A Hooligan Who Wields a Pen

  • Q. Why did you discontinue Bloom County?

    A. I'm 32. That's too young to coast. I could draw Bloom County with my nose and pay my cleaning lady to write it, and I'd bet I wouldn't lose 10% of my papers over the next 20 years. Such is the nature of comic strips. Once established, their half-life is usually more than nuclear waste. Typically, the end result is lazy, rich cartoonists. There are worse things to be, I suppose . . . lazy and poor comes to mind.

    Q. What is your new strip, Outland, about?

    A. Silliness. Friendship. Escape. Doorways in the sky. A little girl. A big mouse. Crimson skies. Blue clouds. Liposuction. Love. Death. Trump. Disney. The usual things.

    Q. What are its chances of succeeding?

    A. Slim. I am competing with the readers' affection for a dead strip whose body is still warm. The readers and editors are mad and don't seem to be in a mood for anything but the old meadow and dandelions. But until I am booted off the page, I am having a ball. My relatives, of course, think my mind went out with last week's meat loaf.

    Q. You are also writing a humorous column for Boating magazine. What is it about?

    A. It's about doing to boaters what I tried to do to everyone else in Bloom County: reveal the lunacy we pretend isn't there. I, of course, would normally have nothing to do with things like boats, but for research reasons I had to buy one. Four, actually.

    Q. In Bloom County, you portray reporters as lecherous, scurrilous, lying fiends. Do you really think they are that bad?

    A. I never said "fiends" per se. "Bloodsucking geckos," I've said. Look, the Russians are wimping out and we're running out of bad guys. If the alternatives are mullahs, drug lords and the press, I'll always go with the ones who dress the funniest. Have you seen George Will's little bow ties?

    Q. Whom would you rather associate with, boaters or reporters?

    A. I would rather associate with dogs.

    Q. Does making fun of the political system change anything?

    A. Only the size of cartoonists' egos. Nowadays political commentary, especially satirical commentary, is usually ink wasted. Eighty years ago that wasn't the case. At that time a political cartoonist could turn an election around. Before TV, before movies and radio, a drawing of a weasel with the Governor's name on his butt went a long way in a public's imagination. Our political power today is illusionary. A Johnny Carson monologue is today's real influence brokerage.

    Q. You have made a difference, though, when it comes to animal testing. After you ran a series on the torturing of rabbits at Mary Kay labs, the cosmetic manufacturer announced a moratorium on animal testing. Were you surprised?

    A. Totally. But note the distinction. With the issue of horrendous animal abuse within cosmetic testing labs, all that was needed was to illustrate the facts. When I drew a rabbit with clips pulling its eyelids open, it was effective precisely because of its accuracy.

    Q. How do you see the environment as an issue?

    A. I find the environment far more exciting to the future than politics. Politics is shockingly transient. The issues that we are so concerned with today are nearly forgotten in three weeks. Environmental issues are not going to be a moot point ten years from now. They are getting more acute. Discovering how to make them funny is a distinct and irresistible challenge.

    Q. Why do you make fun of the environmentalists you support?

    A. It is like my writing about boating in a satirical way. Extremists are extremist, no matter what. They are always funny. There are people who think I am the James Watt of the animal-rights movement because I still wear leather shoes and eat the occasional McNugget. They may be heading in the right direction, but they can act pretty silly during the journey.

    Q. People have complained that your work is offensive. Some papers have refused to run various strips, and some people, like the Rev. Donald Wildmon, have demanded that you be fired for slandering Christians. What do such reactions tell you about your work?

    A. People are reading, especially Donald Wildmon. They are probably angry, they are probably insulted, sometimes they are offended, but they read you every day just to find out how they are going to be offended for tomorrow and for the next day. Indifference is the enemy. When I've lost Don, I've lost the war.

    Q. You have said cartooning is the last refuge of the mediocre and the stronghold of the lazy and strange. Why?

    A. Probably because I was feeling uncharacteristically honest with myself at the moment. There are some of us being paid millions to do essentially the same thing that used to get us sent to the principal -- drawing our authority figures in an unflattering light, which in those days probably meant in the nude.

    Charles Schulz said it once: you only have to be a halfway good artist and a halfway good writer to be a cartoonist. I know my limitations. I could never make it as a writer, and I could never make it as a fine artist. Thus the world of cartooning was waiting for me to come along. I have plenty of partial ability.

    Q. What do you think about the current state of the comic strip?

    A. The comic page is bogged down in tradition; it is weighed down with expectations. What I find so exciting is the possibility for gentle subversion, to be friendly and dangerous at the same time, like kissing your first cousin hello and lingering.

    The comic strip is the Andy Griffith of literature. It is conservative, it is homey, it is comfortable, and it is in no hurry to reveal how smart it really is. My fascination is to see what Andy would look like in a thong bikini. Traditional and friendly, but dangerous at the same time, which is a likely description of Bloom County.

    Q. What accounts for your warped view of the world?

    A. Eating lots of broccoli. You know, it's not the weirdo cartoonist that warps. The real warped view is on TV every night. Sanitized reality. Our job is to unwarp as best we can by reflecting the truth back into your eyes. It's not warped that Opus ((the penguin)) gets a buttock implant. On the contrary, I think it's pretty trendy.

    Q. You make fun of almost everyone. Is there anyone you like?

    A. Oh, I like the people I make fun of. I like Jeane Kirkpatrick. Where would we be without Jeane Kirkpatrick? We needed a character on the political scene that looked and sounded like her.

    Q. What, if anything, do you want to be remembered for?

    A. I delight in the thought that I would be remembered with all the qualities that Opus has, knowing deep down that I am a total hooligan. I would be delighted if I were as innocent, as naive and as unconcerned with worldly matters as Opus is. But the fact is that I am not. So maybe that is what he is. I am drawing him as my ideal. If I could choose my personality, it would be his.

    I also want to be remembered for taking a voluntary 92% cut in my income for the sake of my cartoons. I figure attaining immortality as an artist is a long shot. But I'm a shoo-in as a martyr.