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Match to Flame 154

posted on July 20, 2021

When Funky began, I felt my charge was to transform the teen comic strip genre by being more topical and relevant. By moving the work a year ahead, topicality in the specific sense went out the window and I no longer felt tightly bound to current events. I slipped the work out of the time stream and began playing by rules that only I could read. My stories started becoming more personal and, interestingly enough, more universal at the same time. Some could be told over a cup of coffee; others would require a full-on Roman feast. Waiting for me in the not-too-distant future was a story whose gravity was already pulling me in. Along with everything else, I began working on some shadow strips. There are Easter eggs that appear in this volume that foreshadow the work to come and that, upon rereading the strips collected here, had surprised even me in regard to how early this secret work had started. I had worked hard to use the freedom I’d created for myself to tell stories that had more substance and that spoke to the times that my characters and I were living through. But by the last year of this volume, I was already finished with that kind of storytelling. I had looked around me and tried to record and incorporate what I saw in, hopefully, an interesting and entertaining way. But, off to the side, I was working on a more reflective and personal story. It seemed that art should aspire to something more than mere entertainment, and that it should also be about what it is to be a human being (I realize that art has done this foor-ever, but we’re talking about in “the funnies” here, folks). Instead of holding up a mirror for my readers, this new work would hold up a window. Reflecting your readers’ lives back to them (and backward at that) only shows you what happened. A window permits you to look inside and try to figure out why it happened. This shadow work would lead to a new suite of strips that, instead of trying to transform “the funnies,” would attempt—with hard work, inspiration, and a little luck—to transcend them. Stories that would set fire to that little sticky note on which the Cartooning Commandments were written. Which reminds me that there was a fourth and final commandment on that sticky note:

The Fourth Commandment: If you should choose to ignore the three prior commandments, at least don’t screw it up!

There exists a (slightly charred) relic of which all cartoonists know, but none will speak.

From the introduction to The Complete Funky Winkerbean Volume 9