Before They Make Me Run

Hope everyone’s enjoying a nice Labor Day Weekend!

So Les is back in Westview for the Lisa’s Legacy Run. And Mason, Cindy, and Marianne surprise him by showing up. And “Cindy is shooting footage of us running the race today…” For use in the movie? Will Marianne and Mason be running in character as Lisa and Les? Cindy’s a cinematographer now? Wouldn’t they need permission to shoot? And two movie stars and a former network news anchor are just hanging out, not attracting attention from anyone beside Les. Such disorienting plot “developments” have been Funky Winkerbean‘s stock in trade since mid-Act II. Let’s talk instead about the deteriorating draftsmanship in this comic strip.

The only modification I’ve made to this panel was to remove the dialogue balloons, or “word zeppelins,” in order to allow us to better appreciate this Mount Rushmore of melting faces. Les suffers the least, as his goatee in profile always looks like shit. Mason sports an even goofier than usual expression. Cindy is droopy-eyed, and Marianne’s head is on a stalk.

Tom Batiuk writes and “inks” FW, but for the last two years the strips have been penciled by Batiuk’s ol’ Kent State pal Chuck Ayers. Ayers has partnered with TB in this way since the mid 1990’s, in addition to drawing Crankshaft for 30 years. In March 2017 Ayers gave up both jobs to pursue other interests, but returned following the tenure of Rick Burchett, who turned out some of the most horrendous, slapdash, off-model draughtsmanship since another noted comics artist, John Byrne, was at the drawing board.

Ayer’s Crankshaft strips always seemed to me to be much better and more naturally drawn than Funky Winkerbean. And the aforementioned Messrs. Burchett and Byrne were renowned, more-than-capable comic book artists. I’m bringing all this up because I wonder if a requirement of working as Tom Batiuk’s penciller is having to “dumb down” one’s ability closer to Batiuk’s level. In this way, the guy who got laughed out of New York by Marvel and DC gets to hire real artists, and then pin clip their wings.

80 Comments

Filed under Son of Stuck Funky

80 responses to “Before They Make Me Run

  1. Epicus Doomus

    “We wanted the movie of Lisa’s Story to…”, oh, did you now? How does THAT sentence slip by anyone who’s completed fourth grade or above? Did TomBan really think there might be confusion between the movie version of LS and the book? If he had said “we wanted the movie…” did he think his regular readers might not remember which movie he was talking about? It’s just embarrassing either way.

    “Which, of course, we’ll edit…”. Yes, of course, because Marianne is still a vapid Hollywood phony at heart just like the rest of her crooked and beguiling industry. Couldn’t let a Marianne appearance go by without reminding his readers of that. Because, after all, what IS “character development” anyhow? If a character “develops” into an increasingly annoying irritant is that not a form of development?

    • Please Epicus don’t hurt ‘im!

      • Epicus Doomus

        It’s one of his worst sentences ever. “We wanted the movie of Lisa’s Story to help contribute to the ongoing fight against cancer”…yikes. “And we thought that the Lisa’s Legacy fund would be a perfect way to do that” isn’t really a whole lot better.

        Also remember (because BatHam didn’t) that the cancer movie stopped filming because Mason and Marianne had to attend the SJ premiere, which was cancelled. So what, they just stopped everything and flew to Ohio for a charity cancer fun run in some tiny Podunk town?

        And how does “shooting footage” of a charity cancer fun run “contribute” anything to anyone? It’s only Monday and FW is in mid-week form.

  2. Ray

    Cindy’s botox is really going to shit. Then again, I don’t think I’ve ever really seen a good face that’s had work done.

  3. Mela

    An even better way for the Lisa movie to help fight cancer is to donate a chunk of the movie’s earnings to the fund. Oh wait..

  4. William Thompson

    Love the sign you added to Les’s back, TFH. And the entire close-up looks like a publicity photo for a movie–“Dracula and His Three Brides,” isn’t it?

  5. J.J. O'Malley

    Mein Gott, were Les and Jff the only ones to escape the SoCal fires without suffering severe burn damage to their faces?

