Winnie Winkle was an American comic strip which appeared over a 76-year span (1920–96). The strip’s premise was conceived by Joseph Medill Patterson, but the stories and artwork were by Martin Branner, who wrote the strip for over 40 years. Winnie Winkle was one of the first comic strips about working women. The main character, Winnie, was a young woman who had to support her parents and adopted brother, serving as a reflection of the changing role of women in society. It ran in more than 100 newspapers for several decades, and translations of the strip’s Sunday pages (focusing on her little brother Perry Winkle and his gang) were made available in Europe.
Due to its originality and longevity, Winnie Winkle became a household name and an icon, inspiring even the Pop Art artist Roy Lichtenstein. Winnie Winkle was reprinted in Dell Comics, and for a time her face appeared on a cigar box lid. In retrospect, Winnie Winkle is seen as one of the comic strips heralding a new, more independent role for American women after World War I.
The Chicago Tribune Syndicate launched the comic strip on September 20, 1920. By 1939, Winnie Winkle was running in more than 140 newspapers. It was titled Winnie Winkle the Breadwinner until 1943. By 1970, Winnie Winkle still ran in more than 150 newspapers.
Winnie Winkle ended July 28, 1996, after 76 years, one of the longest runs in American comic strip history. Tribune Media Services, the syndicate that distributed the comic strip, “felt that the Winnie Winkle character was not recognized as a contemporary role model for the ’90s.” At the time, the strip was carried by only a handful of newspapers.
Branner employed a number of assistants, including Royal King Cole (during the 1930s), Rolf Ahlson, Mike Peppe, and Max Van Bibber (1938–1962). Another assistant was the young French author Robert Velter, who on his return to Europe created the famous series Spirou et Fantasio.
From 1941 until 1958, Branner’s assistant was John A. Berrill, who later created Gil Thorp. After Branner suffered a stroke in 1962, Van Bibber continued the series until 1980, later followed by students from the Joe Kubert School of Cartoon and Graphic Art, and finally by veteran artist Frank Bolle. Bolle recalled:
I did Winnie Winkle for 20 years, and when they told me, “You have 90 days to wrap it up,” because they were discontinuing it, I felt terrible, but after I finished it, I didn’t even miss it. I was depressed because I lost a good job, but I just didn’t miss it. Maybe it was the routine of it every week I didn’t miss, but I have a lot of good memories of doing that strip.
10 pages/strips Winnie Winkle 1935
27 pages/strips Winnie Winkle 1971
293 strips 1927
27 strips 1936
300 strips 1937
6 strips 1943
62 strips various