Deceiving Appearances.

Link to Today’s Strip.

Those of you who DIDN’T guess that Phil and Flash would be asked to take The Subterranean to Atomik Komix, please report to the front desk for your free brain scan.

And really, Phil Holt is accusing Flash of grandstanding? Isn’t Phil the man who loudly crashed a ComicCon panel to come back from the dead, then stormed the stage to have a reunion with his former partner that ended with both of them in tears.

Since when have we ever seen Flash Freeman grandstanding? We’ve all been treating Mr. Freeman as the stand-in for Stan Lee, but he’s even less like Stan Lee than Phil Holt is like Jack Kirby.

Visually, Flash is drawn as an old guy with a weirdly long face and a receding hairline, kinda like an elderly Stan Lee. And on the surface they’ve done similar things: being a head writer, giving the writers and artists in their employ pet nick names, making up behind the scenes stories, and being blamed for stealing credit from others.

Chester’s wailing about the ‘Batty Batom Bullpen Boasts’ is an obvious reference to things Stan Lee did to drum up enthusiasm and company loyalty in kidsoomers. Things like the Marvel Bullpen Bulletins and the Merry Marvel Marching Society, which put out a record that has been BURNED INTO MY MIND.

“You belong, you belong, you belong, you belong, you belong you belongyoubelongyoubelong…

But in personality? Flash Freeman has been presented as an affable, laid-back guy. Down to earth, level-headed, and even reserved. He’s usually drawn with a slight smile and relaxed face, like he’s bemused about everything around him.

That is not Stan Lee.

Stan Lee was a man who treated every conversation as a performance. A man who only stopped flashing his toothy grin when he was posing or playacting a ‘serious’ moment. A man who rearranged his life into entertaining stories, and if he had to sacrifice the facts to do it, so be it. This is not Flash getting wrong the street address of a diner he last visited 60 years ago. Lee was a man who told a story to a convention about how he’d gotten hired, then called a former coworker who could expose the fib, and tried to convince him to go along with the ‘enhanced version’ of the truth.

Here’s an excerpt from the transcript of that coworker’s panel at ComicCon in 1998.

Stan Lee; is Stan here? No? (laughter) Stan Lee called me about two or three years ago, and says, “Joe, I opened my convention with the story that I answered an ad in the newspaper to get my job. I answered an ad in the newspaper for a job in comic books and then I went. You hired me and I was walking in the hall and I ran into Martin.” Well, I knew Martin was his uncle; well, his relative. Actually it was Stan’s mother’s cousin, something like that.

[Stan continues:] “So, Martin said to me, “Stan, what are you doing here?” And I said, ‘I work here.’ And Martin says, “Is that right? I didn’t know.””

I said, “Stan, that story can’t be true. We only had three offices and a bunch of relatives in the building. We didn’t even have a hall.” (laughter) So Stan says, “Is that right? My memory is going.” (laughter) I thought it was a pretty good story. (laughter) I figured at that time, he’d stop doing it. He’s still doing it. A month later I read the same story in Newsday. But, God bless Stan, he’s got a good story and he’s sticking with it. (laughter) He did a wonderful job. He did a miraculous job. I’m proud of him.

Who was that coworker? Why Joe Simon, the man who hired Stan Lee. The first editor of Timely (later Marvel) comics. And Jack Kirby’s creative partner for the first 15 years of his career. Theirs was truly a partnership where credit can’t be sorted. They both wrote, they both drew, and scripted, and inked. There are covers and pages with both their names on them, where not even experts can parse out who did what.

They first met working for Fox Features Syndicate, an early comics publisher run by Victor Fox who Joe Simon characterized more clearly than any Act III Funky Winkerbean character could hope to be:

 It was at Fox Comics. I guess you all know about Victor Fox. He was a little chubby guy. He was an accountant for DC Comics. He was doing the sales figures and he liked what he saw. So, he moved downstairs and started his own company called Fox Comics, Fox Publications, Fox Features Syndicate, Fox Radio, Fox this, Fox that… He was a very strange character. He had kind of a British accent; he was like 5’2″–told us he was a former ballroom dancer. He was very loud, menacing, and really a scary little guy. (laughter) He used to say, “I’m the King of the Comics. I’m the King of the Comics. I’m the King of the Comics.” (laughter) We couldn’t stop him. So that’s the task I had when I went in to start that job.