    Also…”I didn’t expect to see you guys here”? How long post-Cowering Inferno has it been in the Funkyverse that the three of them would just hop a plane (pre-Covi, remember) without mentioning it to Lester, who would then apparently have no idea what’s going on with the film shoot?

    So, are we to assume that the footage of the “Dead St. Lisa’s Story: The Movie” co-stars running in this place will be playing over the film’s closing credits? Myself, I was hoping they’d pull a “Hal Needham” and instead play Les’s many flubbed takes of his one line.

  6. SeaCountry

    So we don’t get to find out what happened to Marianne’s family or home, or how she was coping. But she did get a quip and the hot new neck addition surgery that apparently all the actresses want!

    It’s understandable that they didn’t attract much attention, as the way they were drawn renders them barely recognizable.

    And now Batiuk’s in his comfort zone again! Happy happy happy, cancer cancer cancer…

    Someone showed up in a pink “I Run for My Mom” T-shirt with her photo on it, but was bounced out with extreme prejudice because this is *Lisa’s* run, damn it!

  7. Gerard Plourde

    “We thought we’d leave the burned out wreckage of our Hollywood home and bend time and space (By the way, how did YOU get here?) in order to surprise you and give a commercial shout out for a Labor Day run that has been cancelled due to the global pandemic that wasn’t on the horizon a year ago when this was scripted.”

    • SeaCountry

      It’s still more plausible than their finally getting rid of L*s, then going to visit him on a voluntary basis to see more of him.

  8. Charles

    It’s not funny or insightful or even original to say, but holy shit those are terrible drawings of Mason, Cindy and Marianne. Hell, Marianne’s hand looks as if it’s behind her so her shoulder and elbow bend the wrong way. She also looks like an action figure with a poppable extend-O-head or something.

    I could go on endlessly. Anyway, apparently there are two of the most famous actors in the world showing up to one of these things impromptu (they have nothing better to do, obviously) and no one’s gawking. No one even notices.

    And naturally their footage is going to be shot by Jessica with a handheld, which she holds up like a fruit bowl with no other support, so it’ll be wobbly in about 2 minutes. I guess they managed to rope her into their movie after all!

    • Epicus Doomus

      The artwork is GHASTLY today. A few weeks ago the suddenly-vulnerable Marianne looked just like Summer, but today she’s all tarted up again…for a small town charity cancer fun run. And Mason’s cackle is the stuff of nightmares.

      • Charles

        Marianne looks like one of the aliens from Laserblast with a human mask over its face.

        Cindy was clearly an elementary schooler’s papier mache art project that went horribly wrong.

        Mason’s father was a can opener and his mother was a California Quail.

        • Charles

          And Les is a Bith from Star Wars crossed with a rotting acorn squash. Wearing glasses. And a stupid-ass goatee. And that ridiculous hair that I suspect Batiuk thinks makes him look like a dignified older man.

  9. Gerard Plourde

    I also just noticed that it appears that Jessica Darling Fairgood Is already shooting video. Is Marianne’s reference to Cindy an error like Jfff’s identification of the entrance to “Morana” was a couple of weeks ago?

  10. none

    Why did Les call Cayla to ask her to send the Lisa DVDs to Los Angeles if they all magically found a way to leave that freshly destroyed city in their wake and meet up back in Ohio now. Why.

    Why does Mason and Cindy have the time or desire to do this while their second house lies in an unrecognizable pile of ash. Why.

    Why does Cindy only deeply and intensely hate Marianne if she witnesses a PG make out scene between Marianne and Mason for a film, but otherwise they they seem to be pals and now voluntarily hang out together in Ohio. Why.

    Was there some sort of unannounced mini time skip that occurred between Saturday and Sunday. Was everyone who was in Los Angeles essentially marooned for a month and only now are coming home, and nobody has said anything about it because “meh”.

    How is this strip still in print. How is there not a single syndicate editor who looks at this strip for longer than three seconds and not extricate it from their newspaper on the basis of it all being such a total and abject lack of any redeemable quality. How.

