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|Current status / schedule||Active|
|Launch date||March 27, 1972|
|Syndicate(s)||North America Syndicate|
|Current status / schedule||Active|
|Launch date||March 27, 1972|
|Syndicate(s)||North America Syndicate|
Funky Winkerbean is a popular long-run comic strip by Tom Batiuk (pronounced "Battick"). Distributed by North America Syndicate, a division of King Features Syndicate, it appears in more than 400 newspapers worldwide.
While Batiuk was a 23-year-old middle school art teacher in Elyria, Ohio, he began drawing cartoons while supervising study hall. In 1970, his characters first appeared as a weekly panel, Rapping Around, on the teenage page of the Elyria Chronicle Telegram. In 1972, Batiuk reworked some of the characters into a daily strip, which he sold to Publishers-Hall Syndicate.
Since its inception on March 27, 1972, the strip has gone through several format changes. For the first 20 years of its run, the characters did not age, and the strip was nominally episodic as opposed to a serial, with humor derived from visual gags and the eccentricity of the characters. In 1992, Batiuk rebooted the strip, establishing that the characters had graduated from high-school in 1988, and the series began progressing in real time. In 2007, a second "time warp" occurred, this time taking the strip ten years in the future, ostensibly to 2017, although the events of the strip still reflect a contemporary setting. Since the 1992 reboot and especially since the 2007 time jump, the strip has been recast as a drama, featuring story arcs revolving around such topics as terminal cancer, adoption, prisoners of war, drug abuse, post traumatic stress, same sex couples attending the senior prom and Interracial marriage..
Centered at Westview High School, the strip initially focused on several students: Funky Winkerbean, Crazy Harry Klinghorn, Barry Balderman, "Bull" Bushka, Cindy Summers, Junebug, Roland, Livinia, Leslie P. "Les" Moore, majorette Holly Budd (daughter of Melinda Budd, original majorette for Westview High), and Lisa Crawford.
From 1972 to 1992, the strip was highly gag oriented, with humor coming from physical and prop comedy and surreal situations: running gags included the school's computer having become sentient and subjecting the students to its obsession with Star Trek; student "Crazy" Harry's ability to play pizzas like records; the school's winless football team; and band director Harry L. Dinkle's attempts to win each year's "Battle of the Bands," despite the contest always coinciding with a natural disaster (usually a downpour from a heavy rainstorm).
Though the titular everyman Funky Winkerbean was the ostensible main character, nerds Les Moore and Lisa Crawford became breakout characters and the primary focus of the strip. Supporting characters included obsessive majorette Holly (who never removed her Majorette uniform), "Crazy" Harry (who lived in his locker), "Bull" Bushka (the school's star athlete and Les' Tormentor), and popular girl Cindy. Rounding out the cast was the Westview High staff, including Principal Burch, counselor Fred Fairgood, secretary Betty Reynolds (who actually ran the school), football coach John "Jack" Stropp and band director Harry L. Dinkle.
In 1992, Batiuk changed the strip's format. It was established that Funky, Les, Cindy and all the rest of the previous cast had graduated from Westview in 1988; their college years were skipped, and the story continued in their adulthood. Subsequently, the characters started to age in real time and undergo significant life changes. Funky married Cindy in 1998; they are now divorced. Les and Lisa married in a Halloween-themed 1996 story which saw them dressed as Batman and Robin. Funky now co-owned the local pizza parlor with Tony Montoni, Les taught English at Westview, Crazy Harry was the local mailman, Bull was the Scapegoats' coach, and Cindy was a national-level television newscaster. The strip followed their stories as well as those of a new generation at Westview, including Wally, Becky, Darin and Monroe. Overtly whimsical elements were now downplayed in favor of more grounded real-life incidents and stories, and some of the series' running gags from the 1972–92 years were recast in a more serious light. For instance, Bull's hectoring of Les became the focus of a storyline on domestic violence and Child Abuse when it was revealed that Bull abused Les to cope with being abused by his own father.
