Tag Archives: vintage strips

(We Are) The Depressed Derek Appreciation Society.

The Minority Characters Speak Out!

Roland was an anti-establishment activist. Of course he didn’t feel a part of things in high school. I suppose we can read this as Roland feeling alienated even before, and choosing an identity in the counter-culture that justified those feelings.

At least by talking about prior ‘protests’ and ‘anger’ Rolanda has made her line specific to her, so she’s leaps and bounds ahead of Crazy and Funky this week. But Batiuk is just writing her saying this because he wants to let his new trans character talk one more time before this arc ends and she disappears forever.

It’s Derek who’s giving me a chuckle today. He gets one word. One word this whole year. “Seriously?”

I’m guessing that this was intended by the author to reference the one or two strips where he felt ‘alienated’ by his race. He was one of a few black students in a mostly white school. So obviously (sarcasm) asking him if he felt left out is silly.

The Cringe Echoes Through the Ages.

But I am invoking Death of the Author.

Because Derek is the embodiment of ‘Seriously?’ As in, “Why do I exist in this asinine universe surrounded by stupid, unfunny, jokes?”

Every time he would stare out at the audience, it was like a cry for help through the crack in the Fourth Wall. He had this air of resigned desperation. I imagine you would get a similar expression if Charles Dance was sent to a hell populated entirely by Teletubbies.

Chilling

And so when Derek today says, “Seriously?” I don’t hear, “Yes, of course I felt like an outsider.”

I hear, “Seriously? Seriously? It’s been 50 years! I hardly even remember high school. Why did I even come to this? Why did I bother to bring the ultrasound picture of my great-grandson? Or the photos of my granddaughter getting her doctorate? Why did I bother looking any of these chucklefucks up on Facebook to see what they’ve been up to. I came all prepared to talk about Les’ movie getting an Oscar. Cindy’s work on BuddyBlog. What it was like being stuck in LA for the fires. Funky’s punk son finally making an honest woman of that poor pretty army chick. Holly’s biography on being a majorette. Rolanda’s work counselling the families of senior gender transitioners. Maybe share some memories of Bull and Mary Sue, since this is our first reunion without them. But naw, I shoulda known better. These assholes are just gonna stand in a row all facing the same way, like they’re posing for a picture no one is gonna take, and pass the same damn sentence down the line in the world’s most half-assed game of telephone. Fuck these cookie-cutter punch-outs all thinking they’re a special snowflake. If they’re not all dead by the next reunion, I’m not coming. I was hoping to talk to Barry Balderman and Carrie and Melissa, maybe catch up with Wanda, but naw. They were too smart for this shit. I mean. Seriously?”

“At least Les didn’t have a pity party over his dead wife again.”

Speaking of Les! Here’s some more writing advice from the past! Brought to you by the world’s least prolific biographer.

Past, Present, and Future can all be thrown out without explanation if you suddenly decide that Crankshaft and Funky are no longer separated by 10 years.
Good pacing is spending five days on a woman being impotently worried, two days introducing a transgender character you haven’t seen in 40 years, and five days on characters all agreeing they have the exact same feelings using the exact same words.

We Are The Son of Stuck Funky Admiration Affiliate

Preserving the old strips from being abused
Protesting the new ways for me and for you
What more can we do
?

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Who Will Be the Next to Whine?

Funky See, Funky Do.

Quick! The most popular and objectively successful member of the class has admitted they never felt like they fit in! Everyone must fall in line behind her and parrot her sentiments! This will prove how alienated and apart from things they all were!

This would almost be a joke. If the idea that “Les was a dork in school” hadn’t been hammered home so many times the nail is halfway to China, and they’re using a percussive drilling machine with 2000 feet of rod to reach the punchline.

Keep digging, Boys! We’ll reach that sweet black comedy!
I know it!

What even does ‘In-Crowd’ mean? In my experience, you want your circle of friends to share your interests and enjoy the same things. A chess club nerd is going to be lost and bored at a football kegger. The kids I knew in high school that were miserable were either the ones that faked their way into a clique that didn’t really suit them, or the poor kids who never found a niche no matter how small.

But Funky was considered perfectly acceptable in High School. Neither the most popular, nor the least.

