Comic Strip: Bloom County

The second and most famous of a series of comic strips by Berke Breathed, running from 1980 to 1989. It was a character-driven strip featuring a heavy dose of political commentary, winning a Pulitzer Prize in 1987. The cast tended to shift over the years, but some of the main characters were:

  • Opus, a sweet-natured penguin with a huge beak.
  • Bill The Cat, scrawny fleabag who is The Unintelligible at best. Later implanted with the brain of a slightly strawtastic Donald Trump.
  • Steve Dallas, a sleazy (human) lawyer.
  • Milo Bloom, a young boy with a sardonic streak. Unprincipled editor of the local newspaper.
  • Michael Binkley, another boy, a wide-eyed dreamer.
  • Cutter John, an easygoing, wheelchair-bound veteran who frequently plays Star Trek with the animal characters.

Eventually, after many years, Berke Breathed ended the strip because he was tired of it and segued into a new one, Outland. Many of the regulars of Bloom County eventually leached back into that strip, as they later did again with Breathed's Sunday-only strip Opus.

Berke has also made books using the Bloom County characters, including A Wish for Wings That Work and Goodnight Opus for Opus, as well as The Last Basselope for Rosebud.

In 2009, IDW Publishing launched Bloom County: The Complete Library, a hardcover collection of the entire comic in five volumes with annotations explaining outdated pop-culture and political gags and occasional insight from Breathed. Two volumes collecting the entirety of the sequel series Outland and Opus followed soon after, with similar annotations.


  • Aborted Arc: In the early strips, most plotlines would be abandoned a few strips in, abruptly shifting to another setting. This happened some in later strips, too, i.e., the "Olive Loaf Vigilante" plot simply ceasing in the middle of Opus's trial, though a later comic revealed that he got off on a technicality.
    • In the third collection book (1984-86), there's a storyline where Opus is getting ready for a date, which just abruptly ends; even Breathed seems confused by this, and asks anyone who knows the identity of his date to please write in and tell him. Then a strip not too long after showed Opus participating in a wrestling match to impress a woman who is an obvious No Celebrities Were Harmed version of Cyndi Lauper. Breathed's comment for this strip reads "Oh, THAT'S who it was..."
  • Alcohol-Induced Idiocy: There are a few instances where Steve Dallas displays this after drinking too much.
  • Amoral Attorney: Steve Dallas.
    • Inverted after he's abducted by aliens late in the strip and experimented on.
  • Animated Adaptation: A Wish for Wings That Work was made into an animated special. During the Opus era, plans were made for a movie starring Opus et al. (which is why a line was drawn between his eyes), but it was canceled.
  • The Annotated Edition: The Complete Library has annotations to explain then-relevant pop-culture references and explain who the political figures being caricatured are. Breathed himself pops up from time to time to explain character origins or thought processes, but mostly just to tell us which strips he thinks are his crowning moments of funny, which are Old Shames, and to make jokes about Garry Trudeau of Doonesbury.
  • Answer Cut: When Dallas, as lead singer and spokesman of the metal band Deathtöngue, negotiates a deal with CBS Records, he quotes the lyrics of their next song which includes "Let's run over Lionel Richie with a tank". Cut to the CBS CEO sitting in front of a huge autographed portrait of Lionel Richie.
  • Anti-Love Song: "U Stink But I (Heart) U" (performed by Mucky Pup) from Billy And The Boingers: Bootleg.
  • Arson, Murder, and Jaywalking: Binkley, feeling depressed over the end of the world, told Opus that "mountains, oceans [and] Taco Bells" would be swallowed by the sun's explosion.
    • From the June 13, 1985 strip, where Opus has accidentally found himself up with Cutter John, whose wheelchair is being elevated by several helium balloons.
    Opus: "27,000 feet up in the air on a wheelchair heading for who knows where, and not even a fresh change of skivvies on hand. And the worst...yes the worst indignity of plumbing facilities! [Turns toward reader] Not to mention this is Thursday and I'll be missing Cheers."
  • Art Evolution: Look at any comic from 1980, then look at any comic from 1984, and then look at any comic from 1989. The differences are striking. More specifically, the art was very blobby and scratchy in the very first year, and then it started to ape Doonesbury for a while (something that even Berke Breathed himself admits to). Over time, it gradually became much finer and clearer, with Berke putting more detail into his inking and even crosshatching at times. The fine, crosshatched style carried over to successor Outland, and by the time he made Opus, he even changed up his coloring style drastically.
    • Lampshaded by Opus on the back cover of one of the omnibus editions, where he complains about how the book shows how his nose has grown, like some big ol' goiter.
  • Author Avatar: It's probably just a coincidence but Cutter John has an uncanny resemblance to Berke. If one subscribes to this theory, it might cross into Gary Stu, given that Cutter was the Only Sane Man and one of the few truly Nice Guys in the cast.
  • Author Filibuster: The strip would sometimes launch into an Author Tract driven set of strips about something that had irked Berke; in one case, it was people turning right at red lights.
    • And of course, his ironically misogynistic views...
      Opus: We don't want anybody to get the idea that lately we've been saying women can't be trusted...
      Milo: Not at all.
      Opus: Not at all! Misses the point!
      Milo: By a mile!
      Opus: The point is that women... Or rather, women... You know... Women...
      Milo: ...will tear your heart out and serve it to the cat.
      Opus: I did not say that!
