Potted plant is back!
I wonder if we’ve been a little harsh in our criticism of the bland offering of jokes this week. I showed the strips to a friend and they got a mild chuckle from her.
Our palates have really been ruined by consuming and analyzing EVERYTHING Batiuk provides in his greasy spoon buffet. When you’ve gagged over creamed corn that’s been congealing under a heat lamp for eight hours, it becomes so much easier to find problems with the innocent loaf of off-the-shelf white bread splayed out in slices at the end of the table.
I think it’s easy for us, deep in the lore, and with years and layers to our disdain for some of these characters, to forget that a week of strips like this is probably the only enjoyment casual readers get out of these comics, smiling half heartedly as they accidently let their eyes drift over Funky Winkerbean while searching for the obituaries.
Can you imagine being an average Joe, not a weirdo commenting obsessively over a comic strip online, and opening your local fishwrap to randomly read a strip from the L.A. Fire arc? Or Bull’s suicide? Or Zanzibar the talking murder chimp blessed be his name? Your brain would spit that wad of nonsense right back out to protect itself, like slamming the door on a Jehovah’s Witness.
But today’s strip? This is the kind of strip destined to be cut out of the paper and put on the fridge by kindly little old music teachers who paid for their grandkids’ Christmas presents with piano lessons. It’s a stolen joke, told with a microgram of charm, that will get a few smiles.
I talked earlier this week about Batiuk’s immortality. And, as much as he’d like it to be cancer or PTSD or teen pregnancy, it’s really one-off Dinkle type gags. I remember Dinkle strips posted in my own music teacher’s office. Tom’s real legacy isn’t massive volumes of collected comics, it’s yellowed strips of newsprint taped haphazardly to a filing cabinet beside a pile of music stands.
I can imagine, fifty years from now, a kid opening a cupboard in the attic of my old band room, where the retired uniforms and broken instruments are left to rot, and inside are a pile of dusty worn out band shoes, a few tarnished majorette hats, and, pasted to the door, a browned and crumbling clipping of Harry Dinkle, screaming at children in the pouring rain.
29 responses to “The Ultimate Racketeer.”
I got nothing, this is just dumb.
The plant is back, now where did the sheet music go?
You think this is a racket, kid, wait ’til you hear the latest album from The Bedside Manorisms!
Once again everyone hates everything they’re doing and (zzzzzzz). Maybe he just should have done a Claude Barlow arc instead.
Did that kid think he would turn into a concert pianist with only one lessons? Les Moore envies his egomania.
Another excellent and insightful post, CBH. The final paragraph alone conjures up more memories and emotions than all of Batik’s hackneyed attempts at nostalgia combined. Very well done.
Thanks Erdmann! 🙂 I’m going to guess Batiuk has a hard time with genuine nostalgia because, after nearly 50 years of writing, he still doesn’t understand how emotions work.
I hope the kid is not breaking the fourth wall but, instead, is looking back at his parent for backup. I certainly wouldn’t trust Dinkle alone with my kid.
“You think this gig I’ve been reduced to is a racket, you inattentive little twerp? I once commanded a mighty musical horde of instrument-wielding teenagers who would march in formation, turn and stop, and perform with a mere flick of my mighty baton! They were my unstoppable army, and they followed my every command, filling me with a power that only a god could understand! Now here I am trying to explain ‘Mister Whole Note’ to mewling, sausage-fingered seat-wetters like yourself! Yeah, I noticed. Tell your mom she owes me another 10 dollars for the moistened pillow. I swear, some days I’d give my left arm to still be Westview’s band direc…oops! Sorry, Becky.”
Frankly, I think any casual newspaper readers looking for laughs would be better off just skipping over FW and going straight to the obituaries.
I never paid attention to the strip in the 90s while I was a teen, but I was in the various band programs and did recognize Dinkle’s image wherever it appeared in practice rooms and the like. One of the bands I marched in used Dinkle’s branded footwear.
If I may rebut; I don’t believe that, overall, we have been too harsh on the strip this week. The comments are at a lesser volume than other prior weeks and the criticism and scrutiny behind it hasn’t been as overwrought or pointed. I’ve said as much before, as have others here – this is clearly his wheelhouse, and if he would just simply stick to it, there’d be nothing for beady eyed folk to talk about.
I personally think that as the years go by he has grown to despise the character, because, as alluded to with prior discussion of Dinkle’s presence outside of the strip (and one can consult old newspaper articles to verify it as well), Dinkle is his main claim to fame. It’s not his stories, not Lisa, not Les, not Funky, not his art, none of that. Just a one-note band director. Look how he is depicted here. Look at the last music educator’s week which was literally five days of him and Becky smirking at signs. Look at his weeks which were about retirement or about him reading a book about god damned squirrels. Squirrels. Look at his deafness which came as mysteriously as it left. Look at how much he still goes to school despite retirement. He has no idea what else to do with this character but still finds weeks to wedge him in. I doubt he would do that if he didn’t feel the need to do it. He’s left dozens if not over 100 other characters to rot and fade away. Not Dinkle, though.
