Funky Winkerbean, Tom Batiuk’s daily newspaper comic strip which follows its characters’ adventures in the fictional Ohio town of Westview, is finally wrapping up its fifty years of serial storytelling at the end of this month.
Ohio is historically notable for its copious output of great and eminent cartoonists (see: Outcault, Watterson, Backderf), but perhaps no newspaper strip has ever been as conscientiously Ohio-centric as the long-running Winkerbean: some of its recurring settings are based on real establishments in Akron and Strongsville, and Batiuk still works on each daily strip from his home in Medina.
Funky Winkerbean started out as a drily funny gag-a-day strip about high school life, its rhythms and tactics owing much to influences like Doonesbury and Peanuts. Monomaniacal high school band leader Harry Dinkle’s doomed struggle to win a band championship and Les Moore’s enmity with the gym class rope recall Charlie Brown’s thwarted dream of kicking the football. But over time the strip evolved in a couple of surprising ways. First, unlike Blondie or Beetle Bailey, these characters aged: the central cast, originally in high school, are now in their fifties or older. And second, things got darker: characters got sick and they got sad and sometimes they died.
Like any long-running institution, Funky Winkerbean has its detractors – commentators who snark online, sometimes hilariously, about its mopey tone (does everyone in Westview have to be bludgeoned by tragedy and loss?), about joke-free punch lines, and lately about the way the previously fairly naturalistic saga is concluding, with some unexpectedly fantastical time-bending that’s coming off as a little bit Back to the Future, a little bit Multiverse of Madness, and a little bit Bill and Ted. Nobody expected Westview High to have a TARDIS in the janitor’s closet.
You can follow Funky’s progress toward its ultimate conclusion in the Toledo Blade where it’s published daily on the comics page through December 31. But if you also want to dig into its fifty years of history, the Library can help with that.
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