Cut the Bull

I want to thank the commenters who’ve shared their very personal stories about cognitive dysfunction and depression. It looks like Batiuk has once again drawn a response from his readers by addressing another thought-provoking and sensitive topic…and getting just about everything wrong.

The North Carolina reference in today’s strip led me to Grandpa Google: I read about a study, being conducted by UNC, of 2,500 former NFL players, investigating “the potential long-term neurological effects from concussions.” Maybe Bull’s “cup of coffee* with the [St. Louis] Cards” qualifies him for such a study, but the majority of his “repeated concussions” had to have taken place during his high school and college playing career. One could hardly fault the NFL for refusing to pay for his care.

* “A ‘cup of coffee’ is a North American sports idiom for a short time spent by a minor league player at the major league level. The idea behind the term is that the player was only in the big leagues long enough to have a cup of coffee before being returned to the minors. The term originated in baseball and is extensively used in ice hockey, both of whose professional leagues (MLB and the NHL) utilize extensive farm systems; it is rarely used in basketball or American football since neither the NBA nor NFL have implemented a true farm system.” —Grandma Wikipedia


Filed under Son of Stuck Funky

51 responses to “Cut the Bull

  1. I will post this once.

    As I mentioned yesterday, I suffer from severe depression. That’s “severe,” as in, “it’s always there.” William Thompson and Comic Book Harriet know of what I speak.

    This isn’t something where you have a “bout” or two. As in, “Readers hate my comic strip! I’m so SAD! But I get to sign books! I’m so happy! Plus The Flash!”

    No, this is something that is always there. It does not ebb and flow, except in how bad it gets. In terms of alcoholism, Batiuk actually has it right: the urge to drink never goes away, it constantly tempts you from whatever gate you manage to construct. Kudos to Batiuk in this regard…though the de-emphasis makes me think the award nominations just weren’t happening, so to HECK with that.

    Depression is like that. It’s always there. It’s like height, or eye color, or taste in movies. Trying to get folks to be not depressed is like telling short people, “Just try to be taller!”

    William Thompson mentioned a suicide attempt a year ago. I am so glad you are still with us. And thank you for reaching out to us, and I’m sure we all appreciate how our moronic critiques of this “comic strip” might have helped you. I kind of think we didn’t, and that’s on us. But you’re still here, and that’s all to the good.

    As for depression leading to suicide, this hits pretty close to home. I’ve had two people close to me choose suicide, and it’s the worst thing you can imagine. It’s helplessness and pain wrapped up into one potent sting. And I am honestly not interested in how Batiuk has “grown” in some issue that he hopes will win awards for him. As I have said many times, that Pulitzer nomination was THE WORST thing that has ever happened to him.

    Depression and suicide are old friends. They sit on the couch and wonder why I’m a) watching this movie b) working on this animation and c) haven’t just pulled the damned trigger already. You folks here are one reason.

    –Why I’m watching this movie, I mean.


    • Epicus Doomus

      Just my opinion but times have changed and there’s a definite possibility that this arc isn’t going to be received exactly the way he thinks it will. The Darin/Lisa adoption story arc annoyed plenty of people, as did the Wally POW arc and, of course, the cancer arc. But it’s been a while since he’s done one of these prestige arcs and this one centers around a pretty heavy topic by Act III standards, if anyone actually notices it the attention it attracts might not be all plaudits and rainbows. Society’s microscope is often a lot more intense than it once was and I could definitely see this one upsetting some people, particularly people who aren’t familiar with how FW typically operates.

      • Rusty Shackleford

        I think you are right. Judging by the lack of comments on his NYTs article, nobody—save for a couple of Batty’s friends—like this kind of crap.

        This is expected as he and Johnston both crapped out the misery all through the 90s. Oh look, I drew misery and sadness, what an artist I am.

    • William Thompson

      Well said, very well said. The depression is always there, and sometimes I don’t think I’d be me without it. It helps to know that other people understand; it helps to see other people notice the same things I do. And if it helps others when I talk, well, I owe that to a friend who has worse problems than mine, shared her experiences with me, and is the reason I called 911 before I could finish bleeding out.