When Joe Simon left Fox comics for Timely, he took Jack Kirby with him, and there they created Captain America. Then when they felt they were getting the short stick by Timely, Joe began negotiations for both of them to move on to National Comics (now DC.) There they wrote Boy Commandos and the Newsboy Legion, both very popular at the time, even if they’re mostly forgotten now.

After the War, they worked freelance, basically creating the Romance Comic genre. All the while, they were living across the street from each other with their young families.

Their partnership more or less ended in the mid-fifties, after comics hit a huge slump. The self-imposed censorship and moral panic in the wake of The Seduction of the Innocent and the Senate hearings made it an uncertain financial field. So Jack and Joe parted ways amiably. Jack stuck it out with comics, and Joe moved on to advertising and magazine publishing; though he would occasionally dip his toes back into the comics business. In 1974 he and Kirby worked together on a relaunch of ‘The Sandman’ for DC. They remained on friendly terms for the rest of their lives.

I’ll say this for Jack–Jack went back to Marvel, he switched to Marvel from DC. We got together a couple of times in-between. But every time I called Jack I’d say, “Jack, I’ve got a project to do; come do it with me.” He was there the next day–and in those days, we were always together when we had to be, when we wanted to be. He always came back to me. I never paid him the way I’d pay the other artists; I always split with him, everything we had. We had kind of a nice relationship. 

Is Flash Freeman a poorly written Stan Lee? Or is he intentionally tempered with the soul of Joe Simon?

The prosecution presents the following evidence.

Now we needed a villain for inside the comic, too. … Even sitting at lunch, I was always thinking about heroes and villains, with all sorts of ideas swimming around in my head. Next thing I know, I had a hot fudge sundae sitting in front of me, with the vanilla ice cream, and the hot fudge is running down the side. It was intriguing.

The hot fudge looked like limbs—legs, feet, and hands—and I’m thinking to myself.

Gee, this’d make an interesting villain, I mused. We’ll call him Hot Fudge … Just put a face on him, and have him ooze all over the place.

You have to be stupid to be in this business. Nevertheless, I did some sketches, right then and there. And I Iooked at them.

Nah, I thought. Who would believe anything like that?

But I looked again at the sundae, and I saw the big cherry on top. The cherry looked like a skull.

“Wow,” I said to myself. “Red Skull … that sounds good.” And it made a lot more sense.


Filed under Son of Stuck Funky

40 responses to “Deceiving Appearances.

  1. Epicus Doomus

    Everywhere you go, all you hear people saying is “gee, I sure wish Funky Winkerbean would add another elderly comic book writer/artist to the cast”, as he hasn’t done that in well over several weeks now. But fear not, as sometimes dreams DO come true. So let’s all welcome the no-longer-late Phil Holt to the FW cast as a semi-regular. If Chester just officially hired Flash and Phil, that means Atomik Komix now employs more people than Montoni’s, which is one f*cking amazing feat. I quite frankly never thought I’d live to see the day.

  2. J.J. O'Malley

    To be perfectly honest, when his head isn’t drawn to resemble an Easter Island moai, I’ve always thought Flash Freeman bore a resemblance to longtime comics artist Gil Kane, best known for his Silver Age work on the Atom, Green Lantern, and Spider-Man, as well as the late’70s sci-fi newspaper strip Star Hawks. I’ve no idea how to post an image, but Grandpa Google will, I hope, bear me out.

    And let’s not forget that Joe Simon was the creator behind some of DC’s most off-the-wall ’60s/’70s titles, from Brother Power the Geek (a ragdoll brought to life who falls in with hippies) to Prez (“First Teen President of the U.S.A.”) and The Green Team: Boy Millionaires (enough said).

    So the Atomik Bullpen now appears to be evenly divided between people in their early to mid-30s (I’m guessing) and folks old enough to have voted in the Truman/Dewey showdown of ’48. That’s the crew you want to catch that shrinking comic book audience. Can’t wait for Sideways Sunday tomorrow.

