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How a Penguin Helped a Longhorn Win the Pulitzer

Celebrate World Penguin Day with Opus, Bloom County and the Cartoonist who Brought it All to Life 

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It’s World Penguin Day, and though you (probably) won’t see any waddling around campus, Longhorns know a thing or two about these beautiful birds.

In 2010, UT researchers unearthed a 36-million-year-old fossil showing a giant, oddly colored penguin once roamed what’s now Peru. Last year, researchers in the Jackson School of Geosciences discovered penguins’ brain shape stayed the same when they traded the sky for the sea, but losing the ability to fly gave ancient penguins their unique locomotion style.

And one world-famous penguin got his start on the Forty Acres.

Created by Pulitzer-Prize winning cartoonist and UT alumnus Berkeley Breathed, Opus the Penguin, a fictional character starring in the hit comic strip Bloom County, has made readers laugh since the 80s.

Breathed, B.J. ’79, debuted some of the strip’s characters — including lawyer and former frat-boy Steve Dallas, who is based on one of Breathed’s classmates while he attended UT — in a series he first published in the university’s student newspaper, The Daily Texan, in 1978.

His drawings and humor caught the eyes of editors at the Washington Post, who recruited Breathed to start a nationally syndicated strip. Bloom County ran in more than 1,200 newspapers from 1980 until 1989, when Breathed launched the spinoff series Outland, which he ultimately retired in 1995.

But in 2015, Opus T. Penguin awoke from a 25-year nap when Breathed revived the comic strip. Excited and unsuspecting readers now find Opus appearing in new scenes on the Bloom County Facebook page.

Bloom County’s humorous takes on socio-political issues through the eyes of highly exaggerated characters like Opus and Bill the Cat helped Breathed win the Pulitzer Prize for editorial cartooning in 1987.

“When Bloom County went idle in 1989, it was one of several clever and inventive comic strips, such as Calvin and Hobbes and The Far Side, that were beloved by fans and yet were also comparatively short-lived,” NPR said of the strip’s revival. “Devoted fans are treating its return as a small miracle.”

All illustrations courtesy of Berkeley Breathed’s Bloom County on Facebook