‘Average’ is the first bit of characterization Funky was given, and as far as I can see it held true through 20 years of high school. You’ve got to give him some credit for keeping Les as his best friend, since nothing probably dragged him down Cindy’s popularity rankings more than having human tumor Les Moore clinging to his side.

I would say that Funky should let Les speak on what it really felt like to be excluded in high school. Since if anyone has a right to speak on the topic it is him.

But I bet Funky and crew remember Les’ self-righteous downer of a commencement speech and rightfully figured the less he said on the topic the better.

Wanda has been smart enough to NEVER attend a reunion following the 2008 fiasco. But really she should have known what she was in for, since Cindy showed up at her door in 2004 to for an entire week of groveling. Something I only found after my Wanda retrospective back in March.

Thank you, Cindy, for coming to my house and talking about your own feelings for five minutes and then walking away without waiting to see if I had anything I needed to get off my own chest.

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Check your Selfie, before you wreck your Selfie.

Link to Today’s Unbearable Punning.

After a week of Holly being cripplingly insecure, she now is trying to infect others with her self-doubt.

Cindy is a good call to try and make self-conscious. Her entire tenure as character, Cindy has been consistently portrayed as brimming with self-confidence ONLY when arbitrary ‘success’ conditions she’s built up in her mind have been met. She’s like a popularity Pharisee, as long as she’s safely within the Talmud of Flawlessness, she’s a self-righteous zealot.

But you take her ONE INCH from the straight and narrow, and she collapses. And this was worse when she was younger. When not having a date for New Year’s Eve had her hiding out at McArnolds with LES MOORE, because it broke some unwritten mental rule of hers.

And she has a history of jealousy when it comes to her romantic partners.

Do you remember when Rachel worked for DSH John? HarrietFarms remembers.
Do you remember when Rachel used to pose naked for art students?
I bet Pete remembers.

But yes. Cindy’s jealousy. Maybe not completely misplaced when it came to Funky and Rachel.

But, of course, she’s also been jealous of Masonee Jarree.

Masone handles this pretty well IMO. I don’t know what he sees in Cindy, but he’s a good fit for her.

But it is LAUGHABLE that Cindy would be jealous of the Westview Women Lumps on display today. Marianne and Rachel were both women YOUNGER than her and lauded as attractive. Cindy is still miles above anyone else female at the reunion. Even with the crippling scoliosis she’s been stricken with in panel 1.

This, this is the ultimate power FANTASY. Parading your delicious arm candy to all the dowdy hausfraus in Ohio. Beneficently allowing all the ugly old geese a moment to pose with your prize.

I mean, who could be jealous of ‘scribbles’ and ‘Jan’? Who even is Jan?

Is she some late Act I graduate I’m unfamiliar with? Why not Cindy’s old wingwoman, Carrie?

Or Les’ senior prom date, Melissa.

Because the only Act I Jan I can think of is Ladies Club, Rap Cellar, Jan. As in Jan and Marcia.

So that is my headcanon now. These two ladies posing with Masone are Marcia and Jan. They crashed the reunion in order to meet a movie star. They’re a good 8-10 years older than everyone else, but everyone is so dumpy looking no-one can tell.

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Signal the Virtues! Strike up the Bandwagon!

Link To Today’s Pulse Pounding Drama!

Blatant theft of idea and art! Done with love, respect, and admiration for Blog Host Emeritus, Beckoning Chasm.

‘Member Roland?

Oh, I ‘member.

I imagine this was also Batiuk’s thought process writing this arc.

I’m starting to get kinda paranoid, guys. I’m starting to feel like Batiuk IS reading this blog. That he reads it, and then changes continuity or characters just to troll us. He saw my jokey headcanon that Roland became a conservative hardware store owner, and had to kick back against my fantasy of responsible small business success and respect for the establishment by inserting the character into a hot button political issue.

I had to fumigate and dissect a political hornets’ nest on my last shift. I’m in no mood to kick this one. I eagerly look forward to all of you in the comments respectfully discussing with each other the artistic merits of this decision and tearing Batiuk a new one. Remember the site rules.

Whatever our diverse views, we can all agree that Batiuk is mostly doing this because he lazily looked through the Overton Window and realized he could bring up a topic that would get him possible cheers from the people he loves to get cheered by and maybe even jeers from the people he gets off on hating.

