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Match to Flame 101

posted on May 30, 2019

All of the attention that my band director was garnering even afforded me the opportunity to finally be able to answer the question that is the bane of all cartoonists—“Where do you get your ideas?” I was always at somewhat of a loss as to how to explain the process and would end up saying lame things like, “I’m not sure, but I’ve got all day.” Then one day I got the perfect answer. I was sitting in my attic studio getting ready to do some writing (which to the untrained eye is almost indistinguishable from gazing out the window, although I’ve now adopted the more modern approach of checking my email every five minutes). Suddenly the phone rang and, cursing the interruption, I dutifully answered it. It turned out to be a call from the director of one of the top high school bands in the country at Boardman High School in Youngstown, Ohio. He was calling to let me know that his high school band was going to be performing at Carnegie Hall in New York City and he wanted to know if I’d be interested in any of the details. As the image of Harry L. Dinkle, the World’s Greatest Band Director, playing Carnegie Hall flashed into my mind, I hastily grabbed for a pen.

Interested? You bet I was interested! I spent the next hour trying to glean all the information I could from that wonderful man. Armed with these facts, I immediately began to chronicle the adventures of the Westview High School Marching Scapegoats’ trip to New York City and Carnegie Hall. One of the great things about having a character like Harry is that often all you need is an interesting premise and the series writes itself, and so it was with this story. It flowed so easily and was so much fun that I didn’t even mind the fact that it was going to be hard to draw. I did realize that I was going to need to know a great deal more about Carnegie Hall than I did at that moment.

As fate would have it, I was going to be in New York in a couple of weeks (isn’t clean living wonderful?). So while I was there, I took my trusty Canon and began visually chronicling the band’s adventures in the city, which naturally included shooting Carnegie Hall from every possible angle I could imagine. When I actually got some shots of a school bus in New York City traffic, I knew that this story arc had somehow been preordained. I almost felt bad that I had Holly Budd, the band’s queen of conflagration, perform her famous flaming baton trick and set fire to the hallowed hall. **SPOILER ALERT!!!** Never mind, too late. Anyway, there you have it; my secret is finally revealed. I get my ideas by sitting around in my studio waiting for people to call me with some. Hey, it beats working for a living.

From The Complete Funky Winkerbean Volume Six 

Match to Flame 100

posted on May 8, 2019

While all of this was going on, I was as busy as a panda at a bamboo buffet. My band director Harry L. Dinkle’s star was still on the rise. Norman Lee Publishing had continued to bring out collections of the band strips from Funky, which helped spread the word to even those culturally deprived areas where Funky wasn’t in the local paper. Pretty soon Harry and the strip began being honored with awards from a number of music organizations and with honorary degrees from a number of schools. As a result, I was doing a lot more traveling around the country as I spoke to various state and local band organizations, along with the occasional Cub Scout pack or two. Cartooning is something of a hermit-like existence, so one nice aspect of this was that my wife Cathy and my son Brian, who was now old enough to join us, got to go on some de facto vacations together as I traveled the country to give talks.

From The Complete Funky Winkerbean Volume Six

Match to Flame 99

posted on April 16, 2019

My syndicate News America Syndicate was in the process of being absorbed by King Features. These things are never easy, but this transition (there it is again) was a bit more traumatic for a couple of reasons. To begin with, Richard Newcombe, the president of News America, had begun the process of instilling a different culture at the syndicate. For example, in 1985 we had begun receiving subscribing client lists along with our customary royalty statements. From that point on, I would finally know each and every paper that Funky Winkerbean and John Darling were in. Looking back from today’s perspective, it seems a little hard to believe that getting that information wasn’t just pro forma policy, but trust me when I say that it was a big deal back then. My contract, of course, stipulated that I could request such a list at any time, but they weren’t provided as a matter of course. In our fearful and obsequious state of mind, we cartoonists were too timid to ask. That being said, I did request that list once, and, when it arrived, the papers were there, but all of the rates were redacted. It’s a rather cringe-worthy admission, but aside from Funky’s initial launch and my lone request, I never received another list of my client papers. I didn’t know who they were or what they were being charged. Until Rick sent them to me. In a letter to the contributors in 1985, Rick once wrote: “Simply stated, this is a part of the open door policy that will be in effect at News America Syndicate so long as I am President and Chief Executive Officer. It is my sincere belief that all of the Syndicate’s contributors are entitled to know as much as we know about their strengths and weaknesses in the marketplace we serve.” He had me at “simply stated.” Rick Newcombe, of course, had been the one to give me complete editorial control of my work, but Rick also helped instill in me that most ineffable of notions, the idea that the characters I had created for Funky Winkerbean and John Darling belonged to me. I should be the owner of what I create. That just wasn’t the norm at that time, but Rick thought that it should be. And I was beginning to think so too. I had previously gotten in touch with my attorney and, at my behest, he had sent News America a letter saying that I wanted to renegotiate my contract and, failing that, I would take legal action to have the contract overturned. So you can see that the idea of no longer being able to work with Rick once the syndicate had changed hands was indeed traumatic.

In February 1987, Funky Winkerbean and John Darling moved from California to New York, the home of King Features, and along with them traveled the letter from my attorney. Beginning with 1987, Ed Crankshaft, the curmudgeonly school bus driver in Funky Winkerbean, stopped appearing in the strip. On February 13, 1987, Richard Newcombe founded Creators Syndicate.

From The Complete Funky Winkerbean Volume Six