Tag Archives: vintage strips

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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The Lost Girl

HOLY GUACAMOLE! LOOK WHO IS BACK!!!!

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.

Yes! You made it! None of you have additional younger children you’ve been completely forgetting for the last four years!

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.

This show was pretty great. At least through season 3.

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.

Terrible, blurry, microfiche LIES.

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.

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Odd Man In

Link to another boring nonsensical strip that I still kind of understood because I’m always asking my housemate and best friend if she wants to go to the store with me but man was this week awful with maybe one almost joke and five days of pointless observation and yes this was supposed to be one long run-on sentence for comedic effect.

Full disclosure: Until I read through the Vintage Funky Winkerbean, I assumed Roland was black. I realized my mistake when Derek popped up, asking Les about why ‘brothers and sisters’ weren’t being covered by the school paper, looking like the lost sixth Jackson brother from the Jackson Five cartoon.

Ooh, ooh, Derek, (don’t want you back)

So Roland’s poofy hair was just an Art Garfunkel style jewfro, and Derek is the strip’s first black character. Which other characters seem to only notice and comment on occasionally.

In all of his appearances, there’s only a handful of strips where Derek’s overtly concerned about racism. And it always comes across cringy af. Now-a-days this is the sort of material that gets you twitter cancelled.

A modern activist would call this gaslighting.
I think the joke here is that the computer scheduling has more power than the school board and admin.

Other than these cases, Derek is written as ‘one of the guys’. Sometimes he spouts off Roland-esqe general activist talking points for a laugh.

His main character trait is this sort of weary detachment. In the four years of strips released, I think I’ve seen him smile twice. It’s like, somehow he knows. He knows that he’s stuck in Funky Winkerbean. And the best he can hope for is to feel slightly less than dead inside.

Like Livinia, unspoken identity politics hamstring his range. Because Batiuk wants Derek to be a positive portrayal of a black student, he’s never shown getting into trouble with the principal or being ignorant. He never asks the dumb question. He is the one Funky Winkerbean character that is never the wacky one spouting off inanity. He is all grimace and side-eye.

When Derek delivers the punchlines, they’re clever observations that reveal intelligence, not obliviousness like Batiuk will use for Les or even Funky.

Derek is still showing up in Vintage Funky Winkerbean through 1976. Most recently watching TV with Crazy Harry on 4-10-76.

I doubt he’s going to completely disappear for a while, since he fulfils an important diversity position. He’ll keep showing up until a more gimmicky black boy is introduced, or until Batiuk forgets to remind his audience he’s not racist. In September of 1975 a black female student was introduced, Junebug Jones. She and Derek are dating, and she becomes a cheerleader. Her ‘unorthodox’ cheering strategy is another running gag.

I’m of two conflicting minds on Junebug. On the one hand I wonder if she plays into the lazy stereotype of black girls as loud, aggressive, and tactless. On the other hand, I love seeing a lady with some backbone.

Derek and Junebug, one of the first couples in Funky Winkerbean. She might not have liked the odds, but she should have placed her bets. By the 1998 class reunion arc, they are confirmed to be married.

Crazy/Holly: the ship not taken.

And by the 2008 reunion they have grandkids!

Don’t worry Funky, I’m sure Corey and Rocky will give you some grandkids eventually. Maybe. If they get around to it.

Junebug shows up again in 2015, as part of The Upcoming Reunion planning committee.

Note: Except for poor Barry Balderman here, none of these other people are actually seen at The Time Pool reunion. I like to think they bailed when they realized what a shitshow it was going to be.

So, really, despite all his grumbling, it seems like Derek and Junebug had it pretty good for Funky Winkerbean characters. They escaped the plot before the Act II drama hit, and every subsequent cameo appearance has only reinforced their happy ending.

He who laughs last…

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Gut Check Mates

Link to the first almost passable strip of the week.

If Livinia lost her main character status due to being too bland, Roland had the opposite problem. In the very first year of Funky Winkerbean, Roland Mathews had the strongest characterization of anyone. It’s apparent from the second strip he appears in.

He’s an ‘activist’. But unlike Livinia, his activism is vague and almost always played for laughs. The joke is usually Roland’s underlying hypocrisy, or the way he uses his ostensive political stances to ego trip and divert responsibility.

