Tag Archives: flashback

White Bread Found and Lost

Link to a strip that is somehow more nonsensical than yesterday’s.

Before we dive into individual characters. I thought we would briefly take a look at 1972 as a whole, just to see the cast of characters at play, and how often they showed up. This list misses out on a few characters that showed up more than once, but didn’t have names, such as an older curly haired teacher, a cashier, and the school librarian. Also, the records on CK are somewhat incomplete, there were strips missing. This is just to give a rough overview.

Below, the trademark CBH nonsense spreadsheet! Funky Winkerbean characters of 1972 listed by number of appearances.

Corrected on 3/26/22

It seems that, from the very beginning, Les and Funky were the main focus. Poor Livinia Swenson never stood a chance.

The second strip she’s in, (which is almost 2 weeks after the launch,) it seems to me that she’s set up as a distaff counterpart to Funky, his equal in averageness. The way their hair is only differentiated by length, like they’re the Wonder Twins or something, only furthers this impression.

Easy, slugger! You’ve got 50 years of this to write. Don’t use up all your puns at once!

But, in the grand scheme, she doesn’t show up that often. Like everyone in the cast, she puts in time as the ‘Person-Who-Asks-Question’ and the ‘Person-Who-Watches-TV-And-Makes-Face.’ Roles anyone and everyone fills, almost always devoid of specific connection between line and speaker that would keep them from being swapped with someone else.

When her personality does manifest itself, she’s opinionated, strong-willed, and socially conscious with a focus on ecology and feminism.

He’s been talking about global warming from THE VERY BEGINNING, guys!

She’s also never afraid to step on someone’s toes or hurt some feelings. She’s got this kind of blunt honesty I really like.

She’s shown to be questioning gender norms, but unlike other political opinions only mined for yuks, hers can be sympathetically presented, where the joke isn’t her question, but the response.

When I put all of Livinia’s strips together, it seems obvious why Batiuk never could muster up much interest in her. She’s built to sit on this intersection between average and activist, and that severely limits her range. Batiuk doesn’t want too many of the jokes to come at her expense. He wants her to be a more or less positive representation of a ‘modern’ free-thinking teen girl. So the only gimmick he gave her can’t be exaggerated too much. And in order to survive Act I FW, if you’re not Funky himself, you have to have a solid gimmick to mine for humor. Despite what Les said above, Livinia was subtle, too subtle to last as a main character once Holly and Cindy were introduced.

Which is too bad. Because she was unrelentingly cruel to Les, and it was beautiful.

Currently on Comics Kingdom Vintage Funky Winkerbean is up to May of 1976, and Livinia hasn’t completely disappeared, showing up on April 21, taking a test.

Her appearances have become few and far between, however. I don’t know when the last time she shows up alive is, but I’m wondering if it’ll be soon. I couldn’t see any sign of her in the strips I found of the Act II class reunions of 1992 and 1998, though what I had to look at via scanned microfiche was pretty blurry. By the reunion of 2008, she was dead.

Any Act I guys with the last name Jessup? I am honestly curious.

Farewell Livinia. You were too good for this strip.

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A Writer’s Crutch.

Link to Today’s Banal Strip. This thing is almost less than nothing.

And now! Back to the Past!

The very first Funky Winkerbean strip is one of the worst introductions of all time. Four chicken-necked, chinless, bobble-heads. Standing in a white void. Staring out at the audience through the fourth wall with their terrifying, black, monodiclops eyes. Smugly telling us their names and attributes with the kind of cringy earnestness I expect from Harry Potter fanfic.

Hi my name is Ebony Dark’ness Dementia Raven Way and I have long ebony black hair (that’s how I got my name) with purple streaks and red tips that reaches my mid-back and icy blue eyes like limpid tears and a lot of people tell me I look like Amy Lee (AN: if u don’t know who she is get da hell out of here!). I’m not related to Gerard Way but I wish I was because he’s a major fucking hottie. I’m a vampire but my teeth are straight and white. I have pale white skin. I’m also a witch, and I go to a magic school called Hogwarts in England where I’m in the seventh year (I’m seventeen). I’m a goth (in case you couldn’t tell) and I wear mostly black.