Some context for your discussion. I don’t have anything concrete I’m trying to say with these. Just some stuff that’s weird to read with the new retcon in mind.

Okay, now imagine 50 years!
So, not ace?
But bikini’s irrelevant?
History and Etymology for chauvinism
French chauvinisme, from Nicolas Chauvin, character noted for his excessive patriotism and devotion to Napoleon in Théodore and Hippolyte Cogniard’s play La Cocarde tricolore (1831)
Life-style? Mom?
Misogynist Transphobic Dad?
Hmmm…
I mean, no argument there…
Projection? Jealousy?
Denigrating Roller Derby reference, learned from dad?

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That’s a Strange Way to Tell Me You Love Me…

Link to a today’s strip.

Um. Okay.

If you really break down what Crazy is saying here, it seems to imply that when he was sixteen he was attracted to an eleven year-old-child he assumed was a boy.

No Boku No Pac-Man, please…

Unfortunate implications aside, all we have here is a restatement of the week’s plot. The only thing of note is that the Sunday colorist managed to depict a redhead character correctly for once.

March of last year Tom let us know this arc was incoming, when he posted the book cover that inspired his Eliminator helmet, and said this:

I saw this book on a spinner rack at the Captain EZ Confectionery a few blocks from our first apartment. Couldn’t resist the cover. Picked it up and later “borrowed” the Hunter helmet for a character I’d just created in Funky called the Eliminator. Said helmet, coinkadinkily enough, will show-up in a Funky story arc next year.

Cover Me 143
posted on MARCH 20, 2021
“Hunter” – Art by Paul Neary and written by Rich Margopoulos, Budd Lewis and Bill DuBay. Six parts in total, appearing in issues #52-57. Set in a near-future world devastated by nuclear war, it features Damien Hunter, a half man/half demon who seeks to destroy all the demons on Earth, including his father Oephal. As a half-breed consumed by self-loathing, Hunter frequently moralized on racial issues in contemporary America.

I want to thank Banana Jr. 6000, none, Charles, Mela, as well as others for providing some background on the arcade game Defender. I didn’t grow up with video games, only picking up the habit during college, so the context was great. I hunted up a few short YouTube vids that cover the development and just how unique and challenging the game is.

Today is the last day of my shift. It has been a real treat celebrating 50 years of Funky Winkerbean by going back in time to see what a 25-year-old Tom Batiuk was capable of. Thanks everyone who enjoyed it with me!

But what did I really think of the first four years of Funky Winkerbean?

It was alright.

Not usually laugh out loud funny, certainly capable of being bad, but amusing enough. Certainly not out of place squeezed between Hagar the Horrible and Wizard of Id.

But I easily found strips where the seeds of what would grow into Batiuk’s thorniest issues were germinating.

Preachy Nihilism.
Recycled Jokes
Observational Non-Humor
Vaguely offensive portrayals of women
I mean women WANT to be sexy and hate not being sexy and hate other women for being sexy amirite?
Dinkle writing AWFUL puns.
Worshiping Les. (Okay, this one is actually funny.)

And, as I’ve said before, I think we’re sometimes too hard on modern Batiuk during those occasions when he dips his toes back into gag-a-day humor. It might not be as good as his best was back then. But his best now is as good as his average was.

So sue me, I liked this one.

There were a couple strips I stumbled across that made me cringe or shudder, knowing where the strip would eventually go.

Baby Wally was born fearing death.
Alcoholism runs in Funky’s family.
Les hopes his future wife will make him money…
Uhh…
Uhhh…..

But despite all that, there were strips that had me genuinely laughing out loud. So here they are, my favorite strips from the first few years of Funky Winkerbean.

Act I Crazy Harry is my spirit animal.
I have literally done this.

So that’s it for me this round! The esteemed SpacemanSpiff85 will be taking over the ship tomorrow, asking the hard hitting questions.

Like, when is the strip ending? Will Wally Jr. ever return? Will Mindy and Mopey ever marry? Will Summer ever graduate Kent State? We’ve reached 50 years and we’re still chugging along. Maybe someday, we’ll know, but it doesn’t look like it’ll be this year.