  • Ax-Crazy: Several examples including Steve's little-old-lady murderess of a client, Bill, and Steve himself when trying to quit smoking.
  • Back-Alley Doctor: After liposuction is made illegal, Opus visits a back-alley liposuctionist. The liposuctionist is a large, terrifying man with tattoos who claims he is putting himself through medical school with his illegal earnings. His operating room is dimly lit, rat infested, and filthy. Predictably, he botches Opus' nose liposuction, and Opus' nose is thin and shriveled afterwards.
  • Became Their Own Antithesis: Steve Dallas went from Amoral Attorney to Nice Guy after getting his brain reversed.
  • Bedtime Brainwashing:
    • In Bloom County, Opus tries to get in to see Steve Dallas after an operation. He is refused because the doctor is "debriefing" the patient.
    Dr. LeGrunt: You will not sue. You will not sue. You will not sue. You...
    Steve: Mmblgh...
    • The Command version was a recurring gag in Outland, with Milquetoast the Cockroach whispering in people's ears as they slept. Opus was usually the recipient, but one strip was all about celebrities' crazy decisions being influenced by behind-the-scenes whispering cockroaches.
  • Black and Nerdy: Oliver Wendell Jones is just that. Quite possibly the trope codifier.
  • A Boy and His X: "A boy and his penguin" (or, in Opus's eyes, "A penguin and his boy"—or, per Binkley's dad's eyes, "Two dips and a dad.") in one early strip - Opus was originally Binkley's "pet," but later retconned to be just a regular penguin who lived on his own.
  • Bowdlerization: Happened occasionally. Fer instance, in the original strips' run, Bobbi Harlow's mother finds some Flintstones vitamins in her daughter's bathroom and freaks out because she thinks they're...pills. In the unaltered version, she freaks out because she thinks they're birth control pills.
  • Breakout Character: Opus didn't appear until the strip was six months old, and when he did it was a one-shot gag about Binkley buying a pet penguin. Opus soon became the central character.
  • Briffits and Squeans: One strip involves coming up with new names for these (e.g. "bulbles" for Idea Bulb).
  • Brown Eyes: Steve has them according to this strip.
  • The Bus Came Back:
    • Opus, Bill, Binkley, Oliver, and Steve all returned as major characters in Outland, and Cutter John and Milo both had one-off cameos.
    • Bill, Steve, Lola Granola, Binkley, and even Senator Bedfellow all returned in Opus.
  • Camp Straight: Binkley.
  • Cardiovascular Love: "U Stink But I (Heart) U" (performed by Mucky Pup) from Billy And The Boingers: Bootleg.
  • Carry the One: In one strip, Oliver completes the Grand Unification Theory and notices that flightless waterfowl are not explained, and Opus gradually fades out of existence... until Oliver corrects an error in the theory, saying, "Didn't carry the two."
  • Casanova Wannabe: Steve Dallas.
  • Cerebus Syndrome: It started out as a rural humor strip, but as time went on they started adding more and more political and pop culture satire, which would dominate the strip for the rest of the run.
  • Chuck Cunningham Syndrome: Many characters, including Major, Cutter John, Lola Granola, Yaz Pistachio, etc. Some were justified in that they were Flat Characters that Berkley didn't know what to do with. He has also said that he got rid of Cutter John because he found it too hard to draw a wheelchair within the confines of a comic strip.
    • For its first year or so, the strip focused on the denizens of the Bloom boarding house, including the Russian character Pops Popolov; a talking dog named Rabies (retired because Berke thought there were too many comic dogs); Widow Tucker and her cat, Spartacus; a Hunter S. Thompson copy named Mr. Limekiller; and so on. By the end of year two, the entire house, with the exception of Milo, Binkley, and their respective father figures, had been axed.
      • Lampshaded in a strip late in the comic's run which reveals what happened to some of the characters who had vanished, giving most of them tragicomic fates.
    • There were several more forest animals who were suddenly written out of the strip, including a bear; most had never even been given names. The only survivors were Hodge Podge and Portnoy.
    • And the first teacher, Ms. Bunzwakker.
    • This happened in Outland as well. An otter character named Tim W. Forty disappeared early in the strip's run, without explanation. Again, this was probably a case of Berke not knowing what to do with the Flat Character he'd created.
      • Justified (as in Judiciously Mandated) in the case of Mortimer Mouse: it was put him on the bus or face the wrath of Disney's lawyers. Of course Berke being Berke he flung the muck to the last strip, even to the point of identifying the bite-mark in Mortimer's ear as "Michael Eisner's teeth-marks".
      • The only people who lasted to the end of Outland were characters from Bloom County, who would just sort of sneak their way back into the series... sort of making the cancellation of Bloom County moot.
  • Color Me Black: Oliver Wendell Jones invented a gadget that temporarily turned white people black, and Cutter John was going to take it to D.C. and use it on the ambassador from South Africa (this was still the time of apartheid, so the ambassador would have been white).
    • He first tests it on a clueless Steve, who doesn't notice until three strips later, and assumes it's part of a Karmic Twist Ending before searching the nearby bushes for Rod Serling.
  • Conjoined Eyes
  • Continuity Cameo: Milo appears as a passenger on a bus in the second-to-last Outland strip.
  • Cool Shades: Steve Dallas.
  • Corrupt Corporate Executive: Donald Trump, in the body of Bill the Cat, is ultimately responsible for the destruction of the strip's setting, even paving over Opus' dandelion patch. Also W. A. Thornhump.