Apparently the idea for starting the strip in this fashion came from an actual established professional in the biz.

At the Chicago Tribune–New York News Syndicate I ran into another gentleman, Henry Raduta, who spent the better part of the morning with me going over my submission in detail. He offered several suggestions, one of which dealt with a way of introducing my characters that eventually became the very first Funky strip. 

From the introduction to The Complete Funky Winkerbean Vol. One

Who was Henry Raduta? As far as I can find he was a ‘general manager’ of the Tribune who when necessary took over writing for long running strips from the 20’s and 30’s like Little Orphan Annie and Winnie Winkle after their original authors passed. Was he intentionally giving the 24 year old Batiuk bad advice? If so, bravo good sir. (Link to an interesting retrospective on Winnie Winkle.)

Batiuk had planned to start the strip with these four ‘mains’, basing them on people he knew.

The main characters, T.D. (later Funky) and Les, were friends from my Kent State days, Thom Dickerson and Les Meyer. Roland, the hippy/revolutionary, was a guy who lived in an apartment across the street from mine, and Livinia was based on one of my art students with a name taken from a magazine… I used people I knew because the characters then came with established identities that I could immediately plug in and begin working with in the strip. It was a handy way to start things off, and it’s remained my work method ever since. 

From the introduction to The Complete Funky Winkerbean Vol. One

It seems in the initial ‘sales pitch’ for this strip provided by the syndicate, this was also the cast presented, (with the additional mention of the black student, Derek).

Four characters were introduced on that first day. Two remain. And two have disappeared so thoroughly I didn’t even know they existed until I saw the first strip, when TFH posted it as an April Fool’s Joke back in 2016. I immediately asked about the fates of Roland and Livinia. And all TFH could tell me was that Roland was completely MIA and Livinia was confirmed dead.

Shoved to the side by a character not introduced till 1984!

Why? Who were Livina and Roland? Why did Batiuk lose interest with them? What other characters banished to the Phantom Zone populated those first few years?

Tune in tomorrow.

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When Everything Goes Pear Shaped.

I know I promised you guys the distant past. But first, a brief timeline of the last couple years.

December 2019 to March 2021: Life in Westview proceeds as normal; people self-medicating with comics to stave off the usual nihilistic despair. No mentions of pandemics, lockdowns, masks, or quarantines.

March 2, 2021: Les Moore mentions a previously unrecorded flu quarantine from when Lisa was undergoing breast cancer treatment. A week of retrospective strips on the ‘famous Flu Epidemic of 2007.’

April 2021: Funky Winkerbean attends an Alcoholics Anonymous meeting and begins blathering about ‘last year’s pandemic’. It’s as if from a moment in the future the past has been altered, Flashpoint style, so that a pandemic occurred ‘last year’ but is mostly over.

September 30, 2021: Holly Winkerbean breaks her ankle. During her time in the hospital we see people wearing masks in the present, though no one at the football game was masked. (Consistent with late pandemic trends.) She begins a recovery that sees her using a pair of crutches through at least January.

TODAY: Holly Winkerbean is implied to have broken her ankle at the beginning of the pandemic.

You know, when I did the Funky Award for Most Puzzling Continuity Question, I really figured it would be a one time deal, since many of the continuity snarls had been kicking around for a while. I never imagined that by MARCH 2022, we would already have three or four potential nominees.

But Batiuk is no stranger to continuity snarls. They cropped up in his VERY FIRST month of Funky Winkerbean.

The fifth ever printed Funky Winkerbean strip, 3/31/72 introduces Fred Fairgood as the school counselor.

And yet, the next time we see him, 5/9/72, he introduces himself as if he is just arriving.

And that isn’t the only first month snafu. On 4/5/72, we see first see Les working on the school paper, an early running gag.

And a few weeks later, he announces to Funky that he is applying for the position.

Now, both of these are understandable within the context of trying to launch a strip. You’ve got (I’m guessing) a few months of strips prepared, but then you want to lead off with your best and most easily digestible material. So strips are put out of order.

