"Opus," the cartoon penguin liberals love and conservatives love to hate, is about to sail into the Antarctic sunset.
Berkeley Breathed, Opus' creator, is ending his comic strip career to concentrate on children's books. The last "Opus" strip will appear Nov. 2. Readers will be invited this Sunday to go to berkeleybreathed.com to guess the location of the penguin's "final paradise." A cash prize is implied but not specified.
"I'm destroying the village to save it," Breathed wrote in an e-mail sent late Monday to the Los Angeles Times. "Opus would inevitably become a ranting mouthpiece in the coming wicked days. ... The Michael Moore part of me would kill the part of him that was important to his fans."
In a statement from his syndicate, the Washington Post Writers Group, Breathed put it another way: "With the crisis in Wall Street and Washington, I'm suspending my comic strip to assist the nation. The best way I can help is to leave politics permanently and write funny stories for America's kids. I call on John McCain to join me."
"Opus" drew more complaints from Post-Gazette readers than "Doonesbury" and was most popular among readers ages 31 to 54, according to the paper's most recent survey in 2006. Of the 43 comics that appeared in the paper at the time, "Opus" ranked 16th in popularity among male readers and 26th among females.
The Sunday-only strip is the latest incarnation of the character that Breathed introduced to a wide audience in "Bloom County." That cartoon ran daily from 1980 to 1989 and served up socio-political commentary through the likes of stoned-out Bill the Cat, perpetual frat boy Steve Dallas and the lovable Opus. The strip won a Pulitzer Prize for editorial cartooning in 1987 and appeared in 1,200 papers at its peak.
Breathed retired the daily strip in 1989, stating, "A good comic strip is no more eternal than a ripe melon. The ugly truth is that in most cases, comics age less gracefully than their creators."
He returned Opus to the Sunday comics in the surreal "Outland," which ran from 1989 to 1995. In 2003, Opus was back on Sundays in the strip that bears his name.
Breathed has produced eight children's books, the newest being "Pete & Pickles," a love story about a pig and an elephant.
"Opus" will be the second venerable strip in recent weeks to end its story line. Lynn Johnston, creator of "For Better or For Worse," brought the 29-year saga of the Patterson family to close on Sept. 1 -- only to go back in time and draw the strip all over again from the beginning with some new material inserted.
Sally Kalson can be reached at email@example.com or 412-263-1610. First Published October 8, 2008 4:00 AM