What’s in a Name?

Link to a redraw of a strip we’ve seen plenty of times before.

Like 20 years ago in 2002.
And eight years ago in 2014.

Donna’s devolution from gender ambiguous nerdy tween, to leather clad motorcycle hottie, to generic shapeless Westview-woman lump, is one of the great tragedies of the Funkyverse. But it is typical of Batiuk’s style, and has been from the very beginning.

If you’ve spent any time falling down the link-clink rabbit hole of TVTropes, you’re probably familiar with the term Flanderization. The term even has it’s own REAL Wikipedia article. Visually it looks like this:

Over time certain details become exaggerated, and other finer details are lost. The character becomes caricature.

The thing is, a little Flanderization can be a GOOD thing, especially in comedy. Characters need to be different from each other in the reader’s mind and a few exaggerated characteristics make a strong foundation for ensemble humor.

Funky Winkerbean characters, at least in Act III, go through a different process.

Whatever Batiuk’s initial conception of a character, it gets lost in the average. The minute differences in temperament between Holly and Donna, or Jessica and Mindy, or Funky and Darin, or Pete and Les need an electron microscope to measure. Even a character like Crazy Harry has lost all his edges. I’ve seen nuttier former postmen buying Pall Malls at the gas station, talking to me in all seriousness about how JFK Jr. is running for president next term.

This isn’t a new phenomena for him. He seems to subconsciously WANT his characters bland so he can use any of them in any combination to tell a story. No matter how he designs them, the distinguishing bits get knocked off. You can see this clearly with the early Act I character Miss Rita Wrighton.

Miss Wrighton, (Get it? Right On? Like… so hip,) was initially introduced as the young, idealistic, counter-culture teacher. She was dressed with chunky peace sign earrings, pants as well as skirts, and hair worn long and down instead of a shellacked professional up-do. She was at Westview fresh out of college and full of passion and hope to empower the youth to change the system.

The joke is, of course, that she was trying to teach in the way she’d spent years of college learning about, but the theory is different from the practice. No one, not even most of the other teachers, were taking this as seriously as she was taught.

Midway through that first year the peace sign earrings disappear. She’s regularly butting heads with Crazy Harry, and seems to have a hard time controlling her class in general.

At the beginning of the next school year, she’s jaded. Though more cynical in outlook, she still seeks positive change in the school. This would be a fine character progression, if she wasn’t moving into a space already occupied by Fred Fairgood. At this point they’re practically interchangeable, similar in temperament and tone, with the only difference being his additional experience.

During the summer of 75, she goes on a vacation to England with her friend Ann. Batiuk is now just using her for bland whatever gags. He’s losing her personality to the pun void.

I’m pretty sure this is Fred’s future wife, Ann Randall. I can’t tell if she’s also supposed to be the school ‘librarian’ seen early on in 1972.

The story arc currently being released on CK has Rita newly engaged and contemplating quitting teaching.

The whole story line has commenters confused. It’s unclear if Rita is considering quitting simply because her new husband can now support both of them on a single salary; or if Batiuk was pulling a Skunky Funkybuns and got confused as to when the ‘marriage-bar’ was outlawed, (the sixties.) Either way, it’s a pretty big regression, from counter-culture activist to contemplating giving up a career to be a housewife.

Will she disappear into the Phantom Zone of characters who lost their ‘edge’ now? Or will the last vestiges of her ‘modern-woman’ persona manifest itself and we’ll have another few years with poor neutered Ms. Wrighton? I’m genuinely interested to find out.

By the way. Have YOU seen Skunky Funkybuns? The greatest piece of stand up comedy this decade.



Filed under Son of Stuck Funky

45 responses to “What’s in a Name?

  1. Y. Knott

    Pssst….CBH! I think you’ll find 2002 was twenty years ago….

    The pandemic’s lasted a long time, but not quite that long.

  2. William Thompson

    What does Batiuk think when he does this recycling? Is it something like “Hollywood remakes movies all the time, and they get away with it! Hey, did anyone who matters notice that The Shape of Water was a mix of Pan’s Labyrinth and Creature From the Black Lagoon? And if that could win an award, I can too!”

  3. Epicus Doomus

    The amazing thing about “Skunky Funkybuns” is how at least some of the audience actually seems to get Dan Ronan’s absolutely spot-on Batiuk-based character. I don’t know much about the late Mr. Ronan but he was without a doubt one of us, as it was just too perfect.

