Big"]. I have a script for No. 4 at Fox still being bandied around as a film project. No. 3 has been turned into a children's play and is touring throughout Canada and the US. I'm starting to write an Opus movie at the moment.

What are you looking ahead to?

Raising a new daughter. Telling stories. Everything else is background noise.

Anything else I should have asked?

Name of my daughter. The only project that came out as good as I had originally imagined it. Sophie.

Do you suddenly wonder, hey -'Whatever happened to...?'

Wonder no more! Write and tell us who or what you'd like to catch up with.

Send ideas to: One Norway St., Boston, MA 02115 or e-mail: whatever@csmonitor.com

(c) Copyright 2001. The Christian Science Publishing Society

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