Though humorous storylines remained mainstay, Batiuk also examined real-life contemporary issues not normally seen on the comics page, such as:
A recurring storyline for many years was Lisa Moore's battle with breast cancer. She first dealt with it when she was diagnosed in 1999. Soon after, she learned that Holly Budd was also a breast cancer survivor. After going through chemotherapy and a mastectomy, Lisa's cancer went into remission. Lisa would later use her law practice to defend a client who was wrongfully fired from her job due to disability, and still later, a client unjustly charged with selling pornographic comic books to children.
In March 2006, Lisa's cancer returned in a more serious form. Following another round of chemo, her cancer appeared to go into remission again in early 2007, but on May 9, 2007, her doctor revealed that her medical charts had gotten mixed up and her disease was not only progressing, but had become inoperable. In a King Features press release, it was revealed that "Lisa will start chemo again, learn that her long-range prospects aren't hopeful, stop chemo, deal with telling her daughter about her cancer situation, [and] testify before Congress about the need for cancer research and cope with friends and family." Batiuk was very open about the fact that Lisa's latest ordeal would end with her death and some of the events that would take place as a result.
The series polarized the comics community, with Batiuk being both praised for dealing with the topic and criticized for his graphic depiction of Lisa's slow deterioration and ultimate death. The entire storyline, which did culminate with Lisa's death in the October 4, 2007, strip (excerpt at right), was collected and published in a book entitled Lisa's Story: The Other Shoe. This book, which includes the strips from Lisa's initial battle with cancer (which had itself been collected in book form in 2004), was in fact published before the series had finished running in syndication. After the May 2007 strip ran, Tom Batiuk discussed his reasoning for pursuing the plotline, stating that he was inspired by his own personal battle against prostate cancer.
On October 21, 2007, Funky Winkerbean underwent its second "time warp," this time jumping ahead to a point ten years following Lisa's death and aging the cast of characters accordingly; those that were children are now high school age, and the original cast are in their mid-forties. Readers got a preview of the new-look feature starting with the October 5 strip in which a middle-aged Les talks to an unseen psychologist about events that immediately followed Lisa's passing, which are then depicted in flashback form. The strip on the 21st showed a younger Les talking with Summer about death in general to help her understand that of Lisa's, before switching to the new-look Moores in the closing frames, and the first week of strips that followed, following the Moores participating in a Making Strides walk, had a banner saying "Act III: Ten Years Later" in the first frame (an "Act III" statement directing readers to the official website would be discreetly included in fine print for some time afterwards).
The relaunched Funky, Batiuk claimed, "is going to be a different strip, a little bit quieter." He also promised that despite Lisa's death, she will remain a presence in strip through flashbacks, remembrances, and a series of videos she recorded for daughter Summer just before she died. Montoni's will have opened several locations, including in New York City, Summer will have grown into a popular 15-year-old basketball star (in contrast to her geeky father), and Bull's adopted daughter Jinx, as well as Becky's adopted daughter Rana, are high-school aged. Batiuk explained that he wanted the comic to move so far ahead in order to prevent it from being an extended grieving process, to ensure that the next generation of students he followed were related to the original cast of characters, and that he wanted to bring the ages of his original characters closer to that of his current target audience. After the flash forward, all of the strip's prominent adult male characters–Funky, Les, Bull and Crazy Harry–are 46 years old.
Wally Winkerbean — who had returned to Iraq before the relaunch — is not in the core cast as shown on the Funky Winkerbean website, and it was also revealed that Becky had remarried sometime in the 10 years between Lisa's death and the flash-forward. For nearly two years after the relaunch, Wally's fate remained unknown, although early on, Batiuk wrote on his blog that what happened to Wally "may not be what you think happened." Batiuk also revealed that a "clue" to Wally's fate could be found in the October 11 strip which features Les getting mugged in New York after Lisa's death after walking past a newspaper vending machine with a headline saying "Soldiers Taken Hostage".
