By Phil Hecken
Anyone who follows the Weekend Edition of Uni Watch knows of “Benchies,” the on-again, off-again adventures of Mick and Mike — the two lovable denizens of Bub’s pub who share a common interest in sports and women … and an apartment. Rick Pearson, who has been uni watching longer than many of us have been alive, created Benchies several years ago, and most of the strips you’ve seen over the past two years (with a couple of mini-breaks in between), have been of recent vintage. Like most cartoonists, the strip has evolved — an idea planted a long time ago morphed into a fully-developed comic strip, destined for placement in hundreds of daily’s across the States. Almost.
You may not realize this but Benchies has been published in a major metropolitan newspaper. In fact, Rick may have been thisclose to having Benchies make it big, like it deserved. But fate is a cruel mistress. As they say in sports and in life, timing is everything, and the timing just wasn’t right. But maybe the timing will be right again in the future. Until then, Benchies has found a happy home on the UW weekends, and I’m glad we have it.
In a very special post today, then, we have Rick Pearson to take us back to the beginnings of Benchies — how he got the idea and how it came to fruition — and how it almost made it into the Minneapolis StarTribune’s full time comics section. Sit back and enjoy the Birth of Benchies.
The ‘Benchies’ Backstory.
By Rick Pearson
In 1976, I was newly divorced and sitting at my grandmother’s house at some kind of family gathering with my cousin Ron. We were watching the Twins on TV, playing at Chicago. The White Sox were in white-over-navy, their new “tails out” unis. I said I thought they were kind of fun. Ron was the closest thing I had to a brother when his family would spent most of the summer in Minnesota from San Diego (one year, PCL Padre pitcher Pete Wojay rented their house while they were away). Ron had come back to Minnesota for college and stayed. Anyway, of the White Sox that night he replied, “I dunno. They look like a dispirited softball team.”
A thought crossed my mind, and I filed it away. “Hmm, that’d make a decent premise for a comic strip.”
Two years later, one of my best friends split with his wife and moved into my extra bedroom. He’s a character, one of those people who will always be a big kid at heart, and I got him involved in the “bar jock” scene, playing about every sport imaginable. He was a helluva blocking back, bowler and basketball player, but the rest was all pretty much new to him. We had a great time, and, things got more than a little crazy around both the bar (the now-gone Uptown Bar & Café) and our apartment.
Out of those “adventures” (and a tremendous amount of exaggeration and pure fiction) came “Benchies”. Here’s the first strip ever, in fact.
“Bub’s Pub” is a direct nod to cousin Ron. One of the cowboy sidekicks in the B-Westerns that were all over TV in the 1950’s called everyone “Bub.” When we were kids playing cowboys during Ron’s summer visits, I called him “Bub” a few times and it stuck. That or “Bubber.” Anyway, after several other ideas for the name of the bar in the strip, I hit on Bub’s Pub.
Ron went on to become a mail carrier, one of those brilliant people who prefer an uncomplicated job so he can, for example, put on a headset and learn yet another language while he’s working. I got deep in my “career” as creative director for a couple of small to medium ad agencies. But I’d still get bursts of energy and crank out a pile of “Benchies” every so often. Originally, I’d post them on the bulletin board at the agency where I was working at the time. I submitted it to all the syndicates at one time or another, getting a polite “not interested at this time” from them all.
Then through a sportswriter friend I crossed paths with playing senior baseball, “Benchies” ran in the Minneapolis StarTribune for a week in 1992 when “Doonesbury” took an eight-week hiatus…one of eight strips that “auditioned” for readers by appearing for a week each. Tim McGwire, then managing editor, said, “You’re onto something here. A lot of aging Baby Boomers will identify with this.”
Readers were given a number to call to vote of the strip, and to record their comments. The top four vote-getters (percentage-wise) would be added to the StarTribune comic pages. The other seven already were in syndication. “Benchies” was the only “free agent” in the deal. It had the misfortune of leading off (they went alphabetically). I say “misfortune” because many of the comments said things like, “It isn’t political enough”, and even the editor I worked with at the StarTribune admitted people didn’t understand. At first, many apparently thought it was about auditioning a REPLACEMENT for “Doonsebury.”
That misunderstanding might have cost me in the end, because “Benchies” finished 5th, missing the cut by 4/10th of a percentage point. Among the strips it lost out to: “LuAnn” and “Overboard”.