Comic Book Harriet, signing off.

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Relics of the Past

(It’s a long one today folks. Sorry ’bout that.)

Link to another dumb question from Maddie that I can’t believe she’s never asked her mom before. And how has Maddie not seen the picture at Montoni’s? She worked there.

Who doesn’t at least know the very basics of how their parents met? Heck, I referenced my own parents’ story of sneaking out to the county fair behind my grandma’s back in the very first post of my shift. I will admit, sometimes I pretend like I haven’t heard a story, just so I can hear it again; but that doesn’t seem to be the case here.

And, as many of you have commented, this story has more holes than Swiss Cheese. The real backstory here is that in 2001 or 2002 Batiuk realized that he had married off Les to Lisa and Funky to Cindy and wondered who he should set Crazy Harry up with. He then had the idea to reveal that The Eliminator kid was a girl all along, and have her and Crazy fall in love. Not the worst idea, really. Done right it could have been a cute reference to ‘Samus is a girl!’. The problem was in the execution.

No. It wasn’t.

In Metroid, Samus isn’t ‘hiding’ her gender because the Mother Brain is sexist and won’t fight a woman. She’s just in an androgynous space suit for most of the game. Players might assume she’s male, but it’s not confirmed either way until the end.

Hai Guize

I haven’t read all the old The Eliminator strips; I don’t know how often she self-refers as male. So I don’t know how feasible it would be to present Donna’s past actions as allowing the people around her to think she was a boy because she didn’t care to clarify, or because she thought it was funny. (“I was named for your Grandpa Donald. My mom always called me that when she was angry.”)

But the only other way to salvage this would be writing a more serious story about Donna as an insecure little girl who thought she needed to disguise herself coming to the realization as an adult that she was wrong. Because she didn’t need to. Period. Mary Ellen, and Livinia, and Junebug, and even Wanda have proved that handily almost a decade before The Eliminator is introduced.

Batiuk is repeatedly guilty of recontextualizing his own past to suit the narrative of the now. I found some old puff piece newspaper articles that just plain don’t make sense after reading the first few years of Funky Winkerbean.

To Batiuk, delving back into the high school years with the gay prom issue underscores the generational changes and contemporary challenges his characters faced once he decided to let them begin aging along with Batiuk and the rest of us.

“I had crossed the threshold and I had grown up and the characters wanted to grow up too, it seemed like,” Batiuk said in an interview in his cozy and bright studio jammed with books and mementos.

“Funky Winkerbean” might have a lower profile in mainstream culture than, say, “Doonesbury,” possibly because “Funky” was a gag cartoon in the early years when society was highly politicized in the Vietnam era and has become more issue-oriented since the 1990s…

The San Diego Union-Tribune
Thomas J. Sheeran, AP
May 29, 2012 

When he began “Funky Winkerbean” on March 27, 1972, Batiuk was a 25-year-old cartoonist who seemed to be purposely unaware of the furor then affecting American society. The Vietnam War was still a focus of the nation’s rage, Watergate was just beginning to heat up and all the rest of the post-‘60s-era concerns – sexism, racism, the Cold War, social-welfare programs – hogged the daily headlines.

In the midst of this, Batiuk’s strip existed as if in another dimension. His characters were mostly students whose main interests involved air-guitar contests, flaming-baton routines, bullies roaming the hallways, student popularity polls and how to survive the daily humiliations of gym class.


The Spokesman-Review
Dan Webster
July 20,1997

In the 90’s and beyond, Batiuk wanted to pretend he hadn’t been talking about ‘serious issues’ in Act I, because he wanted attention for talking about them now.

The first years of Funky Winkerbean didn’t exist in a ‘different dimension.’ They were more contemporary than the modern strip has been in years.

VIETNAM

Let’s talk about the draft on the fourth strip ever.

WATERGATE

August 4, 1973

THE BICENTENNIAL

PLANE HIJACKINGS

LABOR STRIKES

SUGAR PRICE SPIKE OF 1974.

Some of these events were very much ‘of their time.’ For someone like me, born after this era, reading through is a fun little history lesson. Like when I was a kid, learning about the 80’s by reading Dave Barry’s Greatest Hits and watching old VHS of Saturday Night Live.