    Maybe this is supposed to be a refresher course kind of deal, for readers too young, too forgetful or too senile to remember the Eliminator saga. A younger reader might see Donna and think, “wait…I thought the large frumpy woman was married to Funky”, not realizing that “large frumpy woman” is a standard FW template.

    • Sourbelly

      Aw, Dan Ronan is no longer with us? That sucks. I wish he’d been around for more FW comedy routines.

    • billytheskink

      The “Skunky Funkybuns” routine is probably pretty funny even if you have never heard of Funky Winkerbean… but it’s on a completely different level for folks like us. Every time I watch it, I am amazed at how deeply Ronan inhabits the Batiuk we all know. The self-seriousness, grandstanding, clunky writing (“tension builds…”), self-congratulation over being really late to the party on controversial issues, even his occasional and eerie tendency to foreshadow terrible world events… all that’s missing is a reference to a cease-and-desist. He was, indeed, one of us and it is awful sad that he is gone.

      • ComicBookHarriet

        It has been posted here before. It will be posted here again. Because it deserves it. Because it’s funny every time I watch it. And because EVERYONE who knows what Funky Winkerbean is needs to see it. Ronan, we lost you too soon.

      • Epicus Doomus

        He was obviously channeling Batiuk, but there was a little Lynn Johnston in there too. “Tension builds” is just the funniest thing ever. And Samuel Squirrel is clearly Crazy Harry aka “the nut” of the strip.

        • Charles

          A great under-the-radar Batiuk-esque line from that is “(On 9/11), the entire nation was faced with the harsh form of reality to which *I* had become all too accustomed.”

          Batiuk’s never written a whopper like that, but he’s sure expressed that same sentiment inappropriately.

          • ComicBookHarriet

            My favorite part is that first it’s Tito turtle who hits a man with a car, and then it’s Skunky. It’s either a continuity error, (Hi Tom!) or both guys did the same thing at different times because the author was so hung up on it, (Hi again Tom!)

    • Y. Knott

      “Skunky Funkybuns” is such a well-crafted AND well-performed piece. It’s cutting satire, but it works even if you don’t know the specific thing being satirized. And there’s not a wasted syllable … every word, every pause, has a purpose.

      Dan Ronan, you should have lived a lot longer. But you DID leave us with this, as good a piece of comedy as I’ve seen *anywhere* in the last decade or so.

  4. RudimentaryLathe?

    I think Batiuk lacks a lot of insight when it comes to women, but Ayers seems to genuinely hate them. How the hell did Donna go from a normally-aging average lady to the toad-in-a-wig drawn in today’s strip?!?!?

  5. billytheskink

    I’ll give TB credit for his rare consistency with the Donna = Eliminator retcon. He really does keep his story straight. It’s just such a dumb story…

    Yes, women were not and, one could argue, still are not what the American public thinks of when they think of gamers… but the idea of a girl playing video games was NEVER as mind-blowing as TB seems to think it is. While it is most famous for being a 2 hour Nintendo commercial (and for being the first appearance of Andy Panda since the Truman administration), the 1989 film The Wizard features both a main female character (Jenny Lewis’ Haley) who plays and is knowledgable about video games and a female competitor (Marisa DeSimone’s Mora Grissom) in the climactic Super Mario Bros. 3 competition. Not a single thing about either of these characters’ interest in and talent playing video games is treated as abnormal. Even watching it in its time, you were more apt to be shocked by Beau Bridges’ ability to hit a moving Oldsmobile throwing garden tools like javelins than you were by the idea of a girl playing video games.

    Heck, I even have a personal anecdote here, though it is from the 90s. I recall a speech/presentation given by a girl in my middle school speech class about her Sega Genesis and how much she liked playing Charles Barkley: Shut Up and Jam. It was much better than my speech about my TurboGrafx-16…

  6. none

    No matter how many times this subject is brought up, I still never see exactly why she needed to disguise herself. Not why she thought she needed to disguise herself, but what external pressure was there to make her feel that need.

    Is there some Act 1 week that covers her ratilonalization? Some bullshit Act 2 retcon? Anything?

    • Rusty Shackleford

      Just more made up controversy so Batty can talk about how much he supports women. Our “Donna” was a cute tomboy, none of us guys would turn her down if she wanted to join in. Plus, being a tomboy, she was easy to hang out with. We would all ride our bikes up to our local Montoni’s and play and eat pizza. Alas, she did end up getting fat, but I could stand to lose some weight too.