  3. I guess that makes sense why Holt’s hostility just melted away.

    “You stole all my ideas! You took credit for everything! Because of y–hang on, you’re not Stan Lee, you’re Joe Simon. [long pause] Whoops.”

  4. billytheskink

    What’s with this grandstanding bit?! No, there are two real reasons why Flash didn’t ask Phil to bring The Subterranean to Atomik Komix.

    1. Phil didn’t tell anyone he was working on The Subterranean until everyone came over to his house, long long long after they had all left the stage.

    2. Flash may hang around the Atomik Komix bullpen on the regular, but he does not (as of yet) work for the company and has no say in bringing new comics there even if he did.

    • Epicus Doomus

      In the Funkyverse, “grandstanding” is not being self-deprecating and extremely hesitant to talk about your work. And God forbid he should draw attention to himself at a ceremony in his honor…at Comic Con, no less.

  5. erdmann

    Once again CBH delivers the goods. I think we can definitely say Flash is an amalgamation of Lee and Simon while Phil is a blend of Kirby, Ditko and five bushels of sour persimmons. Gah. How is it no one ever killed this guy for real?
    I didn’t get a chance to comment yesterday but I wanted to share something. A few months before Ditko’s death, a friend of mine found his address and sent him a brief note thanking him for his work. Imagine his surprise when, a few weeks later, he received a thank you note in return penned by the Stainless One himself.
    I think Ditko jealously guarded his privacy and stuck to his principles, sometimes even to his own detriment, but he could still be cordial.

    • ComicBookHarriet

      That’s a great story! I agree, I don’t think Ditko was malicious, just very guarded.

  6. Mr. A

    Does this mean that Phil is going to leave California and move to Ohio? I thought men of his age moved away from snowy winters, not towards them.

    • ComicBookHarriet

      If this were like the real world they would both be working from home and scanning and emailing all of their stuff in.

      This is Funkyverse though. I’m guessing a 90 year old man moving alone to Cleveland is in order.

  7. The Louella Parsons Project

    This reminds me of pretty boring stupidity that appeals to .000000000001% of the population.

  8. Banana Jr. 6000

    Because didn’t this happen?

    Did that plot point ever get addressed? Because I don’t remember it being addressed.

    • Rusty Shackleford

      When is anything ever addressed in this strip? Batty says things are addressed in his blog posts, but in the end, there is never a satisfactory resolution to anything.

      • Banana Jr. 6000

        I guess that was my idealistic side coming out. Clearly Tom Batiuk isn’t going to put any more effort into his masturbatory Silver Age Comic Book Publishing stories than he does anything else.

    • gleeb

      If he created it while under contract, and anyone cares enough to hire a lawyer and take it to court, the dead man is in trouble.

      Phil Holt is dead.

      • ComicBookHarriet

        If anyone cares enough is the biggest factor.

        Batom comics folded, and their creations were bought out by Mega Comics where Pete eventually was writing Mr. Sponge.

        Given the fact in real life that numerous Golden and Silver age creators were able to fight for royalties or partial ownership later on based on their early contracts being unfair, it certainly would be a battle.

      • Banana Jr. 6000

        What did Phil Holt even “walk out the door and take with him” in the first place? He doesn’t own the rights to the character, because he quit when he didn’t get them. He doesn’t have a story, because he just asked Flash for help writing it. The Subterranean franchise was clearly never developed at all, so there’s no creative vision of his that would benefit from his involvement, even if the massive passing of time could be ignored.

        Whatever he took would still be the property of Batom Comics. They would either have taken legal action to get it back, or hired a replacement artist to re-create it. Probably the latter, since the whole thing clearly wasn’t far along. People quit jobs all the time, and one person doing so was not grounds for abandoning a franchise. Nor is there anything Phil Holt could have taken that would have torpedoed it.

        All he could possibly have is a few moldy old sketches Batom Comics didn’t even bother recovering after he quit. And the story acts like they’ve found the missing duchess Anastasia. Despite all the effort that went into resurrecting Phil Holt and building his backstory, he brings nothing to the table.

