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Match to Flame 140

posted on January 19, 2021

To be perfectly honest, I didn’t help myself much by handicapping the strip with the name Funky Winkerbean. I’m pretty sure I told the name’s origin story in Volume 1 of this series (I did; I just checked), but recapping it briefly: Needing a name for my main character, I had my junior high art classes write down amusing or interesting names. I took all of these home, and Cathy and I went through them. One of the name/titles we came up with was Three-o-Clock High, and I have to say that I found the double entendre amusing. However, the Publisher’s Hall Syndicate didn’t, and the name from among the others we sent that won the lottery was Funky Winkerbean. Had I known that I would still be working on this strip forty-seven years later and the tone and temperament that the work would take, I would’ve gone back to school the next day and had the advance placement classes take a whack at it. For someone whose bent was to add some depth and seriousness to the work, Funky Winkerbean was not the best title choice to help get me there. But, it is what I’m afraid it is (whenever I’m giving a book talk these days, I live in fear that someone from one of my art classes is going to stand up . . . and then their lawyer is going to stand up, and the piper/lawyer will demand some appropriate tribute. Which is why I always arrive prepared with a fiver and a release form in my jacket pocket.)

From The Complete Funky Winkerbean Volume 9

Match to Flame 139

posted on January 13, 2021

The First Cartooning Commandment: Thou shalt only do funny comic strips. They’re called the “comics” for a reason.

Which, of course begs the question . . . what reason? Now, before I start to come off like some pedantic schoolmarm from a bitter hollow, I’m going to do my Pontius Pilate bit here and pass the baton off to comic historian R. C. Harvey. He laid it all out in his masterful biography of Milton Caniff. So, here is Comic Strip 101:

Today’s Comic Strip is the lineal descendant of the humorous drawing that first appeared in weekly humor magazines like Puck, Judge, and Life in the 1880s. Offering comical drawings and amusing short essays and droll verse, Life, Judge, and Puck were dubbed “comic weeklies” in common parlance—or, even, “comics”. So when [Joseph Pulitzer’s] the World launched its imitation “comic weekly” in November 1894, it was lumped together in the popular mind as another of the “comics”. And then, once the World had shown the way, papers in other cities began publishing humorous Sunday supplements full of funny drawings in color and risible essays and verse. In a relatively short time, obeying the dictates of demand, newspapers eliminated the essays and verse and concentrated on comical artwork, which was increasingly presented in the form of “strips” of pictures portraying hilarities in narrative sequence. It was but a short step to the use of comics to designate the art-form (comic strips) as distinct from the vehicle in which they appeared (the Sunday supplement itself). Once that bridge was crossed, meaning deteriorated pretty rapidly. Storytelling (or “continuity”) strips arrived soon after, and even when the stories they told were serious, they were called “comics” because they looked like the art-form called comics and they appeared in newspapers with all the others of the breed.

Well, there you have it; they were called comics for a reason alrighty, just not the reason everyone usually thinks. It was more appellation than definition, but the definition that they’re supposed to be funny is pretty much the only thing most folks equate the term “comics” with today. So anyone (ahem, me) wanting to extend the format and broaden the definition during the years collected in this volume was going to be rowing upstream against the prescriptive (and as we now know erroneous) notions of what a comic strip should be.

From The Complete Funky Winkerbean Volume 9

Match to Flame 138

posted on January 6, 2021

It all came about one frosty winter night not long ago (last night) as I was sitting by the fire reading a comic book. Now I realize at the outset that the thought of a grown man reading a comic book is going to seem wince-worthy to a lot of folks, but I have some pretty legitimate reasons for doing so. First, every colorist I’ve ever had on Funky (excluding my wife Cathy and myself) I have found from seeing their work in a comic book. Second, aside from Chuck Ayers and myself, only two other artists have had short stints doing penciling on Funky, and I first encountered their work in comic books. This is why I read comic books; because they are, in effect, my R&D Department (and because I want to see who is stronger, the Hulk or the Thing). It’s also why I write them off as businesses expenses. Hopefully, these assumptions are correct and I won’t be writing these intros from a jail cell one day. Although I do have some experience in spending all day in a room by myself. But I digress. Let’s back up. So, there I was reading and gleaning information (the Hulk is stronger) when I began to wonder why it is that the comic book’s cousin, the newspaper strip, didn’t have the same freedom that comic books had to play with all of the toys available to an artist. Things like social relevance, personal introspection, and, last but far from least, story and drama. Why did comic strips suffer what I called the “blue skies effect”? Why were comic strips relegated to being the equivalent of comfort food? In fact, why were they called the “comics” in the first place? So that’s when I visited Grandpa Google and found the Cartooning Commandments. It was all there.

From The Complete Funky Winkerbean Volume 9

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