A Bigger Blight

Link to today’s strip.

Not much to say about this one, as the Bull-DUI arc sputters to a halt, shuddering, wheezing and leaking oil.  I’m honestly not sure what to make of Linda, here–I get that she’s trying to cheer Bull up, but it really sounds (in the context of this strip) that seeing Bull lose big-time is a genuine turn-on for her.  Ewww…creepies, Mudhead!  I guess since they have two kids…well, let’s see…Bull’s father must have died of cancer, and his mother in a car accident?  Or maybe Bull lost a couple of toes, or has glaucoma?  Something tragic, right?  Something to get those old fires burnin’?

Bull as a character is nowhere near the loathsome levels of such cyclopean blasphemies as Les Moore, Harry Dinkle or John Howard.  I never think, “Oh God, no,” when he shows up, and I rarely feel like I should be smashing him with a bat.  He’s just really, really boring and nothing of his world is presented as interesting.  (Yes, I know you could say that about every scenario in the strip, including those which clearly engage Tom Batiuk’s interest.   It just seems more obvious where Bull is concerned.)

Like almost all of the female characters, Bull just seems like a sad, stupid lump that gets tossed around by fate without any real understanding of the forces working against him.  He never progresses and, naturally, never learns.

And there’s always that nagging feeling radiating from the strip that he somehow deserves it, that his past as a bully (whether that’s been ret-conned or not) has set his fate in stone.

If only he was a comic-book fan.  That way–the path of the Sacred Book–lies salvation, and even an old sinner like Bull might find his destiny written within those Pages.

If only the damned old bully could read.

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A Dash Of Hope

Link to today’s strip.

Here we see the problem with Mr. Brian Steinberg’s piece on Funky Winkerbean, much discussed over the past couple of days.  The claim was made that Tom Batiuk likes to handle the tough issues, and here we see how he does it–after weeks and weeks of build-up, the “Diversity University Ironton” story is deflated with its defining moment happening off-stage.  All we get is the pitiful aftermath.

So, yeah, there’s the Tom Batiuk we all know and love.   No matter the story or the theme, it’s always the same–let’s build up the hopes of someone who isn’t Les over and over, and then, in an instant, let’s dash those hopes to the ground, so that they can never be reassembled.  Make those characters know their place.  As I’ve said on many occasions, I believe Tom Batiuk really hates these characters (except for the ones named Moore) and today’s offering looks like more evidence.

Contrast this with the loathsome Les Moore, on whom fortune shines at all times, and to whom giant checks come calling regularly.  Les’ disappointments are all those of the Superior Man confronted by those incapable of appreciating his Genius and Insight.  Which sounds, so, so familiar, and quite frankly isn’t helped by pieces such as Mr. Steinberg’s telling Tom Batiuk that he is on an exciting course into uncharted territory.  Again, no disrespect is meant to either Mr. Steinberg or Mr. Batiuk, but I sure don’t see any better with this vision.

About that aftermath.  I’m assuming–always a bad idea–that Bull was told by DUI that they were considering other candidates, and he passed this info along to his wife, who therefore had no reason to mail a resignation letter…but that’s making an awful lot of assumptions for an idiot like Bull and a shrew like Linda.  If DUI didn’t tell him this, then that seems pretty shady.  I wonder if, in a month or two, we’ll hear (third-hand, of course) that DUI is being investigated for various things and is probably going to be closed down.  It’ll give Bull the chance for a smirk if nothing else.

If the letter went out, will the board let Bull keep his job anyway?  Probably, as he has just won a championship…but I bet they’d eye him askance from now on, since he has indicated he would jump ship in a heartbeat in the middle of the semester.  (I’m assuming Westview has things like signed contracts, and they tend not to tolerate them being casually violated.)

Bull’s lack of loyalty actually gives him something in common with the unseen and unnamed fellow who scored the DUI job–they’re both opportunists who cannot be counted on and have no loyalty to anyone.  Which seem like sound survival traits in the Funkyverse.

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The View From Sunset Boulevarde

Link to today’s strip.

Thursday’s episode was not available for preview, but when has that ever stopped me?  My assumption is that we’ve got more hand-wringing from Bull about changing jobs, but that’s not a given–to give him credit, Tom Batiuk can still be surprising, though rarely in a “Yay!” sort of way.

Commentator Bad Wolf found an interesting article yesterday about Funky Winkerbean in Variety.   It’s already been discussed in Wednesday’s comments…

(Fun fact:  I wrote most of this earlier in the day, and now pretty much all my points have been made in those aforementioned comments, but just like Tom Batiuk, I’m going to go ahead anyway, because I have nothing else!)

…but if you haven’t read it, take a glance; it’s an interesting read, though a very puzzling one.  It’s puzzling because it reads as if the author has never actually read any examples of the actual strip, and is just summarizing press releases and Tom Batiuk panel appearances.    In the first paragraph, Mr. Steinberg talks about Holly’s quest for comics and Les’ adventures in Hollywood…without mentioning how those stories played out.  We’re told that Holly “searches fervently” for comic books, when in actual fact she was pretty much handed the damned things at every opportunity.  Everyone else did the leg-work and just pointed her in a direction to find what she wanted.   And we’re told that Les “grapples” with Hollywood producers over “Lisa’s Story.”  I think the author mistyped “gripes,” since all Les ever did was whine and mope and be seen ostentatiously suffering.  Whenever changes to the story were presented, Les just gasped and got the vapors, without ever arguing for his own vision.  Les wanted to play the martyr, and all his energy went to that end.

