Aug 17, 2015
by RJ Carte
Reading any of the COMPLETE FUNKY WINKERBEAN volumes is like opening a time capsule. Tom Batiuk brings the crew into the 1980s with this fourth volume, and the cultural references pervade the pages from cover to cover.
The advent of Space Invaders, Defender, and other arcade video games chews up a decent amount of space — as it should in a strip focused on high school students. And the latest STAR WARS movie has its impact felt on not only the characters, but on the readers who were allowed to submit their own STAR WARS jokes to Batiuk and have them drawn into the strip.
Batiuk manages to continue to milk humor from some of the running gags that by this point had become mainstays of the strip: every fall, the last few remaining leaves wax philosophical about having to die; Les Moore continues to get stuck at the top of the rope in gym class, or paralyzed at the end of the high diving board; Coach Jock Strapp still coaches the losingest high school football team in history; and Harry Dinkleman continues to be the World’s Greatest Band Director / band candy salesman ever known.
While the humor was as strong as ever, the early 1980s marked a pivotal point in the history of the series, as Batiuk began to inject some of the more serious subject matter into the strip. The coach has a heart attack, and spends a few weeks worth of strips in the hospital, having a heart-to-heart with God. Ann loses her teaching job to spending cuts, and has to take a burger flipping job at McArnold’s. But on the other hand, the band gets invited to march in the Tournament of Roses Parade, and Ann’s fellow teacher, Fred, pops the question to her shortly before Christmas.
Having been a teenager in the 1980s, THE COMPLETE FUNKY WINKERBEAN, VOLUME 4 (1981-1983) is a total nostalgia trip for me. I spent many a quarter in the Space Invaders machine at my local pizza joint, and I’m pretty sure I knew the ‘Eliminator’ who just couldn’t lose. Also, and to this day, I still play a pretty mean air guitar, even if I could never compete with Crazy Harry.
For cartoon historians, this is a series that simply shouldn’t be missed. I shouldn’t have to say that this particular volume includes a foreward from the inimitable Stan Lee, or that there is even more behind-the-scenes Batiuk commentary that provides the background to these years. Buy it for the laughs, buy it for the feel of the glory days, but whatever your reason, buy it.