Continuing the fabled tradition begun all the way back in 2009, Scratchbomb presents Holiday Horrors and Holiday Triumphs: an advent calendar of some of the more hideous aspects of this most stressful time of year–with a few bits of awesomeness sprinkled in.
In retrospect, I wonder how Bloom County happened. It was deeply, genuinely deranged, and yet enormously popular. As a kid, I remember seeing Bloom County collections alongside Garfield ones at the local Waldenbooks (I’m old).
Then again, this was at the same time that both Calvin and Hobbes and The Far Side were nationwide sensations. It was the last gasp of the great newspaper cartoon era. Take a look at that section nowadays–if your local rag even has them–and you’ll see the funny pages have degenerated in every conceivable way since Bloom County’s heyday.
Much like Calvin and Hobbes, Bloom County fell victim when its vision clashed with the increasingly philistine newspaper world. Creator Berkeley Breathed ended the strip in 1989, then pared it down into a Sunday-only feature, Outland, that ran until 1995. Both strips featured the series’ inexplicably most popular characters, a self-loathing penguin named Opus and a non-verbal drug casualty, Bill the Cat.
I say inexplicably because seriously, on what earth should these characters become so beloved? And not among snooty liberal elites and assorted hipsters, but everybody? It’s hard to imagine such a thing happening in modern, ghetto-ized culture, where everyone has their own little niche and stays there.
Both characters also starred in the series’ first and only animated special, a Christmas tale entitled A Wish for Wings that Work. Near as I can tell, it debuted in 1991 (along with a book of the same name), aired once, and then was quickly consigned to the dustbin of holiday history. Which is a shame, because it is amazing.
The special captures much of the weirdness and feel of the strip, and eschews all of the topical humor that has caused some Bloom County material to not age well. (Turns out John Sununu jokes don’t have long shelf lives.) There are tons of little details and Easter eggs to delight the sharp eye, like a pair of pictures on Opus’s wall that yawn in unison with him. It has some vocal heavyweights behind it, including Robin Williams and Dustin Hoffman in uncredited roles. And the plot–Opus begging Santa for wings that will finally allow him to fly–is touching without being sappy.
But the real attraction here is the animation, which is stunning. I’m having a hard time thinking of a Christmas special with superior animation. Even the most beloved holiday specials (Charlie Brown Christmas, Rudolph) have remained so more for their stories and/or songs than their production.
It’s telling that even though Bloom County was more a verbal comic strip than a visual one, long stretches of A Wish for Wings are brave enough to be quiet and let the art speak for itself. It evokes the grayness and whiteness of winter, landscapes with long monotonous stretches. In a strange way, it reminds me of the simple, endless desert expanses of Krazy Kat.
Thankfully, this was released on DVD a few years ago. So return whatever Netflix disc you have that’s collecting dust on your shelf and put this at number one in your queue. You will not be sorry.