Do Not Go Gentle into That Good Night

Link to today’s strip

Epicus had a great comment yesterday, and judging by the upvotes most of you agreed. There was one thought in particular that gave me pause. He said, “A child could write it. Unfortunately though, no children were available so BatYam took a stab at it…”

When I was younger, I used to do theater. My first role, when I was 12, was the mother in James and the Giant Peach. I was eaten by a giant invisible rhinoceros at the very beginning of the show. I flung myself all over the stage screaming and dying, and I got a pretty big head by thinking I was good at it. That was, until I heard my director say, “Dying is easy, comedy is hard.”

As near as Grandpa Google can tell me, the actual origins of that famous turn of phrase come from a story movie director George Seaton told about going to see his friend, the actor Edmund Gwenn on his deathbed in 1959.

“All this must be terribly difficult for you, Teddy,” [Seaton] said sympathetically.

Gwenn didn’t buy that sympathy. A smile touched his lips.

“Not nearly as difficult as playing comedy,” he answered cheerfully.

They were his words of exit. His head turned on the pillow. He was dead.

As a kid that pithy little aphorism was a revelation. Melodrama is easy. It’s easy to act, and it’s easy to write. Death hangs like the sword of Damocles above us all, and in time every sword will fall. Who do you love? Your mom? Your spouse? Your goldfish? Find the fear you hold inside knowing they are mortal, and you’ve found the massive emotional button any artist worth their paycheck can push at will. Entire genres of weepy books and Hallmark Channel movies are built on the cheap, baking-soda-and-vinegar, combination of love and death.

Twelve years ago, Batiuk pushed that button. And, go back and read those strips, he was effective.
cheap and effective, like your mom
This strip is cloying. It’s maudlin. And yet, it is 110% more real than anything we’ve seen in years. A mother won’t see her daughter grow up. A father struggles to explain. A child tries to comfort a loved one they can hardly realize they’re about to lose. Death is taking a knife and cutting to ribbons the story of a happy family just as viciously as Rose stabbing a precious comic book.

We’ve gotten none of this in Bull’s death. None. We didn’t see Linda calling her children. We didn’t see the pain of Jinx thinking about how Dad wouldn’t be there to walk her down the aisle. Or Mickey realizing her own kids would never know a Grandpa Bushka. We didn’t linger on Linda’s pain as she sits through a funeral full of terrible secrets, as she comes home to an empty house, as she has to do laundry that will only remind her of her dead husband’s illness.

It should have been easy. A child could have done it. But Batiuk decided to give us a death without really showing the love that death was cutting off.

Instead Batiuk decided to end this arc (for now?) with a week of strips where Linda gets down on her knees in front of his author avatar so she can fellatiate Les Moore’s metaphorical ego-dick.

In the past, I’ve tried to cut Tom some slack. But not today. Please insult this man.

29 Comments

Filed under Son of Stuck Funky

29 responses to “Do Not Go Gentle into That Good Night

  1. William Thompson

    Okay, I’ll insult the man. And Batiuk as well.

  2. The “Bull’s Suicide” arc seemed to be nothing more than “Look how Les has suffered. Also, there are books to be bought. Christmas looms, yes?”

  3. William Thompson

    “If only I’d known then that his apology for bullying me and his efforts to atone for it were sincere! If only I’d been more . . . more . . .”

    “Mature?”

    “Don’t say that! I’m fully mature, I am I am I am!”

  4. William Thompson

    Tomorrow, Les runs to his sycophants and tells them He Is Now A Much Better Person. Then he starts writing a book about it. Somehow there’s no mention of why he wasn’t perfect earlier.

  5. Epicus Doomus

    It’d be so great to go to a Batiuk book signing and ask him why he just blithely ignored Bull and Les’ lengthy and eventful friendship this week. But he’d probably just have his Comics Kingdom goons drag me out and rough me up in the library parking lot.

  6. billytheskink

    Linda: “Bull thought so highly of you that he first confided in you that he was abused as a child and how that influenced his bullying behavior. You were the first person he told when we began the adoption process and you and Lisa were the first people we visited when we brought Jinx home. He went out of his way to find you just to say hello when you first got the job at the high school.”

    Les: “He did? When was all of this? I don’t remember any of it…”

    Batiuk: “Yeah, I don’t remember any of this either!”

  7. ian'sdrunkenbeard

    CBH waxes eloquent, and we are much better for it.

    An insult, eh? OK. Here it is.

    A doucheburger could write a better strip!

  8. ian'sdrunkenbeard

    Linda tells Less that Bull’s death was not an accident.
    What does a normal person say?
    “Oh my god! Are you sure? How? Why? What makes you think that? Did he leave a note?”
    Nope. They chat about old snapshots and canceled checks.