    I wouldn’t last a single hour in a job if I conducted it as well as the author does in making this strip. How does he continue to completely fail and be rewarded for it by making a living by doing this, day after month after year. How.

    • SeaCountry

      Even a little banner that said “Two months after the fire…” would improve this some, but no.

    • SeaCountry

      Also, and I’m sorry to keep riding this train, but Jfff with his rock looks like Husband of the Year next to L*s. We don’t see him reunite with Cayla. We don’t see her near him. She’s not even in the crowd!

    • Epicus Doomus

      I completely forgot about the DVDs. Another gaping plot hole. And where the f*ck is Cayla?

    • Banana Jr. 6000

      Why does Mason and Cindy have the time or desire to do this while their second house lies in an unrecognizable pile of ash. Why.

      Also, they’re not getting paid. That’s a large factor in what causes major Hollywood celebrities donate their time to.

    • Rusty Shackleford

      Every so often you read about a newspaper dropping some of their strips and Funky Winkerbean is usually one of them. Can’t blame them as I can’t see there being any true readers of this strip—save for some of Batty’s KSU buddies.

      He is like that tenured university professor who stopped trying years ago and teaches from the same notes and gives the same tests year after year. But at least with the lazy professor, you might actually learn something from their old lectures, with Batty it’s a total zero.

    • Margaret

      I will be really disappointed if this strip gets so bad that it stops being funny. I mean funny the way MST3K movies are funny, and which would probably infuriate Batiuk if someone told him it was funny. But it looks like it’s headed that way at this point.

  11. William Thompson

    Is Jessica holding that camera the way real camera-operators do? It just looks so odd that the eyepiece isn’t near her eye. And wouldn’t a pro use a tripod? And why would she risk using a camera anywhere near Creepy Les?

  12. How is Les runner #10? Who are the nine people who signed up before him?

  13. Count of Tower Grove

    Masone’s got his Duane Dibbley on.

  14. DreadedCandiru2

    Batiuk wouldn’t be Batiuk if he didn’t shill his causes. He also wouldn’t be Batiuk if he understood celebrity culture when that requires Les to take a back seat to anyone. The most important person in the room has to be Dick Facey, after all.

  15. Banana Jr. 6000

    The huge, vacant smiles and awkward phrasing make them all seem like cult members. Which they might as well be at this point. “We felt that this physical activity ritual would be the best vessel for our Lisa film project to consecrate the memory of Lisa. We prepare for the anniversary of the day Lisa was taken up. Lisa be with you.”

  16. comicbookharriet

    Ave Lisa, carcinodes plena.
    Les tecum.
    Exanimalis tu in mulieribus,
    et plumbeus fructus ventris tui,
    Darrin.
    Sancta Lisa, Mater Summer,
    ora pro nobis legentibus,
    nunc et in hora cursus tuus.
    Amen.

    • Gerard Plourde

      Well done! Gloria tibi! (And this exhausts my paltry knowledge of Latin).

    • Count of Tower Grove

      Tolle lege.

      • comicbookharriet

        Guess I probably should have offered a translation.
        Hail Lisa, Full of Cancer,
        Les is with you.
        Dead are you among women,
        and dull is the fruit of your womb, Darrin.

        Holy Lisa, Mother of Summer.
        Pray for us readers,
        Now, and at the hour of your race.
        Amen.

  17. Rusty Shackleford

    I’d like to remind everyone and Batty that Jeff MacNelly (Shoe, Pluggars) won three Pulitzers! All without talking about cancer!

    MacNelly said: “Cartoons are really a negative art form. You never say anything nice. You’re always criticizing and dumping on people.”

    • Count of Tower Grove

      I guess that mean regular commenters here are Pulitzer bound!

    • and somwhat ironically, he died of cancer at 52. MacNelly was one of my favorite political cartoonists, and a fellow University of North Carolina alumnus. When I was in school in the late 70s, he came and gave a talk and drew improvisational cartoons on an overhead projector.

      • Rusty Shackleford

        Right. And I do believe his Pulitzers were all given for his editorial cartoons. Likewise, that quote I provided was certainly in reference to editorial cartoons.