      The critiques aren’t moronic. They’re necessary. Silence implies assent, they say, and Batiuk shouldn’t be given a free pass for his toxic vision of life.

      • Hydromatick

        I’ve been dealing with the “black dog” for a good long while now, and I think I know where you and BC are coming from. I know how hard just getting through a day intact can be. Glad you’re both still with us.

    • Gerard Plourde

      Though I haven’t personally experienced the agony of depression, I have friends and family members who have contended with it daily. If it helps, know that I personally look forward to your contributions and those of CBH, William Thompson, and the others who post here. While we are separated geographically, this is a community that I look forward to visiting daily.

      • Epicus Doomus

        We aim to please here at SoSF and our faithful commenters are the ones who really keep it chugging along in spite of the overall crappiness of the subject matter. If making fun of the single most baffling and inexplicable pop culture artifact of the last fifty years lightens someone’s load for a minute or provides a bright spot in their day, it’s all worth it. While it might not be the (or my) specific mission statement it’s definitely a humbling side effect for sure. Kudos to everyone brave enough to share their personal thoughts and experiences regarding this arc and topic and everyone else too. We do try to maintain a certain standard with our comment section and IMO weeks like the last few make the effort worth it.

        Like I’ve been saying I’m not sure how this arc goes over with John Q. I mean it’s already offending regular FW readers who are well aware of BatTom’s weird idiosyncrasies and demented quirks, which is not a good sign. I mean the odds are that it blows right by without attracting any attention from anyone at all, what with the lengthy track record and all. But FW’s bread and butter is staying under the radar, drawing unwanted attention to it is the last thing he wants. If someone happens across this arc and the upcoming Sunday strip and thinks “WTF is this?” they might start digging a little deeper and taking the time to see what the Batiukiverse is all about and if that happens BatYak might suddenly find himself on the popular culture radar. Of course it’s his comic strip and if he feels like flexing his cheap awards bait muscles that’s his business but this subject matter clearly has the potential to generate strong negative reactions. Granted, it’s highly unlikely but if the “general public” starts noticing FW and starts asking the same questions that you and I have been asking for all these years he might be as good as doomed.

        “Funky Whozitsbean? Obscure Long-Running Comic Strip Has Internet Asking: WTF?”. Unlikely, but still possible. Given the way SoSF has gone over among the Batom Inc. brain trust I don’t think he wants that.

        • The thing is, anyone intrigued by the idea of FW tackling a topic isn’t going to be able to see how FW handled it…because the strips all disappear after a month or so. So they’re going to have to rely on Batiuk himself (“Yeah, I totally brought it on with my gay prom story”) or secondary sources to get a sense of what happened.

    • comicbookharriet

      BC. I very much admire you for being so open and honest about wrestling ‘The Black Dog.’ Being both creative and depressed is like being an albatross. You feel like you’re made to soar and soar, but once you’re down it is a massive effort to get off the ground again. Just remember that you have intrinsic value apart from anything you could ever create. I still fight with this myself. I have to constantly remind myself that I deserve to be as happy as I can. It took me a long time to realize my life is meaningful because I’ve loved and been loved by friends and family and my God, even if I never ‘create’ another thing for the rest of my life. If I do, that’s just gravy.

  2. Epicus Doomus

    As I mentioned yesterday, it’s sort of interesting how football went from being annual running gag fodder to the devil incarnate in the span of a few years. I mean sure, there’s nothing wrong with a change of heart or some enlightenment but pinning the blame solely on the evils of football is a little disingenuous given how it was the lynchpin of Bull’s entire life and all. I mean it DID end up providing him and his family with a reasonably comfortable living for many years. Batiuk of all people should understand that sometimes a tragedy is just a tragedy and doesn’t really have a single focal point to blame.

    And what does she mean by “very likely”? Wasn’t it already established that Bull already definitely has CTE? Perhaps I’m remembering it wrong but it WAS kind of the entire point of the arc, wasn’t it?

    • spacemanspiff85

      I think Batiuk kept hearing “NFL” and “CTE” in the news and thought “Yes! Society is finally turning on the sportos! This is my time!” and then ran the imaginary bases.