    • J.J. O'Malley

      I hate that I’m about to defend a Battyuk plot point, but I was under the impression that when Phil Holt! presented the Subterranean to Batom’s upper echelon it was as a proposal for a new series, not something that he created for an existing title. As such I would think Subby wouldn’t qualify as a Batom-owned character and that Phil Holt!, who pitched it outside of his “work for hire” contract, was within his rights to take it with him. Of course, why a ’50s/’60s comic book artist thought a company would offer him ownership rights is another question, but hey, it’s Battyuk.

    • Charles

      Here’s what I think happened, and that Batiuk portrayed it in a way that’s plausible was probably simply by chance and not by design. I suspect Batiuk’s read and heard about these things enough over the years that he could fake having done the research.

      Phil’s employment contract stated that the IP rights of any character he created while working for Batom Comics would belong to Batom, and the definition of “created” they’d be using in this circumstance would be explicit in the contract. I suspect that what Phil did with the Subterranean didn’t rise to the level of “creation” under his contract with Batom. They don’t own his thoughts, after all. There would have to be some level of realization of the Subterranean for Batom to lay claim to it as theirs under the contract, and this wasn’t sufficient.

      But Phil also had some kind of non-compete clause in his contract that would prevent him from going to, say, Cayers Comix right after leaving Batom, and it would especially prevent him from doing so and immediately creating comics that could have come up as a result of ruminations and brainstorms from his time at Batom. So he wouldn’t be able to go create the Subterranean somewhere else. And even after his non-compete clause expired, Cayers Comix may not want to touch it because it could conceivably lead to a lawsuit.

      By the time these issues were rendered moot, the Subterranean’s no longer relevant and Phil had completely lost interest in working in comic books.

      I also think that there were a few related points that Batiuk could have resolved that, since he’s not a thorough writer, he failed to do so.

      He could have had Phil go to Flash and tell him that if the two of them presented a united front to Batom about gaining ownership of the Subterranean, Batom might have given in. Flash told him that he didn’t want to rock the boat and potentially piss off his employer, so he declined. Phil hated him ever since for betraying him over this. Batom was just doing what Batom does, whereas Flash was being a coward. It was much worse in Phil’s mind. This could very easily result in the overt hostility that Flash claimed Phil had for him.

      Also, it’s strange that Darin somehow knew that the Subterranean was potentially the issue between Phil and Flash. He initially seemed completely ignorant as to why Phil and Flash had a falling out, but was somehow able to connect the very-simple-to-connect dots between the falling out and the Subterranean. If Darin instead had just thought that the Subterranean was an issue between Batom and Phil, without Flash being implicated at all, this would justify his confusion and his later revelation. Too bad Batiuk’s not a precise or as thorough a writer as he could be. His stories could actually make sense and be worth thinking about, at least.

  9. be ware of eve hill

    I wonder how many nonagenarians are presently working in the comics industry these days. Any? Atomik Komix now has three on their roster.

    Compared to the real comic book legends, Batty looks like a child with a well-used box of Crayola crayons.

    I am a little surprised to discover Chester didn’t already own the rights to The Subterranean. I thought I read somewhere that Chester already bought all the rights to the Batom Comics characters. It appears Phil really did take The Subterranean with him when he quit. Or perhaps Batty just forgot. Par for the course.

    I’d like to thank Comic Book Harriet for writing an informative and entertaining week of blogs on what could be the dullest (to me) week of Funky Winkerbean I’ve ever read. My comic book reading experience is quite limited and consists of mainly one title. A boyfriend in college read a few titles. One of them I liked so much I bought a few compilations. Does anybody remember Elfquest?

    Before this week, I thought Stan Lee was that affable man from Marvel Comics who made cameo appearances in all those Marvel superhero films. I had no idea he was such a controversial figure. These blogs piqued my interest and I read a little bit more about Stan. How that man took advantage of Stan at the end of his life is quite sad.


    • Bad wolf

      I remember Elfquest! It looked good but was always a little too, well, aimed at a female audience for me. I went to school close enough to the creators that i heard about them but never met them.