  • Crying Wolf: Opus calls 911 over dry mouth, bad taste, Pat Robertson gaining in the polls, and a leg-waxing accident. Finally, he gets an instant hangup when he calls over an alien abduction.
  • Death Is Cheap: Bill dies on a regular basis.
  • Demoted to Extra: The eponymous Milo Bloom managed to avoid complete Chuck Cunningham Syndrome (see above), but popped up less and less often towards the end of the run as the strip focused on Opus.
  • Disabled Love Interest: He may be in a wheelchair, but Cutter John is a perfect gentleman, plays Star Trek with his animal friends, and won the heart of Bobbi and would regularly passionately make out with her in the meadow... that is until she vanished from the comic.
  • Disabled Means Helpless: Played around with Cutter John. He's just as manly and tough as any other typical 80's guy, but he still has to deal with problems such as the brakes malfunctioning while going downhill, or his chair tipping over and refusing to be helped up.
  • Disguised in Drag: Opus and Bill the Cat do this repeatedly.
    • In Bloom County, when Bill was being tried for treason, Opus tried to save him by dressing in drag, telling the courtroom that he was Bill's mistress, and taking responsibility for Bill's crimes. Opus' performance is so silly that it fails to convince the judge.
    • In Outland, Ronald-Ann plays hookey from school several times. Either Opus or Bill will cover for her by wearing pigtails and wearing her Catholic school uniform. Hilarity ensues.
    • In another Outland strip, Opus and Bill sneak into Seaworld by disguising themselves as an orca and a buxom animal trainer, respectively.
  • Don't Sneak Up On Me Like That: In "The Great Bloom County Snake Massacre", several main characters set out to kill a snake at the local swimming hole. In one strip Binkley is carrying a club when the groundhog Portnoy comes up behind him, touches his shoulder and says "See anything?" Binkley, scared out of his mind, starts wildly swinging the bat around and knocks Portnoy unconscious.
  • Early Installment Weirdness: The early strips were Milo and the quirky humans in the boarding house. Eventually, Opus and the other animal characters were mixed in.
  • End of Series Awareness: The last few weeks are replete with this trope, as the characters are "fired" and try to find jobs in other comic strips (Steve Dallas turns up as one of Cathy's dates, Oliver integrates The Family Circus, Milo appears in The Far Side, etc.). At one point, Opus even laments that "comic strips aren't supposed to end!", and in one of the last strips, summarily boots Ronald Ann through the doorway to Outland, reasoning that "she was dawdling, and Beetle Bailey is taking over this space Monday."
    • Two strips ran earlier in the spring foreshadowing the end. In the first strip:
    Milo: ...I feel a sense of... permanence.
    Binkley: Dabbling in a bit of ironic foreshadowing, are we?
    Milo: No, why?
    • In the second strip, Opus is asked to make a wish on a shooting star. He says, "I wish I knew if I had meaningful employment after August 6."
    • Over in Ziggy, Tom Wilson II gave Opus a cameo, showing up forlornly at Ziggy's door looking for work.
  • Even Bad Men Love Their Mamas: It's a tense, ambivalent relationship, but Steve and his mother do love each other.
    • The October 14, 1985 strip featured this and an Oh, Crap moment for Opus. Opus tells Steve that a crazy woman is ransacking his room and bellowing like a "great, ugly, squat walrus." Steve asks, "Squat walrus?" Opus says, "Yeah." Steve yells upstairs, "MOM?" and Opus says, "Oh, but a very NICE squat walrus!"
  • Everything's Better with Penguins: Opus, of course.
  • Everything Is an Instrument: Bill the Cat played his tongue in Deathtöngue.
  • Everything Sounds Sexier in French: From the March 11, 1981 strip. Limekiller arrives at the Bloom Boarding House, and Milo votes that he should be allowed to stay, though his grandfather says that Limekiller looks like a bum. Limekiller takes Milo's grandmother's hand and tells her, "Ah ... chère madame, vos lobes d'oreilles sont comme des têtes de poisson," and she responds, "Oh my! That's French isn't it?" Limekiller responds, "Oui, Madame," and she responds, "He stays." Milo asks Limekiller, "What'd you say?" and Limekiller says, "Not sure...Something like, Your earlobes resemble fish heads".
  • Evil Lawyer Joke: Used, generally regarding Steve Dallas, and popular amongst actual lawyers (to Breathed's disappointment).
  • Evil Versus Evil: One story had the Animal Liberation Front taking on the Mary Kay Cosmetics Company
  • Expy: By Breathed's own admission, Limekiller (the wacky vagrant from the first couple of years) was heavily inspired by Doonesbury's Uncle Duke.
  • Eye Pop: Lampshaded both in a strip and in A Wish for Wings That Work.
  • Facial Composite Failure: Of Opus in this strip.
  • Fake Interactivity: The Banana Jr. 6000 abused this watching Mister Rogers' Neighborhood.
  • Feelies: Some of the trade paperback collections included them. Billy and the Boingers Bootleg included a flexidisk record with 2 of the band's "songs", for example.
  • Fictional Political Party: The Meadow Party ran Bill and Opus in 1984 and 1988.
  • Flowers for Algernon Syndrome: Sort of the style of the Trump-in-Bill's-body story.
  • Follow the Leader: In the 1980-1982 anthology, Breathed admits that he openly cribbed Doonesbury for much of the strip's first year.
