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A History of Funky Winkerbean

About Funky Winkerbean
According to the King Features Syndicate website, Funky Winkerbean debuted in 1972 (the year after I was born). The strip centers around Westview High School in a small Ohio town, and chronicles the lives of its students and faculty, among others. For about the first twenty years, time was frozen as readers enjoyed the adventures of high school students Funky Winkerbean and company, the Westview High marching band (led by Harry Dinkle, the world's greatest band leader), and the Westview Scapegoats, probably the losingest football team in comic strip history. Readers were also treated to views of school life as seen through inanimate objects, such as the school desks and the school rock.

Life at Westview High was not without serious problems, however. In between Les Moore's struggles with the rope climb in gym class and Crazy Harry's air guitar performances, artist Batiuk managed to open readers' eyes to problems facing teenagers. A series of strips concerning teenager Lisa Crawford's pregnancy is especially memorable, and still relevant as years later those strips are still utilized in discussions about teen pregnancy.

The cast of Funky Winkerbean includes the following (pictures courtesy of Tom Batiuk, click on a name to view picture):

Les Moore--a shy kid who often had trouble climbing down from the rope in gym class, volunteered as a hall monitor (complete with machine gun), was revealed by trooper administering his driving test that his real first name is "Leslie"; currently teaches English at Westview High; author of a novel about the murder of John Darling
Funky Winkerbean--title character, I think the name says it all; currently part-owner of Montoni's Pizza
Crazy Harry--worked at Montoni's Pizza for a time, enjoyed playing pizzas on his stereo (that's right), avid Star Trek fan; is now a mailman and oftens comes into Montoni's to visit
Holly Budd--band majorette with a stage mother that made Gypsy's Mama Rose look humble, best known for her "flaming baton" trick, was homecoming queen; now is a counselor for women surviving breast cancer
Lisa Crawford Moore--friend of Les's who was pregnant during high school, she gave the baby up for adoption; is now married to Les, recovering from breast cancer and going to law school (see Lisa in her wig)
Harry L. Dinkle--the greatest band director in the world
Mr. Tony Montoni--owner of Montoni's Pizza, in semi-retirement
Mr. Crankshaft--bus driver for Westview High; his character was spun-off into an eponymous comic strip in 1987. Crankshaft runs in over 300 newspapers
The Coach--the losingest coach in Westview history, couldn't win a game even if the other team didn't show; was eventually "forced" into retirement, last seen working at Foot Locker
Barry Balderman--the smartest kid at Westview High School, would be first in line to sign up for next year's classes; at last report was working for a truck driving company
Jerome--band major for the Westview High Band, had unusual posture
Billy, the Westview High Scapegoat--mascot for the football team, was supposed to run around the track every time the team scored (didn't happen)
Ann--one of Les's teachers, also coach of the women's basketball team and the academic team (possibly also Mrs. Fred Fairgood)
Junebug--student, played for the basketball team
Mr. Burch--principal of Westview when Funky and Co. were students
Harriet Dinkle--Harry's long suffering wife, never seen in the strip (like Vera from Cheers); recently sent Harry an e-mail saying that she was leaving him
Cindy Summers--a spoiled rich girl before the four-year time lapse; she is currently a TV reporter with ABC in New York and Mrs. Funky Winkerbean.
Mary Ellen--had a summer job alongside Funky as playground counselor
Roland--a leftist who was alienated from his father
Bull Bushka--star football player with sideburns and neck-length hair, threatened to beat up Les more than once while in high school; is now the new coach of Westview High
Vicki--Funky's girlfriend for a short time
Miss Rita Wrighton--a teacher
Nate--a teacher who is still in the strip
Fred Fairgood--guidance counselor in the old days; is currently the principal of Westview and adoptive father of Lisa's child
Jan and Marcia--ran the "Rap Cellar", a student hangout
John Darling--a newscaster whose murder is the subject of Les's novel; John Darling was featured in a eponymous spin-off comic strip that ran from 1979 to 1991
Minnie Cameron--a TV reporter
Mary Sue Sweetwater, Livinia, Derek--miscellaneous students
The School Computer--speaks in a Tech font, loves Star Trek

Some of the more popular running gags in the strip included :
1) The endless losing streak of the Westview High Scapegoats football team. The team did win one game, but were forced to forfeit the win when it was discovered Bull was not eligible to play because of failing grades. A fan writes: "There was the funniest run a few years ago where the team won almost all their games because for one reason or another the team that they were going to play had to forfeit or they had some problem and wanted to reschedule but the coach saw this as an opportunity to win by default and wouldn't reschedule but made them forfeit. It was very funny."
2) Les hanging from the gym rope wondering how in the heck he was going to get down (he would eventually, because the next day he would be sitting at his hall monitor station with his machine gun)
3) Harry Dinkle putting band practice above football, education, and all that is holy
4) The infamous fundraisers where Harry Dinkle and band company would sell band candy, band turkeys, band fruitcakes, and anything else that wasn't nailed to the ground
5) Two leaves hanging on a tree branch near the school cracking jokes (this ploy was also used with school desks)
6) The school rock (on which was scribbled Class of (year) and student signatures) cracking jokes
7) The annual "Battle of the Bands" competition sponsored by Westview, which for some reason was always the victim of a vicious downpour of rain (except for the first one)
8) The school computer playing "Star Trek" and cracking jokes
9) There was a running gag of silly proverbs from the "I Chong".
10) Harry Dinkle writing the biography of Clyde Barlow, the fictional 18th-century (?) composer who ostensibly wrote "99 Bottles of Beer on the Wall". Harry Dinkle is apparently the greatest living expert on Clyde Barlow.