“There’s no delicate way to put this. Running around naked in public was one of the biggest and strangest trends of the 1970s.”

But other ‘current events’ only serve to prove that time is a flat circle, and the more things change…the more they stay the same.

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The Secret Life of the B-Tiers.

Link to today’s interesting new wrinkle.

I mean, uh, wow. I guess that is one reason to have Maddie come back. Cross one off my list of Long Standing Funky Mysteries. For those of you more recently jumping on the Beady-Eyed-Nitpicker wagon, the Big Gay Castle Mystery goes all the way back to Summer, Keisha, Jinx, and Maddie’s senior year prom in May 2012. In that plotline two unnamed boys buy tickets to go to prom together, Becky’s mom whips up a protest, Principal Nate holds an assembly where he clarifies that there’s nothing in the Student Handbook prohibiting people taking other people of the same gender to the prom, and then everyone cheered.

Of note was a couple strips at the very end of the arc.

Who was this kid obscured by The Big Gay Castle? It could have been anyone but Keisha. For ten years I’ve wondered, and I guess we’re finally getting our answer. Maddie Klinghorn. And it makes sense, Maddie was there.

Really, I’m just relieved that it wasn’t Summer. Les didn’t need another reason to virtue signal his greatness, and I didn’t want the cliché of the sporty tomboy being a lesbian all along. Especially since Summer has been shown mooning over Masone Jarre, though I guess she could be sporty enough to play for both teams.

This does fix the most glaring issue with Batiuk’s preachy Big Gay Prom arc: that the ‘gay’ couple is a nameless prop. They show up for TWO strips, looking like they just left their Hardy Boys cosplay competition.

And then they’re just an idea, never seen again, not even at the prom. In fact, there don’t appear to be ANY gay couples at the prom, except for maybe this panel of two guys standing shoulder to shoulder.

Bumping shoulders is the height of homosexuality.

So I’m curious to see where Batiuk takes this new revelation. How will he handle his first named queer character? Is this going to be a big arc? Or are we in for a Northstar revelation, similar to Masone Jarre’s bipolar disorder, where Maddie’s sexuality is confirmed once and then dropped for years or forever?

It’s not like in the 70’s, where a Boston Marriage between socialites could be depicted in great detail in a comic strip, and yet the heteronormativity of both women strictly enforced and accepted prima facie.

These two ladies are Marcia and Jan, the two most baffling recurring characters in early Funky Winkerbean. They are introduced as Women’s Club members that run the ‘Rap Cellar’. Which seems to be some kind of afterschool program for high schoolers, that Marcia usually is the one leading.

The joke in the Rap Cellar strips are that these well-meaning but dim-witted ladies have completely different priorities, life styles, and interests than the hip kids they’re trying to counsel. They are from a decade before, not old enough to be their parents, but not young enough to understand them. And their Brady Bunch names might be a joke on their squeaky clean and sunny simple outlook.

But, the actual ‘Rap Cellar’ strips are few and far in between. Maybe a dozen or so, and they’ve mostly fallen off. Yet, these two ladies keep showing up. Talking over coffee, exercising, playing tennis, shopping, and watching TV.

Many of you have pointed out the Peanuts parallels to early Funky Winkerbean. They definitely exist, in the art style and the humor, but one big difference is that in Peanuts adults are unseen alien creatures warbling in nonsense lines, in Vintage Funky Winkerbean both the teachers and the students have equal parts as characters.

But these ladies aren’t teachers at Westview, they aren’t even parents like Roland’s Chair!Dad. The connection between Jan and Marcia and the Funky Bunch is tenuous to begin with…and by 1976 has almost completely disappeared. Yet these two ladies keep showing up for one-off gags, or a disconnected week of tennis strips.

Who are these ladies? Why are they still here? Given the eyebags on their cheek bones, is one of them Pete’s mom? Maybe they’re a weird repository for ‘upper middle class lady’ humor that Batiuk just HAD to get out there, tone and setting of his comic be damned.

I don’t know. The nicest thing I can say about them is that Batiuk usually does a good job of drawing their faces and bodies consistently different, so you can tell who is Marcia and who is Jan despite their hair being the almost the same.