Then, out of the blue, the StarTribune called me about it some five years later, but nothing came of that, either.
And they looked at it one more time in ’07, but asked me to keep it more local. That kind of defeated the purpose. Nuthin’. I could take that as failure after failure, I suppose, but they obviously hadn’t forgotten about The Boys.
Then in ’08, along comes Uni Watch, and Phil’s appreciation for Mick & Mike.
And a year ago tomorrow, Ron suddenly passed away. Too bad something didn’t break right for “Benchies”. I would love for him to have seen Bub’s Pub in the funny papers. I mean, it really does exist because of something he said.
Thank you Rick. And thanks for bringing us a little bit of great comedy each weekend. Maybe Ron didn’t get to see Benchies make it big, but it’s bringing laughs to a lot of folks even now.
Lots and lots of tweaks keep pouring in, so obviously this is a popular feature. A bunch new to get to today. If you have a tweak, change or concept for any sport, send them my way.
Remember, if possible, try to keep your descriptions to ~50 words (give or take) per tweak. You guys have been great a keeping to that, and it’s much appreciated!
Got a smaller of tweaks today…so lets get right into it:
Starting off the show is Brady Vardeman, who has a pro combat tweak for Oklahoma…in black:
Hey…I decided to go ahead and make a Oklahoma Sooners pro-combat, BFBS, uniform. It’s basically just the home uni, but black and black pants with a black helmet and a skewed “OU”. It turned out rather well…
Next up is Clint Glaze, who has a Father’s farm team concept:
The former Portland Beavers AAA Team, the feeder for the San Diego Padres, is poised to move to Escondido, CA to start play in 2012 or 2013 in a proposed new stadium. The team is currently called the Tucson Padres and playing in a temporary home in Arizona. While the team name has not been decided upon (or even if they are 100%, for sure, coming to Escondido), the “Friars” is regarded as the leading name suggestion. Attached is my idea for their jerseys, closely following the existing Padres designs.
Next up is Ryan Ramirez, who has a great concept for the Bills. Oh…he’s only 11 years old!
Hi, my name is Ryan! I’m only 11. My friend just recently informed me of Uni Watch and I created my own uniform. It is my first one. I basically just took the Buffalo Bills’ uniform and made some small changes that I thought would make it look better. Thank you for taking the time out of your life to look at my uniform!
That’s gonna do it for this smaller tweak show. More to come next tomorrow!
Not only did Ricko give us a wonderful look back at the beginnings of Benchies, but he’s BACK with a brand new one for today.
You know spring is just around the corner when you hear the four greatest words ever uttered: “Pitchers And Catchers Report.”
Who knew Mike was a Mets fan?
…and if that’s a tad too small…here’s the full-size version.
Welcome back to Benchies, Rick.
As you all know (or should), a couple days ago Paul broke the news on the Buffalo Bills getting a new uniform for next season. Here’s what Paul’s “little birdie” told him:
These new Bills uniforms are clearly modeled after the later Simpson-era design, including the white helmet, but they’ve been updated to include a tiny amount of navy blue trim.
In my opinion, the navy blue is probably not necessary, but the uniforms do look quite good, and any sort of socks are an upgrade in my book. I wish they would update that darn logo, though. I’ve always preferred the solid red standing buffalo to the blue leaping buffalo, but I don’t think the retro logo works seamlessly with this new set, either. It is what it is. An upgrade, for sure.
An upgrade, for sure. I mean, when you dress like this, there’s pretty much no where to go but up. A couple hundred comments ensued, and it got me to thinking. In this day and age of fauxbacks (think Giants, Jets, Chargers and 49ers in football), I’m wondering if this is becoming more of a trend. Of course, many teams are throwing back as well, but those aren’t permanent uniforms (at least not yet anyway). Many sports do the fauxback thing. But — if you’re going to dump what is arguably not only the worst uniform in your own history, but possibly in all of NFL history, to create a “new” uniform based on a prior one … wouldn’t you want to either (1) fall back to your best uniform, or (2) the one in which your team achieved its greatest success? Because the impression I’m getting from hearing about these is the new uniform falls into neither category.
