In case you missed it, we are in the final weeks of Funky Winkerbean. Tom Batiuk appears to be reluctantly retiring the strip much in the same way he’s written Ruby as reluctantly retiring from Atomik Komix this week and in today’s strip. The timing of this thin gruel of a story arc and TB’s fairly muted announcement is certainly no coincidence. Most all of us here at SOSF, despite speculating for over a decade on when and how this thing would end, are probably still processing the suddenness of the announcement, how soon it will become reality, and what that means for this wonderful community going forward.
But enough wallowing about, let’s leave that to the strip and try to get back to business as usual. I guess today’s strip is aiming for bittersweet, but it largely is coming across as just bitter. You can’t mask your true feelings in a wall of smirks, TB… And even if the strip wasn’t ending at the close of this year, I’m guessing we were never going to see Chester meet with the building manager by looking in a mirror anyways. I’d say “a pity”, but, you know, it’s not. It’s really not.
I neither understand nor care what Les is droning on about in today’s strip, though I do find it hard to believe any student would invite him to a graduation party… including this one. Les was invited to Montoni’s alcohol-free graduation party in ’98 (not by a student), it was about as well-attended as you would expect.
If the party is alcohol-free, then why are they switching from present to past tense mid-sentence?
Cayla, for her part, is a strange combination of scandalized by a swimsuit style that has been fairly common and quite popular for half a century and nonchalant about seeing her youngerself galavanting merrily beside the (time?) pool.
Unless Rachel Winkerbean has taken to wearing a hat and hanging around with Crazy and Donna…Maddie Klingorn has finally returned from The Phantom Zone! She hasn’t been seen since 2012, when she graduated in the same class as Summer, Keisha, and Jinx Bushka. Her last appearance is hard to confirm. The Sunday colorist having a longstanding religious refusal to color any characters as soulless gingers, and invariably blondwashing. But panel juxtaposition implies this is Maddie hugging Jinx on 6/3/12.
Unfortunately, it looks like Maddie’s return heralds a week of ‘Did U Kno Dona Wuz Eliminater Bak n da Day?’ A storyline I expressed my thoughts on a couple years ago during the Salad Dressing Arc of 2020.
As the SOSF writer’s room’s current Smurfette, I always find myself wrestling with Batiuk’s contradictory portrayal of women. I don’t want to claim he’s a malicious sexist, because I don’t believe that’s true for a moment. He is able to give women positions of authority, give them careers, give them interests and concerns that go beyond pleasing a man. He is capable of writing them well, (even if he often doesn’t.) And it’s obvious that he builds several characters with Positive-Strong-Woman in mind.
I don’t want to get to the point where we can’t have an individual woman character being weak in a story. Where we can’t have men who comfort, who rescue, and who care for. As long as we’re not setting up a world were women are objects that NEED to be comforted, rescued, and cared for by men due to their chromosomes.
I also don’t want to be a stick in the mud and complain that gendered humor is ‘harmful’. Or that a man shouldn’t be able to make gendered jokes because ‘he’s punching down’. No. Nobody punches down on me. I’m just an individual, and I don’t speak for all women, of course, because all women are individuals. But this individual woman enjoys a joke about women-be-shopping and men-be-stubborn-and-holding-on-to-broken-farm-machinery-for-way-too-long-dad-really-let-it-go!
I’m really rather moderate, and always wary of those seeking to violently or rapidly tear down ‘the establishment’ without understanding it first. If someone asks me to be offended, my first question is always, “What do you stand to gain by my anger?”
And yet. I can’t tell you how many times Batiuk has written something, and I’ve gone, “Hey now, mister! This Nerdy Girl is offended!”
I don’t think of myself as a progressive. Batiuk does. And I think that’s his problem.
As the grandson of union men and living in a home where as a child the Weavers could be heard on the record player, I came by my progressive leanings honestly.
From The Complete Funky Winkerbean Volume Five
Batiuk has always thought of himself as ‘one of the good ones.’ He’s written Livinia, so it’s okay to write ‘Wicked’ Wanda in all her permutations.
Wanda was the women’s lib activist that liked to smash people with her sign. And really, that was the least problematic of her portrayals.
I think it’s fair to show a character so wrapped up in her social cause that she’s become a bully, a distaff counterpart to Roland. Livinia exists in strip to provide a #notallwomen’slibbers.
After the early sign gag seemed to have run it course, Wanda disappears for a while. When she comes back, it’s without her sign. Consistent with Batiuk stepping away from edgy activism and into teen-age tropes, she’s now just a big strong girl in overalls.
And she immediately falls in love with Les Moore in an awful storyline.
I get that part of the joke is that Wanda is treating Les in the same way that he has been shown treating girls throughout the strip, being creepy and insistent despite their obvious feelings. I’ve seen this plot done before, in Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles (2012) Seriously.
In that version of the show Donatello has a hopeless crush on April, and it leads to him acting like a clingy jealous jerk on occasion. In a season 3 plot, a female sasquatch falls in love with HIM.