I love the idea that Batiuk secretly resents Dinkle, and wishes he could write him falling to his death off Reichenbach Falls while locked in brutal combat with Becky’s mom.
IMO the problem is that he ruined the Dinkle character while he was neck-deep in his melodramatic attention-seeking pathos phase. There was no reason to have the character go deaf, retire and etc. He could have just remained as “the band director” forever and he would have been free to keep doing band director gags til the end of time. But he ruined him, aged him, then had no idea what to do with him. And now it’s too late to go back.
It wouldn’t surprise me one bit if TB has come to resent or despise Dinkle. He’s flogged all things Lisa for over 20 years now, and gotten what… 3 books out of it that were not printed by the KSU vanity press? There are over 10 Dinkle-focused books alone, none of which required showing up at Kent State and playing “don’t you know who I am?” in order to get published.
Haiku of the Day
“This is a racket!”
“Never said it wasn’t, kid.
Fork over the cash.”
If Batiuk didn’t want his work to be taken as a whole, but to be treated as ephemera, he shouldn’t have convinced the KSU Press to publish volume after volume of collected strips. He’s only himself to blame.
At our local donut shop, the owner always had a few newspapers on the counter for the customers. If I would see someone reading the comics page I would ask them about Funky Winkerbean. Nobody had anything good to say about it, but surprisingly, most people liked Crankshaft.
At this point, he needs to retire or switch back to a gag a day. Too bad he has a year’s worth of strips in the queue as he could use covid as an easy excuse to generate more misery for his characters.
I don’t see a joke anywhere in today’s strip. If Dinkle were giving tennis lessons, yeah, there you go. It’s not gag-a-day if there’s no gag.
I actually found it mildly amusing: the little boy who thought he only had to do this once, suddenly finds out that’s not true, and concludes that the whole system is rigged against him. Partly because I can imagine some real child reacting to forced piano lessons with the same level of distaste. He didn’t ask to be there! (Unlike Dinkle, who freely chose to do something that makes him miserable.)
“I talked earlier this week about Batiuk’s immortality. And, as much as he’d like it to be cancer or PTSD or teen pregnancy, it’s really one-off Dinkle type gags. I remember Dinkle strips posted in my own music teacher’s office. Tom’s real legacy isn’t massive volumes of collected comics, it’s yellowed strips of newsprint taped haphazardly to a filing cabinet beside a pile of music stands.”
CBH, you’ve really focused on what makes FW so frustrating – his purposeful striving for immortality as a “serious writer”. This week’s series of strips could easily have fit into the gag-a-day format of Act I – some hits, some misses, and continuity and realism unimportant (I, as a Trekkie, loved the sentient Trekkie school computer.) And the best ones do have a timeless quality. No wonder your friend was amused.
I wonder, though, what she would think about the bulk of his work – the plot-driven narratives in which his characters behave inexplicably or abominably, law enforcement officers falsify official reports, an ex-president makes deus-ex-machina appearance to rescue a character while lauding a pizza he had three decades ago and an underground civilization from a ‘30’s movie serial saves a character from a fire that appears to wipe out a large swath of Los Angeles but leaves no after effect.
And this blog’s new favorite mascot, Zanzibar, the alcoholic, talking, gun-toting murder-chimpanzee.
Said it before, I’ll say it again: it is a CRIME that Batiuk was allowed to throw in a drunken talking murder chimp and then drop it and NEVER MENTION IT AGAIN.
And the worst of it is, the crime wasn’t the mass murder of so many these characters.
There was a tweet that said something like “Tom Batiuk thinks he’s writing the comic strip version of Sherwood Anderson’s Winesburg, Ohio.” That really nailed it. He tries to write all these deep, meaningful stories when he can’t get basic human emotions or dialog right. If the strip was more like Act I, with little one-off gags like today’s and short story arcs, it would be a lot better. Which means it would be just another ignorable comic strip, and not something so awful it warrants the level of analysis we put into it.
Yeah, I still see a lot of The Far Side in various doctor’s offices, etc. but those (usually) stand on their own, even outside the context of their time.
Instead let’s talk about how this kid apparently doesn’t even know that he was signed up for a series of lessons… Do his parents or siblings or the cops know he’s here?!
Mildly related, the pediatrician I went to as a kid had these framed comic strip panels (blown up about 4-5 times typical panel size) of Marvin from Marvin and Trixie from Hi and Lois on the walls of his examination room. The text in their word bubbles was altered to make it so that Marvin and Trixie were talking/thinking about what a good doctor he is.
I now take my daughter to this same pediatrician, who has long since moved from the office he had when I was a kid. The first time I brought her into the examination room I noticed that, sure enough, he still had those framed comic strip panels…
Yes, today’s strip is minimally acceptable. There is a discernible setup and punchline that resembles a natural conversation. The problem is that this is the pinnacle of Tom Batiuk’s ability.
Panel 1… coffee cold. Panel 3 … coffee Hot.
All panels … Dinkepussy home decorated in shades of grey.
Panel 3 …. clueless Westview Youngster perfects the Brat e yuck infernal sneer.