Tom Batiuk ended 50 years of Funky Winkerbean today with a strip guest-drawn by former Superman and Fantastic Four writer/artist John Byrne.
Byrne, who not only has drawn the strip before but has also appeared as a character in it, actually drew the past five strips, as Batiuk wrapped up his story with another of his patented time jumps. This time he jumped to a future where a robot bookstore keeper sold two books to the granddaughter of “Nanna Summer” — Westview, by Summer Moore, and Lisa’s Story: The Other Shoe, written by Les Moore.
Although Funky’s name appeared on the strip, it’s Les and Lisa Moore who became the breakout characters in it. They famously dressed as Batman and Robin when they married, and Lisa’s battle (and eventual death) from cancer was a long-running and somewhat controversial story in the strip. Those strips would later receive a Pulitzer nomination. So it’s fitting that their family would be seen in these final strips.
As for Funky and the regular cast, their final appearance came on Christmas day last week:
Batiuk identified all the characters he included in a blogpost. Funky, at this point, is the old bald guy about six over from the right in the front row. Funky Winkerbean started as more of a daily gag strip back in 1972, featuring a gang of teenagers, but in 1992 Batiuk changed the format and jumped ahead in time, graduating the gang from both high school and college as they went on to face life as adults. They also started aging in real time at that point. In 2007, the strip went through another time jump, this time aging up all of the original gang’s kids so they were in high school.
Over the course of its five decade run, it produced two spin-off strips: John Darling in 1979 and Crankshaft in 1987. John Darling was killed off at the end of his comic strip, and his murder would be solved in Crankshaft. The comic has also had several comic book tie-ins — it was regularly set inside the local comic shop, and Batiuk would sometimes parody Silver Age comic covers and comics in his Sunday strips. In addition to Byrne, writer Tony Isabella would sometimes appear in the comic as well.
With Winkerbean ending, Batiuk will continue to write Crankshaft, the spinoff about the cranky school bus driver.