  • Fourth Wall Mail Slot: Doesn't use actual reader mail.
  • Frivolous Lawsuit: Steve Dallas planned one against the Nikotia Camera company because he got beaten up by Sean Penn trying to photograph Sean with a Nikotia (To be fair, he did explain why it would be a bad idea to sue Sean, Sean's wife, or Opus)
  • Funny Animal: Several, not the least of which is Opus.
  • Funny Animal Anatomy: Lampshaded in the "secret female" arc, where Portnoy rushes into the men's room to confirm his own sex, then returns after a Beat Panel, saying "No dice! Comic strip animals aren't anatomically correct!"
  • Furry Confusion: In one strip, the narrator asks Hodge Podge what he plans to do about food now that he's a survivalist. He responds, "Well, as I understand it, we'll be huntin'... maybe a little 'coon, 'possum, some rabbit..." then after a Beat Panel, adds, "...NOW WAIT JUST ONE *@!!?# MINUTE..." (The joke being that Hodge Podge himself is a rabbit.)
    • Opus at one point meets some real penguins - and of course, Opus looks nothing like them, making him confused. (At one point in the strip, Binkley points out Opus looks like a puffin, not a penguin. Opus gets revenge pointing out Binkley looks like a carrot.)
  • Getting Crap Past the Radar: Among numerous examples, a Sunday strip with the expression "bit him on the ass".
  • Gilligan Cut: One set of strips has Opus Hauled Before A Senate Sub Committee, where he finally makes a long speech and ends with something like "That's what I believe in! If that makes me a liberal, then go ahead and label away!" Cut to him out on the sidewalk, literally plastered all over with "LIBERAL" stickers.
  • Good Lawyers, Good Clients: Subverted. Steve Dallas's clients are generally homicidal maniacs on trial for murder. Steve usually ends up getting them let off, with disastrous results. In a memorable instance, a little old lady on trial for killing her husband is put under house arrest—in Steve's house. He tries to sell the film rights to Disney.
    • Only after the other studios pass because the axe murders didn't involve any nubile, scantily clad young women.
  • Gross-Up Close-Up: Of Bill here.
  • Grounded Forever: Oliver's dad grounded him until his 45th birthday for having launched a shuttle chair to Washington D.C. and almost killing Cutter John and a tuba player.
  • Hacked by a Pirate: Oliver Wendell Jones once caused global chaos — cities in flames — by posting on a stock market computer the message "Avast, ye scurvy corporate swabs! Bank of America is about to go belly up!"
  • Heävy Mëtal Ümlaut: Deathtöngue.
  • His Name Is...: One arc is kicked off when Spuds McKenzie says that one of the strip's cast is a "secret female"...and then promptly passes out before she can say who. Opus lampshades this by remarking to the reader "You and I both know she's not going to wake up until that last statement has wreaked total havoc around here."
  • Hockey Mask and Chainsaw: Bill dons a hockey mask and menaces people with a chainsaw in a few strips.
  • Humanlike Foot Anatomy: Opus.
  • Hypno Fool: Oliver would occasionally hack local TV channels to broadcast subliminal messages to his parents, like "put bologna on your head and stick zucchinis up your nose" or "forget to wear clothes to church tomorrow". Subverted in one instance where Mr. Jones blames him for Mrs. Jones liking Dan Quayle as a politician, and Oliver insists that he's innocent on this one; as his father spanks him, Oliver thinks to himself "Gonna be a looong four years..."
  • Hypocritical Humor: One storyline about the excesses of image-driven consumerism ends with Milo, who had been the most outspoken opponent of rampant consumerism, buying a $100+ pair of shoes specifically made for walking in shopping malls.
  • I Am Not Weasel: Hodge Podge kept making snide commentary towards Portnoy the groundhog, by saying that he was a "pig".
  • "I Am" Song: "I'm A Boinger" from Billy And The Boingers: Bootleg.
  • I Can't Believe It's Not Heroin: Bloom County tackled the "War On Drugs" topic with various drug avatars, including "Snorting Dandelions" and "Cat Sweat Hair Growth Tonic."
  • I Have Many Names: The name of the local newspapes where Milo and Opus worked was either named the Bloom County Tribune, the Bloom Beacon, or the Bloom Picayune, depending on the strip; we're not sure if they're all the same paper, or if they're different ones. It also could be an Unintentional Period Piece as during the 1980's, many cities still had different newspapers for morning and evening and weekends, but they were being phased out with television news.
  • Insistent Terminology: When Opus gets a job as a garbageman.
    Milo: You're a trash man?
    Opus: I beg your pardon. I'm a "waste-management artisan."
    Milo: Right. You're a garbage man.
    Opus: I'm a "waste-management artisan."
    Milo: You empty trash!
    Opus: Milo, do you remember what the President called his Iranian ransom shipments of weapons?
    Milo: "Goodwill gifts."
    Opus: I'm a "waste-management artisan."
  • Interspecies Romance:
    • Hodge Podge and Rosebud had jackabassalopes.
    • Opus was engaged to Lola Granola, which was treated rather casually.
      • Heck, Opus almost exclusively pursued human women as girlfriends. The interspecies part pretty much never came up. Instead, women would be put off by Opus's lack of height, large nose, etc. One strip also had a woman putting an ad in the classifieds for a small waterfowl with a large nose which she would like to lavish "kisses and affection" upon. She gives her address to Opus (who was working in the Classified section at the time), leaving him to comment "With God as my witness, I haven't the slightest idea what I should do."
