Bloom County: Michael Jackson

16 July, 2009 at 2:15 am (comics)

Bloom County was an extraordinary comic strip during its storied, hilarious, multi-year run. If I were to list the most important influences on my sense of humour and language, right after Walt Kelly’s Pogo would come Bloom County, which had a similarly sprawling anthropomorphic cast, political bent, and a strong sense of word play — centering particularly on the way words simply sounded. Despite two revivals in the Sunday funnies, some animated specials, a couple painted gift books, a line of greeting cards, and an iced tea flavor, Bloom County has not successfully established itself as a fixed, indelible part of day-to-day pop culture. The fact that it continues to be referenced and resurrected in one minor way or another is testament to its cult belovedness, but that it’s not a referential throughline, not a cultural touchstone is frankly beyond my reckoning.

Oliver Wendell Jones and his MJ wallpaperA woman approximately my age just confessed on a public social networking board (gasp!) that she’d never heard about the whole Michael Jackson Pepsi commercial where his hair caught on fire. My first reaction was to be startled, until I realized that my knowledge of it came not from the event itself, not from the incident, but from the cultural commentary that followed. Specifically, I remembered the way in which it was satirized in Bloom County. A brief internet search produced similar memories on various people’s blogs, but no reproductions or scans of the strips themselves.

While we still wait for the IDW collection of the entire Bloom County library, we can at least partake of Andrews McMeel’s online offerings. Since this archive isn’t searchable except by date and user-created keywords — and then only by members — I don’t claim to present a comprehensive collection of every one of Berkeley Breathed’s Michael Jackson references, here’s what I’ve been able to piece together (Remember other Jackson/Bloom crossovers? Mention them in the comments). For those of you not inclined to wait for IDW, most of the following can be found in the classic 1985 assemblage, Penguin Dreams and Stranger Things:

+ March 18, 1984: Steve Dallas sings “Billy Jean” to an imaginary audience. (one strip)

+ March 22, 1984: In a satire of the Pepsi commercial accident, Steve Dallas burns off his chest hair while making a rock video. (three main strips, but a segment of about a 20-part ongoing story)

+ May 2, 1984: Oliver’s mother gives him a Michael Jackson makeover. (two strips)

+ June 25, 1984: Oliver’s mother wallpapers his entire room with Michael Jackson’s face. (three strips)

+ August 17, 1984: Opus visits Neverland, and he and Michael reenact The Prince and the Pauper (15 strips)

+ September 27, 1986: Interestingly, this is reprinted in the Billy and the Boingers collection with the punchline, “..Don’t you think it’s high time Michael Jackson got interested in girls?” A sliiiight alteration there. (one strip)

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3 Comments

  1. Chris McLaren said,

    You know, my initial reaction to hearing about a complete Bloom County collection was pretty positive… but now I'm wondering if the material will have aged well. A lot of it was pretty topical and without the contemporary context I wonder.I'll still buy it, because I loved those strips in their time, but I'm being guarded about my expectations.

  2. Benjamin Russell said,

    I obviously can't predict your reaction, but I can say that while I was flipping through pages to find the strips for this entry, that I'd frequently stop and read the odd one that caught my eye. I enjoyed them thoroughly, both because they were fond memories of having read and laughed at them previously, and occasionally because I'd completely forgotten a given strip and was well-pleased to encounter "new" Bloom County.Pogo was political. Doonesbury is topical. I read both of these strips, along with with Bloom County, in my childhood, often times with no idea as to the larger satirical landscape. And this was because they clothed themselves in funny-looking characters, with keen wordplay and regular absurdity. I think dated references to Jeane Kirkpatrick, Caspar Weinberger, and Bob Woodward will still be sufficiently in Bloom County to not have one diving for the footnotes and breaking the thread of the humour.

  3. Benjamin Russell said,

    I’m currently poking through volume two of IDW’s The Bloom County Library, and found another Jackson reference on 2 July, 1983. It mentions an “ugly rumor” about Michael Jackson, and points out that he “shows absolutely no secondary male sex characteristics” which might be the result of ” his folks [giving] him shots of estrogen”. Interestingly, this strip is not online as part of the Universal Comics Syndicates archives. In fact, the link to that date ( http://www.gocomics.com/bloomcounty/1983/07/02/ ) will redirect you to the statement, “No Bloom County comics are available for that date.” Interesting, but perhaps not surprising.

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