Complaints Over Comic in Which U.S. Soldier Is Seemingly Killed

By: E&P Staff

Readers of at least two newspapers were upset with Friday’s “Funky Winkerbean” comic showing a character seemingly blown up by an improvised explosive device (IED) in Iraq.

Saturday’s strip revealed that the character — Funky’s brother — was “killed” in a video-game simulation, not real life.

In a Saturday note to readers, Columbus (Ga.) Ledger-Enquirer Executive Editor Ben Holden wrote: “On Friday, I received a telephone call from Fort Benning Staff Sgt. James G. Clanton, who was extremely unhappy with a cartoon that ran in our paper that day. The ‘Funky Winkerbean’ strip, produced by Tom Batiuk and sold to us by King Features, contained what appeared to be a popular soldier being killed … in Iraq. In fact, the comic depicted a video game, as today’s strip — and a fair reading of the prior two days’ frames — makes clear.

“But the … strip at issue had no contextual labeling and should never have run in our paper. For the failure to identify the problem and spike the material, I take full responsibility and apologize to the men and women of our Armed Forces. We have internally implemented review steps to more closely monitor syndicated material. Also, I have spoken directly with our liaison at King Features and with Mr. Batiuk. I have mandated that we get a ‘heads up’ when such sensitive material is being transmitted, or, I told the liaison, we will cancel part or all of our business relationship with King.”

Holden noted that Batiuk wrote a letter to the Ledger-Enquirer which read, in part: “I wanted to let you know that I’m sorry for any concern, anger, or confusion that [the] strip may have caused with your readers. Obviously, any strip removed from the context of its surrounding story is open to misinterpretation, and such appears to be the case here. It most certainly wasn’t intended to disparage our soldiers in any way.

“To the contrary, anyone following the Iraq story arcs in ‘Funky’ knows that I’m not only sympathetic to what our soldiers are facing in Iraq, but the focus throughout has been on the sacrifices they make in being separated from family and in the dangers they face in the theater. Treating them with disrespect is not something I would ever do.”

The Fairbanks (Alaska) Daily News-Miner also reportedly received a call from an upset parent.

The ComicsReporter and The Daily Cartoonist blogs both discussed the sequence today.

One person posting on the latter blog wrote: “Why don’t people understand that just because it’s labeled a COMIC strip, doesn’t means it’s always about COMEDY? What if [Batiuk] had ‘really’ killed off the character? Is it not okay for him to make the statement that war is, um, dangerous? It’s not like he had someone laughing uncontrollably at the corpse then yelling, ‘Gotcha!’ If he would have written a 700-1400-word, boring article about the dangers of IEDs, no one would have batted an eyelash.”

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