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Match to Flame 79

posted on August 7, 2018

The man brought in to be the president of News America Syndicate would turn out to be a surprise to everyone, not the least of whom I’m sure would be Rupert Murdoch. Rick Newcombe came to News America by way of United Press International, where he was an editor, and the Los Angeles Times Syndicate, where he was the general manager. Although only a few years younger than me, he seemed much younger and full of energy and enthusiasm. He brought with him a creator-oriented philosophy that was the antithesis of anything I had experienced up to that point. Rick was concerned with the needs of the feature writers and cartoonists and wanted to do whatever he could to help make them more productive and, by extension, his syndicate more successful. In line with that thinking and as time went on, Rick would travel to meet with the syndicate’s contributors to introduce himself, to get to know them, and to see how things were going. He came out to visit a couple of times, and, on one of those trips, he stayed overnight with us and the next morning while we were out jogging he asked me if there was anything that was bothering me or that I needed regarding the strip or the syndicate. Having recently been made aware of what a blunt instrument my contract with the syndicate could be in the wrong hands and how fugitive and vaporous the verbal inducements saying it was a “gentlemen’s agreement” truly were, my first and only thought was to protect my work. I said that I would like to have complete and absolute editorial control. The rest of the discussion consisted of two words. Rick said, “Done.” I said, “Thanks.” And a butterfly flapped its wings. Editorially speaking, I was a free man, but freedom can be a tricky concept. While I now felt free to shift the terms of the engagement, I had to decide exactly what it was that I was going to do with that freedom. To paraphrase Stan Lee, with full editorial control comes full responsibility. And, of course, while I was free to create what I wanted, my creations themselves weren’t free. Work remained.

From The Complete Funky Winkerbean Volume Five

Match to Flame 78

posted on August 2, 2018

While I was flying around the country that frosty March, my syndicate (and me as well if you read the contract carefully) was being sold. I woke up one morning to find that I, and everything I ever created, was now owned paper, pencil, and penholder by Rupert Murdoch. To be fair, I doubt that Funky Winkerbean was even on Rupert Murdoch’s radar. The primary target in his acquisition was the Chicago Sun-Times, and the syndicate just came along for the ride. Nevertheless, I just had this sinking feeling that Rupert and I weren’t exactly on the same comics page. In fact, we weren’t even reading the same newspaper. It seemed to me that this shotgun marriage was not going to be a happy union. As the grandson of union men and living in a home where as a child the Weavers could be heard on the record player, I came by my progressive leanings honestly. Rupert Murdoch, as far as I could ascertain, was not in the same place, and it didn’t seem that this turn of events was going to accrue to my benefit. Just call me “Nostrathomas.” Right out of the gate, it cost me one of the biggest papers on the East Coast and a paper that had been a Funky cornerstone from the start. When Murdoch decreed that some of newly christened News America Syndicate’s highly valued properties should be moved from the Boston Globe to the Murdoch-owned Boston Herald, the Globe retaliated by dropping their remaining News America features, including Funky Winkerbean, and I lost a major presence on the East Coast and one of the bigger clients on my list. Although Murdoch’s ownership of the syndicate would be relatively brief (he would be forced to divest himself of it by government mandate due to overlapping media holdings), it was long enough to do some real damage. In fact, down the road, he would still get one more shot at me when the British managing editor he installed at the Sun-Times would drop Funky over a story about a young woman dying of cancer. A story that violated his obdurate dictum that comics should only be funny. However, I’m getting a bit ahead of myself and that story will have to wait for a future Funky volume. Needless to say, the circumstances I found myself in were a little disquieting. Make that a lot disquieting. Had the gentleman brought in to manage the Sun-Times instead been installed as the president of the syndicate, my career trajectory might have taken a far different and downward turn. Just as I approached the cusp of blossoming as an artist, all the buds could have been shorn. But.

From The Complete Funky Winkerbean Volume Five

Match to Flame 77

posted on June 28, 2018

I had just finished an interview at a TV station in Atlanta and was in the lobby about to leave when the receptionist called me over. There was a phone call for me from a fan of Funky who said that she really enjoyed the strip but that there were two things missing: a school secretary and a school bus driver. I thanked her, made a mental note, and was off and running to the airport. At some point later on the book tour, I found myself with some time on my hands at Sea-Tac Airport in Washington waiting for my next flight. I unpacked my mental notes and remembered the call from Atlanta. I was really glad that I did because I thought that the school secretary idea was a real winner with all the potential in the world. I immediately began jotting down some ideas for the character, and I decided to use a character already extant in the strip. My character Ann Randall had been riffed from her teaching job and had been working as a burger bouncer at McArnolds. While she was there, she made friends with a coworker named Betty. Thanks to Ann’s influence, Betty decides to apply for the job of secretary at the high school. I loved how I was able to make it take shape organically out of the strip, and I was excited by the possibilities that the school secretary promised. Before I got on my plane, I had the first two weeks finished with notes jotted down for future weeks. (I should probably at this point send a retroactive shout-out to my unknown benefactor in Atlanta. Much like the fictional Blanche DuBois, I owe much to the kindness of strangers.) Oh, and I had also made a note about the school bus driver. I was going to call him Crankshaft.

From The Complete Funky Winkerbean Volume Five

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