    • Maxine of Arc

      It’s currently not possible to definitively diagnose CTE without a physical examination of the brain, and since few people can survive without brains (insert your favorite politician/sporto/cartoonist joke here), it can only be 100% diagnosed postmortem. So if he’s dialing back the “diagnosis” here to “very likely,” that’s somewhat more realistic.

      I hate it that I’m becoming the “well, actually” guy for Funky Goddamn Winkerbean.

  3. Gerard Plourde

    It’s another indication of TomBa’s slapdash research via Google that he missed the recognized center for CTE research located at Boston University.

  4. billytheskink

    “Bull’s tryout with the St. Louis Cardinals didn’t last long…” By Linda’s own admission, Bull never made an active NFL regular season roster. Did he even join the NFLPA, who might advocate for him? Did he apply for Social Security disability benefits?

    • Epicus Doomus

      I think part of the “message” here is that football hung Bull out to dry and abandoned him after all he put into it, so “someone else” helping Linda and Bull would kind of dull the edge on that message a little bit. I say “I think” because with this guy who the hell really knows, but IMO that seems to be the primary focus here, at least thus far.

      Of course he could have done a retcon job and given Bull a brief but actual NFL career, but that wouldn’t have been in line with the “bully suffers lifetime of penance” character arc that defined Bull’s FW tenure. He had to fail at becoming a football player, just like he always failed at everything else. But if he had given him an NFL career he could have folded that fact into this story and given it a little more impact as the anti-football screed it seems to have become.

      • spacemanspiff85

        I don’t know. Expecting to have everything provided for you despite the fact that you literally did nothing to earn it seems 100% in line with this strip lately, where

      • Banana Jr. 6000

        I’m glad the story didn’t give Bull a proper NFL csreer, because it’s long established that he didn’t have one. In Crankshaft, Batiuk did the opposite, violating the “WWII ended Crankshaft’s baseball career” canon to do a lame integration story.

        I think today’s strip is just a handwave of why the NFL wouldn’t be involved in Bull’s story. And that’s fine. There are real news stories about how unhelpful the NFL has been with players who had long careers, so it’s easy to believe they’d give short shrift to the thousands who played a game or two. I can also accept if the story doesn’t want to focus on that.

        I don’t even have a problem with Buck’s punchline, because he has an appropriate expression for once. Overall, I find today’s strip pretty unobjectionable.

      • William Thompson

        Or Batiuk could just say “We’ve got insurance and Bull is on disability, but there still isn’t enough money to cover his expenses.” Oh, right–that would be too mundane for the Lord of Language. The Bushkas can’t have the kind of problem that faces a lot of people; they need something unique. Because it’s a sense of detachment that wins prizes.

    • Gerard Plourde

      There’s another discrepancy here. The time jump occurred in 1992. The Cardinals moved to Arizona for the 1988 season. TomBa has been somewhat hazy about the year the main characters graduated, but even assuming that they were as early as the class of 1985, Bull could not have tried out with the St.Louis Cardinals, since he couldn’t have graduated college before the move.

      • billytheskink

        Thinking about the Batiukverse timeline may put you at greater risk of concussions than football… but here’s my best sussing out of it.

        The 1992 time jump explicitly retconned the Act I gang’s graduation year as 1988. TB may have stuck to this (albeit, in the background) in 2008 when he did a Westview HS 30 year class reunion. Here is Les flipping through his 1988 yearbook just before the reunion, which was explicitly said to be a 30 year shindig. Of course, a few days earlier, the cover of Les’ yearbook said “Westview High”, not “Westview 1988”, so he may well have simply forgot what he was doing. I’ve been assuming that the class graduated in 1978 because TB has been treating the original cast as 60s-70s kids pretty much since Act I began.

        Now, what could have been a happy accident of time-jump retconning is if Bull graduated in 1978 and spent 4 years playing football at EMU, he could have been St. Louis Football Cardinals training camp in 1982… and made a roster just in time for the strike that shortened the season to 9 games to potentially disrupt or kill his career. If TB was a researcher, he could have woven this into Bull’s football story. Instead, he probably just thought “the St. Louis Cardinals football team is something defunct that old people may remember, I’ll have Bull fail to make that team. Yes! Time to run the bases again!”

