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Calvin and Hobbes, and Bloom County, titans of newspaper comics pages, team up

The most ambitious crossover event in history

Berke Breathed/Bill Watterson

Calvin and Hobbes and Bloom County crossed over today in a throwback comics-page mega-team-up 30 years in the making. Pardon me, Avengers: Infinity War, this is the most ambitious crossover event in history.

The strip, titled “Calvin County,” ran today on Bloom County creator Berkeley Breathed’s Facebook page. If you’re a fan of one or both features, or just have a deep nostalgia for 1980s popular culture (which may be keener because of a certain flick that’s out right now), go visit, read it, and say thanks.

Bloom County, syndicated by the Washington Post Writer’s Group, began in late 1980 and ran until August 6, 1989. It was, like Doonesbury, Saturday Night Live, The National Lampoon and film critic Joe Bob Briggs, a subversive work of satire that somehow found a wide mainstream audience, confounding and infuriating the establishment. Breathed (pronounced BREATH-id) won the Pulitzer Prize for editorial cartooning in 1987 — making Bloom County the first daily newspaper comic strip to take that award since Doonesbury in 1975.

It was a controversial selection even among Breathed’s contemporaries, some of whom disparaged his strip as a smug, too-hip-for-its-own-good college newspaper cartoon that slid by on “shrill potty jokes and grade school sight gags,” according to Pulitzer winning cartoonist Pat Oliphant. (Breathed later parodied Oliphant with a trivial character in Bloom County as “Little Ollie Funt.”) At its peak, Bloom County was syndicated in more than 1,200 daily newspapers with a combined readership said to be more than 40 million.

Breathed restarted Bloom County in 2015 and it can be found today through his Facebook page.

Calvin and Hobbes, from Universal Press Syndicate, was written and illustrated by Bill Watterson from late 1985 to Dec. 31, 1995. Though not as outwardly political as his contemporaries, Watterson’s indulgence of grade-school smart-assedness and his endearing portrayals of adolescent imagination and insecurity made the feature as loved as anything since Charles Shultz’s Peanuts. At its peak, Calvin and Hobbes doubled the readership of Bloom County, appearing in 2,400 newspapers.

Twice the winner of the National Cartoonists Society’s Reuben Award, Watterson continually battled his editors and newspaper clients in insisting on a large-format Sunday feature taking up half of a broadsheet page. In a time when many large-circulation newspapers had their full-color Sunday sections printed elsewhere and then shipped back to their pressrooms for insertion and delivery, this was no small conflict.

In more than 20 years since, Watterson has famously resisted the commercialization of Calvin and Hobbes, outside of the anthologized collections of the original strips published by their original syndicate.

• • •

Both of these comic strips mean a lot to me because, when I was a teenager, I was the “comics editor” for my father’s newspaper, managing its page of syndicated features. Shortly after taking the job as a 13-year-old in 1987, I ambitiously set upon remaking the page. I tell you, was going to make it into the greatest comics page anyone had ever seen.

Our sports editor, a lanky, earnest, big-brother figure who had played J.V. baseball at North Carolina, loved Bloom County. I really admired Richard Craver and how cool he was and I vowed we would run Bloom County until it stopped. I haggled with the salesmen from every other syndicate, but when I called the Washington Post Writer’s Group, I said whatever their price for it was, we’d take it. I think it was $6.50 a week plus postage, more than a tenth of the budget Dad gave me for the project.

As Bloom County was coming to an end in 1989, we had to find a replacement. Now 16, with some proven success in my comics editing stint, Dad let me pick the best one out there. That was Calvin and Hobbes, by a mile. Then Watterson closed that strip at the end of 1995. By then I had graduated college, so Dad was on his own for a replacement.

Dad gave me the final camera-ready mailing of Calvin and Hobbes. A couple of years ago I framed that and gave it back to him. But I still have Bloom County’s last six strips, presented below. I kept my word.

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