1. Appearing first on March 27, 1972, the strip is still popular, appearing in 400 papers worldwide. (I have to be honest; I didn’t know it was still around until I started researching this post, and I’m amazed to find it still thriving! How out of it am I?)
2. It’s changed a lot since its premiere; originally a gag-a-day strip with very “of its time” characters, fashions and dialogue, the strip was re-conceptualized in 1992 as a more dramatic strip in which the characters age in real time. In 2007, it was re-conceptualized again, pushing the timeline 10 years into the future.
3. Creator/writer/artist Tom Batiuk has included as characters in the strip comic book writer (and neighbor) Tony Isabella and superstar comic artist John Byrne (who actually drew the strip for a period of time after Batiuk had surgery.)
4. Lead and titular character Winkerbean pretty quickly found himself sharing (and often pushed out of ) the spotlight with supporting players Les Moore and Lisa Crawford. (Much as Fonzie pushed Richie Cunningham out of the center of Happy Days.)
5. Among the topics that the more serious Winkerbean strip has addressed are dyslexia, teen-age pregnancy, cancer, suicide, reckless driving (of the talking-on-the-cellphone while driving variety) and death. (ComicsAlliance.com ran a column on “January’s 10 Most Depressing ‘Funky Winkerbean’ Strips” in February of 2011.)
6. Several characters have been killed during the course of the strip, including the very popular Lisa Crawford Moore (after a long struggle with breast cancer).
7. Batiuk himself has waged a battle against prostate cancer.
8. Lisa’s death prompted a considerable amount of controversy, with many praising the strip’s honesty and others condemning it for being too dark or for what some saw as exploiting illness.
9. Bus driver Crankshaft received his own spin-off comic strip in 1987, but he wasn’t the first Winkerbean character so blessed: talk show host John Darling headed his own strip from 1979 to 1990.
10. In the early days, the character “Crazy” Harry lived in his school locker (which, like Snoopy’s doghouse, was somehow bigger on the inside than on the outside) and had the unique ability to play pizzas on a turntable. (Well, I think it’s unique at least.)