Pulitzer Prize-winning cartoonist Berkeley Breathed told fans Saturday that his irreverent penguin star Opus won?t be exiting the funny pages in the arms of one of the dark-haired, bare-bellied beauties who often grace the strip.

?Awwww,? sighed the crowd of more than 100 at the Charles M. Schulz Museum in Santa Rosa. They then broke into chuckles and applause to show their affection for a tubby, tuxedoed character who has entertained readers off and on for nearly three decades.

Breathed, the creator of previous comic strips ?Bloom County? and ?Outland,? earlier this month announced the end of his ?Opus? strip on Nov. 2. The artist came to the museum to sign copies of his eighth and latest children?s book, ?Pete & Pickles.?

While fans won?t know the penguin?s fate for two weeks, Breathed did say the character won?t be killed off, but is ?becoming part of the ages.? He also told fans that next week?s strip, which appears in The Press Democrat?s Sunday comics section, will feature virtually all the old ?Bloom County? characters for one last brief comeback.

Breathed, who won the Pulitzer Prize in 1987, has said he is ending the strip and instead concentrating on children?s books and related animated films ?as a refuge from the nastiness? of the current political and social climate. In a brief interview before his talk, he suggested that it was proving too difficult to keep the strip and its main character from sounding bitter.

By continuing, ?whatever sweetness he had would have been lost,? he said.

He added that he wanted to be a cartoonist in the mold of Charles Schulz, ?but I had too much Michael Moore in me,? referring to the politically charged documentary filmmaker of ?Bowling for Columbine? and ?Fahrenheit 9/11.?

Not surprisingly, his fans heartily applauded a screened presentation of numerous cartoons, including several that he said had caused newspaper editors or syndicate lawyers to be sent ?right into the ceiling.?

Fans who lined up afterward for the book signing said they will miss Opus.

?He?s an old friend,? said Mary Ann Allen of Sebastopol, who?s husband Bill stood by her with a new children?s book and a ?Bill the Cat? plush toy.