Gut Check Mates

Link to the first almost passable strip of the week.

If Livinia lost her main character status due to being too bland, Roland had the opposite problem. In the very first year of Funky Winkerbean, Roland Mathews had the strongest characterization of anyone. It’s apparent from the second strip he appears in.

He’s an ‘activist’. But unlike Livinia, his activism is vague and almost always played for laughs. The joke is usually Roland’s underlying hypocrisy, or the way he uses his ostensive political stances to ego trip and divert responsibility.

In the first couple years of FW, when he isn’t just rounding out the trio of guys, he has three recurring gags/storylines:

First is his rivalry with ‘Wicked’ Wanda, a student who is a women’s lib activist. These strips invariably lead to a sign smashing gag.

Second is his underground newspaper that Funky often helps with.

And third is his antagonistic relationship with his unnamed father, who is always shown sitting in front of the TV like he is some kind of bald chair-human hybrid.

As was shown in my spreadsheet yesterday, Roland shows up quite a bit in that first year, with 57 appearances. A distant third behind Les and Funky, but handily beating Livinia. He continues to show up regularly in 1973, though it’s clear that Crazy Harry has supplanted him. By 1974, Roland is on his way out. He shows up 10 times that year, 5 times in relation to his dad.

There’s the last mentions of his underground paper.

And, on September 3, 1974, his last appearance at school.

When I first saw this, I thought it was just a joke. Ha Ha! Roland wants to quit school. But I guess he dropped out for real. He shows up three more times after this, but every time it’s in relation to his dad.
Roland’s last (?) appearance (so far) in Vintage FW. 3/8/75.

What is really really weird is that his chair!dad has continued to show up a few times since then, most ‘recently’ on 1/10/76. He seems to be taking a protoCrankshaft role.

Did Batiuk intend to write the topical and tragic story of a passionate teen with an uncaring and emotionally abusive parent lashing out against society, acting out at school, and eventually dropping out? Presumably leaving home with an incomplete education and no support structure, and disappearing into the world like so many hurting and alienated young people of his generation?

I’d put a sizable chunk of change on NO. Batiuk stopped using Roland because he’d decided to stop pulling from the counter-culture so much. On my first read through of 1972, I was shocked at how political it was. Batiuk doesn’t have his characters preaching THE TRUTH from a soapbox, like he does now, but he was constantly referencing politics, social issues, and the environment, usually with a kind of helpless sardonicism. It’s so weird that FW of 2022 feels more ‘hopeful.’ The preachy characters of today are a call to action to fix Batiuk’s pet problem of the week. The 1972 FW characters can’t change anything, and the joke is they try.

FW starts off with this chip on its shoulder, personified in Roland. It references the hippie values and politics because it’s trying to prove that, “It’s not like most strips.”

From the very beginning, I had some definite ideas about how I wanted to approach a teen strip. The crop of teen strips in the early seventies seemed oblivious to the time in which they existed. The enormous changes taking place in the youth culture were quickly making the strips with the jalopies and letter sweaters irrelevant… I decided to avoid the standard teen strip clichés. There would be no teenagers hanging on the phone or parents yelling at them to clean up their rooms; there would be no letter-sweatered football hero trying to decide which cheerleader he wanted to date. Instead, I was going to write about the realities of the school that I knew, from the tedium of being an unheralded and unrecognizable member of the band to the horrors of having to climb the dreaded rope in gym class. Rather than focus on jocks and cheerleaders, I was going to write about everyone else.

From the introduction to The Complete Funky Winkerbean Vol. One

Of course, that quote just shows how willfully myopic Batiuk has always been. He wants so badly to be unique, that he builds up a fake version of something to put himself next to. I’ve never read much Archie comics, but I am sure that it’s not a shallow as he wants it to be. And the irony is his strip relatively quickly morphed into something rife with teen cliches. Crazy Harry steps in with his wacky personality, and omnipresent hat, and apolitical non-confrontational weirdness, and Roland disappears. Roland was angry. Crazy is effervescent, his antics just confuse and amuse those around him.

Wait, how did this picture get here?

As BillyTheSkink pointed out a few days ago, Roland did show up at the 2008 Reunion. He looks like he’d just gotten off work at the hardware store, and has what BTS calls “the haircut my grandfather was given when he joined the Air Force (and kept for the rest of his life).”

So that’s my headcanon now. After dropping out of school, Roland joined the Air Force, where he worked in logistics and communications. Finally getting the structure and support he needed and working in an organization that he felt got things done, he mellowed out. He became a successful small business owner and votes straight ticket GOP every election.



