Book Review: Tales Too Ticklish to Tell by Berke Breathed (1988)

Unfortunately, I read this book immediately upon the heels of The Authoritative Calvin and Hobbes, and this volume suffers by comparison.

It’s been sixteen years since this book came out, and it’s already not much more than a time capsule into the last two years of Reagan’s presidency. Whereas Calvin and Hobbes touched on broader human themes that sometimes touched on daily topics, but Bloom County’s storylines are completely wed to the period in which they were written. I mean, who remembers the Jim and Tammy Faye enough to find a penguin’s take on them amusing? The cover of the book depicts George (H.W., as he would later be known) Bush with Opus on his lap; it refers to the photo of Gary Hart with Donna Rice on his lap that spoiled his bid for the Democratic nomination in 1988. See how the topics fade to irrelevance and obscurity?

Bloom County, like Calvin and Hobbes, became iconic in that Opus was on everything in the late 1980s; apparel, plush toys, lunchboxes. However, unlike Calvin and Hobbes, which is fresh and funny twenty years later and probably will for a number of years yet, Bloom County’s as relevant and contemporary as Snuffy Smith. Unlike Watterson, who quit while he was popular (like Gary Larsen) to avoid a strip depicting Calvin in his little red wagon flying over a pool with a shark in it, Breathed has continued trying to breathed life into these characters through Bloom County and then Outland and now Opus whenever a Republican president needed a public lambasting by a penguin. (Read James Lileks on Opus last week.)

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