Donatello complains to Raphael, “Bigfoot follows me around everywhere like a love struck puppy.”
To which Raph replies, “Now you know how April feels.”
THEN, Donnie realizes he’s been a big jerk, apologizes to Bigfoot, apologizes to April, and becomes a BETTER PERSON. Les’ plot with Wanda lacks both the sympathy for Wanda and any self-realization on Les’ part. Les might be despicable at times, purposefully flawed, but he is also a complete character with range and a voice. Wanda is only allowed ONE WORD.
But at least Les lets her down easy, and Wanda doesn’t seem too hurt by the end.
Believe it or not, the last arc with Wanda is, by far, the worst. In it, Wanda decides she wants to be a majorette, and all the humor comes from her ‘unfeminine’ body. Unlike the sign gag, or even the Les arc, this is making fun of her for something out of her control.
Her last appearance so far has been a single panel on 1/14/76.
Is this the last time I’ll see her in Vintage Funky Winkerbean? I don’t know. But if she does show up again I’m sure she’ll be the punchline.
To his credit, Batiuk seemed to realize in retrospect that he went too far here. In the 1998 reunion he brings Wanda up.
Of course, Batiuk being Batiuk, and Act II being Act II, it’s God’s Perfect Man Les Moore who calls them all out on their treatment of Wanda, and pretends like he was just too scared to stick up for her. Then he goes on a self-righteous speech. As if he weren’t one of the worst offenders.
Wanda finally shows up at the 2008 Reunion.
Of course, she is now thin and glamourous and looks like a Roman nosed Marianne Winters. As if a later life attractiveness somehow proves that she has grown beyond the ‘bullying’ she received as a child. As if coming to her reunion as plump and aged as anyone else would have lessened her ‘victory’ over her past. And is the white haired lady with her supposed to be her spouse? Maybe not, maybe just another classmate. But if so, double reductive on you Batiuk, deciding that the strong football-playing tomboy in high school must have been a lesbian all along, in spite of her longest arc spent mooning after boys.
Batiuk, so progressive he can’t properly look back. Failing his female characters once again. Wanda deserved better.
NOTE: I am currently on a vacation to visit family and was on the road all day. But thanks all of you for enjoying the 50th Anniversary strips. For those wondering, I did it in a combo of old and new paint, and the dialogue was done with a combo of preexisting speech bubbles, complete lines/paragraphs/phrases cut from a few strips, and a few things spelled out.
I’m probably proudest of the last strip, where I edited out an entire person from both panels used.
So this group really is a “Gospel” choir? That wasn’t just a set up for last month’s “gossip choir” joke? Look, I’m not saying that a choir of interchangeable old white midwestern women in what appears to be a staid mainline Protestant church cannot sing a genre of music that is most strongly associated with (often) male feature performers in southern evangelical or (particularly) Black churches. Unexpected as it might be, of course they can. What I’m saying is that I don’t think TB has any idea that Gospel music is an actual genre of music itself and not simply another term for “hymns” or “church music”.
Unfortunately for TB and for us, music is not like a choir loft. It can’t be researched by taking a photo of it and e-mailing it to Chuck Ayers.
This guy still doesn’t look anything like Bill Clinton, but at least he’s game to help the gang in today’s strip, which means we’re probably closer to the end of this idiocy (and the start of a new idiocy). A President Clinton junk food joke? Really, TB? Did you write this in 1994 or when people stopped laughing at the thought of the President eating French fries (which was 1995, I believe)?
Stuckfunkian commenter Scott Lovrine guessed last week that Ruby Lith may be based on Ramona Fradon, who worked on Aquaman and Metamorpho. The visual resemblance is very strong both in the past and currently. But from my research Ramona didn’t time in ‘the bullpen.’
I believe that Marie Severin and I were the only women drawing superheroes at the time [50’s]. It’s funny that she was drawing Sub-Mariner while I was drawing Aquaman. People always used to ask me if I knew her, but I didn’t meet her until years later, at a convention. I didn’t work in a bullpen like Marie did so, aside from being uncomfortable with male fantasies and the violent subject matter. I never really experienced what it was like being the only woman working in a man’s world.
Marie, who did work in an office with men, talked more about feeling slightly isolated or left out rather than harassed. The only story I could find her recounting was a male college blowing on the back of her neck.
In that case, comics have always been a rather male dominated field, and you, like Ramona [Fradon] are one of the two reigning queens. How many other women were there at Marvel at the time doing art, and did you ever have any problems with “the Bullpen” or anything like that?
MS: Not really, the guys, they say that women gossip, well networking is male gossip, and they “networked” all the time. But, just like we wouldn’t want a guy when we were sitting around talking about somebody’s shoes, or a certain eyeliner, they weren’t interested in having a woman around, and sure, I’d have lunch with them once in a while, but the conversations were always male; it was just normal. So, you’re sort of out of it. I didn’t have any real problems.
