Wednesday, October 08, 2008

'Opus' creator to retire

'Opus' creator to retire from drawing comic strips

WASHINGTON — Pulitzer Prize-winning cartoonist Berkeley Breathed is retiring, leaving a hole in Sunday comics pages after nearly 30 years because he wants to save his strip's main character, Opus, from being dragged down in the current political climate.

The last strip of "Opus," the beloved, large-beaked penguin, will run in about 200 newspapers nationwide Nov. 2.

Amy Lago, comics editor of The Washington Post Writers Group, said Breathed will pursue other interests, such as writing books and screenplays.

Starting and stopping popular strips is old hat for the 51-year-old, who lives in Santa Barbara, Calif., and has a children's book, "Pete & Pickles," due out next week.

The writers group unveiled his "Bloom County" strip in 1980; he went on to win the Pulitzer for editorial cartooning in 1987. He ended that strip in 1989 and the same year began the Sunday-only strip "Outland," which he quit in 1995. In 2003, he launched "Opus."

Breathed describes his creative combination as part outspoken filmmaker Michael Moore, part gentle "Peanuts" creator Charles Schulz.

"It isn't a comfortable creative combination but it's probably what gave my cartoons whatever distinction they had for 30 years," he wrote in an e-mail to The Associated Press.

His comics have long lampooned current events, such as the "Star Wars" space defense initiative in the 1980s and the supposedly corruptive influence of heavy metal music. In recent strips, Opus has reflected on his life after being detained by U.S. Homeland Security.

This time, Breathed says, the ending is really for good, if not his own. Breathed believes the tone of America's public and political discourse is headed in a dark direction, with the next president — whoever is elected — facing problems that will "belie palatable solutions." Inevitably, he said that would color his art.

"I'm destroying the village to save it. In this case, a penguin," Breathed wrote. " ... We are about to enter a rather wicked period in our National Discourse ... bad enough to make what we're in right now seem folksy and genteel. The ranting side of my cartooning impulse will destroy the thing that makes Opus comfortable for his readers. And me."

"A mad penguin, like a mad cartoonist, isn't very lovable. I like him the way he is now," he wrote.

This Sunday's strip will include a contest in which Breathed asks readers to guess the penguin's fate. Details on how to participate are not being released ahead of time. The answer will appear online after the last "Opus" runs next month, Lago said.

Asked what message he has for fans who will miss Opus, Breathed wrote: "He's me. And I'm still here writing stories for children's books and film. I'd like to think he will still be found, in a sense."

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Berkeley Breathed's Web site: http://www.berkebreathed.com/

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