      • The best relationship he had was with a Butch Lesbian Straw Feminist, who commented she felt comfortable around him because Opus didn't have a single gram of masculinity.
  • I Take Offense to That Last One: Before Bobbi will go on a date with Steve, he has to dedicate his life to charity, get a partial lobotomy, and cook her a meal. Steve: "Cook a meal!?!"
  • It Will Never Catch On: ("The first black President will be a conservative").
  • Karmic Twist Ending: Spoofed in the arc where Oliver invents a device that turns people black. He uses it on a clueless Steve who, upon finally noticing, assumes it's punishment for occasional racism, delivering an imagined Rod Serling narration (to which Binkley responds "Ooh, sounds like a good episode!") and finally looking in some bushes for Rod.
  • Last Name Basis: (Michael) Binkley, to everyone else, including his own dad.
  • Less Embarrassing Term: In one arc, Opus becomes a garbageman, but insists that he be called a "waste management artisan."
  • Lions and Tigers and Humans... Oh, My!: A rare comic strip example of having both Talking Animals and humans; this trend stretched throughout all of Bloom County and went on to the sequel strips.
  • Mathematician's Answer: In the first election series, Milo grills Limekiller to see if he's Presidential material by asking "How do you stand on nuclear waste?" Limekiller's response is to balance precariously on one foot, which Milo approves.
  • Meaningful Name: Oliver seems to be a reference to Oliver Wendell Holmes, but what a nerdy black kid has to do with a former Supreme Court Justice....
    • Also, Senator Bedfellow's last name derives from the expression "Politicians and Businessmen make strange bedfellows", which refers to doing secret or dirty business (such as taking bribes, for instance) while in political office.
  • Misplaced Wildlife: The Retcon of Opus living on his own made him a rather egregious example.
  • Mix-and-Match Critters: Rosebud the basselope (basset hound/antelope).
    • Not to mention the kids she had with Hodge Podge (see above).
  • Moral Guardians: Hilariously subverted. In one series of strips, Lola Granola's mother (who has never liked Opus) sics the local priest (who bears a strong resemblance to Donald Wildmon) on him. However, the priest is a very nice guy, and genuinely enjoys the music put out by Opus' death metal bandnote . You better believe Mrs. Granola wasn't happy with him.
  • Mushroom Samba: A story arc had Oliver extracting the hallucinogenic chemical from dandelions for testing, only for his father to drink the entire beaker. He ends up in the tool shed, yelling about Erik Estrada coming out of his belly button.
  • Nailed To The Wagon: Binkley forces his father to quit cigarettes cold turkey by disposing of all of those in their house and hiding his car keys. Opus comes to severely regret agreeing to assist Steve with a similar operation.
  • Never Trust a Hair Tonic: One arc features a compound made from cat sweat, originally intended as an underarm deodorant, which causes massive hair growth wherever it's applied. Its creator immediately turns it into a hair tonic instead. Sales are ridiculously, dangerously good for a while... and then customers' hair started falling out. As in, all at once, poof-gone-you're-a-bowling-ball.
  • No Celebrities Were Harmed: One story arc about a concert has "Tess Turbo", an obvious take on Joan Jett.
  • No Matter How Much I Beg: When Steve Dallas is ordered to quit smoking, he has Opus tie him to a chair and tells him, "Whatever I say, don't release me."
  • Non-Mammal Mammaries: A nuclear warhead has them in a 1983 strip.
  • "Not Making This Up" Disclaimer: One strip had new father Hodgepodge wearing a bib which holds bottles to "allows the modern father to share in the experience of breast-feeding". After a Beat Panel, Hodge turns to the reader and says "That's it. The joke is that we're not kidding."
  • Not This One, That One: Opus was surprised when his blind date was a hot blond chick ("Your photograph doesn't do you justice"), but it turned out it was a double date, and the hot one was Bill the Cat's date.
  • Nuns Are Spooky: In Outland, Ronald-Ann's teacher, Sister Pecadillo, is strict, wrathful, and tightly-wound.
  • One-Hour Work Week: Cutter John is a particularly extreme example; in his first two strips, it's mentioned that he's the new doctor in town. We never actually see him doing anything remotely medical the entire time he's in the strip.
  • Out of Focus: Milo Bloom, originally the central character, became increasingly peripheral over the course of the comic.
  • Parking Payback: Steve Dallas illegally parks his corvette in a handicapped spot. Milo wasn't able to move it, but he tried.
    • And in Opus, Pickles was once interrupted while attempting to trim down a Hummer with a chainsaw to make it fit in the compact space it had been parked in.
  • Perfectly Cromulent Word: Opus occasionally used "renooberate," which Berke said was a Perfectly Cromulent Word his father used.
  • Playful Otter: Tim W. Forty, an early Outland character. He was not well-received by the fanbase and chucked within the first few months.
    • Parodied in a one-shot Sunday strip, where an oil-coated otter cheerfully tells the readers that oil spills aren't nearly as big a deal as people say. Opus bursts in, shames the otter, and quickly discovers that the otter was paid in oysters by Exxon.
  • The Pratfall: Opus would often perform these out of sheer surprise.
  • Reading Ahead in the Script: Opus was once lost without direction in a desert, and finally got a script, and edited it so that the inbred psycho who's picked him up hitchhiking turns into Zsa Zsa Gabor. Then when Zsa Zsa drops him off in Vegas, he leaves the script in the car, and is stuck back in the desert again.
