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Match to Flame 148

posted on May 25, 2021

The response from editors and readers to these stories was still mixed but tended to be more and more favorable, and there were good reasons for that. Much like the syndicate and I had done with the teen pregnancy story, we made our newspaper editors partners in presenting these pieces in their papers. In each case, we researched and prepared sidebar information pieces so that editors could not only prepare readers as to what was coming but also use the moment to disseminate valuable information about the issues that the story raised. Having learned the lesson that editors appreciate being informed and seeing the story in full rather than being surprised or sandbagged, and that they in turn appreciate being able to extend that courtesy to their subscribers, we would put a package together designed to promote, inform, and facilitate. By heading off complaints and being able to answer questions for the editors in advance, we were able to create a special place for my work on the comics page that afforded me a greater storytelling freedom. Again, the importance of being a year ahead on the strip at this point can’t be underscored enough. The work that Chuck Ayers and I had put into building that twelve-month cushion certainly removed a lot of deadline pressure, but the side effect of being able to spend more time on the writing, and then being able to preview that material with the syndicate well in advance of the deadline so that they could do the spadework necessary to promote and protect it, was an important part of the calculus as well. But all of this might not have mattered without the help of two very special people at King Features, Ted Hannah and Jay Kennedy. Let’s back up.

When News America Syndicate, and Funky, was acquired by King Features, I came over dragging a certain amount of baggage with me. To start with, I was in the middle of my lawsuit to regain the ownership of my creations. Also, the teen pregnancy series was still getting a lot of requests for copies of the story, and we had run completely through the first printing of 60,000 pamphlets. Then, just to make things interesting, I was about to jump my characters forward in time. The last two items would be my introduction to Ted Hannah, the director of Advertising and Public Relations. Ted immediately jumped in and created an enhanced pamphlet for the teen pregnancy series. Then, without blinking, he started working with me on the time-jump I was planning. There was never any questioning from him about what I was trying to achieve artistically, but only a forward focus on how to accomplish the change with the least harm to the strip along with growing and enhancing Funky’s position with newspapers. Down the road he would work with me to help me make each dramatic turn I would take effective and impactful. I think he respected and appreciated where I was trying to take the work, and he sincerely wanted to help me be successful with it. Plus, we became friends who, beyond the work relationship, simply enjoyed discussing our shared interests.

From The Complete Funky Winkerbean Volume 9