Batiuk actually has some good insight into why starting a strip is difficult.

Starting a comic strip is a unique proposition that requires a slightly different skill set from the one you’ll hopefully be using a few years later.

When I was just beginning with Funky, I read a Peanuts strip that completely frustrated me. The strip in question had come after a week during which Linus had had his blanket taken away, and he was lying on the ground shaking as he went through withdrawal. In the second panel, Snoopy walks up wearing his WWI flying helmet and scarf. He pauses to look down at Linus shaking on the ground and then walks off saying, “Poor blighter, his kind shouldn’t be sent to the front.”

It was an elegant strip that Schulz had taken twenty years to set up. Twenty years in which he had developed the theme of Linus and his blanket, developed the character of Snoopy and Snoopy’s fantasy world as a fighter pilot in WWI—all so he could create the opportunity to eventually dovetail them into that one perfect strip. Twenty years that I didn’t have behind me in those first few weeks of Funky.

Instead, what you have in a beginning strip is a great deal of expository dialogue trying to establish your characters’ names, personalities, and situations. Oh, and have them say something funny. I’ve often likened it to a stand-up comic who has to win over new audiences each night with a series of individual jokes.

Later, if he’s lucky, he moves on to a sitcom where the situational humor allows him to extend the comic narrative. Finally, if he’s really lucky, he gets to make movies, where there’s room for the subtleties of behavioral humor. It takes a long time to establish your characters and develop their personalities.

From the introduction to The Complete Funky Winkerbean Volume One

We can debate all day if he ever established his characters or developed their personalities into something consistent, but the above does, I think, point to one reason that Funky Winkerbean maintains it’s ironic audience. History. Any one year of Funky Winkerbean is mostly unremarkable. If it had only lasted a decade, any decade of its lifespan, it wouldn’t catch our attention.

But 50 years of this? 50 years of the Cronenberg-esq transformations of these strange sad-sack characters within a single universe, generated by a single mind.

When Marianne Winters pulled two VHS tapes out of her purse last week, that was the awful entrancing Funkyverse flipside to Snoopy as the Red Baron pitying Linus. It was a nauseating non sequitur built from years of disdain for a fictional character compounded with decades of facts and moments being referenced incorrectly.

Oh. And Batiuk was already creating inexplicable continuity biffs all the way back in 1973. Only a year after Les announced that he had applied for the position of school paper editor, the entire thing is retconned to being recruited by the school principal.

Never change, Tom. It’s too late to start.

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Where Are the Photo Album Corners?

This is such a strange comic strip. I really have no idea what the joke here is. It seems to be “Dinkle doesn’t know how to relax”, or “Dinkle is obsessed with band”, which, we get it already. But Harriet says they never went on vacation before, not that they never had a good vacation. So is she just totally forgetting that they went to the beach?  (And I guess Batiuk has just given up on the photo album corners and sepia tone for flashbacks.)
And really, if flying halfway across the country to stand on a street corner and watch your husband do the same thing he’s been doing for decades is the closest thing you’ve had to a vacation, that is so sad.

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Take off, eh?

Hey, do you remember that sketch on The Muppet Show where Florence Henderson played the teenage son of a Ronald Reagan Muppet? I sure don’t, and I’ve seen The Muppet Show episode with Florence Henderson, but apparently Funky does, if today’s strip is to be believed.

I certainly can’t blame Morton for wanting to avoid these two bores the way a teenage avoids his parents. Given that Funky and Holly are back in the car driving who knows where instead of talking with the authorities about locating Morton and about Bedside Manor’s gross negligence, I guess the feeling is mutual.

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Boredstrom

The department store nostalgia in today’s strip is pretty innocuous as Funky Winkerbean goes. I am enough of a retail enthusiast to know that department store nostalgia is totally a thing, by the way… but I’m not sure it manifests itself in wistful disappointment when receiving an Amazon package.

