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Match to Flame 96

posted on February 13, 2019

At the end of the teen pregnancy story, I had Lisa leave the strip to go live with her grandparents in Seattle. To have her continue on in the strip as if nothing had happened just didn’t feel right. Likewise, after having been Lisa’s confidant and birthing partner, it was going to be impossible to go back to things like having Les being stuck up on the rope in gym class and ending up being repurposed as a decoration for the homecoming dance. A line had been crossed, and my characters now were going to have to grow up. The philosopher Immanuel Kant reasoned that, if you have sequence, then ippso pippso (my words, not his) you have time. Comic strips always had sequence, but then somewhere along the way they slipped into the habit of circling back at the end of each day’s strip and restarting the clock. However, inherent in their genetic code was the ability to take that sequence and just keep on going like, oh, I don’t know, life does. I wanted that for my characters and I wanted it for me. From the teen pregnancy story forward, I would slowly begin moving them toward graduation and beyond. What that “beyond” was exactly and how I would get there was still a project under construction. Like they say on those little magnetic aphorisms that you stick on the fridge, sometimes you just have to jump off the cliff and build your wings on the way down. I don’t recommend this, by the way, unless there are no other options, and Lisa had left me with no other options. In the end, what really happened was that Lisa and the teen pregnancy story opened a door for me and invited me to walk through. But opening doors can be scary, because there’s always something on the other side.

From The Complete Funky Winkerbean Volume Five.

Match to Flame 95

posted on February 12, 2019

With the teen pregnancy story arc, Funky started on its path to becoming an outlier on the comics page. I was moving from a very safe position to one that courted failure, but there was an exciting side effect to the whole thing—freedom. There would be praise and condemnation. On the condemnation side were those who felt I was betraying a trust to only provide something funny. One reader even went so far as to state that I was negligent in my fiduciary responsibility under my contract to produce a funny strip. My contract says a lot of things, but it never said that. Others just abhorred any kind of change and wanted me to go back to the way the strip was in the beginning. What they failed to grasp is that the beginning strips were just that, only a beginning. From the majority of my readers, however, I received a wonderful gift—their trust. They gave me the space to grow and change and trusted that I wouldn’t let them down, at least this time. Someone once said that you have to challenge your audience a little. You can’t give them what they think they want, because that’s not what they really want. You have to give them something they don’t know they want but will once they see it. I think that’s true, but that’s a very thin and a very high wire to walk.

From The Complete Funky Winkerbean Volume Five

Match to Flame 93

posted on February 5, 2019

Okay, so I just lied to you. I’d forgotten about the weekend that Cathy and I used her pizza-making skills (one of the reasons I married her, folks) to lure Gerry Shamray over for an evening during which we spread eight weeks of the teen pregnancy story line across the living room floor, and, with a great deal of back-and-forthing and pizza dribbling, selected the four weeks that I eventually used. Not strictly a gag session per se, but more like a soft-rollout-beta test. Just thought I should mention that for the record.

Now all that remained was to convince the syndicate that we could run with this story and that the world wouldn’t come to an end, at least I was pretty sure it wouldn’t. At Rick Newcombe’s invitation, I flew out to California to personally make my case for the story. I knew that this work was something different and I didn’t want to sandbag an editor by simply allowing it to show up in the mail unannounced. To his credit, Rick, who had a lot on his plate at that particular moment and who may have had some personal reservations about what sort of reaction we would receive, had my back the whole way. Rather than the typical “no, we don’t dare do that because someone might write a letter to the editor of the paper and complain” syndicate reaction, Rick made some suggestions that strengthened the piece, which I happily incorporated. Ironically, just as I had acquired editorial control, I found someone who could work side by side with me to make the strip better. The syndicate also created a lot of sidebar material that editors of newspapers on Funky’s client list could use in conjunction with the strip to inform readers and to create a discussion around the issue of teen pregnancy. In essence, the problem of putting this story before the readers was flipped on its head and it was used instead to present a teachable and reachable moment. Rather than saying that work like this didn’t belong on the comics page, the syndicate said let’s use the comics page to shine a light on this problem, to start a discussion. And it worked, but at first it almost didn’t.

From The Complete Funky Winkerbean Volume Five

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