        And yet Batty probably wonders why he hasn’t received a Pulitzer.

        Poorly thought out stories that are padded out by implausible events and trite moralizing are not Pulitzer material.

      • Banana Jr. 6000

        [Jeff MacNelly] came and gave a talk and drew improvisational cartoons on an overhead projector.

        That touches on something that always bothered me about “thatBatton Thomas visits Westviewarc. How does a skilled cartoonist fail to entertain a group of schoolchildren? PRO TIP: If you have to give a presentation to schoolchildren of any age, and you can draw, you start by drawing the teacher! Guaranteed uproarious laughter. Then take requests. They’ll be talking about you for years.

        This is comedy 101 stuff. Any comedian who’s ever done a corporate gig knows their job is to make fun of the authority figures. They practically expect it. How does Tom Batiuk not know this stuff? And was that arc a real-life experience? Did he once give a classroom presentation and actually bore the students? If anyone can pull it off…

        • Rusty Shackleford

          Jeff MacNelly was talented and willing to learn and so he grew and his strips got better.

          Batty got a lucky break which made him think he was a superstar creator who knew it all and so he learned nothing and so his strips got worse and now all he can do is rely on cheap gimmicks as he lacks the talent to really create a compelling story.

        • Hitorque

          I think even though it wasn’t his intention, Batiuk did beautifully illustrate just how insulated, calcified and out of touch some of these old-school legacy cartoonists have become with their intended audiences…

          • Banana Jr. 6000

            That arc was so beautiful because everything that happened to Les and Battom (the character) was 100% their own fault. They didn’t prepare a presentation, showed no ability to improvise one, it never occurred to them to try. At the end they just walked out of the school together saying “kids and their cell phones, amirite?”

        • William Thompson

          Tom Batiuk sees himself as an authority figure, No way in Hell Westview is he going to make fun of the head of Batom Comics and its subsidiaries.

  18. The quality of the artwork and writing in today’s strip is approaching the quality of the final weeks of A3G. Kind of sad to see.

  19. Professor Fate

    Dear lord (as others have noted) what is with the artwork? it rather looks like the medications they are all taking hit at the same time; they have this vacant 1,000 yard stare – either than or they have been replaced by androids hence the uncanny valley effect, with words coming out of their mouths that bear no relationship to their expressions. And the words. Dear lord the words. Did he even read them after he wrote this?
    To be honest having had two people close to me get breast cancer and having friends who have lost loved one and siblings to it – I find Batuik’s RELENTLESS flogging of Lisa, this stupid Lisa’s legacy run and his sick celebration of Les for running it to be utterly vile. I might be a little more forgiving if I thought he was genuinely concerned but his cancer stuff is so patently self serving that one recoils from the smarmy earnestness.
    Happy labor day by the way.

    • SeaCountry

      The Lisa’s Legacy run would be nice if it was just a week of strips out of the year and Batiuk, through L*s, wasn’t constantly reminding us!

      • Banana Jr. 6000

        It’s a recurring problem in Funky Winkerbean, the same one we just saw with Jeff’s inner child: the characters’ endless need to be nostalgic about things that never went away.

        If you’re 75 years old, and you love Gene Autry serials, and you’re watching one in public with a woman, then your inner child is already sufficiently indulged. Going to California to stand in front of the empty cave where they filmed it does not enhance this experience.

        And what even needs to be said about Les at this point? Every minute of his life is about Lisa. He should take one week a year to NOT think about her.

    • William Thompson

      On the other hand, if Batiuk relentlessly flogged Les . . . naw, he’d have it done by Pontius Pilate, and then have Les show off his stigmata.

  20. Perfect Tommy

    Celebrities: They’re just like us!

  21. Double Sided Scooby Snack

    “The real Marsoone, Cinderp, and Maryanne Summers Winters wouldn’t be caught dead in this Ohio hick town. We’re from the celebrity ‘lookalike’ agency. We show up at county fairs, tractor pulls, and Cancer Cancer Cancer Fun Runs.”