Filed under Son of Stuck Funky

36 responses to “Gut Check Mates

  1. billytheskink

    Good grief, the Winkerbean’s keep acting like they’ve never seen a grocery store before. Boris Yeltsin was less shocked at the offerings of a modern American supermarket when he visited one in Texas back in 1989, and he spent half that visit gesturing wildly at Jello pudding pops.

    • Epicus Doomus

      Yes, they’re in their mid-50s at least and they’ve been married for decades, so how were they purchasing groceries before? They’re marveling over everything like some sort of Ohioian cargo cult. Maybe they were involved in Amway or something.

  2. Epicus Doomus

    I think at first, Batty may have been going for a sort of “Doonesbury”-lite kind of vibe before he went in a more caricature-based direction. The “average” kid, the dork, the “it” girl, the (wink wink) “stoner”, all bound together in the framework of a “typical suburban high school”. As Les kind of emerged front and center, it more or less centered around high school as a survival test of sorts, full of pitfalls and travails to navigate, with cynicism and wry resignation everywhere.

    Which led to Les finally getting a date, which led to Lisa getting pregnant, which led to Holly and Funky exchanging fat jokes at the supermarket. I mean yes, I’m very well aware that Batiuk is the king and overlord of the anti-climax, but I am sort of amazed over how WE’RE observing FW’s fiftieth anniversary more than he is. He should send us a card or something.

    • Banana Jr. 6000

      Does Tom Batiuk even need to observe the 50th anniversary of FW? Every day on his blog is a relentless celebration of his own ego, and how Lisa and Dinkle are the two biggest cultural touchstones of the last 50 years. The man is absolutely deluded about his own importance. Tommy Wiseau would tell him to tone it down.

      Read this if you can stomach it. “As soon as Harry stepped onstage in that all black uniform, the reader was already expecting some outrageous new scheme to win an award for himself and his band or to sell more band candy…” No, Tom. When a band director steps on stage in full uniform, I expect him to conduct the band, and nothing else. You see, by “stage” he really means the rich tableau where his characters come to life. And yes, that is Comic Sans on that his book cover. It is such a train wreck of pretentiousness and hackery that I can’t believe it’s real.

      • Rusty Shackleford

        At least with Dinkle he was a great character in the early days, and if you were in band, you could relate to the gags. Plus Dinkle had commercial success with Dinkles band shoes. But then he was ruined and turned into an annoying idiot.

        With Lisa he kept forcing her misery on us, wrote an unpopular cancer comic book, and nobody cared. But yet he still tries to shoehorn her in any chance he can get. Killing off Lisa was another blown call by Batty, but he wanted that Pulitzer badly and so she had to go.

        It’s these bad choices that led to having a coffee counter in Montoni’s. Yeah I’ve never seen one either, but why let reality get in the way of a crappy story?

        • Banana Jr. 6000

          “There were times when a newspaper would drop Funky from their comics page, and the band directors and their students would write in in such numbers that the paper would be forced to retreat and reinstate the strip (this would always call for some sort of celebration, usually involving pizza and the playing of a John Philip Sousa CD).”

  3. Y. Knott

    Wow. These early FWs are — shockingly — reasonably good. The strip is still sorting itself out, but there’s humour and interesting character foibles, and an overall sort of a Doonesbury, Jr. vibe.

    Interesting to get a glimpse into the terrible, terrible series of utterly wrongheaded creative decisions that took this strip from being a solid B to B+ level piece of work, to a craptacularly tin-eared festival of tedium.

    Carry on the good work, CBH!

  4. E

    It’s true: the strips featured here yesterday and today are actually fairly enjoyable. They’re not perfect, but they are amusing and show potential. How sad the strip ended up going the direction it did.

    By the way, I’ve been thinking about the very first strip. It seems less like a comic meant for publication and more like a promotional piece sent as part of a packet trying to sell papers on a new syndicated strip. Did Batty misunderstand the advice he was given and turn what should’ve been a sales tool into his introductory strip? I wouldn’t be surprised. But whatever the case, it certainly falls short of inaugural efforts such as “Good ol’ Charlie Brown… How I hate him!” and “We’re kind of stupid that way.”

  5. J.J. O'Malley

    I’m sorry: At what point, precisely, did this strip turn into “The Dumplings”?

    Many thanks, CBH, for the encyclopedic backstory on Roland the Headless Thompson Gunner. The sad thing is, a 2008 reunion arc on how he went from being a mix of “Megaphone” Mark Slackmeyer in “Doonesbury” and “Room 222’s” Bernie to a Drew Carey manque in the years since high school might have been interesting and offered a respite from Funky’s alcoholism and pizza travails and Les’s Lisa fetishism. Oh, well, I guess we’ll never know.