      • Banana Jr. 6000

        Again, I wish this story acknowledged Defender‘s real place in history. It isn’t like now, where people are used to video games, and have preconceived notions what to do. That game *intimidated* people. I remember first seeing it when I was 7 or 8, at the bowling alley. Grown men – who I’d seen playing other video games and weren’t confused by the concept – would do things like always flying in one direction, not even trying to save the humanoids because it was too hard; actually using Hyperspace, using Smart Bomb for everything, and so on.

        On top of that, there were no shortcuts to success. It wasn’t Pac-Man, where the monsters’ behavior was solved pretty quickly, and all you had to do was memorize patterns to be an instant high scorer. Asteroids and Space Invadershad strategies to maximize scoring, and most people knew them. Defender had no such thing. Even the discovery of the “reverse line” didn’t help much.

        In other words, a young girl being good at Defender is far more noteworthy than if it were any other game of that era. And the story completely ignores it.

        • Rusty Shackleford

          Thanks, that is a good point. But still, the guys would be celebrating her skill.

        • ComicBookHarriet

          This background to Defender is fascinating! Thanks BJr6K!
          The only place I remember seeing arcade games in my small town was the Roller Rink, which had outdated decor by the 90’s.

          I do remember a couple girls from a middle school field trip reward day to the roller rink playing Super Contra on co-op for about two hours and getting pretty far in.

          • Epicus Doomus

            Oh yeah, Defender was pretty challenging, it required a little more “physicality” with all the buttons and whatnot. I was pretty good at it for a while, but then I discovered girls, which required even more physicality, with all the buttons and whatnot.

          • Banana Jr. 6000

            Thanks, It’s nice to get some subject matter in the strip that’s in my wheelhouse for a change. I know nothing about the comic book stuff Batiuk drones on forever about.

            Defender is almost completely forgotten, despite how huge and relevant it was, and how much nostalgia there is for the games of the era. It doesn’t have the pop culture value that Pac-Man, Donkey Kong, and Q-Bert do. Also, its unique control panel makes it hard to re-create via emulation on modern game systems. So it’s hard to even give it a try. Too bad, because it’s still fun and challenging.

          • Charles

            It doesn’t have the pop culture value that Pac-Man, Donkey Kong, and Q-Bert do.

            But…. but…. Buckner and Garcia wrote a song for it on Pac Man Fever!

            I’m genuinely sorry for doing this to all of you.

          • Banana Jr. 6000

            Oh, I played the hell out of that record when I was 8. (Yes, I had an actual record.) It was the first popular music I was ever interested in, partially because I went to a fundamentalist Christian school, and they frowned on popular music. And I geeked out so hard when I learned the movie Wreck-It Ralph was going to have a new Buckner & Garcia song in it. It instantly removed any concerns I had about the movie’s retro arcade cred.

        • Mela

          Defender was a tough game. Trying to catch those falling humanoids falling through space was not easy! Didn’t they make some splat sound if you didn’t save them? I didn’t play it much in the arcade, but we had the Atari version at home. It was a decent version with a normal arcade level, plus an easier one but I can’t recall what the difference was.
          It was much better than Atari’s version of Pac-Man.

          And personally speaking, I’ve been the only female in a comic book shop a few times, but I don’t ever recall being the only gal in a video arcade.

  7. Banana Jr. 6000

    Well, that’s definitely Defender she’s playing, not “Defenders.” The cabinet art matches the real thing:

    Either use real-life products or don’t, Tom.

  8. batgirl

    Aside from the retcon of Donald being Donna, my vague recollection of the Eliminator character is that the “little do they suspect” aspect was Funky and Crazy not knowing that the Eliminator was the geeky little kid in the helmet. So they’d see the high score tagged Eliminator (and as someone else pointed out, that’s a hella long tag) but never put that together with weird helmet-kid.
    Really inclined to call BS on a Westview Mom going along with calling her daughter “Donald” in public – especially if (outdated) gender norms were so internalized in that family that Donna believed girls couldn’t play video games.
    And minor annoyance – “Donnie” is a much more workable alternative than “Donald”. But hey, the character was definitely originally a boy until TB wanted a groundbreaking feminist revelation.

    • Banana Jr. 6000

      In a 1980s arcade game, you could enter 3 initials at best. So it was probably something like “ELM.” Which would have been enough for local players to recognize, especially if these were world-record scores as the story suggests. How she signed her high scores, and how other players reacted to such obscene numbers, would have nice details to work into this story. But… you know.

    • be ware of eve hill

      My son has always been called ‘Donny’. His given name isn’t ‘Donald’ though, it’s ‘Donovan’. He was named after his uncle, who died young.