        • He did the time-jump and then promptly ignored it, unless it’s a Shankcraft crossover. I remember in 2014 Bull telling the team they had to get ready for the “2014 Team portrait.” He could have used “this year’s” instead and kept it vague, but continuity is a dirty word for TB.

          He just wanted to age his characters into misery, except for Les of course.

  5. William Thompson

    There’s an actual improvement in today’s Skunky: Linda and Buck Futt aren’t discussing Bull in his presence. Maybe that’s because the word zeppelins didn’t leave enough room to show him, but still.

    • comicbookharriet

      LOL, word zeppelins!

      • Epicus Doomus

        Agreed, those are some enormous ones all right. By far the worst thing about this individual strip, though, is that asshole Buck’s pithy little observation about “being cut”. Can’t anyone in this strip stop speaking in punch lines for just one second? It’s always been extremely annoying how he absolutely insists on threading these clever little “jokes” into “serious” plot lines.

        • spacemanspiff85

          Just wait for the funeral puns. I anticipate Les making a wry comment about how it’s called being a “pallbearer” because you have to “bear” the “pall” that hangs around funerals. Also probably something about how Bull’s life never got to extra innings, because Batiuk is bound to botch at least one sports saying in this storyline.

        • William Thompson

          Linda, using reality-based human speech: “Bull is on disability and has Medicare, but it doesn’t cover all his expenses. Got quip?”

          • Gerard Plourde

            Medicare? Bull is under 65. In order to qualify for Medicare, he’d either have to be in his 25th month of SSD, or be suffering from either end stage renal disease or ALS. He certainly doesn’t have the latter two, and I don’t think he’s been retired from Westview for two years yet, so assuming he applied for and was granted SSD immediately upon retiring from Westview he’d still be short of eligibility. (And doesn’t his Teachers Union have a provision for coverage of disabled members?)

    • billytheskink

      I’m advocating for a “word zeppelins” tag in future posts. That is gold, baby! Solid gold!

  6. AmigoLupus

    “So he could be cut twice”? Is now really the time for “witty” zingers? Batiuk’s so used to syndicated comics using the last panel as a punchline and it shows. Instead of being sympathetic to her problems, this guy just sounds like an insensitive clod.

    Heck, just flip over the guy’s mouth so it’d look like he’s smirking and I bet the feel of this strip wouldn’t change at all.

    • comicbookharriet

      “So he could be cut twice?”
      Things you don’t want to hear from the executioner’s axeman, or the Rabbi preforming a Bris.

  7. Charles

    I’ve been unsuccessfully searching the archives here to find a post I made about a year ago about this, because I don’t want to repeat myself (wow, how does that happen with this strip?) but here goes.

    I loathe how Batiuk acts as if he’s some serious storyteller beyond the others who work in his medium, because cheap pathos is the easiest shit to write in the world. Introducing it to the medium of comic strips isn’t pushing the envelope, it’s retracting it. It’d be a lot harder and a lot more significant a accomplishment if Batiuk could make us laugh every day, and even more so if he could do it while injecting pathos into the whole thing.

    I mean, everyone except the very young has dealt with loss in their lives. (And the very young wouldn’t be reading this strip) Everyone relates to that in some fashion, which is what has enabled Batiuk to get away with this line of bullshit as long as he has. And I’ll prove it by noting that sometime in the next ten weeks of this storyline we’ll have a non-regular poster come in here and scold us for being insensitive toward people who are suicidal, or depressed, or suffering from dementia. Batiuk fucking COUNTS on that for this to work. He counts on people’s inherent good natures and their empathy because they too have lost friends, family etc that they have cared about which prevents them from either recognizing or acknowledging that the story he tells is complete shit. If they recognize it in the first place, they’d be reluctant point it out. Good manners would prevent that, and that’s what Batiuk depends on. He depends on no one criticizing his stories because they’re about a woman who dies of cancer, or a man who commits suicide due to repetitive head trauma.

    “A lot of it, initially, was people didn’t feel that a story about a woman with breast cancer belonged on the comics page,” Mr. Batiuk said. “They were really kind of wedded to the idea that the comics are called the comics for a reason and are supposed to be funny.”