Jan is also the fat one.

And in a strip where almost everyone is already cynical and jaded, they at least provide a nice contrast.

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What’s in a Name?

Link to a redraw of a strip we’ve seen plenty of times before.

Like 20 years ago in 2002.
And eight years ago in 2014.

Donna’s devolution from gender ambiguous nerdy tween, to leather clad motorcycle hottie, to generic shapeless Westview-woman lump, is one of the great tragedies of the Funkyverse. But it is typical of Batiuk’s style, and has been from the very beginning.

If you’ve spent any time falling down the link-clink rabbit hole of TVTropes, you’re probably familiar with the term Flanderization. The term even has it’s own REAL Wikipedia article. Visually it looks like this:

Over time certain details become exaggerated, and other finer details are lost. The character becomes caricature.

The thing is, a little Flanderization can be a GOOD thing, especially in comedy. Characters need to be different from each other in the reader’s mind and a few exaggerated characteristics make a strong foundation for ensemble humor.

Funky Winkerbean characters, at least in Act III, go through a different process.

Whatever Batiuk’s initial conception of a character, it gets lost in the average. The minute differences in temperament between Holly and Donna, or Jessica and Mindy, or Funky and Darin, or Pete and Les need an electron microscope to measure. Even a character like Crazy Harry has lost all his edges. I’ve seen nuttier former postmen buying Pall Malls at the gas station, talking to me in all seriousness about how JFK Jr. is running for president next term.

This isn’t a new phenomena for him. He seems to subconsciously WANT his characters bland so he can use any of them in any combination to tell a story. No matter how he designs them, the distinguishing bits get knocked off. You can see this clearly with the early Act I character Miss Rita Wrighton.

Miss Wrighton, (Get it? Right On? Like… so hip,) was initially introduced as the young, idealistic, counter-culture teacher. She was dressed with chunky peace sign earrings, pants as well as skirts, and hair worn long and down instead of a shellacked professional up-do. She was at Westview fresh out of college and full of passion and hope to empower the youth to change the system.

The joke is, of course, that she was trying to teach in the way she’d spent years of college learning about, but the theory is different from the practice. No one, not even most of the other teachers, were taking this as seriously as she was taught.

Midway through that first year the peace sign earrings disappear. She’s regularly butting heads with Crazy Harry, and seems to have a hard time controlling her class in general.

At the beginning of the next school year, she’s jaded. Though more cynical in outlook, she still seeks positive change in the school. This would be a fine character progression, if she wasn’t moving into a space already occupied by Fred Fairgood. At this point they’re practically interchangeable, similar in temperament and tone, with the only difference being his additional experience.

During the summer of 75, she goes on a vacation to England with her friend Ann. Batiuk is now just using her for bland whatever gags. He’s losing her personality to the pun void.

I’m pretty sure this is Fred’s future wife, Ann Randall. I can’t tell if she’s also supposed to be the school ‘librarian’ seen early on in 1972.

The story arc currently being released on CK has Rita newly engaged and contemplating quitting teaching.

The whole story line has commenters confused. It’s unclear if Rita is considering quitting simply because her new husband can now support both of them on a single salary; or if Batiuk was pulling a Skunky Funkybuns and got confused as to when the ‘marriage-bar’ was outlawed, (the sixties.) Either way, it’s a pretty big regression, from counter-culture activist to contemplating giving up a career to be a housewife.

Will she disappear into the Phantom Zone of characters who lost their ‘edge’ now? Or will the last vestiges of her ‘modern-woman’ persona manifest itself and we’ll have another few years with poor neutered Ms. Wrighton? I’m genuinely interested to find out.

By the way. Have YOU seen Skunky Funkybuns? The greatest piece of stand up comedy this decade.

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For the Love of the Game

YOUR MOM.

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.

Shun the Non-Believer…Shuuuuuuuuuuuuuuun.

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.

I will always love you singing donut puppet that taught me to fear hell.

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.

Have you guys even SEEN The Sandlot?

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.

Harsher in hindsight? Yes. Still laughing? Yes.

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.

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Running Up the Score

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.

Also first mention of Big Walnut Tech, I think.

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.

Proof that he could never sustain it.

This girl gets it. This is the dream.

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