Berke Breathed on his return to cartooning after 25 years in carbonite

It’s fascinating to hear Berke Breathed talk about his return. I’m thankful that he’s not as private as Bill Watterson, who I’m sure would have some great opinions and advice to share. Berke just did an interview on NPR’s Fresh Air (check it out here) and two things he said jumped out at me:

It’s why does it come so easy rather than why did it come so hard before, which is what it did. I never met any of my deadlines for 5,000 comic strips in the 10 years that I did “Bloom County,” not a single one, and it was because I was miserable. I was driven, but every single deadline was ripped out of my backend. I don’t know why. I’ve long examined why that was so difficult and why the strip turned out even readable. But it’s such a reverse now that I’m still – it’s all so new. I’m still trying to figure out and decipher what it is that’s happened in the ensuing 25 years that has turned that around into something that I can’t wait to get up in the morning to do.

He somehow made his deadlines – and considered he sometimes finished them on the plane on the way to delivering them, it’s surprising they’re so damn good. But now he’s doing it for the pure joy of it and it’s night and day. Every single webcomicker can feel like this.

How can I say no when I’m having so much fun? I mean, it would have been a hard question to answer in 1988 because I was miserable. But I appreciate that, and I’m certainly hearing that from these remarkable people that are writing to me and to each other every day on Facebook.

In the past couple of months, it’s been stunning. The digital world has allowed me a connection with my reader that I’d never had before. I wrote every single cartoon strip in isolation in a dining room in an Iowa City farmhouse. I didn’t meet the people who read my material. The fan letters were mostly answered by professional people that’d done them for a living. And I didn’t have any daily connection with their response to my work. So the cartooning was just an abstraction. It was an income. It was making me famous. It was allowing me to go and do other things that I’d wanted to do. But I didn’t have a relationship with my audience. And every artist should have it.

I had not considered that before. I imagined it must have been awesome to be Berke or Bill, making people laugh and smile everywhere. Not once until now did I think they were dissociated from their adoring public. Maybe I’m just spoiled by our connected world but it’s cool that we can really make connections with our readers now – and that is friggin’ cool.

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