  • Real Life Writes the Plot: At one point Breathed was forced to take time off after an accident left him temporarily in a body cast. When he resumed Bloom County, he had Steve Dallas get in a fight with Sean Penn so Steve too would end up in a body cast for a few months.
  • Retcon: Several times.
    • Oliver's dad has had at least two different names.
    • The Bloom Boarding House was retconned very early on, with Milo and Binkley being placed in their own houses.
    • Opus was originally Binkley's pet.
    • Outland itself was depicted as a kind of alternate dimension at the end of Bloom County and at the beginning of its own eponymous strip, but this concept was eventually phased out. The final Outland comic revealed Bill the Cat's address as "Bloom County, Outland."
    • During the run of Opus, the beginning featured a lot of mystery as to what became of the cast of Bloom County. Despite one comic claiming Binkley grew up and became a hideously mutilated social pariah, in the strips final months he inexplicably started showing up as a child again, despite Steve Dallas being visibly aged 30 years. Opus also retconned the sudden reveal in the end of Outland that Steve was gay by mentioning offhand that Steve was converted back to straight in some kind of therapy.
  • Samus is a Girl: The quest to find the "secret female" on the cast sparked by Spuds MacKenzie hitting on Opus (and conveniently passing out before telling who it was...which was also Lampshaded by Opus at the time) resulted in Rosebud the Basselope being outed as female.
  • Self-Deprecation: Yaz Pistachio asks Opus to suggest one name more embarrassing than her own. His answer? "Berkeley Breathed."
  • Shoot the Television: Mrs. Limekiller loses her mind after watching her 37,492nd violent killing on television. She responds by shooting her TVs.
    Television: Mmmm boy! I do love these dandy Georgia avocados!
    Mrs. Limekiller: EAT THIS, WILLARD!
    • Later, Milo stares at a bullet-ridden television while talking to Mrs. Limekiller.
    Milo: Do we know the victim, or should we check dental records?
    Mrs. Limekiller: Vanna White! Got her in mid-spin!
  • Shouldn't We Be in School Right Now?: Early in Bloom County, Milo and Binkley are shown attending school. Later in the series, the child characters are shown going about their business but never attending school.
    • Averted in Outland, in which Ronald-Ann attends a Catholic school.
  • Shout-Out: The Boondocks has given one to Berke Breathed once in the strip and in the TV series.
    • The first DC Comics run on Star Trek included a Shout-Out in issue 51; at one point, Kirk hallucinates and sees Spock as Opus, along with other Bloom County animals. Opus always played Spock while riding along with Cutter John and pretending his wheelchair was the Enterprise. (The Star Trek issue was written by Peter David, natch.)
    • Several Bloom County strips featured surreal desert background that were likely shout-outs to Krazy Kat.
  • Sliding Scale of Fourth Wall Hardness: Perhaps one of the only comics to slide all the way down the scale (from solid Fourth Wall to No Fourth Wall).
    • It was first broken on August 9, 1981, when Major said, "Stop the cartoon!", his hand resting on the panel border, and announced that he and Milo were going on strike. In the next-to-last panel, a realistically-drawn hand reaches down and redraws them, putting them both in dresses, to which Milo asks, "You had to provoke him, didn't you?"
    • It wasn't broken again until November 12, when Bobbi Harlow told Cutter John that he wouldn't be receiving a kiss because "this is the comics page."
    • For the rest of 1981–1982, the strip usually kept its fourth wall intact, save for the occasional Aside Glance or Medium Awareness. By the end of Bloom County, those tropes were increasing in number, along with instances of Fourth Wall Mail Slot (which didn't use actual reader mail), script-reading, talking to the audience, interaction with the cartoonist and Who Writes This Crap?! comments, etc. By the end in 1989, it was very much at the No Fourth Wall end of the scale. At the end, the characters were even moving on to work at other strips.
  • Snap Back: There was a storyline about runaway consumerism, where Opus buys a pair of sneakers made only for walking around malls, a salad shooter, a salad scooper, and even silicone-injected lips. Throughout, Milo chastises Opus for such impulsive behavior of buying needless things. At the end of the storyline, he discovers that Milo bought the same kind of mall-walker sneakers and shouts "''I'm a-keepin' my new lips!" His old lips are back the next Monday.
    • Subverted in a similar plotline. Opus got plastic surgery for a new nose, and in this case actually kept it for a little while, until the rest of the cast forced him to get the surgery for his old nose back. We even got to see him recover from it.
  • Sphere Eyes: Opus and Bill.
  • Spin-Off: Berkeley wrote several books based on the Bloom County characters, most notably A Wish for Wings That Work.
  • Spin the Bottle: Yaz Pistachio goes to a Spin the Bottle party in her second (and final) arc. It doesn't end well.
  • Spit Take:
    Milo: IS THE GUY WHO OWNS THE RED CORVETTE PARKED OUTSIDE IN THE HANDICAPPED SPACE IN HERE? HELLO? ...Actually, it's remarkably similar to the kind of car you own, Steve. The guy had backed it in and locked the transmission, making it totally impossible to get out...
    Milo: (holds up a mangled transmission) ...not to say we didn't try.
    Steve: Ptewph!
    • Binkley's father does it when his anti-smoking therapy begins with breakfast and an x-ray of a diseased lung.