  22. That is seriously the worst artwork I have seen in this strip, and this is a strip that’s renowned for its terrible artwork. I can’t believe anyone looked at this and said, “Hey, that’s great, let’s send it off to the syndicate.”

    • Rusty Shackleford

      The syndicate just collects checks, they won’t pay someone to look things over ( but they do pay people to put out patronizing tweets). I mean, it’s not like Batty would listen to any criticism, he’s an artist.

    • Hitorque

      YOU’D THINK that the *ONE* thing a (presumably male) artist would know how to draw is a credibly attractive and sexy woman, since chances are those would have been the first things he started drawing back in high school detention. IF NOTHING ELSE the artist can pull a “Greg Land” and just shamelessly copy real life celebs and be done with it…

      • Rusty Shackleford

        Funny you mention that. I just finished reading Dave Berg’s The Lighter Side collection that MAD Magazine released. Dave started out drawing sexy dames for various publications—and they were quite nice! All the more surprising since he was a fairly religious Jew and one would think that might restrain him a bit. It didn’t.

        I’ve been reading old collections of comic strips lately and it’s been fun. Reading Shoe now and even read some FBoFW strips. Still cannot get the urge to get some Batty books…but I will. Winter is coming…just saw a leaf fall.

  23. comicbookharriet

    Alternate theory. This is a POV shot of someone who as just dropped a lot of LSD right before the race.

    • Rusty Shackleford

      I can feel it kicking in. Lisa’s cancer is speaking to me and telling me all about Les’ crazy fetishes.

      Agh, make it stop. I was warned these LSD trips can be horrifying but I didn’t listen. Agggghhhh…now Les’ goatee is chasing me….

  24. Hitorque

    1. Paying homage at the Altar of Obi-Wan Lisa… Take a drink

    2. Hollywood A-listers whose agents should be ringing their phones off the hook always have time in the schedule to come out to Shitsburg, Ahia for the millionth time and they STILL don’t ever get recognized…Take a drink

    3. Shitty art that makes the current reigning “Sexiest Woman In Hollywood” look like a frumpy 50 year old dowager… Take a drink

    4. Complete memory wipe of the extinction-level natural disaster that just hit Southern California, along with any notion that God forbid this year maybe the proceeds from the Lisa’s Legacy fund should go towards disaster relief… Take a drink

    4a. Complete memory wipe of the notion that that God forbid this year maybe the proceeds from the Lisa’s Legacy fund should go towards the Sierra Club or some kind of Climate Change awareness campaign or maybe Masone’s next vanity project should be a live-action “Captain Planet” reboot… Take a drink

    5. Kayla/Summer nowhere to be seen… Take a drink

    6. No updates whatsoever on the Lisa movie project, nor the grand premiere of the billion-dollar Starsuck Jonese sequel, nor any discussion about casting or filming the third movie in the trilogy… Take a drink

    7. Darrin nowhere to be seen… Take a drink

    8. Cindye pretending to be useful by doing a “job” that literally any teenage amateur could do… Take a drink

    9. Cindye wearing her standard-issue black tanktop… Take a drink

    9a. Cindye comes back to the old hometown and completely forgets about seeing her relatives or kids because God forbid Batiuk be forced to remind us of her actual age… Take a drink

    10. Evidently Masone’s height is now five-foot-six… Take a drink

    11. Cindye’s pathological jealousy of every woman within 10 meters of Masone has vanished, and her BFF relationship with Marianne continues to grow for completely unexplained reasons…Take a drink

  25. Count of Tower Grove

    Get Cinders some Botox, STAT!

  26. We all employ at least a little bit of hyperbole most of the time when we discuss the art in this strip, so let it be known that I am being 100% sincere when I say that if Mr. Ayers did NOT draw this while wasted out of his mind on something-or-other, that he should immediately go to the doctor. This is not okay on so many levels. I agree with Bobanero when he says that this is sub-“Last days of A3G” level work, and as I recall, the syndicate eventually fessed up that the artist had severe dementia and could barely even hold the damn pen anymore. (And the fact that they allowed THOSE strips to be published as-is was appalling.)