I was hoping the Bills would have gone with the AFL throwbacks which they have been wearing the past few years, including the road version that looks great even today. That’s probably (IMHO) their best all-time look, harkening back to the Jack Kemp days. Another nice look was their original 1960-61 AFL duds, which was a very plain blue and silver look, with silver helmets containing player numbers. However, that probably wouldn’t have translated very well into a fauxback. In between the 1964-1972 era and the originals, for two years the Bills wore a shoulder looped uniform that bore the same colors and helmet as the one which followed (Kemp era). But the Bills won two AFL championships in 1964 and 1965, in those striped sleeved unis — arguably their greatest success.
By 1973, the Bills would begin their their segue from the Kemp era unis to the era to which they are supposedly throwing back. 1973-4 brought the blue pants, and the last years of the standing buffalo for the new, charging buffalo helmet, complete with blue facemask. They would basically wear this uniform for nine seasons, from 1975 through 1983. I remember them introducing that uniform (having actually seen the Jets play the Bills at Shea when the Bills first introduced the new buffalo), and I never liked it. I never liked the blue pants or the charging bison, but at least they had a white helmet, which I had to that point always associated with the Bills.
Whatever the reason, most people attribute it to the AFC East (at the time) being the “white helmet division” (although the Jets had gone to a green helmet years earlier), in 1984 the Bills suddenly (and forever) switched to a red helmet. They would keep the blue pants in 1984 and 1985, eventually opting for one pair of white pants for both home and road. They’d keep the blue mask until 1987, when they went to a white facemask, and basically settled into the uniform which would propel them to four consecutive Super Bowls. Other than the AFL era, when they captured two titles, this was a period of tremendous success. And it was a pretty good looking uniform to boot.
Of course, they’d keep that uniform, more or less, until 2001. Taking all leave of their senses, in 2002 they introduced the current generation of uniforms, which of course, were designed to be worn either blue over white or white over blue and not the monochrome monstrosities into which they morphed. Easily the worst looking uniform in the game today.
So with three or four distinct looks to fall back upon, why would the Bills pick the era they did to fauxback to? It wasn’t a particularly good era (in terms of record or wins or success), and it wasn’t a particularly distinguished era, uniform-wise. I have a sneaking suspicion it was because it featured blue pants — allowing them the option to go monochrome blue at their leisure. I can only hope that’s not the reason.
But what about the decision to return to white helmets? I like it (since I never felt the Bills belonged in red helmets), but I wish they’d have chosen the standing buffalo. To me, the Bills were always a white helmeted team. I think that may be an age thing. I asked a question in the comments on Thursday, but it was late and only a few people replied — so I’ll ask again here.
Is “liking” a white helmet a generational thing? It seems to me that the older one is, the more one is apt to favor a white helmet, while the younger one is — the more likely one is to like a colored helmet. Which do you all prefer? If you’re under 30, do you prefer a colored helmet (not just for the Bills, for any team) and if you’re over 30, do you prefer the white helmet? I’d love to get an informal demographic as to what age (if any) favors a colored helmet over a white one. For the record, I’m 45, and I like white helmets.
That’s almost it for today — couple things of note in the world of hoops occurred last evening. The Knicks and Lakers wore their “Hardwood Classics” throwbacks, but it looked very odd, since the Knicks were wearing blue at home. That’s a much better uni than their current roadie, with its BFBS piping, but they really missed an opportunity to throw back to the Carl Braun-era unis, with their tiled stripes. Granted, they were throwing back to their 1970 NBA Championship unis, (or perhaps, more appropriately, their 1973 NBA Championship unis (in 1973, they took down the Lakers). It wasn’t a bad looking game, but with the super long shorts and the eye-searing kicks, it wasn’t that great.
The OTHER news, of course, is the fact that the Cleveland Cavaliers ended the longest losing streak in…well, ever, I think, taking down the Clippers in Clevo. Who knew Ted Turner was a fan? Good for the Cavs. Now they can start a new streak.
OK, Uni Watchers. That’s it for today. HUGE thanks to Ricko for finally letting me bring you the backstory on Benchies. Make sure you let him know how good the strip really is. And maybe it’s not too late for Benchies to make it into the funnies after all.
And hey — this Twitter is pretty great. Make sure you follow me @PhilHecken. OK? OK!
I don’t give a rat’s ass about the Lakers, but I’d love to see them wear the gold unis full-time. — James T. Huening