Opus the Penguin
Opus the Penguin (Opus T. Penguin) is a character in the comic strips and children’s books of Berkeley Breathed, most notably the popular 1980s strip Bloom County. Breathed has described him as an “existentialistOpus.
Introduction and Appearance
Opus was originally introduced as a one-time gag about hapless Mike Binkley bringing home what he thought was a German Shepherd, which turned out to be a penguin, much to the disappointment of his father. However, Opus’ popularity quickly grew until he became the signature character of Breathed’s comic strips.
Opus’ appearance has changed dramatically since his inception – he originally looked like a common penguin, but between 1982 and 1986 his nose grew dramatically (developing its signature bump in the middle, of which Opus is very self-conscious). Mike Binkley, during one Sunday strip, points out the fact that Opus more closely resembles a puffin, a revelation which shocks Opus. (In the final panel of the same strip, Opus responds by telling Binkley that he looks like a carrot.) Opus says he is attracted to “svelte buoyant waterfowl”.
Over the years Opus has served as Steve Dallas‘ legal secretary, journeyed to Antarctica in search of his mother, played the tuba in heavy metal group Deathtöngue (later renamed Billy and the Boingers), wooed an abstract sculptor named Lola Granola, worked as a newspaper personals editor, lifestyle columnist and comic strip writer, had brief, experimental stints employed as a farmer, garbageman and even a cartoonist (or, as he called it, a stripper, which he would also be at one point), and run for vice president on the National Radical Meadow Party ticket, along with his running mate Bill the Cat.
In the tradition of many other popular characters, Opus apparently died (while unwillingly brought along on a balloon expedition to Washington, DC, to zap the ambassador from apartheid-era South Africa with a ray that would temporarily turn him black) only to return with amnesia. He later regained his memory after being in a state of intense and total shock; he heard an erroneous report that Diane Sawyer (on whom he had an enormous crush) had married Eddie Murphy. Another story line led Opus, in search of his mother, to a Mary Kay Cosmetics testing building, which he was shocked to find out was cruelly using animals as test subjects for various cosmetics. Another memorable story line featured Opus being the subject of moral scorn as a perpetrator of “penguin lust”. He fled Bloom County, and was absent for a long time, eventually reappearing lost in the desert, before his mother came to him in a hallucination and told him to return to his home. In another story, Opus wrote an autobiography, A Penguin’s Story, which nobody bought. Milo Bloom later rewrote the memoir, exaggerating and fabricating most of it, in his typical fashion. The new, scandalous memoir, entitled Naked Came I, became a bestseller in the Bloom County universe, leading Opus to even more notoriety than he had as Bill the Cat’s running mate.
Opus also has a very amusing (but somewhat unfortunate) history of “losing parts”; on several occasions, his “fanny” has fallen off (often with a clanking sound on the floor), and he has also had instances where his nose droops or is taken completely off as a result of sneezing while using dental floss and so on. Sometimes these are combined; he has had either his nose and rear end fall off, or his nose droop while his rear end has fallen off, and so on. He eventually learned that his navel was in fact the screw that attached his rear end to his body.
Post Bloom County
Opus was the second Bloom County regular to appear in the Sunday-only Outland strip, after Outland’s original protagonist, Ronald-Ann Smith. He also appeared in some of Breathed’s children’s books, including A Wish for Wings That Work and Goodnight Opus.
Eight years after Outland ended, Opus returned in a second Sunday-only strip simply titled Opus, in 2003. The first few strips showed Opus’s discontent living in Antarctica with his overbearing mother. A misdirected MarsBill the Cat, Steve Dallas, and (on June 3, 2007), Michael Binkley and Oliver Wendell Jones.
Opus appears on the label of Honest Tea‘s Peach Oo-la-long tea.
On October 6th 2008, Berkeley Breathed announced that he will end Opus on November 2.  He added that “I’ll be leaving Opus in a way that it should be very clear that this time there’s no going back home” and that he felt “unrealistically emotional” about drawing the final Opus strip and writing a final ending.
- According to Breathed, Opus was named after a song by the rock group Kansas. The band’s 1976 album Leftoverture includes the song “Opus Insert” and a suite called “Magnum Opus”.
- His signature is “P. Opus”, hinting that “Opus” may be his surname.
- In the April 2007 issue of Texas Monthly, Breathed announced his plan to kill off Opus, thus ending the character’s eponymous comic strip. Breathed’s editor later explained that it was a publicity stunt on Breathed’s part. Berkeley said that the statement about killing Opus was a joke. A late August, 2008, strip portrayed Opus being contacted by Breathed to say his “circle of life” would soon be closing. The following week, Elvis Presley appeared to dispense Opus advice on dying.
- ^ Washington PostOctober 6th, 2008, http://voices.washingtonpost.com/comic-riffs/2008/10/this_just_in_opus_and_breathed.html
- ^ Block, Melissa. “Farewell Opus; Hello Pete, The Perfectly Practical Pig.” National Public Radio. October 6, 2008.
- ^ The OnionA.V. Club, June 25 2003, http://www.avclub.com/content/node/22539
- ^ Texas Monthly, April 2007, http://www.texasmonthly.com/2007-04-01/bookreviews.php
- ^ Berkeley Breathed planning to end Opus? (UPDATED) » The Daily Cartoonist
- ^ “Opus day!.” Salon.com.