    Does he think Bill Watterson took a lot of crap for his dead baby raccoon story? Now THERE was a comic strip where we could claim that this sad, poignant and decidedly not funny sequence was being run instead of something “funny”, because Calvin and Hobbes, unlike Batiuk’s strips, was consistently funny. No one I know of claimed that it didn’t belong on the comics page because it wasn’t funny, or because it was sad. It worked because it was well done. And that’s the difference. If Batiuk actually wrote something worth a shit, he’d never see these complaints. But it’s just easier for him to write his lazy shit and then claim that no one likes it because they’re philistines who obdurately refuse to accept comic strips as an expansive medium.

    I mean, seriously, look at this shit from 10 years ago:
    (Sorry, I couldn’t find a better hotlink anywhere online that I felt safe using)

    That’s not expanding the medium. That’s not “brave”. That’s insulting the medium. That’s being unhappy that a comic strip doesn’t allow for a Randian filibuster of the sort you’d be able to write in a novel. And so what does he do? Rather than acknowledge the medium’s limitations and thus adjust what he’s trying to do to make his point work in his medium of choice, he just wedge-hammers his point in there with all the subtlety of a monkey lobbing turds against the wall. And naturally it’s tangentially related to what an uncompromising artist he believes he is.

    You want to claim to be a storyteller, Batiuk? Write stories, not thinly veiled, terribly researched tripe that’s obviously gunning for awards and recognition. The true greats in your chosen field have been able to do it. Think about why you haven’t.

    • Rusty Shackleford

      You nailed it. It will probably be Batty himself who will scold us.

      Calvin and Hobbes, and Bloom County both had the ability to make me laugh on a daily basis….well Calvin and Hobbes did deal with serious things from time to time, but it was handled so well that I still enjoyed the strip.

      • comicbookharriet

        Lets be honest. Even writers who weren’t masters of their craft like Watterson have handled pathos better than Batiuk. Karen Moy handles pathos better than Batiuk. Her suicidal Wilbur storyline from last year was 100% less cringy and insulting, and half of the strips were a naked overweight balding man singing and crying in the shower.

        • billytheskink

          And one simple thing made Moy’s suicidal Wilber storyline better than any and all of TB’s prestige arcs be default – it was about Wilbur! It was a story about a character, not an illness and suicide PSA that a character is thrust into.

          TB’s prestige arcs are ALL about the issue du jour first and the characters (debatably) second. Every last one of them. Heck, not one week ago we were talking to Ruby Lith, who was not a character so much as a vessel for tales of what TB assumed 1940s-ish misogyny was like.

        • Rusty Shackleford

          I agree. Plus Moy doesn’t go out and blab about all the serious topics she is covering, she just does them.

          (I loved how she used Danny Devito for Arthur in the arc she dead about how the elderly get scammed.)

    • Professor Fate

      Yes this – very much this. He does seem to have this conceit that he and he alone has introduced serious topics to the daily comic strip, when SOOOOO many others have done so, earlier and better one might add – Doonesbury, Pogo, Boom County, Calvin and Hobbes, hell even For Better or Worse handled introducing a gay character into the strip a hell of soon and a hell of a lot better than the Author did. For Better or Worse had a whole human being , the Author gave us a hand.
      The one thing that constantly strikes me is the vast gap between the comic strip that he describes in his blog and the comic strip that we are reading. He apparently actually thought the arc ending with the Talking Murder Chimp was a story about being tried in the media (someone mentioned it in passing but that was about it). I suspect he actually thinks this is going to be a serious and well thought out story dealing with adult topics, when it’s a wallow in cheap bathos, undercut by the fact he doesn’t like Bull and that he can’t plot his way out of a paper bag.
      And I do think this time, the world being what it is, as real horrible stories about the shattered lives of professional football players are becoming depressingly well known, Batiuk’s arc is going to seem more like the cheap stunt I think it is.
      And for everybody who has shared their struggles with depression and suicidal thoughts.Very Glad you are all here and sincerely hope it gets better for you. Depression runs in both sides of my family, actually to borrow the quote from Arsenic and Old Lace ” it practically gallops” along with the associated things like substance abuse. I’ve dodged bullets, I’ve been damn lucky and I know that. Again wishing you much better days ahead

  8. Paul Jones

    I hate to say it but as I keep saying, the worst is yet to come. I’m not talking about misguided and well-meaning people accidentally falling for Batiuk’s long, long con job. I’m used to that because I came into this from the FBorFW fandom.