    • Rusty Shackleford

      You would think that for his 50th anniversary he would do some reminiscing.

      Holly comes downstairs with her old yearbook and she and Funky look back. Hey, remember Livinia and Roland, remember that time that we…and so on.

      But here we are talking about groceries.

  6. Bob Baloney

    We need more of Roland’s dad in this strip these days.

    • Banana Jr. 6000

      We need more of any character pushing back against any character. That’s what’s missing from the strip now: any conflict at all.

    • RudimentaryLathe?

      Wicked Wanda also needs to make a comeback. 💢🪧💢

      • billytheskink

        As long as Les doesn’t go all white night about her again…

        • hitorque

          How did people treat her that they felt they had to apologize 30 years later?

          • Rusty Shackleford

            Yeah, as an adult wouldn’t you just see it as teenagers being teenagers? Batty can never let this crap go.

            Hell I was over that BS the day after graduation. I remember seeing our Cindy Summers working in a local mall about a year after graduation. Back then we weren’t friends but we ended up talking for awhile about our college plans, other people, etc.

            But wow, there is know it all Les shaming others. Wow, what a maverick.

          • Banana Jr. 6000

            Because Les is such a master of the English language that a brief speech about some 30 year-old misdeeds, that even the victim doesn’t cares about, made an entire crowd immediately see the error of their ways and beg Wanda for forgiveness. Such is the power the Lord of Language wields over others. When are we going to realize that Les Moore is the greatest human being who has ever lived?

        • be ware of eve hill

          Wow, Wicked Wanda certainly got more attractive after high school. Vintage FW Wicked Wanda resembled H.R. Pufenstuf.

          • be ware of eve hill

            With a mouth like that, vintage Wicked Wanda could bite off Roland’s head in one chomp and spit it out.

      • hitorque

        Wicked Wanda?? What does Penthouse Magazine have to do with the Funkyverse??

      • Anonymous Sparrow

        With Candyfloss, Homer Sapiens and J. Hoover Grud?

        Oops, wrong Wicked Wanda!

  7. sorialpromise

    Roland, Roland, Roland,
    Keep those protests goin’
    Up from the ether
    Comes a CBH feature
    Keep that research goin’
    Rap him hard. Wanda did. Bald head man. Threw him out.
    Batiuk wrote. Cut ‘em out. Paste ‘em in.
    Write ‘em in. Cut ‘em out. Move along.

  8. Hannibal's Lectern

    With the level of passive aggression shown in today’s strip, I wonder if Batiuk is auditioning to take over “The Lockhorns.”

    I see from the strips about Roland’s underground newspaper (“this underground paper *of mine* is…”) that Batiuk had the habit of inserting unnecessary and slightly jarring phrases into his dialog from the very beginning. I wonder if even in those days he drew the characters and word zeppelins first, and then expanded his wall-o-text dialog to fill them.

  9. billytheskink

    While Crazy Harry was the primary guy who took (and morphed) Roland’s role in the strip as the oddball friend, he wasn’t the only one who stole Roland’s thunder. A big part of the joke with Roland’s convenient and often hypocritical subscription to counterculture is that Roland is a teenager, plagued by the entitled self-absorption and lack of humility and self-awareness that is pretty common in even generally well-meaning teenagers. The butt of the joke in Roland’s strips is pretty much never his views or opinions or the views and opinions of the side he’s not on, it’s that he’s either not yet smart enough to understand what he’s advocating for or that he’s not self-aware enough to hold to the values he proclaims (nor even realize that he’s not holding to them) when it is not convenient for him.

    This role was gradually assumed by Les, though TB gave him all of these same Roland-like traits from the very beginning of the strip (see the very first strip, even, where Les literally says he wants to be like Roland). Les actually works really well in this role, his off-putting teenage entitlement allowing gags about his haplessness to land. We don’t feel sorry about him getting stuck on that rope in gym class because he’s also the shmuck who copies Funky’s math homework and won’t stop bothering girls who aren’t interested in him. As Act I went on into the late 80s, TB started trying to sand down Les’ edges and use his haplessness to generate sympathy for the character. Unfortunately, he did this by changing the situations he put Les into rather than by having the character grow. Even (especially) today, Les still often behaves like the self-absorbed teen that he was intentionally depicted as in early Act I, only now he is an adult and TB inexplicably frames this behavior in a way that is supposed to justify it. We’ve never bought it…

    Back to Roland, his character is some of TB’s best work, I think, but he was a deeply flawed character from the get-go. TB pretty much had to drop him because the counterculture that was so central to his character changed. To change with it would require Roland to grow, both in age and character. Alas, he was stuck in a high school comic strip and written by Tom Batiuk.

