WINNIE WINKLE (THE BREADWINNER)Medium: Newspaper comics
Distributed by: Chicago Tribune Syndicate
First Appeared: 1920
Creator: Martin Branner
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proliferate on America's comics pages. When, eight years later, editor Joseph M. Patterson of The Chicago Tribune Syndicate launched a daily in that genre, he gave it the extra oomph of pathos by making its protagonist the sole support of her elderly parents.
Winnie Winkle the Breadwinner (the last two words were later dropped from the title) debuted on September 20, 1920. It wasn't the first newspaper strip with a "working girl" theme — that would probably be Somebody's Stenog, by A.E. Hayward, which started in 1918. But it's the first to attract a lot of attention, and within a year it had an imitator in Russ Westover's Tillie the Toiler. Thus, it was Winnie who paved the way for all the strips about working women to come, from Brenda Starr to Cathy.
The feature was created by Martin Branner, a former Vaudeville star who decided to go into cartooning after his World War I stint in the military. His first strip, Louie the Lawyer, started in 1919, but Branner stayed with it only about a year. His second, Pete & Pinto, disappeared after a mere 20 Sunday pages. But the third was the charm. Branner spent the rest of his career with Winnie Winkle..
Winnie's burden increased in 1922, with the addition of her adopted kid brother, Perry (who became the star of the Sunday page when it started, in 1923). By that time, the daily had evolved from a gag-a-day format into a soap opera along the lines of The Gumps or Gasoline Alley (which Patterson had also played a considerable part in developing). Like many soap opera stars, Winnie eventually married, as she and engineer Will Wright tied the knot on June 14, 1937. But Will went missing during World War II and wasn't found for decades, making her (effectively, if not technically) the first widow to star in a newspaper comic — and pregnant to boot.
The postwar world found her working (by now, as a fashion designer) to support her family, just as she'd always done — but with the added responsibility being a single parent to twins. When Will finally did return, in the late 1970s, his years of amnesia and difficulty fitting back into the modern world, became another element of the soap opera — and the plot thickened a few years after that, when he turned out to have an evil older brother whose goals included getting Winnie out of his family's life.
Winnie's only foray into the big, wide world outside comics was a series of silent comedy shorts starting with Working Winnie, released September 1, 1926 by Weiss Brothers Artclass Pictures Corp. Winnie was played by Ethlyn Gibson. Ten came out altogether, ending with Winnie's Winning Ways, released March 26, 1928.
Even within comics, she got out of newspapers mainly into a few comic book reprints from .Dell. But on the newspaper comics pages, she held on decade after decade, even as continuity strips fell out of favor. Branner had a stroke in 1962, after which his long-time assistant, Max von Bibber, took over the strip. Von Bibber remodeled it to join the trend, which had started with Mary Worth, for soap opera strips to be rendered in a more realistic style. Von Bibber retired in 1980, and for a time the strip was done as a class project by Joe Kubert's school of cartooning. Later, it was taken over by comic book veteran Frank Bolle, whose credits include The Heap and Doctor Solar, Man of the Atom.
The Winnie Winkle strip outlasted not just its creator (who died in 1970), but most of its comics-page contemporaries, as well. When it finally ended, on July 28, 1996, it had become one of the half-dozen or so longest-running daily strips in America.