    What I’m talking about when I say the worst is yet to come is about how someone who skedaddled away like a frightened salamander is going to swoop in and claim to be the hero of the story. It was all Les could do the last time not to piss himself in public and run away screaming in terror when Lisa was dying and he still made her story all about him. He left Bull in the lurch because he thinks Sporto Brain Illness is contagious and will materialize on the scene this October and make it all about what a big lasagna he is.

  9. William Thompson

    Is this the scene that pushes Bull into suicidal despair? Is he listening to Linda and Buck Futt as they discuss his hopeless situation? By Saturday will the focus return to Bull as he hears Linda tell Buck that the neuro-et-cetera warned her that CTE patients can become violent and suicidal? Somehow that seems perfect for Batiuk. “Bull’s such an idiot he needs to get his ideas from a dumb old girl! So it’s Linda’s fault! Women, they’re either at your feet or at your throat!”

    • Charles

      I suspect that it’s not going to be anything that tips the scales to make Bull suicidal. He’ll probably be talking to Buck or somebody about his condition and this time he’ll decide to end it. It won’t be dramatic. It won’t be significant. It won’t be much of anything.

      Which is a shame, because there is a way to do this that would bring into stark relief the situation and what Bull’s facing.

      If he’s supposed to be suffering from CTE, he’s going to have headaches. He’s going to be irritable. He’s going to be confused and forgetful in ways that aren’t easily dismissed. And he’s surrounded by more than a few shitheads who like to crack jokes about his condition.

      So have him get more and more upset about something relatively trivial, and then Les or Linda or Buck makes a callous joke about him, and he loses it (yes, I know I joked about Bull beating the shit out of Les before) and beats the crap out of his tormentor. And it wasn’t a funny or minor thing either, it was a serious beatdown that only a former big-time college football player would be able to administer.

      And then after that happens, Bull fully realizes what he’s just done. And then he realizes that this is how it’s going to be from now on. This is who he is now, and it’s only going to get worse. The headaches aren’t going to stop. He’s not going to stop being confused and forgetful. And he’s not going to be able to stop his frustration from boiling over to the point where he might seriously hurt someone he cares about. This is what he is now.

      And that’s when he decides to end it.

      Because that’s what CTE is. It’s not simply that you do your laundry over and over or put cream cheese in a drawer where you keep your soap. It’s a condition where your symptoms can lead you to snap in horrific ways, and if Batiuk actually had the stones to portray that, I might give him some credit.

      But I doubt he does.

      • William Thompson

        That would be a perfect exit for Bull, and a way to make the arc serious. But the only rage we’ll see will come from Batiuk when he’s passed over for all the awards.

      • That would be brilliant, and significant, and meaningful. Which is why it’s never going to happen in this strip.

  10. sgtsaunders

    Today’s P3 is painful enough, but Batiuk has got a hard row to hoe in the next few weeks if he plans to get any kind of smirkworthy “punch lines” out of this story.

  11. Banana Jr. 6000

    Heck, just flip over the guy’s mouth so it’d look like he’s smirking and I bet the feel of this strip wouldn’t change at all.

    I disagree; saying this with the usual smirk would have imposed a totally different feel on the words.

    Buck’s face seems to convey a lot of meaning here. He looks emotionally invested in Bull’s suffering for once. But also, kind of sheepish, like he knows he’s saying something dumb. That’s a real feeling, I think; sometimes you know a person needs comfort, but there isn’t anything helpful to say, so you end up saying something stupid and regretting it right away. His face seems to capture that.

    If this was in a better comic strip, I might even say it was well done. Something like FBOFW could pull off this kind of nuance, because it had believable characters and a consistent emotional tone. This being Funky Winkerbean, tomorrow Buck will be grinning like he just heard a great fart joke.

    • William Thompson

      Linda could have made a one-panel statement about the money running out, or Bull’s situation being hopeless. Panel two, silence and downward looks. Panel three, Buck says, simply, “Damn.” But we had to get that mess. You’d think Batty gets paid by the word.