Thursday, April 5, 2012

Book Review: Billy and the Boingers Bootleg

A Book You Can Buy From Me

Book Title: Billy and the Boingers Bootleg

Author: Berke Breathed

Author's web site: http://www.berkeleybreathed.com/

Publisher: Little Brown & Company

Date: 1987

Length: 121 pages

ISBN: 0316107298

Illustrations: cartoons by the author

Quote: "The Boingers are Steve Dallas--Guitars, Lead Vocalizin' & Socializin'; Wild Bill Cat--Tongue Twangin' and Head Bangin'; Opus Croakus--'Lectric Tuba, Mouth Harps & Sweethearts; Hodge-Podge--Skins, Squints & Creme Rinse."

In other words, this is the collection of Bloom County cartoons that contains the full sequence in which the characters form a punk-rock band, originally called "Deathtongue" but forced by a character called "Tippy Gorp" to change their name to "Billy and the Boingers." (You can tell that Tippy Gorp is not a caricature of Tipper Gore because, just for one thing, she looks much older than Mrs. Gore was--or is now. Ha. Ha.)

Although nothing said about the band in this book seems likely to encourage many music fans to buy their records, an actual 45rpm record was released with this book. My copy includes the record. It's on real vinyl, though thin, and could in theory be torn out of the binding and played on a stereo. This naturally increases the price.

What exactly is a "boinger"? The closest approximation to "tongue twangin'" that seems possible in real life would be twanging a jaw harp, which produces "boing, boing" notes. "Sounds vaguely...wholesome," a character says disapprovingly. "Might it be a vague sexual euphemism?" The back jacket quotes Tammy Faye Bakker as commenting, "I don't know what 'boinging' is, but I'll bet Jim does." Needless to say, the "boinging" that goes on in this book is Bill the Cat's tongue twangin'.

Nevertheless, these cartoons were fairly edgy in their day, gaining sympathy by occasionally irking a sponsor. Several product trademarks are placed in cartoons, not necessarily in the most product-supportive way. There's a diagram of how to build a device allowing free access to paid cable TV channels, and a sequence of cartoons that ridicule Prince Charles and then-infant Prince William, as well as the congressional hearing featuring Tippy Gorp. Readers can understand why some newspapers refused to print a few of these strips...and why this censorship, predictably, won a huge following for the whole Bloom County series.

Well, it didn't hurt anything that the cartoons were funny, and still are. But some of us discovered their funniness because they'd been censored.

Billy and the Boingers Bootleg also contains the cartoons in which Opus acts out the hazards of 1980s-stereotype "romantic relationships" with Lola Granola. Early in their relationship Opus hollers, "Just this once I'd like to be able to go out with a woman and possible future wife without all of you tagging along thank you very much," and closes the door behind him. Over time, he becomes comfortable enough to tell the readers when a typical relationship hazard is about to occur: "The Big Casualness...fear it!" and, next strip, "And now: the Big Spat." The older Granolas have some concerns about their daughter marrying a character who was originally identified as a penguin, but later informed that he looks more like a (very large) puffin, so that in this book he identifies himself only as a "waterfowl." The minister likes Opus and reassures the parents. Opus and Lola are still engaged at the end of this book.

Other plot developments? Opus's "Star Trek Strategic Defense Project" gets mixed up with the real "Star Wars" Strategic Defense Initiative, and Opus and Oliver get rich--temporarily. Oliver builds a teleportation device, but stops using it after inadvertently mixing his molecules with Bill's--in a dream. General Dink discovers, and thus introduces, Rosebud the Basselope, a sort of preview of the characters in Flawed Dogs. Steve quits smoking. And everybody goes vegetarian--briefly.

It's now possible to order complete, not merely selected, sets of Bloom County cartoons directly from berkebreathed.com, but if you want to own the first edition of Billy and the Boingers Bootleg, with the record, send $10 + $5 shipping to salolianigodagewi@yahoo.com (and Breathed, or his favorite charity, will be sent $1.50). Local readers may buy my copy from the Mountain Treasures store for a lower price.

I'm tempted to add lots of labels to this post, because the book touches on several themes that are often discussed at this blog: animals, computers, relationships, wheelchair access (lots of views of the Starchair Enterpoop). Wheelchair access was an issue, rather than a feature we like to mention when discussing local businesses, back in the 1980s, and the case could be made that the whole Enterpoop motif was a statement of support...but why blather on? If you remember the cartoons you probably want the book. If you're too young to remember the cartoons, an older person will probably be delighted to read it with you.