  9. Paul Jones

    That’s right. We don’t see the Jerome-shaped hole Bull is leaving in his family’s life because that’s not important. What is important is a grotty little piece of flotsam howling “Oh, oh, oh! If only I’d opened my eyes and remembered everything he’d said and done for the last forty years instead of narrowly focusing on my irrelevant and meaningless high school experience.”

  10. erdmann

    Your laundry reference got me. It’s a perfect example of how common, everyday tasks and items can become poignant, painful reminders of a loss. I think it’s something to which we can all relate. My dad has been gone seven years and I still encounter things that remind me of him, things I’d like to talk to him about, things that remind me why that isn’t possible.
    So, there you go, Tom. You could’ve easily tapped into some real human emotions but apparently you were too busy taking a victory lap around the bases in your mind. One of your so-called “beady-eyed nitpickers” accomplished something in a single sentence that you failed to do in weeks of strips.

  11. Banana Jr. 6000

    “If only I knew then what I knew now.” “Don’t we all.” YOU DID KNOW IT, YOU FREAKING IDIOTS! We’ve seen Bull do a lifetime of good deeds for Les, and you two imbeciles are bonding over a meaningless photograph and a check stub? Did either of you even know this man?

    Hell, does the author? We get a flashback to a shared water bottle in 1976, but nothing Bull did in his adult life. The funeral did no better. The man wants to make misery porn, and then doesn’t want to use any of the rich ingredients he’s developed over the years.

    The Les-Bull dynamic should be one of the great comic book relationships of all time. But the strip never bothered to explore it. So many years wasted on stupid band stories, comic books, Montoni’s vignettes, bad puns, and North Korean levels of reverence for Dead Lisa. And it couldn’t be bothered to examine its bully-victim relationship, something that’s practically universal to being human, and yet very rarely talked about. What a waste.

  12. ComicTrek

    You guys are right on target! “Lisa’s Story”, even being what IT was, did at least show how illnesses like cancer can rip the lives of their family and friends to shreds. It felt like one of those awful soap operas that actually find a way to choke you up once in a while. Compared to Lisa’s, “Bull’s Story” is wildly rushed, fake, and inconsistent. Even the art quality. If they could devote such care into every little detail here- the coloring, the shading, Lisa’s agonizing illness, Les’s pain, and Summer’s innocent confusion, (all disturbing in itself) then why are Bull, Linda, and their kids any different? Like the time skip, it’s all way too weird to be effective!!!

  13. Charles

    This is a good example of what a craven and lazy writer Batiuk is.

    “I wish I’d have known back then what I know now.”

    Yeah? And what would you have done about it? What do you regret? How has this revelation opened your eyes, you gigantic turd? Batiuk won’t address it. He’ll keep it just vague enough that you have to draw your own conclusions, conclusions that he’ll never have to hold himself to. It offers no insight into Les beyond just a setup for Linda’s labored punchline, delivered with an inappropriate smile.

    What this shows once again is that Les really doesn’t have an inner life. He is a remarkably shallow character. He doesn’t reflect on anything, because that reflection would require that Batiuk actually commit to something. This is why Les could be completely blindsided by Susan kissing him and telling him she loved him, followed up by absolutely no discussion or reflection on just what the incident meant. Giving Les a perspective on these things can very easily lead, for a lazy and flabby writer like Batiuk, to situations he doesn’t want, like Les looking like an idiot, or an ungrateful shithead. So he doesn’t commit to anything.

    So Les has a revelation about Bull’s honest feelings for him and no one reading this strip can decisively conclude that it had any effect on him at all. It means nothing.

    And that’s why Batiuk’s a shitty writer.

  14. Rusty Shackleford

    Agh comedy isn’t that difficult, Mary Worth has been hysterical, from drunken Wilbur to Estelle’s dream sequence, it’s been non stop laughs.

    But seriously, that is a good quote. To do comedy right, you need to deeply understand the situation so you can make humorous connections that others cannot see—connections that only seem obvious after the audience has heard the joke.

    Batty doesn’t take the time to understand anything, save for comic books, deeply and so he has no real foundation for humor. All he can muster are bad puns and stupid situations where everybody just smirks. Contrast that with Watterson, who can take a simple situation with a little kid and make it funny and relevant to adults.

    • Count of Tower Grove

      Todd understands comic books?

    • Banana Jr. 6000

      Watterson didn’t shy away from difficult emotions. We all cried a little when Calvin said “I knew he’s gone out there, but he’s not gone inside of me” after that baby raccoon died. That story was maybe two weeks long, was about an animal we never even got to see, and yet it explored life and death in a meaningful way. Bull Bushka lived an entire life in this comic strip, and his closest friends can only regard check stubs. As if life is transactional, and Bull’s worth as a human being only extends to the receipts he left behind. What empty, empty lives people live in Westview.

