“Read a Damn Book – 150: Billy and the Boingers Bootleg”
For my 150th review, I thought I’d reach back to my high school days, when the newspapers used to have some great daily comic strips in them! The Far Side, Calvin & Hobbes, and The Peanuts (which I enjoyed, even though the jokes were corny and old and mean) all made me laugh on a daily basis, but my favorite comic back then was called Bloom County… And THIS was (and arguably still is) my favorite Bloom County collection!
[This is a photograph that I took of the actual book that I read. The image is included for review purposes only!]
Berke Breathed – Billy and the Boingers Bootleg (1987)
For those folks out there who have never heard of Berke Breathed (who is STILL active, after an extended hiatus, and frequently posts new comics on Instaglam and Faceboot) or Bloom County, here’s a very quick attempt at explaining the premise---leaving out a huge chunk of the detail, because the strip was actually quite complex… Bloom County, the PLACE, is a small-town where people and animals live together. Where a penguin can become a newspaper comic artist, a cat can be arrested for being a communist agitator, and a lawyer can have friends… In a weird “fourth-wall” break, the comic is ALSO referred to fairly frequently as if it were an entertainment program being produced by “Bloom County Features, Inc.,” as if all of the characters in the comic were really just ACTORS playing various parts and putting on a t.v. show, or something. Every once in a while, an over-weight, pipe smoking “Chairman of the Board” appears and apologizes for some offensive comment or libelous statement made by one of the characters in the strip. These are great meta-textual moments when the characters face the reader directly and talk to US, before sort of nodding and winking and going back to the “action” taking place in the “story.”
Another important element of this comic is the TIME in which it is set, which was “Present Day” when it ran in the papers---but is NOW the nostalgic 1980s! The characters are constantly making references to current affairs and the celebrities of the day: Sean Penn, Madonna, Marie Osmond, Imelda Marcos, Oliver North, Arnold Schwarzenegger, Ronald Reagan, Tipper Gore, George Bush, Wayne Newton, Ozzie Osbourne, Michael Jackson, David Letterman, and a dozen other celebrities and political figures are either name-dropped or drawn into these comics. In one early sequence in this collection, the preppy, misogynistic, womanizing lawyer, Steve Dallas, is attacked by Sean Penn, while trying to take Penn’s photograph, and ends up in the hospital with a broken neck. (This is, of course, a play on the real life occurrence where a photographer was punched by Penn. It was a big deal back then…) Because Dallas is a lawyer, he HAS to sue somebody over the incident, but because he is a coward, he is afraid to sue Penn, instead deciding that he’s going to sue the camera manufacturer, Nikolta, “a major corporation with gobs of liquid cash” who Dallas thinks is “criminally negligent in not putting stickers on their cameras which read, ‘Warning: Physical injury may result from photographing psychopathic Hollywood hotheads’” (p. 13.) THIS, ladies and gentlemen, is the level of snark and cultural commentary we are dealing with in a Bloom County comic---and to me, it’s brilliantly entertaining stuff.
There are a number of different storylines that are explored in this book, too many to go into in a short review like this, but the MAJOR story, for which this collection is named, is the saga of the ill-fated band, Billy and the Boingers. Originally, the band was put together by Steve Dallas in yet another get rich quick scheme, attempting to exploit the new “Heavy Metal” trend making waves on MTV. Dallas hires the bunny, Hodge Podge, to be the drummer; the penguin, Opus, as tuba player (yes, TUBA, in a heavy metal band---although Opus does get to dress up like Gene Simmons when he performs); and the anarchic, drunken, sociopathic cat, Bill, on “electric tongue;” with Dallas himself as singer and primary songwriter. They decide to call the band Deathtongue, and affect a Satanic, death-metal persona, writing songs like, “Demon Drooler of the Sewer,” “Skateboarding to Satan,” and “Clearasil Messiah.” Bill the Cat is, of course, the wildest member of the band:
The group seems to be doing well---in a not-doing-so-great sense---until they end up in front of a Congressional hearing, with Tipper Gorp (an obvious stand-in for Tipper Gore, who famously caused such a stink that “Parental Advisory” labels were invented to calm her the hell down) claiming that Deathtongues’ music was destroying the youth of American. (Her characters is constantly shouting, “Off with their heads!” during the hearings.) Eventually, folding under the pressure, Dallas says that the band has officially changed their name to Billy and the Boingers---destroying all of their credibility and alienating their fans (and most of the bandmembers.) It’s a great sequence---utter nonsense---and a perfect reflection of the complete garbage that was happening in REAL LIFE in Congress at the time.
Interestingly, this copy of the collection still has the flexi-disc in it!
For those who don’t remember old stuff like flexis, they were very thin, floppy records that ACTUALLY played. I remember, as a really little kid (back in the 1970s) cutting flexi records off the back of cereal boxes and playing them. There was a Honeycomb box that had a ghost story record on the back of it, which I remember cutting out and thinking was just about the coolest thing ever… But here, in a 1987 Bloom County collection, we have a flexi for the fictional band, Billy and the Boingers! There are two songs on the record, one on each side: “I’m a Boinger” on Side 1, and “U Stink But I (Heart) U” on the flip, and I remember loving both songs. (If I ever find another copy of this collection [for super-cheap] that has the flexi in it still, I’ll buy it and cut the record out so I can hear, “I’m a Boinger” again. If I remember correctly, the song wasn’t very heavy metal, more punk / power-pop---maybe somewhere in the Dead Milkmen or Spizzenergi or Rezillos range…although it’s been about 20+ years since I actually heard the tunes.
Overall, I still love this book. I’m amused by the novelty of the flexi-disc, I think it has just the right ratio of absurdism-to-satire, and I love Breathed’s style. His dialog, in particular, is pitch perfect nonsense, and I also love the facial expressions he draws. These comics are newspaper friendly, so there really isn’t any explicit violence, gore, sexual content, or profanity to be found, but the tone is wonderfully SUBVERSIVE throughout. Most of the “topical” references date the book pretty badly, so I’m not certain that a youngster, who didn’t LIVE through the tumultuous “ME”-era, is going to get that many of the more "timely" jokes---but a surprising number of the celebrities are still popular today. In my view, it’s a great book, which reminds me of a time when newspaper comics were still GOOD---something I looked forward to reading---and when nonsense could be MEANINGFUL. And, really, the book is still damn funny. (I TRIED rereading one of my old Garfield collections a few months ago and I just couldn’t finish it---so I’m glad that Bloom County still has the charm to convince me to keep turning pages!)
That’s it for this review! If you think you might find this style of humor entertaining, look Mr. Breathed up on Faceboot or Instaglam and give him a follow. (Maybe we can convince him to join Steem one of these days!) He’s still doing his thing, and it’s still great!
---Richard F. Yates
(Primitive Thoughtician and Holy Fool)
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