Link to a story Maddie’s probably heard before, and we definitely have!
One of my main problems with Donna’s ‘The Eliminator is a Girl!’ story is that Donna states she HAD to dress as a boy to play video games with the boys. This is regressive even within Batiuk’s own work. It’s the worst excuse for the reveal possible, because it’s either insulting to the world he had created or insulting to the intelligence of the characters.
The very first years of Funky Winkerbean are populated with many girl characters with traditionally ‘boy’ interests. And I’m not just talking about tone deaf jokes like Wanda playing fullback. Livina learns chess, enjoys watching golf, happily munches popcorn through violent movies, and is willing to wade through polluted mud to clean up the environment.
Junebug offers specific basketball advice, showing knowledge and interest in the game.
Vicki, who dated Funky for a few months, seems pleased at the prospect of watching performative car maintenance.
During the second and third summer breaks of the strip, Funky gets a job as a neighborhood playground supervisor. A job that also involves coaching the playground’s baseball team, which appears to be co-ed.
And his rival playground’s supervisor is someone I WISH Batiuk had spent more time on. She might just be one of my favorite characters of Act I so far.
Is this a shameless bit of virtue signaling? Yes.
But is Mary Ellen the joke? No.
Or, at least, the idea of a girl coaching baseball isn’t the joke.
The joke is, girl plays to win and GIRL PLAYS DIRTY!
Mary Ellen is AMAZING. Just bask in the glow of this.
Notice how, in all of these, Funky is treating her with respect as equals and coworkers. And never questions her obvious love of baseball, or even calls it unfeminine.
In a world where Mary Ellen exists and Funky doesn’t bat an eye, why would Donna need to disguise herself to play video games? Video games are even less gendered than sports, because in the world of ones and zeros physical limitations or advantages are nullified.
As a woman who is both a baseball fan AND a massive nerd, one of my major frustrations with Act III is Batiuk’s failure to build any of his females with the sort of fun obsessions that have flavored my entire life. Even Donna, from the moment she ripped off her biker helmet in 2002, has just been another bland woman, never allowed to geek out again. The closest we got was Holly’s Starbuck Jones comic book hunt, but she was only doing that for her son. It’s like he’s forgotten that girls are just as capable of salivating over ERA’s and MISB’s and CGC VF/NM’s as their male counterparts.
So. To Mary Ellen. Proof that Batiuk could do it right when he tried.
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.
What the f*ck is she talking about? Does she mean the movie itself, the book being translated into Spanish, the news that the movie won’t be shown anywhere, or what? For the time being I will assume she means how he “feels” about “Lisa’s Story” itself, because “Delicate Genius is deeply conflicted about sharing personal details of his life” is more or less the entire point of the “LS” arc, but given Batiuk’s uniquely non-linear “storytelling” style, who the hell really knows. She could be talking about the crab puffs or the ketamine she slipped into his drink or God only knows what.
And Cayla’s slow descent from “character” to “caricature” to “prop” continues unabated today, as BatNard couldn’t resist throwing in a touch of that patented “female = jealous” trope he enjoys so much. “GASP! She’s going into that room to talk to my HUSBAND…ALONE!!! I hope SEX isn’t involved!”. And while I’m braying on and on about shitty, poorly-developed female characters (again), there’s Marianne Winters, the beautiful twenty-something movie star with the small-town heart of gold, about to confide in her dear friend Les Moore, who didn’t even want her cast as Lisa in the first place. Luckily for her, she won him over with her pitch-perfect Lisa-isms thus immediately putting Les at ease to a point where he chose to allow himself to befriend her and not dismiss her as another cheap Hollywood phony like he initially assumed she was. Another believable and convincing female FW character and not at all indicative of far bigger and way weirder issues that are just too icky and disturbing to address at any length today.