December 8, 1980 was an interesting day….the world lost one legendary recording artist, but it gained a penguin. Bloom County, cited by many comic strip aficionados (like yours truly) as one of the best strips ever made, first appeared in papers the day John Lennon was shot. Its opening gag, about an old man named Major requesting Burger King serve him a burger without a bun, barely resembles what the strip would ultimately become, but as Berke explained to the New York Times in a new interview, he was winging it as he went.
“Nobody had the faintest idea what comic strip I should concoct, least of all me,” Berke confesses. “They didn’t care. All I’d ever drawn were college stereotypes, which were the only characters I was instructed NOT to use. What to do? I named it a place — Bloom County — and figured I’d decide later who should live there.” He says the Midwestern setting was chosen in the spirit of his favorite book, To Kill A Mockingbird, and so was the name of a small boy, Milo, who would be the only character to last throughout the entire run. (Berke would later name his own kid Milo. If you get him on the subject of Mockingbird, he doesn’t shut up.)
Another thing Berke tends to mention every time he gets the chance is that, in all the years he drew the strip, he was notoriously bad with deadlines. “Bloom County had a weekly deadline for 10 years. I missed 100 percent. Each of those 500 weeks, I had to drive 40 miles at 4:30 a.m. to the airport at whatever city I lived in to put the strips on a plane as cargo, delivered by a cabdriver in Washington, D.C., a few hours later.” Most strips were drawn and inked in the middle of the night, which means Berke not only made one of the best strips of all time, he did it in his sleep. I’ve always wondered how much more amazing it could have possibly been if he were awake.
While the original run of Bloom County ended in the summer of 1989, it was far from the end for Berke — he returned to newspaper cartooning in stops and starts with the Sunday-only Outland and Opus, and then when newspapers vanished from the mainstream American living room, he relaunched Bloom County on Facebook. While the later efforts have their moments, nothing quite beats the original ten-year run. It’s still available in multiple volumes from IDW.