Westview. Where the ancient battle for the top slot on an arcade video game is a community epic, gradually passing into legend, recited to the younger generation as a solemn verbal patrimony.
But, it wasn’t always that way.
Four years into Vintage Funky Winkerbean, and what has shocked me more than the politics is the almost complete lack of comic book references. There’s been maybe four, and in every case comic books haven’t been heralded as the sacred texts imparting lifelong wisdom for the darkest days. They’ve been the punchline.
This seems weird, doesn’t it? Batiuk hasn’t been the least bit shy over the last couple decades squealing about how much he loves comic books, and science fiction in general. Gushing about how formative comics were to his young mind. He gives old Flash comics the same kind of reverential, tender feelings the lifelong faithful reserve for their Sunday School songs.
You know what there IS a lot of in Act I so far? Sports.
Is this some kind of feigned smokescreen to hide his geekery behind?
Naw. Dude likes sports.
I’ve seen comments over the years about Batiuk using Les’ success in adulthood as a way to get back at the ‘sportos’ that made fun of him when he was in school. But I think this is drawing a false equivalency between Les and Tom. While Tom might see himself in Les more than any other character, I don’t think it means Tom was similarly hapless in school. And there’s a difference between being a bullied weakling, and being uninterested in sports. Plenty of bullied weaklings are interested in sports. That’s why The Orioles exist.
And while he may not have played on a high school football team, in one of his Flash Fridays, Batiuk talks about playing football with friends.
At one point in the story, KF runs past some kids playing sandlot football which hit a soft spot for me since I loved playing backyard football, at least until I broke my ankle and dislocated my shoulder. As risky as my comic book writer/artist stratagem was, it was a lot less risky than playing football.Flash Fridays – The Flash #122
He goes into more details in the foreword to one of his volumes.
It happened on a snowy night in 1969 during my senior year at Kent State. I was riding home with a fellow student teacher named Ronnie from Kent. She was driving because I had my arm bandaged to my chest following surgery for several shoulder dislocations from playing football (the lawless backyard variety as opposed to the sanctioned school activity).From The Complete Funky Winkerbean Volume Four
And as nebbish as Les is, and as pathetic as he is climbing that rope, Batiuk has consistently shown him playing backyard football and tennis.
He always makes the school bully a football player, whether it be Bull or an endless series of Wedgemans. But at least in Act I so far, it isn’t like the football team is a cabal of sneering jocks. Funky and Derek are on the team. It’s Westview. Even the football players are bullied.
And I like Coach Stropp. The juxtaposition between him and Dinkle is interesting. Dinkle, Act I, is ramrod straight shouting all the time. Stropp is much more human. He’s got a softer side. And I love the subtlest hint that he’s got cauliflower ear, like an old wrestler or boxer. Batiuk’s jokes show an understanding of deeper sports vocabulary.
Coach Stropp has a Funky Winkerbean strip that makes me laugh out loud every time I see it.
So, for the first four years, Batiuk found ways to work his interest in sports into the strip, but hardly ever his love of comics. Was it out of embarrassment? Did he figure the sports strips had a wider appeal? Did he just not know how to integrate trademarked geekdom into his universe yet? I don’t know….but Star Wars is right around the corner, and I can already feel the walls starting to crumble.