Laughing Matters — Bloom County on Return of the Jedi

Sometimes comedy illuminates hard truths with a pointed urgency that other means can’t quite achieve. Sometimes comedy is just funny. This series of posts is mostly about the former instances, but the latter is valuable, too.

death glass

As a kid in the nineteen-eighties, the comics page in the newspaper still held an allure. Let the grown-ups deal with all that yucky tragedy and conflict in the front section of the daily publication, I knew the only real pleasure could be taken from the pile-up on panels inside, delivering gags aplenty (and the occasional ongoing drama, but who read that stuff?). Like every other discerning comics reader, I had three favorites: Calvin and Hobbes, The Far Side, and Bloom County.

With the first two, I’m not sure when I discovered them, but I know with certainty the first Bloom Country strip that grabbed my attention. As Return of the Jedi dominated the box office, topping the weekly chart six of its first seven weeks of release (interrupted only by the opening weekend of Superman III), Berkeley Breathed devoted a week of strips to a gentle but pointed mockery of the spacefaring phenomenon. He knew how to find weak spots in the grandiose, kicking off the run with a rendering off a space battle in which the evil combatant was one of the countless merchandising abasements associated with the piece of blockbuster cinematic art. For years, I had that strip Scotch-taped to the wall of my bedroom, I loved it so.

Not long after, the first bound collection of Bloom Country strips, Loose Tails, was released. I bought it and then every one that followed. Other comics were clearly designed to be untethered to their time, but Bloom County commented on the ongoing pop and political culture I was beginning to absorb. As it turned out, Breathed’s comic was my gateway to the rest of the newspaper. To a degree, I have him to blame for the abundance of mental energy I now devote to all the new tragedy and conflict.

 

Previous entries in this series can be found by clicking on the “Laughing Matters” tag.