The Fan-Tom Empire

Cowboys, thunder riders dressed in quasi medieval armor shooting futuristic weapons, robots with flamethrowers— The Phantom Empire viewed genre boundaries as mere inconveniences rather than limits…I became fascinated with the idea of taking what was considered to be a low art form and creating something of substance within those confines, of trying to take what others considered junk and turning it into something more. That thought continued to inform my cartooning choices for the next fifty years. It’s hard to overestimate the impact that The Phantom Empire has had on my developing brain.

From the introduction to The Complete Funky Winkerbean Volume One

So today, Batiuk’s “writing what he knows'” sharing with us readers a space opera that influenced his creative vision as a youth. At the same time he’s writing about something about which he has no idea: how today’s Hollywood motion pictures are made. “I think seeing that old serial is really going to be helpful with our movie.” Mason might as well be talking about a campfire skit or routine that they are preparing for a middle school talent show. And I’m waiting for the day when Darin snaps at his old buddy Pete: “Shut the fuck up already about ‘back in the days of Batom Comics!'”

Anyway, snarkers, it’s good to be back in the SoSF wheelhouse as we approach the 6th anniversary of Son of Stuck Funky! Stay tuned for a special announcement of the first contest around here in awhile. Details to follow! Happy Easter!


Filed under Son of Stuck Funky

21 responses to “The Fan-Tom Empire

  1. Epicus Doomus

    Reading this slice of nostalgic claptrap should really help me understand this bafflingly stupid arc, you know? Say, I wonder what the Batom Comics guys used to do when they found themselves reading an especially shitty and incomprehensibly dumb comic strip?

    (Insert photo album corners here)

    “Boy, this sad-sack comic strip sure does suck, Retro Pete.”

    “Got that right, retro Boy Lisa. What a pile of garbage. Oh, hi Brady (sigh).”

    “You know, “Crankshaft” is written by the same guy too.”

    “WHAT? He has TWO???”

    “Used to have another one too. Just goes to show you, talent means nothing in this game, fellas! Now churn me out some insultingly stupid drivel!”

    “Sigh. OK, let’s go with that story about the make-believe comic book company.”

    “Blech…who’s ever gonna read THAT crap?”

  2. Jimmy

    Six years already?Little did our moms know when they said, “It’ll make you go blind!”, they were talking about beady-eyed nitpicking.

    Anyway, I think the Batiuk comment is commendable. Bloom County is probably a better example of that genre bending, though.

  3. Thank you so freakin’ much, Phantom Empire.

    Are Darin and Pete v.1 being sarcastic or sincere? I can’t tell from the context of the strip and Batiuk’s praise of the source material makes things even murkier.

  4. sgtsaunders

    It’s almost like “Batom” has been reduced to using multiple random panels, at least insofar as dialog is concerned. There is a generally vague visual thread, but the dialog va…va…sucks.

  5. So, Tom Batiuk’s main source of inspiration is an old movie that could easily be fodder for an Experiment on MST3K? No wonder this strip has always struggled with quality.

  6. bad wolf

    Well, at least it’s a reference to a real thing that readers can go check out for themselves, so it’s (a small, small measure of) progress. I’ve had Phantom Empire on my Netflix list for a while, maybe I should go ahead and pull the trigger.

    Between this and Luann‘s references to 1927s Wings, I guess the comics page has realized their target audience is about 130 years young. Good for them!

  7. Okay, so…Brady is taking Pete and Dud to see “The Phantom Empire.” A serial which was made in 1935. So, is all this Bantom stuff taking place in the 1930’s? It sure looks that way, since the main attraction poster is for “The Phantom Empire” and revival theatres really weren’t a thing for several decades. Most of the old serials ended up on Saturday morning television…but I guess if Brady said “Tune in channel 10 Saturday mornings at 9, boys, and you’ll know how to write comic books!” it simply wouldn’t have the same gravitas…

    Oh, this makes my head hurt. It reminds me of Barry Malzberg’s novel “Chorale” in which it was discovered that the past never existed, so time travelers had to go back and “be” Beethoven et al so that the present could exist. If Malzberg wrote “Funky Winkerbean” that would be something–the same depressing miasma of woe, but much more ferocious and bleak (believe it or not).

    By the way, the old serials could certainly be inspiration for Funky Winkerbean–ten minutes of plot stretched out over several agonizing hours. Suddenly many things make sense.

  8. Batiuk sure does put a lot of work into making sure we know the cigar chomping comics exec is as stereotypically sleazy as possible. Kinda tough to have your serious comic be taken seriously when you have ridiculous caricatures for characters.

  9. SpacemanSpiff85

    So Brady Wentworth is Batiuk? Since he’s recommending the movie that inspired Batiuk? Even though he’s previously been a stereotype boss who caresponded nothing about art? Who needs continuity when you have writing, I guess.

  10. Epicus Doomus

    BC: Ponder this for a moment. Current Pete, who just experienced a dose of comic book nostalgia based on titles created two decades before he was born, is daydreaming about his imaginary counterparts reaction to being exposed to comic book nostalgia based on titles created two decades before THEY were born. He is essentially fantasizing about the exact same thing he happens to be doing at the moment, only in an old-timey hypothetical Batom Comics context. He does it every single time too.