In the first couple years of FW, when he isn’t just rounding out the trio of guys, he has three recurring gags/storylines:

First is his rivalry with ‘Wicked’ Wanda, a student who is a women’s lib activist. These strips invariably lead to a sign smashing gag.

Second is his underground newspaper that Funky often helps with.

And third is his antagonistic relationship with his unnamed father, who is always shown sitting in front of the TV like he is some kind of bald chair-human hybrid.

As was shown in my spreadsheet yesterday, Roland shows up quite a bit in that first year, with 57 appearances. A distant third behind Les and Funky, but handily beating Livinia. He continues to show up regularly in 1973, though it’s clear that Crazy Harry has supplanted him. By 1974, Roland is on his way out. He shows up 10 times that year, 5 times in relation to his dad.

There’s the last mentions of his underground paper.

And, on September 3, 1974, his last appearance at school.

When I first saw this, I thought it was just a joke. Ha Ha! Roland wants to quit school. But I guess he dropped out for real. He shows up three more times after this, but every time it’s in relation to his dad.
Roland’s last (?) appearance (so far) in Vintage FW. 3/8/75.

What is really really weird is that his chair!dad has continued to show up a few times since then, most ‘recently’ on 1/10/76. He seems to be taking a protoCrankshaft role.

Did Batiuk intend to write the topical and tragic story of a passionate teen with an uncaring and emotionally abusive parent lashing out against society, acting out at school, and eventually dropping out? Presumably leaving home with an incomplete education and no support structure, and disappearing into the world like so many hurting and alienated young people of his generation?

I’d put a sizable chunk of change on NO. Batiuk stopped using Roland because he’d decided to stop pulling from the counter-culture so much. On my first read through of 1972, I was shocked at how political it was. Batiuk doesn’t have his characters preaching THE TRUTH from a soapbox, like he does now, but he was constantly referencing politics, social issues, and the environment, usually with a kind of helpless sardonicism. It’s so weird that FW of 2022 feels more ‘hopeful.’ The preachy characters of today are a call to action to fix Batiuk’s pet problem of the week. The 1972 FW characters can’t change anything, and the joke is they try.

FW starts off with this chip on its shoulder, personified in Roland. It references the hippie values and politics because it’s trying to prove that, “It’s not like most strips.”

From the very beginning, I had some definite ideas about how I wanted to approach a teen strip. The crop of teen strips in the early seventies seemed oblivious to the time in which they existed. The enormous changes taking place in the youth culture were quickly making the strips with the jalopies and letter sweaters irrelevant… I decided to avoid the standard teen strip clichés. There would be no teenagers hanging on the phone or parents yelling at them to clean up their rooms; there would be no letter-sweatered football hero trying to decide which cheerleader he wanted to date. Instead, I was going to write about the realities of the school that I knew, from the tedium of being an unheralded and unrecognizable member of the band to the horrors of having to climb the dreaded rope in gym class. Rather than focus on jocks and cheerleaders, I was going to write about everyone else.

From the introduction to The Complete Funky Winkerbean Vol. One

Of course, that quote just shows how willfully myopic Batiuk has always been. He wants so badly to be unique, that he builds up a fake version of something to put himself next to. I’ve never read much Archie comics, but I am sure that it’s not a shallow as he wants it to be. And the irony is his strip relatively quickly morphed into something rife with teen cliches. Crazy Harry steps in with his wacky personality, and omnipresent hat, and apolitical non-confrontational weirdness, and Roland disappears. Roland was angry. Crazy is effervescent, his antics just confuse and amuse those around him.

Wait, how did this picture get here?

As BillyTheSkink pointed out a few days ago, Roland did show up at the 2008 Reunion. He looks like he’d just gotten off work at the hardware store, and has what BTS calls “the haircut my grandfather was given when he joined the Air Force (and kept for the rest of his life).”

So that’s my headcanon now. After dropping out of school, Roland joined the Air Force, where he worked in logistics and communications. Finally getting the structure and support he needed and working in an organization that he felt got things done, he mellowed out. He became a successful small business owner and votes straight ticket GOP every election.

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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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