      • batgirl

        “Donovan” is a much cooler name than Donald (with apologies to any cool Donalds who happen to be reading).

        • be ware of eve hill

          Thank you! We thought it was cooler, too.

          I had an Uncle Donald as well. For the longest time, my two brothers and I called him ‘Uncle Don’. Then one day, seemingly out of nowhere, he wanted to be called ‘Uncle Donald’. Oh, yes, we had a lot of fun with Huey, Dewey and Louie jokes. We’d talk like Donald Duck. “Gee, Unca Donald.”

  9. be ware of eve hill

    The humor of the 1970s strip is noticeably better, but the strips themselves are no less confusing than the contemporary Funky Winkerbean strips.

    How does Maddie not already know how her parents met? Does anybody here not know how their parents met? It’s a common question girls will ask their parents. Even if you don’t ask, most parents will tell you anyway.

    How did putting on a helmet hide the fact that Donna was a girl? Wouldn’t Donna’s clothing reveal she was a girl? Her figure? There are physical differences between girls and boys even at a younger age. Why isn’t Donna wearing overalls or a flight suit.

    Why did Donna feel the need to hide her gender? My experiences with video games are primarily from the late seventies/early eighties in northeast Ohio arcades. To the best of my memory, gender was never an issue. I was never told to get off a machine because I was a girl.

    Male Gamer #1: Get off the machine, bitch. That’s a man’s game.
    Male Gamer #2: Yeah, the games for girls are on the other side of the arcade.

    Yeah, never happened.

    CBH, I’m glad you mentioned the current confusion about Miss Rita Wrighton at Funky Winkerbean Vintage. Count me in. I attended city schools from the late sixties and through the seventies. Almost all of my teachers were married women. My sixth-grade teacher was pregnant and taught up to the time she gave birth. A young teacher (unmarried) assisted with the lessons and took over the class when the baby came. The older teacher then left on maternity leave.

    The reason Rita feels the need to quit teaching hasn’t been revealed (yet).

    • be ware of eve hill

      Damn. I hate it when I incorrectly close an italics tag. Sorry about that, Chief.

    • batgirl

      For whatever it might be worth … Until I was 11-12ish, I was sometimes mistaken for a boy – late developer, shaggy late ‘60s haircut, jeans & t-shirt (after school, because dresses were still mandated for girls). And ‘Barb’ and ‘Barbie’ sound enough like ‘Bob’ and ‘Bobby’ that even my brother calling me by name didn’t give it away.
      I do remember some boys being “no girls allowed” about stuff, but never about entertainment like games, comics, or who got to be Ilya Kuryakin or Sulu this time.
      I should be into Donna’s gamergirl story, but it just doesn’t work. Why did she stop doing everything she loved?

      Phoebe and her Unicorn strip has a much more believable gamer-parent relationship, and yes, Phoebe plays with her dad and he bores her with dad jokes about the games he played back when.
      But then, Phoebe and her dad have a life outside what you see in the strip. Crazy and Donna don’t. They’re shut in a trunk until the puns call for them.

      • Banana Jr. 6000

        There’s no emotional weight to Donna’s Gamergirl story, is there? It feels artificial and forced. It doesn’t feel like something that really happened to two human beings, and helped shape who they are. They talk about it incessantly, but not like it was anything important. To their own adult child, who should already know all this.

        • batgirl

          I guess the rules are the same for Donna as they were for Miss Wrighton – once you get married, you don’t do things for yourself any more. She gave up the career she had worked and sacrificed for. Donna apparently gave up gaming (except in the company of her husband?) and motorbikes, Annie Fairgood gave up her dreams of writing, Holly lost her passion for cheerleading, Cayla lost her passion for anything at all (does she play sports anymore?)…
          Lisa got to keep on being a lawyer, but Lisa was Not Like Other Girls.

        • Charles

          Once the Eliminator helmet came off, the story ended. Once Batiuk no longer had a use for the original story, that part of Donna’s character completely vanished. The only reason why anyone would know that Donna was the Eliminator is because Batiuk recounts this story every 7 years or so. Once that helmet came off she’d do literally nothing that suggested her earlier fanaticism about video games.

      • be ware of eve hill

        And ‘Barb’ and ‘Barbie’ sound enough like ‘Bob’ and ‘Bobby’ that even my brother calling me by name didn’t give it away.

        Especially around Boston, Massachusetts. Your name would be pronounced ‘Bahb’ or ‘Bahbie’.