Several strips made allusions to Wally's disappearance, including one featuring Becky Howard's car having a POW/MIA bumper sticker and her placing a U.S. flag on an unidentified grave. In the July 12, 2009, strip, it is finally shown that Wally is alive and in full military uniform; a backstory revealed that Funky had gotten a call from his ex-wife, Cindy, informing him that Wally was alive and that she had conducted an interview that was to air on the news that evening. It was revealed that Wally had been held as a prisoner of war in Iraq for the past decade (possibly taken hostage around the time of Lisa's death), and — unaware that he was presumed dead and that Becky had remarried — stated during that interview that what kept him sane during his time in captivity was thinking about his wife and family. Funky visits the Howards to reveal that Wally was alive and in good health. In the August 9, 2009, strip, it was revealed that the grave Becky had visited all these years was that of Wally's assumed remains. Wally has made occasional appearances since his return to Westview, and made his first appearance as a central character in a storyline that began February 1, 2010, strip.
Darin Fairgood, another prominent character who appeared in the strip throughout the 1990s and 2000s, had also been unseen since the 2007 relaunch, but has recently reappeared in the strip helping his old high school buddy Pete Roberts move back into town. Pete is the latest resident of the apartment above Montoni's (Les and Lisa lived there before buying their home. Becky and Wally took it over, and then apparently during the time jump John and Becky lived there together before John turned it into a storage space for his comics, probably since the basement shop has flooded in the past).
During 2010, Funky became the central character in a storyline in which he has a flashback to his high school days 30 years earlier in Westview. The flashback ran concurrently with a storyline where Funky was seriously injured in a car accident, caused by a young woman whose car veers into the path of Funky's car while she was talking on a cellular telephone while driving. During several flashback scenes, Funky had seen (and in some cases, visited with) teen-aged versions of himself, Crazy Harry and Holly Budd (Funky's wife-to-be), and a younger Mr. Dinkle - all as they appeared in Funky Winkerbean strips in the early 1980s. Although the recovery aspect of the accident storyline continued into the fall, the flashback scenes ended when Funky regained consciousness at the hospital.
A storyline that began in April 2012 featured a same-sex couple wanting to go to Westview High School's prom together and purchasing tickets from Jinx Bushka who is a member of the Senior Prom committee. The story explored the reaction from Westview residents, most notably anti-LBGT activist and head of the Parent Senior prom volunteers Roberta Blackburn, who launches an effort to stop the couple from attending the prom by forming a protest outside the school. When a group of students led by Summer Moore supporting LBGT couples attending the prom plan a counter-protest, principal Nate Green diffuses the situation by calling a school assembly and announces that gay couples will be allowed to attend the prom, and that he will not have intolerance at Westview High School be a policy issue during his tenure.
Some time after Lisa's death, Les began dating Cayla Williams, a black teacher at Westview High. The relationship blossomed into love and in the fall of 2012, the two were married. Also that fall, Les' daughter, Summer, and Cayla's daughter, Keisha, began attending college.
In January 2013, Fred Fairgood – now retired as principal of Westview High – suffered a major stroke and was clinging to life at the hospital. About two years earlier, another longtime Westview staff member – Jock Strapp, the former football coach and physical education teacher – died of prostate cancer, although this was acknowledged only briefly.
The continuity of the Crankshaft strip is as much as 20 years behind that of Funky Winkerbean; strips in both comics in August and September 2011 show Cayla Williams, a high school teacher and secretary to Principal Nate Green and Les' fiancee, with Keisha her teenage daughter, to be a college-age student in the former.
The more dramatic turns of the storyline have led to mixed responses from readers. Negative reaction to a 2007 strip featuring Wally getting blown up by an I.E.D. (which turned out in the next strip to be him playing a computer game), including two papers that ran the strip receiving irate phone calls and letters to the editor, led to Batiuk issuing an apology soon after the strip ran.