  15. William Thompson

    It would be great make this arc a little less nauseating if Linda implores the Author Avatar to write a book about his relationship with Bull.* Les, dazzled by Linda’s worship, not only agrees but says he’ll use the advance and royalties to pay off Bull’s medical debts. Linda blesses him for that offer, and after Les departs she looks at a framed picture of Bull. “You were right, dear,” she whispers. “That asshole will fall for anything.”

    *–if you can call four hundred blank pages “writing.” **

    ** Okay, if anyone can call it that, it’s Batiuk.

  16. “So, Les, I texted you to come over so I could help you feel better.”

  17. bayoustu

    Let me get this straight: Bull was a bully who used to physically assault Les but he was really protecting Les from actual bullies and then later Bull and Les became friends and co-workers and Bull helped Les train to climb Big Rock Candy mountain or whatever and Bull also helped Summer rehab her knee and on and on and on and it turns out Bull WAS an actual bully and all that other stuff must have been a fever dream but bully Bull secretly admired Les and a freakin’ chimpanzee SPOKE! Do I have this right?!

  18. sgtsaunders

    Linda’s Pinocchio effect is that the part in her hair gets wider when she lies.

  19. hitorque

    1. So I take it that after a lot of hints and teasing, we’re not going to get our answer on whether Bull committed suicide, had a heart attack or some other debilitating health issue that made him crash, or just had a plain old car accident or was murdered??

    2. If only I knew then what I know now!” MOTHERFUCKER YOU ALREADY KNEW THIS FOR YEARS! And even if you seriously didn’t know back then, would it have changed the nature of y’alls relationship one iota??

    3. I really need help understanding this… If Les knew Bull pretty much his entire life and worked alongside him every day for 20-something years, wives and kids all knew each other and got along, and he *didn’t* consider Bull a “true friend” until today, then for the record JUST *WHO* ARE THE ACTUAL FRIENDS IN LESTER’S LIFE, ACCORDING TO BATIUK?!? Funkmeister was relegated to “Dude who sells him pizza and occasional jogging partner” years ago. And if Batiuk wants to start some bullshit about Masone+Cindye Jarre being his “true friends” I will WALK to Ohio just to slap him in the face… And outside of them, there is nobody in the cast left to be his official true friend…

    3A. But let’s not mince words here — The real reason why Batiuk is retconning Les to be 100% ignorant of how highly Bull regarded their friendship is because he needed to give Les a flimsy-as-hell but still official excuse as to WHY he never visited or even said Bull’s name once in retirement…

    3B. I don’t have the space or time to fully detail just how many sections of the “Basic Humanity Test” that Lester has scored ‘0’ on this week — He didn’t offer to bring food, do chores, help with estate paperwork, or ask if they needed any financial help… He hasn’t offered to use his smalltime celebrity to call more attention to CTE in the name of his deceased friend. Hell, he hasn’t even offered to merely match the annual gift Bull gave to Lisa’s Legacy and give it to whoever is studying CTE these days…

    4. There’s a lot to unpack here, but it still has to be said again — Bull Bushka made an annual gift to Lester’s charity (which Les literally just learned yesterday) and Les still is not anywhere near to uttering the two words “Thank you” and I have a huge fucking problem with this…

    4A. I’m sorry, how the hell does Les not know who is donating to the charity he founded? Especially in a small town where everybody knows everybody’s business? Do you really think Dinkle for example couldn’t show up tomorrow and name from memory his biggest band candy buyers over the years??

  20. Gerard Plourde

    I’ve been ruminating about this in light of CBH’s honest and justified reaction and call to fully criticize TomBa over this mess. This is my take, much of which I and others have said before:

    His characters don’t really exist as people in his mind. They’re merely cardboard cutouts he moves around to mouth whatever dialogue he’s come up with for that particular strip.

    He has no concern for continuity. This week he’s thrown out decades of plot development (probably because he didn’t bother to think about the plot that was evolving under his pen).

    The portrait he’s painted of his beloved character Les reveals a sociopathic loner.

    What information he’s actually revealed about CTE, the alleged purpose of this arc, is nonexistent. Anyone could find the link to the website the casually just by typing in a couple of keywords in any search engine.

    To end on a less maudlin note: in order to maintain interest for the duration we should look for Apartment 3-G style staples (Lampey, etc.). Some already appear – the Lisa Memorial Park Bench, the Gazebo, autumn leaves, highly-rendered brick walls. What others are there?

  21. Professor Fate

    i feel obliged to comment with so many people kissing his ass these last few weeks, Les’s butt must be clean as a whistle.

  22. bill

    I love reading all the snark, but this one was so snarky and so right on and so awesome. comicbookHarriet rocked this one.