Banned Opus Strip

Berkeley Breathed has up this Note to Opus readers:

The Opus strips for August 26 and September 2 have been withheld from publication by a large number of client newspapers across the country, including Opus’ host paper The Washington Post. The strips may be viewed in a large format on their respective dates at

That’s the end of his commentary, although he illustrates the page with this large single panel:

Pogo Banned Muslim Strip 26 AUG 07 Single Panel

Q&O‘s Billy Hollis excoriates these papers as “complete and utter cowards” who “have voluntarily handed over their own freedom to publish to the over-reactive sensitivities of medieval fanatics.” Ed Morrissey dubs it “Dhimmitude” and notes that, in running Breathed’s previous installment, they had “no problem satirizing Jerry Falwell and Christian beliefs of the afterlife.”

Editor and Publisher‘s Dave Astor reported Thursday that,

At least 25 of the 200 or so “Opus” client newspapers might not run the Sunday-only comic’s next two episodes, which feature Islamic references and a sex joke. That’s according to Washington Post Writers Group Executive Sales Manager Karisue Wyson, when contacted today by E&P. WPWG Editorial Director/General Manager Alan Shearer added that more than 25 clients might not use the strips because the syndicate hasn’t heard from about 150 of the 200 papers it alerted. “Whenever something lands close to the edge, we give editors enough notice” in case they want to run substitute comics, said Shearer.

Berkeley Breathed’s Aug. 26 and Sept. 2 strips — which comprise sort of a two-part series — show the Lola Granola character wanting to become an Islamic radicalist (and wear traditional Muslim clothing) because it’s a “hot new fad on the planet.” Content also includes what Shearer described as “a sex joke a little stronger than we normally see.”

Wyson said some client papers hesitated to run a sex joke and others won’t publish any Muslim-related humor, whether pro or con. “They just don’t want to touch that,” she said. Violent protests took place after a Danish paper in 2005 published cartoons picturing Muhammad. Shearer told E&P that WPWG checked with a couple of Islamic experts to see if the “Opus” strips might be offensive, and they said the comics were OK. But he understands why some papers might still be wary.

Like Morrissey, I was a big fan of “Bloom County” during its run but I never cared for the “Outland” sequel or this one. And this particular installment doesn’t strike me as funny, not because it’s insulting to Muslims, but because most of the panels amount to wasted space. Still, it’s ridiculous not to run the strip.

What’s especially ironic is that Breathed manages to insult two religions in a single panel:

Banned Opus Strip Amish Nudist

Somehow, I don’t think these papers were objecting to making fun of the Amish.

Pogo Banned Muslim Strip 26 AUG 07 The full strip is thumbnailed at right. See my Danish Muslim Cartoons page for the collection of strips that sparked mass mayhem and instilled fear in the Western media establishment. See my Danish Muslim Cartoons category archives for previous posts on that subject.

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James Joyner
About James Joyner
James Joyner is Professor and Department Head of Security Studies at Marine Corps University's Command and Staff College. He's a former Army officer and Desert Storm veteran. Views expressed here are his own. Follow James on Twitter @DrJJoyner.


  1. Dave Schuler says:

    I think this is largely a tempest in a teapot but I’ve got to wonder about the system of incentives the papers are setting up. Had they quietly run the strip it might have caused a small flurry. Now it’ll make a much larger flurry.

    “Evangelical Christians” (I use quotes because there are members of denominations, like Lutherans, who characterize their denominations as evangelical but we usually don’t mean Lutherans when we write this) are quite capable of organizing advertiser boycotts which are probably more of a real threat to the papers than giving offense to Muslims would be. The papers are simultaneously making themselves look weak, fear-mongering, promoting the strip, and working against their own best interests. Doesn’t seem like a good choice to me.

  2. John Burgess says:

    I think part of the problem is that Breathed pushes the dividing line between editorial cartoons and entertainment cartoons. Sort of like why Doonesbury isn’t run on the WaPo comics pages, but on another page.

    Since Outland appears only on Sundays, in the full-color comics section, the chance of confusing readers about what the paper is saying becomes broader.

    I thought the cartoon sorta stupid, though that’s probably because I think Outland is sorta stupid. I love the artwork….

  3. Kent says:

    The original Bloom County, in its early years, was a very good strip.

    The increased emphasis on Opus paralleled the increased emphasis in Peanuts on Snoopy — which, in both cases, signalled an overall decrease in quality.

    Outland was, and Opus is, a waste of ink. I wouldn’t mind seeing my paper drop Opus entirely. Finding creative ways to slam two religions at once (not a record, by the way; a Non Sequitur strip once managed to slam three at once) is just another reason to do so.