Say Goodnight Opus

Once again, Pulitzer Prize winning cartoonist Berkeley Breathed is retiring his comic strip, and this time he says it’s for good.

The journey began in 1978 with a local Texas paper carrying a daily strip called The Academia Waltz, which quickly evolved in 1980 to the nationally syndicated strip Bloom County. It was retired in 1989 and replaced with a Sunday strip called Outland, featuring many of the same characters but a more surreal setting and premise. Though Ronald Ann was the original protagonist in Outland, it too quickly became another vehicle for Opus. Outland ended in 1995 with Opus returning to his childhood home in Antarctica. In 2003 Opus returned in another Sunday strip called Opus, only to find that many of his friends had changed and evolved, some even noticeably absent. His fans, myself included, were thrilled to have the chance to catch up with the big-nosed penguin once again. It was the return of intelligent, poignant, satirical, and genuinely funny comic strips to the newspaper.

Unfortunately that thrill was short-lived. Breathed announced yesterday his intention to retire from the comic strip business for good, for reasons that aren’t entirely clear. He joked in a statement that the best way he can help his country during the current financial and political crisis is to “write funny stories for America’s kids. I call on John McCain to join me.” Though another reason might’ve been hinted at in comic strips earlier this year when he revealed that he was suffering from a medical condition known as spasmodic torticollis, and even mentioned in later installments that he was dying. Either way, his retirement from syndication will allow him more time to pursue his love for writing more children’s books. (Which, by the way are excellent.)

On November 2, right before the election, the final Opus will run. And Berkeley Breathed will once again join Bill Watterson (Calvin & Hobbes) and Aaron McGruder (the Boondocks) in the growing list of missing smart and funny comic strip artists and writers. I guess Doonesbury‘s Garry Trudeau is about all we have left that fits that bill.

Goodbye Opus (and Berkeley). You will be sorely missed!