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Match to Flame 145

posted on April 14, 2021

The first big story to show up in this volume is the bombing of the post office in Westview. My characters were now out in the world, and the world in 1996 could be a scary place. This story grew indirectly from the Oklahoma City bombing that had taken place the previous year. It was the worst act of domestic terrorism in the country’s history. The political ideologies on the left and the right in our country had been around for a long time, but the fault line between them seemed to fracture and begin to expand at this time. Commentators on the radio exploited these divisions, widening the gap and inciting those listeners who existed at the margins. It didn’t need a lot of dot connecting to conclude that the zeitgeist at that time provided fertile ground for blossoming homegrown terrorism. To cut to the chase, it was a timely story. Of course, there’s timely and then there’s way too timely. Just as the bombing story in Funky was landing on the nation’s comics pages, the unthinkable happened again. On July 27, the Centennial Olympic Park bombing took place at the 1996 Summer Olympics in Atlanta. My story in Funky began on July 28. The deadline for getting the strips to the syndicate was, and is, six weeks ahead of the publication date. The editors of the papers that carried Funky obviously knew that my story had been finished and sent in long before the unfortunate event at the Olympics, but some readers were convinced that I’d written and drawn my story the same day to take advantage of the tragedy in Atlanta. Fortunately, as I stated at the top, the majority of my readers are pretty smart folks who realized that I had to begin work on a strip a lot earlier than the day it appeared in the paper. Still . . . the coincidence was disturbing and unsettling . . . and there was nothing the syndicate nor I could do about it. Funky had already passed the point where some strips already in the hopper could be swapped out for the work that was about to run. Even if we’d wanted to swap the work out, the only work in the hopper was the work that comprised the rest of that story. And it was a long story. Another unspoken rule I was breaking was the one dictating that, if you had to do a story, it shouldn’t be any longer than three weeks. This was one of a number of things that were explained to me by the syndicate when I was first starting out (I doubt that either one of us imagined that I would one day write a story that would run almost two years). Newspapers had already begun a policy that is followed to this day, which, simply put, is: if readers start losing interest with something in the newspaper, do everything possible to make it even less interesting. If the purpose of the comics is to draw readers to the newspaper (which I have always regarded as my job description and charge), then the post office bombing in Funky did that and then some. Probably because I had written about talk radio in the story and implied a certain causality, I was invited to appear on several conservative talk radio programs, and, when I realized after the first one that actually having a discussion wasn’t even remotely a part of the equation, I canceled all of the others. A radio producer in Cleveland who would routinely call me whenever there was something interesting happening in Funky never called again after that. It didn’t seem to slow down the host of the show, however, who spent the better part of the hour looking for hidden profanities in the strip, such as the drawing of Tony Montoni on the pizza boxes supposedly making an obscene gesture.

From The Complete Funky Winkerbean Volume 9