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.
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.
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.