  • Spoiler: Discussed in the penultimate strip - Otis starts to describe Outland after booting Ronald Ann through the doorway to it, but then stops himself - "I'm giving it away."
  • Stalker Shrine: Milo has one dedicated to Betty Crocker here.
  • Status Quo Is God: Usually subverted, such as in the case of Steve's personality flip-flop and Bill getting his brain replaced with Donald Trump's, but seems to be the motive in annulling Lola Granola and Opus' marriage a few strips after they did the deed, even though Lola was Opus' fiancee for quite some time.
  • Stealth Pun: The famous "Pear Pimples for Hairy Fishnuts" strip, which cemented Opus as the main character due to its popularity, is about an elementary penguin singing Hare Krishna.
  • Strange Minds Think Alike: In the arc where Opus goes to prison, both he and Steve initially assume that his cellmate's statement of "I strangled Oakland" is a "colorful sports metaphor". It's not, he strangled each and every person in Oakland by hand.
  • Straw Feminist: With the exception of Bobbi Harlow, any character who identified as a feminist would be a hairy-legged man-hater.
  • Strawman News Media: The Bloom County Tribune/Bloom Beacon/Bloom Picayune is staffed almost entirely by muckrakers who are perfectly willing to lie and make stuff up in order to sell papers. A Running Gag in the early years involved Milo calling up the local senator in order to get dirt, Twisting the Words to literally turn nothing into something.
    Milo: So where'd you hide Jimmy Hoffa, Senator?
    Senator: I DON'T KNOW WHERE HE IS!
    Milo: (writing) "'We lost the body', Bedfellow admits."
  • Strawman Political: Any opposing force (political, societal, economic, etc.) is generally represented by a harried-looking crazed figure running into the strip and spazzing out. In early years this was best exemplified by the corrupt, alcoholic Senator Bedfellow who perpetually wins re-election because nobody else runs. Milo's grandfather was also used as a strawman conservative in the early years.
    • Hodge-Podge once described himself as the "sole representative" of conservatives in the Meadow Party, but Portnoy often joined him in stereotypically more conservative behaviors.
  • Suspiciously Similar Substitute: Pickles and Auggie in Opus, replacing Binkley (who later returned), Oliver, Milo, and Ronald-Ann.
  • Subliminal Seduction: Played with when a Media Watchdog has Milo find messages in records. "Devil bunnies! I snort the nose, Lucifer! Banana, banana!"
    • Not to mention an arc where Milo discovers that if you play Billy and the Boingers (the cast's heavy metal band) records backwards, you hear "Go to church, say your prayers." Which led to something that readers never thought they would see Milo say: "I don't think I have a story."
      • TITHE!!! TITHE!!!
    • "No matter how thin you slice it, it's still baloney."
  • Symbol Swearing: Used frequently, mostly from Steve Dallas.
    • Parodied in one week of strips where they purport to have a letter substitution code that censors any swear-words in the strip. In reality, they're just gibberish when decoded.
  • Take That: Lots of them:
    • A Sunday strip of Opus "outed" Garfield.
      • Opus also read a parody of the Garfield books called Garfield Gets Old.
      • Not to mention Bill started out as a spoof on Garfield and comic merchandising (see quote under Ensemble Darkhorse entry above)...ironic considering Bill's later blitz merchandising.
    • Spuds McKenzie has a paternity suit filed against him by Benji, is later revealed to be female, and is replaced as Budweiser spokesman by the Care Bears.
      • And Benji was later revealed to be a non-pregnant Hare Krishna. It was a weird arc.
    • A particularly ridiculous storyline was ended with Milo telling Opus that he was acting like a character in a bad comic strip. Opus, brought to his senses but shaken and vulnerable, asks Milo if he thinks Terry and the Pirates was a bad comic strip.
    • An unusually prescient Take That: at the end of a Star Wars parody, Luke Binkley decapitates George Lucas with a lightsaber, saying, "Jedi Knights don't wait 15 years for a sequel." In 1983.
      • Lampshaded in the collected editions, where Breathed's footnote says "I was off by one year. The funny thing is, George did seem to lose his head."
    • Bloom County's final Story Arc is rife with Take Thats, as all the characters try to get jobs at other comic strips. Steve Dallas shows up to take Cathy on a date; Milo Bloom's top half is swallowed by a snake in The Far Side; a busing order sends Oliver Wendell Jones to integrate The Family Circus; Portnoy and Hodge-Podge get jobs cleaning up after Marmaduke with giant pooper scoopers.
      • And as mentioned above, all this was brought on by Donald Trump (in Bill's body) buying Bloom County to turn it into another testament to his massive ego.
    • For strips that parodied cartoon cats that featured characters such as Garfield and Hobbes, Bill Watterson hilariously retaliated with this comic. In response Berke Breathed said this:
      "I have committed other thefts with a clean and unfettered conscience. Garfield was too calculated and too successful not to freely raid for illicit character cameos. Calvin and Hobbes was too good not to. Calvin creator Bill Watterson took these thefts in stride and retaliated in private with devastatingly effective illustrated salvos, hitting me in my most vulnerable places. Bill's sketch is an editorial comment on my addiction to the expensive sport of power boating and the moral compromises needed to fund it. That's me doing the kicking. The chap on the dock represents my cartoon syndicate boss, which says it all, methinks."
      • The "chap on the dock" in question is pointedly drawn to resemble Mr. Thornhump.
