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Opus: 25 Years of His Sunday Best    by Berkeley Breathed order for
by Berkeley Breathed
Order:  USA  Can
Little, Brown & Co., 2004 (2004)
* *   Reviewed by Ricki Marking-Camuto

When Berkeley Breathed's penguin, Opus, made his comic strip debut in 1981, I was too young to read, much less comprehend the humor of the piece. It was not until this year, when Breathed's latest strip, Opus, premiered that I was able to experience the humor of a short little penguin with a big nose. While I at first resisted the comic because its large layout displaced some of my usual Sunday morning reading, I began reading it because I love penguins. After a few Sundays, Opus began to grow on me, but I knew I was missing something, having never experienced the little penguin's two earlier incarnations in Bloom County and Outland.

Berkeley Breathed's new compilation, Opus: 25 Years of His Sunday Best, helped me get intimately acquainted with this pop cultural icon. The cartoonist has compiled his favorite Sunday morning strips from the three series in chronological order, with a short introduction to each. The journey begins with Bloom County, the strip in which Opus first appeared. The majority of the strips feature Opus with his varied friends. He can be found working for lawyer 'Steve Dallas', discussing existentialism with grade-schoolers, or playing space barbarians with meadow creatures. Even though it was still popular, Breathed eventually decided to end Bloom County. The last few strips show Opus lamenting, as his friends move away and his dandelion patch is plowed over.

Shortly after ending Bloom County, Breathed decided to bring back Opus in a Sunday only strip, Outland. Opus is once again the star, and still spends all his time with his friends. But since many of them moved away at the end of Bloom County, few of the originals are left. 'Bill the Cat' is still around, but Opus's other meadow friends have been replaced with 'Milquetoast the Cockroach' and 'Hamon Eggs' the Pig. Of his young friends, only 'Ronald-Ann' remains, but eventually 'Oscar' reappears. Also, towards the end, 'Steve Dallas' comes back lamenting his approaching middle age. In Outland, we get to learn more of Opus's insecurities about his nose and his missing mother, but some of the fun is lost by the absence of his space barbarian buddies. Once again, Breathed ends his strip by having characters move away, including Opus.

Eight years after Outland ended its run, Breathed once again entered the Sunday funnies with his latest strip, Opus. This started off differently from the previous two. Aside from the larger layout and unconventional paneling, the first few strips of Opus focused on his life with his mother in Antarctica, and did not get into the jokes on current issues that populated Bloom County and Outland. Eventually, Breathed moves Opus back to Bloom County, and while the panels are still different, the original humor returns. Berkeley Breathed's Opus: 25 Years of His Sunday Best would make an excellent gift for any Opus fan. Unlike many comic strip compilations, this volume is hardbound with big, glossy, full-color pages, making it a book to display rather than stick on a shelf.

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