etragedy's Penguin Dreams and Stranger Things A Bloom County Book #1 review

A trip through Bloom County every once in a while is a fun trip!

The third Bloom County collection

Penguin Dreams and Stranger Things is the third collection of Bloom County comics published by Little Brown & Company. Though it's the third collection, it's the first one I've read cover-to-cover, and so this review is going to be about not just this volume, but Bloom County in general.

As a kid I always liked comics. To me the implied movement from panel to panel always worked. But when it came to comic strips in newspapers, there were a couple chief failings. For one, kids were a common subject of these strips, but, whether it was Dennis the Menace, Marmaduke, or any other regular strip, invariably kids were talked down to. The notable exception was Peanuts. Charles Schulz's comics about Charlie Brown, Linus, et al. had kids that didn't speak juvenile, and talked about things that mattered. But Peanuts had long been ghost written, and lacked some of the spark that made it great. It would still be a few years until Calvin and Hobbes would come along and pick up the torch. In the interim there was Bloom County. Bloom County featured a handful of anthropomorphic animals, some adults and some kids - but the kids were perfectly capable of talking on an adult level. Indeed the three primary child protagonists, Milo Bloom, Binkley and Oliver Wendel Jones were often the intellectual superiors of the adults.

The second major problem I had with newspaper comics was that the Sunday funnies were rarely funny. The best humor in comic form to be found in most newspapers wasn't in the funny pages, but in the editorial section. Political cartoons were often far sharper and more humorous than their more mundane comics page counterparts. I always thought that if a comic strip could come along and combine the politics and humor of the editorial comics with the pop culture and social ephemera of the so-called 'funny pages', that would be a comic worth looking forward to.

And then, almost as if on cue came Berke Breathed's 'Bloom County'.

Penguin Dreams and Stranger Things features the entire cast of Bloom County, and yes there are politics aplenty - it was an election year when most of these strips ran, and the Bloom County 'Meadow Party' ran Bill the Cat and Opus on a presidential ticket. There are also appearances by Greenpeace, Henry Kissinger, and other political actors of the 80s.

But Bloom County wasn't just limited to things political; other targets of satire included the Miss America Contest, the Bhagwan Shree Rajneesh cult, MTV, Michael Jackson, Joan Jett, Star Trek, The People's Court, and many others.

Despite the title and cover illustration, this volume is not particularly Opus-centric. All the characters get about equal space. If there's any that seems a standout, it might be Steve Dallas, the hard-drinking lawyer of Bloom County who, among other things in this book, becomes a survivalist, stars in a heavy metal music video, appears on 'The People's Court', has his mother come to visit, represents an axe murderer, and competes in the 'Mister America Pageant'.

One of the great things about this book is that not only do the comics still hold up today, despite their dated subject matter, but they act like a window on the 80s showing some of what was going on in the culture at the time - things you remember, things you forgot, or things you wish you could forget.

A trip through Bloom County every once in a while is a fun trip!


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