    As insane as these fantasies are, at least the idea of Pete drifting off in retro Batom Land was semi-plausible while he was at work. But now he’s doing it in public, right in the middle of a conversation with the leading man in the film he’s supposed to be writing, no less. The guy is obsessed with what he thinks Batom Comics must have been like in the day.

    Speaking of guys obsessed with what Batom Comics was like back in the day, none of this hacky tomfoolery would have been necessary if the guy who writes this thing could have thought up a better way to work his various fantasy world doodlings into the strip. But he couldn’t, so laughably contrived dialog and photo album corners it is.

  11. SpacemanSpiff85

    @Epicus Doomus:
    This is like Les and that damn cat. I’m sure Batiuk thought it was a quirky writer trait, but a guy who hallucinates a cat who taunts him whenever he’s stressed or can’t write or has to make a decision isn’t deep and interesting, he’s very sick and needs help.
    Same with Pete. If anytime anything halfway semi-interesting happens to you, you immediately start visualizing yourself in the past sort of doing something related to it, and completely lose touch with reality, you need help.
    Seriously though, what is going on here? Is Pete just staring off into space as he daydreams about this stuff? I really don’t think this is a visualization of a discussion they’re having or anything. It’s all in his head. Is Darin having to guide him as Pete walks dazed into traffic, completely out of touch with reality?

  12. SpacemanSpiff85

    Also, Brady starts that sentence on the sidewalk outside the theater, and finishes it inside the theater, well into the movie itself. Like, there was probably at least a fifteen minute silence in between “boys…” and “will”. That’s not really a quarter inch from reality.

  13. Epicus Doomus

    And it’s also interesting how Pete varies from being a SJ-hating mope to a living Batom Comics encyclopedia in an instant, isn’t it? A few short days ago he didn’t even want to go at all, now he’s an expert on what movies the Batom Comics editor took his employees to when they needed inspiration.

    SpacemanSpiff85: It’s just an extremely weird thing to say given the situation. Maybe he is walking around in a Batom Comics daze 24/7…”I wonder if those Batom Comics guys ever talked to women?”…”I wonder if ol’ Brady was ever pepper-sprayed on a first date?”…”why no, officer, I’m not showing you my hands and if ol’ Brady Wentworth, the editor of Batom Comics back in the day, was here he’d give YOU what for!”…”I wonder how high bail was when the Batom Comics guys were charged with a felony back in the day?”. I can’t decide which is stranger: constantly thinking about Batom Comics or daydreaming about things you’ve just done or are still doing, but sixty years ago.

  14. Well, it does explain WHY Les makes sense as his avatar. The Punchable One is also an annoying, clueless wonk who has no idea how people function in the real world because he’s fixated on baffling and ridiculous trash most people gave up on long ago. Right now, there’s a Batiuk in the making having a stupid epiphany because he confuses Equestria Girls: Friendship Games with the Iliad.

  15. Saturnino

    “Current Pete, who just experienced a dose of comic book nostalgia based on titles created two decades before he was born, is daydreaming about his imaginary counterparts reaction to being exposed to comic book nostalgia based on titles created two decades before THEY were born.”

    Sure. It’s like when you were a kid in the barber shop and there were mirrors in front of you and behind you. And you though if you could see back through enough reflections you could go back in time.

  16. Saturnino

    “This is like Les and that damn cat.”

    “Same with Pete.”

    No, Pete would hallucinate a turtle.

  17. So to The Author a 1935 serial that starred a singing cowboy and involved a plot about an ancient advanced civilization forced underground during the Ice Age trying to kick him off his because of the radium (Mdme.Curie alert) his property contains was an inspirational, ground-breaking piece of cinema. This explains a lot.

  18. Rusty Shackleford

    “I wanted to elevate this low art form…” No Batty, you reduced it even lower. At least mundane strips like Hi and Lois didn’t pretend to be something more than they were.

    Watterson and Breathed can claim to have elevated the art form, you have done nothing but generate reactions–and anyone can do this. You had the opportunity to do something great with your characters, but instead you chased awards and pats on the back from those you admired.

    What to do? Reboot both strips. Les could get shot in the classroom and Funky could have that heart attack already. Cindy could die under the knife and Mason could OD.

  19. Professor Fate

    At least the makers of the Phantom Empire didn’t go around proclaiming they had elevated the serial to an art form (they were too busy making the next one). That Hubris is the Author’s especial conceit. One as always is struck by the distance between what he thinks he is doing and the result on the page.

  20. Epicus Doomus

    All he really needed to to with all this SJ and BC crap was to have one of his “writing” characters do a book on Ohio’s very own Batom Comics. Then he could have run wild with the BC and SJ mythology without having to resort to this Hollywood movie nonsense. He does that all the time, he writes himself into these awkward spots where there’s no other option but to totally ignore logic and common sense.

    Coming tomorrow: Pete begins daydreaming about what the old Batom Comics guys used to daydream about and it all begins to loop back upon itself until we see two cavemen complaining about drawing with charcoal sticks and yearning for the days of simple cave wall etchings.