    • When political cartoonist Pat Oliphant protested Berke's 1987 Pulitzer win, Berke began using a character named "Ollie Funt" to satirize Oliphant. And Berke's ire for Oliphant had not ended by the time Opus rolled around; one strip depicted the phrase "Oliphant wears a thong" inscribed in a bathroom stall.
    • When it was still thought of as a compound to make underarm deodorant (see Never Trust a Hair Tonic above), Milo manages to get Bill to produce sweat by yelling at him, "PRESIDENT QUAYLE!".
    Milo: He's sweating.
    Oliver: I'm sweating.
    • Perhaps Berke's riskiest Take That came when the Disney corporation threatened to sue him if he didn't get rid of Mortimer Mouse (no, not that Mortimer Mouse), a character who looked like a washed-up, chain-smoking Mickey. Breathed removed Mortimer...but not before doing a three-week storyline in which he is kidnapped by then-Disney CEO Michael Eisner. The gang storms the Magic Kingdom to rescue him, and many trademarked Disney characters make unauthorized cameos. Eisner himself is portrayed as a petty, creatively-bankrupt bully, who in the finale is attacked with a chainsaw by Bill the Cat dressed as Jason Voorhees.
      • Which itself could be a Mythology Gag tracing back to the June 24, 1984 strip. Milo and Binkley are hosting the "Bill the Cat Film Festival," and say that they are going to show a clip from Terms of Bill's Endearment Instead, it's a clip from a Friday the 13th-type horror movie, with a masked killer in a Jason mask chasing Bill around with a chainsaw.
    • When Bill the Cat came back after one of his temporary deaths, his life was recounted in excerpts from a tell-all biography entitled Frazzled: The Ugly, Sordid Life, Death, and Rebirth of Bill The Cat. It was a clear parody of Bob Woodward's 1984 book Wired: The Short Life and Fast Times of John Belushi (which received criticism from many of Belushi's friends, admirers, and relatives as a poorly researched, exploitative hit piece).
  • That Cloud Looks Like
  • Those Two Guys: Portnoy and Hodge Podge.
  • To Be Continued: "Or maybe it won't! Ya never know, do ya?"
  • T-Word Euphemism: In one story arc, the Bloom Picayune decides to do a frank, honest article about AIDS. The first draft, submitted by the obviously nervous editor, is full of T-words.
    Writer: Am I waffling?
    Milo: You're waffling.
  • Unfortunate Item Swap: In a 1984 strip Opus wakes up too early and accidentally brushes his teeth with Preparation H instead of toothpaste while he's still sleepy.
  • The Unintelligible: Bill the Cat usually said nothing but "ACK."
  • Unsound Effect: unprovoked KICK!
  • Vanity License Plate: At least two shown in Opus: a sports car with "NTITLED", and a Hummer with "HUM HER."
    • One was mentioned but not seen in an early Bloom County strip, with Bobbi Harlow commenting on Steve Dallas' car: "Charming. A gold jeep with a license plate that spells out HORNY." In other editions, this was bowdlerized to "HEY BABY."
  • Weird Trade Union: Santa's elves went on a strike, and were fired by Ronald Reagan, in a 1982 series of strips that referenced the air traffic controllers' strike. Later on, the "comic strip characters' union" went out for larger panels.
    • W.A. Thornhump was created precisely as a strikebreaker character, the strip's personification of Executive Meddling.
  • What Do You Mean, It Wasn't Made on Drugs?:invoked Referenced and averted with some of the weirder stuff, according to the Complete Library: "Yes, I suspect I was in an altered state. But then, so were many of you back then. A wash."
  • What Happened to the Mouse?: Averted in a Sunday strip that detailed the fates of Bobbi Harlow, Alf Mushpie, and Lola Granola.
  • What Are Records?: One Sunday strip for the revived Opus franchise actually dealt with this, in regards to newspapers of all things. Opus actually had to explain to the guy at least three times what a newspaper was, with each explanation being different.
    • Done as well in Bloom County, when Binkley asks his dad what the phrase "to wind one's watch" means.
  • The Whitest Black Guy: Oliver Wendell Jones is Black and Nerdy. In one strip his mother tries to get him to act a little more 'black' by wallpapering his room with a huge picture of Michael Jackson's face. Oliver responds by hanging a picture of Albert Einstein over it.
  • Who Would Want To Read Us?: Bloom County characters make many self-deprecating remarks about the quality of the strip they appear in. In one storyline, Opus is an aspiring cartoonist struggling to come up with a comic strip. He pitches an idea for a comic strip exactly like Bloom County, to which Milo replies "Needs work."
  • Why Couldn't You Be Different?: Binkley's dad's attitude toward his son in the early years. When he reappeared after a hiatus of several years, he had basically become a grown-up version of Binkley.
  • Writers Strike: Parodied here, with a reprinted comic with obviously rewritten dialogue.
  • Written Roar: "AIIGH!"
  • Written Sound Effect: "Ptewph!" was common for Spit Takes.
  • Wrong Side of the Tracks: Literally. This is where Ronald-Ann lives, and where the doorway to Outland is located.
  • Zeerust: The 1987 arc dealing with Opus and Lola's wedding had him get knocked out trying to kiss her and dreaming about their life in twenty years. Apparently in 2007, Lee Iacocca will be President, we'll need ozone shields, and test-tube babies will be grown by Oscar Mayer.