Berkeley Breathed

Famed Cartoonist of Opus.

I just quit my cartooning career after 30 years. In the EG spirit of open intimacy I’m going to review how I got to this place of shame. It was 1973, senior assignment. The only art class I mostly stayed awake in. [image] Worthless in many artistic regards. I have no idea what compelled me to draw it but my father saw it and gave me a title.

Here is what my teacher who hated me wrote about that piece. “Grade D Mr. Breathed. One day you’re going to be very rich.”

So it was then that I discovered the witches brew – the combination of crappy drawings and words.


I got a contract from the Washington Bureau about a comic strip. I named it after a place: Bloom County. I had no idea what characters were going to be in this comic strip. I drew a penguin ordering a Whopper. A few months later I created a cat, to make fun of the Garfield merchandising culture that was vomiting across the country in 1982. We sold millions of merchandise of this comic character. Maybe it was because I did what you weren’t supposed to do, mistreat a comic icon.

As a cartoonist I got into newspapers worldwide and won me a readership of about 70 million people and dinner at the White House with Ronald Reagan. Three months earlier, 7:30 am in Iowa, phone rang, just got out of the shower: Please hold for the President. He got on the line and because that Sunday strip had a Xerox of Nancy Reagan on the back wall of the panel. He was so charmed when he saw Nancy Reagan ‘drawn’ (he did not realize it was a Xerox). And he wanted to tell me he loved the drawing. And it was the golden opportunity that everyone always dreams about and I said: Mr. President I’m not wearing any pants. And he thought that was funny and it got me an invitation to the White House. But in the Blue Room with a cigar in my hand I had a conversation with Nancy about why comics are no good. They gave me a Pulitzer Prize in 1987, which the committed demanded to be canceled and returned to Columbia University. I signed the petition myself.

My confession: I have loved newspapers all my life. Cartooning has been huge fun. I respect the art form. But I’ve never opened a comic book in my life. I have struggled to get beyond the naked inappropriateness of this.

Why do I find them unrewarding? Because they lack something. Just like a television show, they are an endless loop of episodes that do not end but only evolve. It goes off in many directions but has no end. Episodes are not stories. Nothing is ever settled in a Spiderman movie. Give me a story, a begin, a middle and an end.

I’m amazed how the world revolves on stories. In lives, politics, administrations and in wars. I think karma is bullshit. When folks see bad things happen to bad people, they say it’s karma. We know in the movie that the slutty teenager is going to get knifed. It’s karma. No, it’s the story structure we expect to happen.

Guess why today’s crappy big screen epics are all structured in the crappy, same way. Though a structural prisons we try to see that the ‘evil characters’ don’t fit into the template of the story we want to tell.

Stories are the most powerful, creative force on the planet. Cartoons lack them. So finally after 30 years I do what I love, write stories. No episodes, pure stories with a beginning, middle and an end.

Some of my books:

Mars Needs Moms! Being turned into a movie.

Pete & Pickles. All copies were sold out at the bookstore, I’m hoping someone will ask me to sign it afterwards. I’m very proud of it.

Flawed Dogs. A picture book, a collection of portraits of the most desperate, pathetic dogs in the world.The story is about these dogs, my novel is about these dogs, taking over the Westminster Dog Show – and destroying it.

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