But since Amazon’s logo is clearly visible on present day Holly’s package, let’s talk about THIS:

There are several, actual historic and defunct department stores in the greater Cleveland-Akron area that TB could have pulled up: O’Neil’s, Polskys, May Co., the one that Dinkle named his daughter after, the particularly famous one that had the previously-referenced-in-this-very-comic-strip Silver Grill [sic] in it.

Nope, we get Holly’s memory of shopping at DS, which by all indications stands for… Department Store. DS. Department. Store. This is Herb & Jamaal-level non-specificity. Look TB, if you can reference Amazon specifically, you can reference an actual department store specifically. The strip loses nothing if you get Ayers to write “Higbee’s” on a couple of shopping bags instead of DS.

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Medal of Horror

Today’s strip marks the third straight day that Dinkle is doing his eyes-closed, head tilted back, mouth-agape, peacocking thing… which I think we can all agree is seven days too many. Hopefully we can also all agree that the poetic tire fire that is “I believe this is the first time a man’s crew-neck undershirt has been seen in the choir loft!” is a sentence that is just too perfectly execrable to exist. Yet it does exist.

Yes, we have here a call back here to Dinkle’s May 2017 trip to Belgium, where he was showered with unearned praise, given this unbearably punny-named medal, and stood in front of TB’s uncredited tracing of the legendary Hergé’s work. I’m not wordly enough to know if the Belgians hate us, but I can’t blame them if they do…

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Flash has reached end of life status

Today’s strip gives us our first glimpse at a young Batton Thomas… back when he had the hair of a newscaster, the jaw of Rob Riggle, and the neck of something that doesn’t have a neck. Quite a contrast to today’s sad-sack Batton, who looks like he could be Pete’s dad (he’s not, John Darling program director Reed Roberts is). Trading that plaid seersucker jacket for a blue Members Only was a good call, though.

So The Flash #123 inspired Batton Thomas (and, most definitely, one Thomas Batiuk as well) to become a cartoonist, eh? How, exactly did it do that? If we are lucky we’ll get that answer in 6-10 business days. Or just visit the official Funky Winkerbean blog, where TB writes more about The Flash than he does about his own creations… Haha, yeah, you all go do that. I’ll wait.

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No Choir Boy

Link To The One Today

Ugh, this certainly doesn’t bode well for the rest of the week. When did they suddenly begin talking about the choir? I thought this was about the organ. And there’s no joke here, other than how this happened to Dinkle before back in 1977 or whatever. And that ain’t funny.

Instead of a silly hat that always covers his eyes, I believe Act III Dinkle should wear a silly hat that obscures his entire body AND his word balloons too. He’d be way more palatable that way. He’d still suck, of course, but at least we wouldn’t keep seeing proof of it.

This arc should be more like the movie “Hustle And Flow”. Dinkle would sit down at the organ and start playing a hot riff, then the church ladies would jump in and lay down a tight beat and it’d end with Dinkle in jail for beating the hell out of Les after discovering that Les threw his sheet music in the WHS urinal after promising Dinkle he’d get it to his publisher. I’d buy that anthology AND stand in line to get it signed, too.

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Harry Dinkle – Male Organ Player

Link To Today’s Thing

Get ready for a shitload of organ puns, folks. I’ve been trying to work “skin flute” into a Dinkle arc post title for years. Maybe this is the one. Fingers crossed.

Anyhow, why the f*ck was that flashback necessary? It’s not like he’s applying for a real job here. And man, that’s some really crappy flashback art in panels one and two, that doesn’t look like Old Dinkle at all. It looks more like Ed McMahon trying to channel Elvis.

It’s already Tuesday and he still hasn’t even finished climbing the stairs. When I think of “most hated” FW characters I always overlook Dinkle for some reason, then he re-appears and I remember all too well that he’s right there, heroically battling for the place and show spot behind Les-retariat, who’s already lapped the field twice. I never really minded Old Dinkle but New Old Dinkle is like fingernails on a chalkboard, with his wry cackle and endless reserve of crappy band gags. He was better when he was a weird marching band fascist, as Act III Dinkle has no redeeming qualities whatsoever.

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