At the end of the article, I was left feeling the way I do at the end of a Funky Winkerbean story–unsatisfied, with the nagging feeling that the author was capable, and playing with ideas that had potential, but then decided “the heck with this, I’m bored now” and just phoned it in.  “Hey, Steinberg,” said the Editor in Chief, “comics are hot at the movies these days, and I read somewhere about this thing, Funky Winkerbean.  Do a story and have it on my desk at 5:00.”  It’s not that kind of comics, Steinberg thought, concealing his haughty superiority behind a hidden smirk.  Then he began typing…

I will grant Mr. Steinberg his main point, which is that Funky Winkerbean is different from other comic strips.  However, I will not grant the unspoken idea that “different” always equals “good,” or “better.”   A pizza topped with chewing gum, cork, and rubber bands is different from every pizza you’ve ever seen.  Do you want to eat it?

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Gesturing for Help

Link to today’s strip.

It sure looks to me as if Bull is trying to communicate entirely with gestures in panel one–if his mouth is open at all, it’s sure not open enough to let any words escape.  Not that words are a specialty of Bull–or of Tom Batiuk–but I’m hoping his webcam can capture all that expansive waving.

Whatever his hands are saying, his face in both panels says it all:  please give me a reason, any reason, to turn down the offer.  I’m depending on you to save me.

However, both virtual women seem to hate Bull as much as Linda does, and gleefully tell him that he needs to put his neck on the block.  Bull’s expression in panel two is an excellent example of the Oh…crap face.  I am doomed!

Speaking of the virtual women, the one on the right is Mickey (whom I had never heard of before her reappearance earlier this month–and she sure added a lot, didn’t she).  Is the one on the left Jinx?  I don’t think I’ve ever seen her before, but she sure has aged a lot since high school.  Did we miss a time jump–or is one on the way, and Jinx was first in its path.  Those things are like tornadoes, never know when one’s going to hit, to touch down, to pass over and change everything.

If we do jump forward another decade, I’m betting tomorrow’s episode will show Bull returning to Westview High.  “Boy, I sure am glad that I finally quit that job I had, of athletic director, over at Diversity University Ironton!  It was a hard job, and it made me tired!  Now I am back where I started, at Westview High School, having returned from Diversity University Ironton, where I was working–and living!  But I wasn’t really living…(panel ellipsis)

(panel ellipsis) (smirk) …until I came back here.”

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Days of Whine and Roses

Link to today’s strip.

So, in paragraph one, Bull outlines Westview’s number one fear:  My life will change.  Ghastly, ghastly thought!  No, no, no, life should be spent forever in one’s high school, in one’s birth town, among the only people you’ve known in your existence!  Argh, away with you, change!

Bull then goes on in panel two to detail all the things he hates, wrapping up in the last panel with the fact that people will expect results from him in his new position.  Linda thinks it’s just grand that more people will expect better results from Bull–after all, it means a better life for her and who cares if it stresses out Bull?  He’s just a dumb jock!

It sure sounds to me like Bull is trying extra hard to talk himself out of taking the job.  You can tell this is serious–they’re eating in a restaurant that is obviously not Montoni’s, a restaurant that has some half-seen pictures on the wall instead of inexplicable stains.  Seriously, where is this place?  Is it in Westview or–gasp–somewhere outside?  Yikes!  Obviously you’d only dine here if you were expecting some really bad news, or you knew you were going to die shortly.

Look at the poor old man in panel two, squinting to read the menu, hoping that the Act II Les Moore-shaped tumor sprouting from his head won’t kill him before he has a chance to eat something other than pizza.  Quick, quick, he thinks.  What’s something I’ve always wanted to try but was never able to until this moment of release?  Uh…seafood?  What’s that?  Oh. My.  God.  My ticket is going to be punched at last!

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Prelude to the Afternoon of a Blob

Link to today’s strip.

I’m guessing that Linda wants engage in a little hanky-panky, proving that she does indeed hate everyone by creating such a mental image.  And they’re going to be going at it for an entire week?  Double-yuck!

Unless she’s making him helpless to beat him senseless, in which case, do you think one week is enough?  Take your time!

Actually, I’ve only seen that “pull down the jacket to immobilize someone” trick done once before, when Humphrey Bogart was able to disarm Elisha Cook Jr in The Maltese Falcon.  And I guess John Candy did it to himself in Planes, Trains and Automobiles, though I’m not sure that counts.  It was a funny scene, though, unlike today’s glop.

Fun fact for people who hate remakes:  Did you know that the John Huston-Humphrey Bogart version of The Maltese Falcon was the third version made?

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Rein on Bull’s Parade

Displaying a surprising amount of awareness of sports movie tropes, in today’s strip TB casts the generally unpleasant Linda in the “classic” Wet Blanket Girlfriend role.

She plays the role well too, waiting through Bull’s truly unrealistic expectations (national attention, ESPN) to play her passive-aggressive “rein in the chariot” line only after he spouts something entirely realistic. New helmets and uniforms arrive with new coaches at all but the most tradition-rich college football programs. Really though, Bull’s found an escape pod out of Westview, don’t screw this up for him Linda.

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