But that brings us to Lily Renee. If Batiuk wants to claim that Ruby Lith is based on any one woman, Lily Renee is the option that closest fits his ‘narrative’. And she also has a physical resemblance.
Lily Renee worked in the 40’s as a penciler and inker for Fiction House. She was Jewish, from Vienna, and had immigrated alone, at the age of 14, first to England then the United States to escape the Nazis. When her parents joined her a couple years later she took up a job in comics to help support her family. The men in the office teased her, tried to teach her dirty words in English, and drew nudes in the margins of the work she was supposed to ink. But she wasn’t the only woman working in the office. There were many women working for Fiction House at the time, and she was on good terms with most of them. She would regularly go out for lunch with Fran Hopper, and at one point, she lived with artist Ruth Atkinson for about a year.
Unlike Batiuk’s fantasy Ruby Lith though, Lily just did it for the money, and after leaving the comics industry in 1949, went to work on other things; illustrating children’s books, writing plays, and working in fashion.
So, big surprise, sometimes it was uncomfortable being a woman in a office predominated by men. Sometimes the women were ‘left out’, sometimes the women were teased. Sometimes it led to much drama that weren’t black-and-white cases of sexual harassment. The inker Violet Barclay, by her own admission, flirted with men in the office leading to acrimonious feelings and love triangles.
Barclay’s complicated relationship with benefactor Mike Sekowsky — who bestowed expensive gifts on her even after his marriage to Joanne Latta — caused friction in the Timely bullpen, which she left in 1949. As she later described the office environment,
“Mike was a very good human being. Everybody at Timely liked Mike. Nobody like me because they thought I was doing a number on him. Which was true. World War II was on and there were no men around, so I just killed time with him. Everybody, Dave Gantz especially, picked up on that. … [Mike] once tried to get me fired over my fling with [Timely artist] George Klein. Mike went to Stan Lee and said, ‘Stan, I want her fired, and if she doesn’t get fired, I’m going to quit’. Well, you couldn’t ever tell Stan Lee what to do. Stan said, ‘Well, Mike, it’s been nice knowing you’.”
Not all sexual harassers got off scott free either. Toni Blum, who worked for Quality Comics in the 40’s, was treated respectfully there except for an incident between two male artists, wherein one punched another in the face. As historian Denis Kitchen wrote, “[George] Tuska, like [Will] Eisner, had a crush on office mate Toni Blum but was too shy to make his move. The actual provocation that inflamed Tuska, Eisner privately said, was [Bob] Powell’s loud assertion that he ‘could f**k [Toni Blum] anytime’ he wanted. After decking Powell, Tuska stood over his prostrate coworker and in a voice Eisner described as Lon Chaney Jr. in Of Mice and Men said, ‘You shouldn’t ought to have said that, Bob.'”
So Flash just randomly dropped by the same time John had decided to randomly drop by. Okay then. Plotting is difficult, apparently. It always amuses me how Batiuk just obviously thinks people know who this random minor characters are and that everybody just immediately recognizes them and is thrilled to see them back. I barely remembered who Flash even was and I have to be in the top 1% of people who give a crap about this strip. I like how Darin is just inviting people to make appearances at John’s store.
It’s fun how the artist made sure to get John’s creepy spiky gray hair and Pete’s eye bags just right, but barely drew a face on Mindy. I’m not even sure if what she has there technically counts as a nose.
This strip is more fun if you imagine Flash’s words as a little Easter egg expressing Batiuk’s desire to be done with all this. It’s totally not necessary though, I mean, the entire strip gives off that vibe.
Mindy continues to play editor in today’s strip. Just think, had she been employed at Atomik Komix from the very beginning then we Chester might not have had to endure the launch title flop that was The Inedible Pulp.
How does Mindy know that Armorilla is not so named because her super power is skin that is as tough as armor? Oh right, because she knows as well as we do that TB, Pete, and Durwood are not creative enough to come up with something like that. Frankly, “Armorilla” sounds more like she should be a clothed gorilla adversary of Atomic Ape and Charger Chimp (ugh) than a presumably human villainess who fights someone called The Scorch. One might think that wearing lots of armor would be easily exploited by a superhero called The Scorch, who surely has heat-oriented powers. None of these characters = “one”.
Montoni’s…the wedding venue of choice for couples who just don’t really give a f*ck anymore. A “99% success rate”??? So Montoni’s has hosted 100 weddings and only one of those unholy unions failed? THAT seems unlikely. As difficult as this is to believe right now I’m actually hoping they get back to the Big Alumni Reunion Band thing or whatever it was, as at least that wasn’t entirely predictable. I like how Rocky still has absolutely nothing to say and no input to offer regarding her own wedding, which would be wildly unrealistic in any other setting but makes perfect sense in the Funkyverse. Obviously she saw her inevitable future and gave up long ago, much like TomHack’s readership did back in ’84.