27 March 2008

[art, toonage] Funky Winkerbean: Well, My Head Asplode ...

1447.  Does anyone around here remember the hi-school comic strip Funky Winkerbean? It hasn't run around here in the Portland market for ... what, twenty years or more?

I read it and remember it as one of those eternally-unchanging comic strips, like Blondie, where the characters were funny for a very long time, but since they never changed, the jokes slowly got old and, just like a lot of people whose graphic tastes evolve, eventually, I put away my childish things.

I also remember the artist's (Tom Batiuk) recognizable style across more than one or two spinoffs. Crankshaft (the original curmudgeonly senior-citizen school bus driver) we enjoyed during our time in Corvallis, where it ran in the Gazette-Times. There was also a strip set at a television station called Chuck Darling, IIRC.

Well, as I mentioned, I moved on from ol' Funky and by the by the strip was dropped from The Big O. Didn't think a thing about it. But now, for some weird potrzebie reason, I hit the strip's website.

Well, the first shock was that Funky still had a website. I'd assumed that the strip just kind of rode off into the sunset.

Secondly, well, Funky's gone all adult on us. Kind of like a soap-opera-y Luann. All original characters are fortysomething adults with real lives of triumph and defeat now:

  • Funky Winkerbean (pictured above right) has been married and divorced and married again, is a recovering alcoholic, and now co-own's Montoni's Pizza (where they all hung out as kids).

  • Cindy Summers, his first wife, is a telejournalist with ABC.

  • Les, the geeky, dorky hall monitor (remember the primitive machine-gun he had bolted to his hall monitor desk?) has become a history and English teacher as Westview High. He has a daughter and a rather cool Van Dyke beard.

  • Les's wife, Lisa, fought breast cancer twice, losing the final bout. Les now raises his child as a single parent.

  • Mr Dinkle, the "worlds greatest band director", much as BD in Doonesbury no longer has that silly helmet on, no longer wears his band regalia 24/7/365 (of course, it may be because he's retired, but still).

The style has grown up, just as other funny-page staples have. The characters look more interesting. The eye wants to linger a bit more. Paraphrasing Charles Schulz, for a comic to really succeed, to really be good, it has to look interesting. You have to like the way the characters are drawn. The characters are much more likably drawn, with just enough realistic touches to be believable, though not quite going as far as the paradigm-shifting redesign of the Archie Andrews universe via Betty and Veronica back in 2007.

After getting over my initial head asploding, I've decided I quite like it. It's nice to see actual time being represented in a comic strip – that's why we like Luann and Safe Havens (actually, we think Bill Holbrook is genius anyway, but that's a sidetrack).

Sit down, strap in, hold on ... if you remember Funky, maybe it's time you got reacquainted.

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