Match to Flame 22
posted on June 15, 2016
Sherry asked for the originals of the strips I had left with him, followed by a request for some pencil roughs. He apparently liked what he was seeing, and not long after I opened my mailbox to find a contract to produce a comic strip for Publishers- Hall. As I read the contract, though, I stopped in the middle of my third happy dance in as many months. The contract was for a comic strip all right, but the syndicate would own all of my creations in perpetuity throughout the universe (there went my chances in the Andromeda Galaxy), and I had to work for them in perpetuity as well. I called Sherry, and he said that it was really a “gentlemen’s agreement” and that if I ever became so unhappy that I wanted to leave, I could. However, it would mean leaving my imaginary friends behind and, even though I’d only been working with them a short time, I’d grown kind of fond of them. So I took the contract to a lawyer, and together we determined that we could both read a contract just fine and that it was pretty much exactly what I thought it was. As I was leaving, he added that I’d probably make a lawyer rich someday getting out of it. (He really should be listed in the Bible alongside the other prophets.) But, for the moment, that contract was my invitation to the dance. I was going to have to kick any problems that I had with it down the road so I could settle in and get to work on my new comic strip.
The summer of ’71 was a game changer. I married Cathy, my high school sweetheart and soul mate; I began serious work on my new as-yet-unnamed comic strip; I was still doing my weekly Rapping Around cartoon for the Chronicle-Telegram; and I could feel a new school year lurking just around the corner. I caught a bit of a break when Publishers-Hall announced that they were moving their offices from New York to Chicago. As a result, Funky’s launch got pushed back by several months—time that I was able to use to go on a honeymoon and, after returning home, work on building up material for the strip. When school started up again that fall, I was back to working long days and nights and seeing only darkness at the end of the bat cave. It didn’t seem like I was going to be able to teach full-time and do a comic strip full-time in the only one full time that I had.
In the meantime, the strip had developed an identity crisis— a couple of them, actually. Moondog had only been a holding name, and nobody at the syndicate even liked it as a holding name. And calling my lead character T.D. wasn’t going to cut it either. Again, Doonesbury didn’t run yet in our area, so I didn’t know about the character in that strip called B.D. The syndicate did, however, and they wanted something different for my character. We all started spitballing names for the strip and its lead character, but nothing was really working.
Then one day at school I asked all of my classes to write down funny or interesting names. That night Cathy and I sat at the kitchen table in our apartment and went through the list of names that I had brought home. Out of that collection of names we came up with a few to send off to the syndicate. I made up logos for Winkerbean & Co., Funky Winkerbean, Three-o-Clock High, and a couple of others that I no longer recall. The one that came back with the Publishers-Hall seal of approval was Funky Winkerbean, the name that has been my blessing and my curse. Had I known that the strip would be around for forty years and the directions that the work would take me, I think I would’ve spent more time working a little harder on the name. As one newspaper editor put it shortly after the strip was launched, “That’s either the worst name or the best name that’s ever been given to a comic strip.” The jury’s still out.
*From the introduction to The Complete Funky Winkerbean Vol. One