    • ComicBookHarriet

      This is an EXCELLENT break down of both Les and Roland’s characters in Act I. Both were written with flaws so their frustration had karmic satisfaction to the reader, but in the case of Les, it seems like Batiuk has completely forgotten this.

      • Banana Jr. 6000

        It’s a great breakdown of all the characters, really. None of them ever grew up. They’re ALL self-absorbed teenagers: Funky, Holly, Cindy, Pete, Mindull, Linda, Durwood, Jessica, and of course woe-is-me Lisa. Lisa’s the kind of teenager who threatens to kill herself every five minutes over the stupidest things, then one day actually does it. Then you have to go to all these memorials and pretend she wasn’t just the worst.

        Even “adult” characters like Dinkle, Crankshaft, Kablichnik, and the octogenarian comic book makers act like spoiled, selfish, narrow-minded teenagers. Only two characters seemed to grow up: Becky, who life was upended at age 18 and doesn’t whine about it; and Bull Bushka, who Tom Batiuk endlessly humiliated.

        Meanwhile, the strip lost or intentionally discarded its ability to find any flaws in its worst characters. Or make any humor at their expense. Or create any conflict. They all just stand around agreeing with each other, even when they’re being insufferable shitheads.

  10. Banana Jr. 6000

    I’ll say this about Archie: his death had a lot more impact than Lisa’s did. And that’s a comic book Tom Batiuk wouldn’t give the time of day to.

    • Mela

      Agreed. I loved the Archie gang as a kid. I thought the dialogue in that issue was average, but that was mostly because it had to refer to both I Married Betty/Veronica storylines at the same time. The action and artwork with Archie taking the bullet though- I just went back and reread it and it still gets me. The final panel of the overturned soda on the table at the Choklit Shoppe is gut wrenching. And the issue that followed that takes place a year later is very well done. A fitting tribute to their friend.

  11. Anonymous Sparrow

    According to George Burns, “The Jack Benny Program” eventually took away the jokes and concentrated on the characters. We knew them so well that we laughed when they came on stage, even if they weren’t dressed like Harry L. Dinkle or Dreer Pooson.

    Why isn’t Batiuk Benny? Well, Benny had four writers and a supporting cast to die for, but mostly because Benny didn’t care who got the laugh so long as people found the show funny. Batiuk expects people to know it’s his strip.

    And to find it always funny.

    As Rochester Van Jones would say:

    “Oh, come now, Boss!”

  12. be ware of eve hill

    CBH, I still chuckle at your “terrifying, black, monodiclops eyes” phrase. Monodiclops, the eyes are so close together they appear as one. 😂

    Batty’s way of drawing eyes often creeped me out. His characters can be quite eerie, especially when in profile. Their eyes are drawn on the same side of their faces, reminiscent of a flounder. A flounder with dark, souless eyes.

    Roland’s usage of glasses in the vintage strips is quite peculiar. His eyes are too close together for the eyeglasses to be of any use. In addition, his glasses are too far down on his nose. Are they supposed to be sunglasses?

    Of course, oddly drawn glasses are common in a Batiukverse strip. I find the manner Dan Davis, the illustrator of Crankshaft, uses to illustrate faces with glasses to be a bit disconcerting. Davis’s style is to color the face behind the lenses white and omit drawing the bridge of the glasses. To me, the characters have the appearance of reverse pandas, or to be wearing white clown makeup.

    Okay, Harriet, you left no clues. Who will you profile tomorrow? ACT I Funky or Les? Mr. Fred Fairgood? I can hardly wait!

    The Winkerbean’s visited the bread aisle on Thursday. They visited frozen foods and the bakery today. Where will they shop tomorrow? Produce? Dairy? The deli and meat department? Health and beauty? Customer service? I can hardly wait!

    I predict Funky and Holly will be annoying an overworked cashier tomorrow.

    • none

      There are few things worse in pre-Act 3 art than the way he drew eyes behind glasses, especially when not facing directly forward. Even then, Act 2 “Cyclops Hair Helmet” Les looks especially hideous at any angle.

      I’m rather sure there are a few Act I panels with John Darling or the like who is seen at half-profile and wearing glasses where both eyes are going through one of the two lenses while the other just blankly floats in space. This is the guy who taught art classes.