Berkeley Breathed says his flightless bird is just dozing, not dead
Berkeley Breathed has a message for those “Opus” fans who were worried that the penguin was deep-sixed Sunday when his five-year-old comic strip shut down. “Jumpin’ Jehosphat,” Breathed told The Times via e-mail, “Tony Soprano sleeps with the fishes, which is to say, dead. Opus sleeps with a bunny in a feather bed, dreaming of a more hopeful tomorrow morning.”
Most fans got that sweet image when they saw the final “Opus” online at the Humane Society. But others were worried when the penultimate strip in print took place in an animal shelter setting and that in the finale Opus was being put to sleep (so to speak) in the pages of “Goodnight Moon,” the gentle nursery classic. Those fans can rest easy now that Breathed has clarified that Opus is, well, resting easy.
The 51-year-old Breathed’s “Opus” ended its run Sunday with one foot in children’s literature and another in the unpredictable world of technology. The final comic showed Breathed’s pudgy penguin peacefully napping, while Breathed’s farewell note to his readers crashed the comic strip artist’s website.
Some who just saw the image fretted about the flightless bird’s final fate, so Breathed wanted to be especially clear in his e-mail to The Times.
“I assure people in my web note that Opus is in the comforting place that would make me smile when I think of him in the years to come. I can only hope that his fans will smile too. If Opus was cuddling with tropical girls wearing coconuts, I suppose I’d smile too, but tinged with regret that those things just never last after that early giddy stage.”
Sunday’s comic ran in newspapers and showed Steve Dallas smiling wistfully as he looked down into the pages of a book that couldn’t be seen by the readers. Online, the last strip revealed it to be “Goodnight Moon,” the beloved bedtime story written by Margaret Wise Brown and illustrated by Clement Hurd; in Breathed’s panel the book’s nurturing rabbit sits in her rocker with Opus curled asleep in the baby bunny’s bed. The final words are “Goodnight Opus / And goodnight air / Goodnight noises everywhere.”
Breathed had pulled the plug on Opus because of his frustration with current events and to write books for children.
A contest for readers to predict the ending gave $10,000 to the Humane Society of Tampa Bay. The winner was Stephen Allen, one of 55 of some 6,000 entries to guess correctly.
“I thought it was a fitting ending for a character that everyone liked,” Allen said.
On Sunday, an estimated 10 to 15 million people tried to access Breathed’s website, which normally gets 1,500 to 3,000 hits a day. In fact, when Allen got his paper he went right to his computer to see if he had won. But the page took hours to load — Allen found out he won, he said, “at midnight or 1 a.m.”
— Sherry Stern
Credits: Cartoon image courtesy of Berkeley Breathed. January 2007 photo by the Associated Press shows Berkeley Breathed and his penguin creation.