FORGOTTEN BOOK: Academia Waltz and Other Profound Transgressions by Berke Breathed (2015)

By Scott A. Cupp

This is the 158th in my series of Forgotten Books.

Berke Breathed is one of my favorite cartoonists. I discovered Bloom County in the early 1980’s and followed the exploits of Steve Dallas, Milo, Opus, Bill the Cat and the county’s other denizens. It joined Doonesbury, The Far Side, Calvin and Hobbs, and Peanuts among my daily favorites. I read whatever was on the comics page, be it Mandrake, Brenda Starr, Dick Tracy, Mary Worth, Apartment 3-G, or Bizarro. I have no taste. I like comics.

But Bloom County was special. Recently IDW Publishing went to the back-breaking depths to provide all of the Bloom County, Outland and Opus strips (daily when they were around and Sunday) in a series of hardcover matched volumes. This was wonderful! Many daily strips were a little too topical for his publisher when the collections were being published so if I did not see that particular daily strip, I had missed them. Not so any more.

But Bloom County did not spring fully formed from Breathed’s mind. Like me, Breathed attended the University of Texas (imagine The Eyes of Texas in the background, burnt orange, and a Hook’em Horns held high). I bleed burnt orange. The six years I spent there were among the best in my life. I made friends I still see today and managed to form something approaching a human being from the lump of geeky clay that walked onto that campus 45 years ago.

Like Garry Trudeau at Yale before him, Breathed did a daily cartoon strip The Academia Waltz for the campus paper, The Daily Texan. I did not see these, as I was gone by the time he started publishing there and in the local newspaper the Austin American Statesman. While still at the University, Breathed self-published two volumes of his work, The Academia Waltz and The Academia Waltz Bowing Out. They had very small print runs and were highly coveted and hoarded by their owners. I had seen both and read them. In 35 years, I had found exactly one (1!) copy of the second book for sale at an affordable price and none of the first.

I owned all the other IDW Breathed publications (the five volumes of Bloom County, the Outland volume and the Opus volume). So when Academia Waltz and Other Profound Disasters was offered, my finger twitched and hit the Buy Now button.

These are certainly the fledgling efforts of a young cartoonist reacting to life around him. They center around some campus politics and sports (Earl Campbell is a featured sacred cow being barbecued). But you can see where things begin to develop. Steve Dallas is a Texas frat boy who shows up frequently as does his girlfriend Kitzi. Wheelchair bound Saigon John is a vet attending campus who is able to attract some girls and provide an alternative point of view.

The entire contents of both books are reprinted here. But that’s not much content. So Breathed opened up his files of original art and allowed them to be published. More than 180 pages of cartoons, some never before reprinted show up here. You see the original versions of some of the pieces reprinted in the two books and lots more. Some are Academia Waltz cartoons; others are political pieces from the regular paper.

I was in heaven. As I write this, I still am. I’m going upstairs later and pull out the other books and dip heavily into them. I’ll be looking at the anxiety closet or perhaps going into the political ones, skewering candidates of either party. Some things never change. Somewhere I have a Bill the Cat bumper sticker that may need to emerge from hibernation.

And I can’t go on about this without commenting that Bloom County has returned as Bloom County 2015. The wit and edge is still there. And it remains a daily fix.

At $39.99 the book might not be for everyone but I checked for The Academia Waltz original editions online before starting this. The cheapest single volume was about $250. The prices ranged from there up to four figures. Way too rich for my blood with most in the $350 and $400 range. I’ll stick with my $40 reprint, thank you very much.

Breathed does some stuff on Facebook and has some strips for sale these days which I may investigate as well as a nice Opus and Bill political poster. But you can check those out for yourself.

Series organizer Patti Abbott hosts more Friday Forgotten Book reviews at her own blog, and posts a complete list of participating blogs.