Reactions to the most recent chapter of Lisa's Story led to further complaints over the comic's gloomy content, and Batiuk has mentioned in interviews about the storyline that he has received complaints about the current direction of the storyline. Web comic Shortpacked produced a satirical strip in which most of the words of Funky Winkerbean characters' dialogue are replaced by the word "cancer." The Comics Curmudgeon also makes frequent reference to the seemingly unremitting gloom of the strip, calling it "a black hole of bleakness and depression and cancer from which no joy or laughter can escape."
A Crankshaft strip from May 23, 2007, sarcastically addresses the more recent controversies from Batiuk's perspective, with a character remarking of newspaper comic strips that "everyone knows they're supposed to be funny". In the Funky Winkerbean strip published on September 30, 2007, Les essentially echoes the Crankshaft comment.
In a September 2009 storyline which many readers also interpreted as Batiuk's addressing of the strip's latter-day bleakness, a group of parents protested a school production of Wit because the themes of cancer and death offended them. In her defense of the play, the character of Susan Smith, a Westview High teacher and drama director, was viewed by critics as a mouthpiece for Batiuk's views on the importance of dramatic entertainment.
Over the week of July 7, 2008, Pearls Before Swine parodied the tendency of Funky Winkerbean towards killing off main characters when it killed off Rat and the strip's own author, Stephan Pastis (the two would later be returned to the strip via the intervention of United Feature Syndicate), even utilizing Batiuk's representation of the Angel of Death. A year earlier Pastis had drawn a strip parodying the seemingly revolving door of changes in Lisa Moore's condition in Funky Winkerbean and actually got the blessing from Batiuk to run it. However, Pastris pulled the strip before the scheduled publication date because he did not want to cause any more controversy than the storyline itself was already creating.
Two minor characters have been spun off into their own strips: the bus driver Crankshaft in 1987 and the talk show host John Darling in 1979. The latter caused a sensation in 1990 when Batiuk had Darling murdered in the penultimate strip after a real-life financial dispute with the strip's syndicator. In Funky Winkerbean, Les Moore wrote a book about Darling's murder and solved the case in a 1997 storyline.
Batiuk's neighbor, comic book writer Tony Isabella, occasionally appears in the strip as himself. Another comic book creator, superhero artist John Byrne, drew ten weeks of the strip while Batiuk was recovering from foot surgery and has appeared in the strip himself as a character. Batiuk also occasionally parodies covers of classic Silver Age comics to comment on storyline elements in the strip itself.
The character Harry L. Dinkle, the self-proclaimed "World's Greatest Band Director," is based on the director of The Ohio State University Marching Band. Professor Dinkle is based on a composite of past and current directors Dr. Paul Droste and Dr. Jon Woods. In addition, a 2006 article from the Cleveland Free Times asserts that Harry L. Dinkle is based on Harry Pfingsten, a retired band director from Avon Lake, Ohio, who was the band director of the junior high school that Tom Batiuk attended. In 1989, Harry L. Dinkle was the first Comic Strip character ever to "march" the Tournament of Roses parade. Dinkles, a brand of shoe designed for marching bands, is named after the character and claims to have been endorsed by Dinkle since 1986.
After the second time skip, Batiuk designed the comic book store around the shop he frequents, Ground Zero Comics and Cards in Strongsville, Ohio. Captain America's shield that is frequently shown in the background is a real mantlepiece in the shop.
Montoni's Pizza is modeled after Luigi's, an Italian restaurant and pizzeria in downtown Akron, Ohio. There is a framed and signed Funky Winkerbean strip hung in the restaurant. The band box frequently shown in the interior of the shop above the entrance is an actual fixture in the restaurant.
Batiuk assisted in the writing of a stage musical adaptation Funky Winkerbean's Homecoming, set in the era while Funky was still a Westview High student. Popular among high school drama groups, the musical was co-written by Andy Clark, who appeared as himself in the comic strip in December 2006. Clark is a publisher of the C. L. Barnhouse Company, and has published several Funky Winkerbean collections dedicated to the character of Harry L. Dinkle.