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Match to Flame 106

posted on August 23, 2019

Yeah, didn’t I mention that I mentioned that I was starting a new strip? I do believe I sort of sneakily alluded to it earlier when I said that Crankshaft was no longer appearing in Funky. Doug Marlette may have had some good ideas, but I had one of my own as well. Along with creating two strips, traveling the country giving talks, putting together books, and doing art for posters and cereal boxes, I had  quietly been working on a new strip in my spare time. Remember in the introduction to the previous volume in this series where I described how I had received a release from News America Syndicate for a strip called Crankshaft? I was free to take Crankshaft to the marketplace, and I was now making plans to do just that. Ed Crankshaft had been getting a terrific response as a new character in Funky, but I was now keeping him out of Funky so I could use that new material for a submission package to send to other syndicates. There were a lot of good practical reasons for attempting this, especially given what I described earlier, but my primary motivation was so I could finally own Crankshaft and all of the other characters that would flow from it. The desire to own my own characters had been burning inside me from the moment I read my first syndicate contract, and recent events were stoking that fire to a major conflagration. I wasn’t going to be signing any more contracts that took my characters away from me

From The Complete Funky Winkerbean Volume Six

Match to Flame 105

posted on August 16, 2019

Meanwhile, running under all of this, the legal minuet between myself and the syndicate was taking place with each side still taking the measure of the other dancer. It was during this period that one of life’s inflection points happened. I was in Toronto attending the National Cartoonists Society’s annual Reuben Awards banquet and had just finished lunch in the hotel cafe. As I was leaving, I ran into Doug Marlette, the much lauded editorial cartoonist and the creator of the comic strip Kudzu, who was just coming into the cafe. Word had apparently gotten out about my contract contretemps, and Doug said that he wanted to talk with me about it. So I went back in, sat down with Doug, and had another lunch. Best second lunch I ever had. As we talked, I could see that Doug would have made a great instigator at an insurrection. Essentially what Doug had to tell me was that, if I were serious about pursuing legal action against King Features and ipso facto the Hearst Corporation, I should hire people who were players in that sort of arena to litigate the case. He basically convinced me that whatever the outcome, I should have no regrets about what I’d done. That if I went down, I should go down swinging. Hard. He even suggested that I contact his lawyers in Washington, D.C., as possible litigators. It was a very generous act on Doug’s part, and I took it to heart. During that hour or so, I gained some insight into how the big boys’ world really worked, and I gained a little weight as well. I proceeded to make a switch in my legal team and then continued on down the road to the shoot-out at the cartoon corral. But I now traveled with a lighter heart. As Doug had pointed out, the reality of reality was that it was, well, you know . . . reality, and, given that, we were only as free as the freedom we were willing to put at risk to effect a change. In yet another para-song-check here, this time Bruce Springsteen—we always said we were going to throw it all away. So what the heck if I lost Funky and John Darling? I was going to start a new strip anyway, right? Excuse me?

From The Complete Funky Winkerbean Volume Six 

Match to Flame 104

posted on July 25, 2019

Speaking of pretty darn cool, around this time there was a poster created to raise money for the benefit of the Child Welfare League of America that featured a cartoon character choir made up of all of the characters from the existing newspaper comic strips of the day. A print of it hangs in my studio today; it’s a remarkable piece of American comic strip history. The original piece was mailed around the country so that each cartoonist could add his or her character to the choir, and, when it got to me, it even came with some instructions as to where I should put one of my characters. Paul Burke, the owner of Stabur Graphics (the company that was producing the poster), called me and told me that when Bil Keane (the creator of Family Circus) was adding his characters to the piece, he said that the perfect character to be directing the choir would be my band director Harry L. Dinkle, the World’s Greatest Band Director. I was very flattered by Bil’s incredibly kind and generous suggestion and somewhat intimidated as well. I never would have elected to do something like that on my own. I have as big an ego as any other cartoonist (it’s what allows us to spend the better part of our lives alone in a room and not mind it because we find the company so fascinating), but, given some of the names and characters who were already on the poster, that would have been a pretty daunting thing to do. As it was, when the poster arrived at my studio, I opened the bottle of India Ink I was planning to use in the other room just to avoid any accidental spills. When I was done, my band director was on the podium in front with Charles Schulz’s Schroeder playing the piano just to his right. Pretty heady stuff. And back in the choir, John Darling and Funky are singing in between Dagwood and Beetle Bailey. Awesome. It’s an amazing snapshot of a generation of comic strip creators who, by the way, all signed the litho copies of the prints. Paul Burke actually drove the finished piece around to each cartoonist so they could sign all of the litho copies. When he got to my house, Rog Bollen, the creator of Animal Crackers and a mentor to me from before I was even syndicated, joined us to sign the prints.

From The Complete Funky Winkerbean Volume Six

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