    Anyway, in fine Funky tradition, let’s immediately pivot to a different topic.

    California wildfire started by gender reveal party – Truth really is stranger than fiction.

    • none

      Permit me to politely disagree about the true extent of how bad the physical appearance of today’s strip to be.

      I personally felt that Frank Bolle being allowed to let A3G ride out to the end was something of a good will gesture by the syndicate and newspapers, gave Frank some kind of decency to his tenure, and I think the decline in that strip’s craftsmanship was more remarkable for how drastic it was at a certain point. There was a brief time a few years before his death that he temporarily took over Gil Thorp in addition to his work at A3G, and his strips there were fine, and Frank was already older than 85 at that time. Should I live to be that old, I pray to be able to hold on to my faculties that well to that point.

      Then consider someone like Mell Lazarus who, even in my opinion as an eight year old child, always had atrocious artwork and similarly awful humor for Momma. His decline was also perceptible, but only really noticeable when you compared something from his end to that twenty years prior.

      For FB, the differences are 1) that there isn’t a one directional slope, it’s a hill, and 2) he gets to have blame deferred on account of not being the sole creator of the drawing at this time. FB Act 1 artwork is crude and his rendering of people’s faces at that time are especially awful (you want beady eyes? here you go), particularly in cases like drawing someone with glasses at 3/4 profile, e.g., see most drawings of Lisa at the side where her two eyes seem to be protruding from outside of her skull in order for them to appear to be in her glasses. He has peaked at the end of Act 2, and now we have to play a guessing game whether it’s his fault or Burchett or Ayers or his own age and slapdash approach to the drawing being applied in the same way that he takes a complete slapdash approach to its writing. Go back and look at the Jarod Posey arc to see the tiny twig legs of the other football players and Jarod’s gigantic nose and 50 year old hairline, go back and look at his more recent renderings of Dinkle, and look at how he renders Skppy’s hairline recently; you can see how his ability to stay on model and realistic have been waning for some time.

      TLDR: He’s not as old now as Bolle was when he was at this end, and I believe that the final A3G strips are much worse than when he was at his peak than what FB is in this strip today. This strip is assuredly bad in every quantifiable metric, but it needs to be much more worse for it to reach 2015 A3G levels of bad. Let us pray he retires before it reaches that point.

      • none

        I don’t know why I kept writing FB when I meant FW.

        While I’m here, another example of recent signs of decline: look at most of the depictions of Murania a week ago. There was one panel that attempted to look like something recognizable out of the serial. Most of the rest were practically dichromatic featureless voids of color.

        • Come to think of it, I admittedly have no idea whether or not the A3G situation was because of Frank Bolle’s wishes or not. There certainly are a lot of creators who have said that they’d like to die at their drafting tables rather than retire and fade away (Aside: I suspect that the otherwise non-sequitor “Dinkle talks to some guy about retirement” week was Tom Batiuk’s message to everybody that he can’t stop, won’t stop.)

          That being said, the final word on A3G is now “that weird old comic strip that Josh Frulinger once watched decay in front of his very eyes so that the internet didn’t have to” instead of “that classic soap opera strip that had great art and impeccable 1960s NYC women’s fashion.”

          I agree that FW’s art is more “yo-yo” than precipitous decline, but that’s why it makes me kinda mad today. Three of the people pictured in today’s strip are celebrities who make their living based in large part on their looks. Two of them recently starred in an action-adventure movie. They all look markedly worse than a late-middle-aged English teacher who plays sports like a quadripedal alien trying to fit in. Everybody looks like they’re melting.

    • SeaCountry

      When my friends were having their babies, it was popular (at least in my set) to have a thickly frosted cake at the baby shower, then cut it open to reveal pink or blue cake. Got the job done. May not make an exciting video for TikTok or Instagram, but won’t start fires either. (Unless you’re bad at baking.)

  27. Maxine of Arc

    You’d think if, say, Chris Evans and Scarlett Johanssen showed up at some no account 5k in Ohio, somebody would notice, but I guess Marianne and Mason’s melting face disguises protect them from fans.