If memory serves correctly, Funky underwent a "time warp" of sorts in the early 1990s. Funky and friends, having spent the last two decades as teenagers, finally graduated from Westview. Soon a series of strips began which were labelled "Four Years Later." Les, no longer the shy kid who manned a machine gun during his hall monitor duty, returned to Westview High as an English teacher, and with Les's new career began also a change for Funky Winkerbean. No longer frozen in time, characters began to develop and age and progress into topical storylines, but not without the sense of humor that endears readers to the strip.

With this shift in time, Funky fans were introduced to a new generation of Westview students as older characters were faced with new conflicts to overcome. In between the humorous panels about school life and homework, Batiuk has gracefully tackled more serious subjects in his strip, including alcoholism, abuse, breast cancer, and racism.

Following the 9/11/01 attack, Batiuk touched upon the tragedy in his strip, featuring a short run with Cindy Summers interviewing Apple Annie about the loss of a dear friend.

Funky Winkerbean currently appears in over 400 newspapers nationwide, and has garnered many awards for Batiuk, including the 1999 Inkpot Award from Comic-Con International.

New characters to join Funky since the time warp include:

Alison--Lisa's former roommate from France, described by Les as looking like "Juliette Binoche, but cuter"; makes occasional visits to town
Apple Annie--Homeless woman often interviewed by Cindy in New York, a former actress
Becky--Wally's former girlfriend, was supposed to attend Julliard when a car accident left her with an amputated arm; currently a waitress at Montoni's
Chien--One of Les's students
Darin Fairgood--Westview student and Fred's adopted son (Lisa's natural son)
Grandmother--Li and Lin's grandmother, has helped Lisa during her recovery
Halle Dinkle--Harry's daughter
John--Runs the comic book shop
Li and Lin--Own the Chinese restaurant next door to Montoni's
Linda Lopez--Les's co-worker at school
Matt--BMOC, Susan's former overbearing boyfriend

Mercedes "Sadie" Summers--Cindy's sister, is now in high school and following in Cindy's footsteps
Mickey Lopez--Linda's daughter and star football player for the Scapegoats
Mooch--One of Les's students
Pete--One of Les's students
Rachel--Waitress at Montoni's and the object of affection of many a male customer
Sam--(RIP) Homeless painter and friend of Annie's, perished in the WTC attack
Summer Moore--Les and Lisa's new baby girl!
Susan--student who had a crush on Les, attempted suicide; class valedictorian in Wally's class
Wade--Homeless man hired to do odd jobs at Montoni's
Wally Winkerbean--Funky's younger nephew, left for the military after graduation following a drunk driving accident which involved Becky; returned briefly following Funky's intervention and is now missing in action in Afghanistan (post 9/11 storyline)

Over the years, Funky Winkerbean has offered fans a taste of life outside the boundaries of Westview High. In addition to crossover storylines with Batiuk's other comic strips, Funky and the gang have also come into contact with various celebrities:

Willard Scott interviewed Harry Dinkle when the band marched in the Tournament of Roses parade

Carl Sagan was a guest speaker at Harry's Star Trek convention

When Mick Jagger performed a concert in town, Harry tried to get him to cancel because the band wanted to skip practice to go!

Back in 1984 there was a series of strips dealing with the big Jackson Brothers "Victory" tour coming to town. Michael Jackson appeared in Funky on July 6, 1984. The story that week revolved around Les having won a radio contest to attend the concert and meet The Gloved One. Funky and Les went to the show (I remember clearly Les finding out at the refreshment stand that he had to buy a minimum of four soft drinks -- an obvious reference to the tour's four-ticket minimum), and Les brought a glove that MJ signed for him - a BASEBALL glove.

Bruce Springsteen appeared in a 1996 series where Harry and the Marching Scapegoats were asked to appear at the mega-star's concert to open the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame. The concert ended when Harry tripped over wiring

Pete Rose, unseen in the strip, appeared as a substitute gym teacher. Yes, he picked on Les.

Paul McCartney (unseen in the strip) -- brought his big 1976 American tour nearby

More recently, Bull Bushka appeared on "Who Wants to be a Millionaire" with Regis Philbin

Stay tuned for additions to Funky Winkerbean history!

Special thanks to the following: Jeff Mullowney for providing Lisa's maiden name "Cincy43235" for the information on Barry Balderman, Bruce Springsteen and Michael Jackson Gwillim Law, who provided information on many minor characters and strip history "Greyfox" for providing information on the Westview Scapegoat's only "winning" streak Windsor Morgan for providing information on the school computer "Sandra" for providing information on Paul McCartney "Reece" for providing information on the Inkpot Award