Steve demonstrates the title dance.


Original medium: Newspaper comics
Published by: The Daily Texan
First Appeared: 1978
Creator: Berke Breathed
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University of Texas student Berke Breathed (rhymes with "method") wasn't looking for a career in cartooning when he contributed The Academia Waltz to his school's newspaper, The Daily Texan. But it led to one anyway, as The Washington Post Writers' Group signed him to do the nationally-syndicated Bloom County just as soon as his education was …

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… complete. It was the first time he was noted to have acted in parallel with Garry Trudeau, who did Bull Tales at Yale, followed by the syndicated Doonesbury after he graduated, but not the last. Academia Waltz began in The Daily Texan with the 1978 fall semester.

Another thing Breathed was criticized for was as an outright imitator of Trudeau. This was based mostly on the fact that they took similar political points of view in Bloom County and Doonesbury, respectively (tho Breathed was always less overt about it than Trudeau), but as early as the Academia Waltz days, there was relatively little political orientation.

The main character was Steve Dallas, who was characterized as a typical hard-drinking, sex-obsessed college fraternity boy. To students who rejected that lifestyle, he appeared to be a particularly bad example of the type, but some fraternities on campus adopted him as a role model — which wasn't Breathed's intention. Steve had a girlfriend, Kitzi, and a dog (or at least, a canine associate), Rabies. He and Kitzi were married by the time the comic ended, but that didn't affect him much.

Even at first, politics became a minor part of the storyline, at least in the conflict between Steve and another major character, Saigon John, a wheelchair-bound Vietnam vet, who filled the role of campus radical. John wasn't given to the most extreme radical actions of the time, but he did attend protest marches and he did clash with Steve.

Even without that, politics wasn't completely absent, especially later on. The strip's response to the 1979 incident at the Three Mile Island Nuclear Generating Station is particularly well remembered by fans.

The Academia Waltz eventually suffered the fate of most comics that are made by students for college newspapers. When the cartoonist moves on to a new phase of his life, they tend to get left behind. This one ran only during 1978 and '79. In 1980, Breathed launched Bloom County.

In many ways. Breathed's first professional cartooning job owed a great deal to his earlier work at The University of Texas. Steve Dallas and Saigon John (renamed "Cutter John") were present at appropriately later stages in their lives. Steve, in particular, had graduated, and by that time had become the only lawyer in the county.

But in other ways, it took off on its own. Rabies was there at first, but was phased out early on. And in 1985, when Kitzi finally made her only post-Academia Waltz appearance, she and Steve had not only been de-married. She'd been retconned into Steve's younger sister.


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Text ©2009 Donald D. Markstein. Art © Berke Breathed.