      It was one of the original black&white boom of the 80’s that I’m reminded of when Flash talks again about ‘ownership’—this was a pretty big deal in the comics community at the time. Everyone started saying you needed to own your own characters, start to self-publish; Dave Sim, Frank Miller, a lot of big names got into it.

      A few years later Image comics started up with big superhero artists all owning their own characters. And as it turns out, there are real limitations to this approach. If you have a one-off story with a defined set of characters or world—Elfquest, Cerebus, Ronin—it’s great. If you want a mutually shared universe with characters crossing over in a 60’s Marvel NYC, well, get the lawyers, everyone has to approve everything, there’s contracts to be written and re-written, and in the end most will simply give up on the idea. You can look up what happened to Alan Moore’s 1963 as a good example. Those creators won’t even talk to each other any more, and nothing will ever be reprinted!

      • be ware of eve hill

        If Elfquest was aimed for female audiences, that most likely explains why I enjoyed it. I have two brothers, and they both read comic books for a while in their teens. I sometimes read what they picked out, but I don’t think there were too many titles geared toward female readers anyway. Back in those days in the 1970s, there were no specialty comic shops in the area. Just a couple of spinner racks at a newsstand or drug store. Titles seemed to be either superhero comics, like Marvel and DC, or comics geared toward children, like Harvey or Gold Key. The independents most likely had trouble finding space on those spinner racks. Both of my brothers were in college in the early 1980s and most likely missed the independents black&white boom. Any money they earned on minimum wage jobs went towards tuition and books. Thanks for the info on ‘ownership’.

        Female comic collaborations sometimes aren’t a good thing, either. The Six Chix comic strip, for example. An embarrassment for women everywhere.

        I broke up with that college boyfriend. My refusal to dress up in a skimpy comic book related costume for Halloween had a lot to do with it.

        “Bad Wolf”. That’s a Doctor Who thing isn’t it? My first thought was a play on the Wolfriders, but you said you weren’t really an Elfquest fan.

        • Bad wolf

          Haha yes, it’s from the first season of new Dr Who, which is a pretty old reference by now.

          I even remember the Elfquest characters being written up for D&D play in Dragon magazine. I know they produced several follow up stories but there was always talk of a movie that never materialized. I still think i should sit down and try it out sometime, we’ll see.

          Your costume story reminds me: I heard Wendy Pini came to attention in the early comic convention scene for cosplaying (that wasn’t even a word then) Frank Thorn’s Red Sonja. Fandom was pretty crazy back then.

          Thanks for sharing your experiences!

    • Gerard Plourde

      I read Elfquest. I think there was talk of some kind of follow up a couple of years ago.

      • be ware of eve hill

        Out of curiosity, I did a web search on Elfquest. I had no idea it ran on for so long and was published by both Marvel and DC for a while. It appears much of it is available to read online, for free! Nice!

        Thanks for the heads-up.

    • J.J. O'Malley

      Loved Elfquest and its many spin-offs and continuations since the early ’80s (creators Wendy and Richard Pini are finishing up a Skywise series, “Stargazer’s Hunt,” later this year). In fact, I still find myself saying “Puckernuts!” as an exclamation when something upsets me.The focus on personal relationships and numerous strong female characters helped give it the “intended for female readers” look, but it was one of the best series to come out of the ’80s/’90s B&W indies boom (alongside Cerebus, Zot!, Strangers in Paradise, and that one about the teen turtle ninjas whose name escapes me).

      • be ware of eve hill

        I spent most of yesterday evening re-reading the Elfquest issues available online. It is a good series!

        “Puckernuts!” I can’t find those Elfquest compilations. They were colored and on high quality paper. I hope I didn’t give them away. I didn’t give them to my son because he was never into comics.

        Thanks for the tip about “Stargazer’s Hunt”. Skywise was one of my favorite characters. He was quite the ladies’ man.

  10. be ware of eve hill

    Chester: Sorry, Ruby and Mindy. In order to meet payroll, I’m going to have to let both of you go.

    Thus ends Batty’s turn at the wheel, celebrating underappreciated female creators in comic books.

    The moral of the story, as far as Mindy is concerned, is “Don’t make waves.”

    • Rusty Shackleford

      Yeah, this arc about sexism in the comics industry sure has been enlightening. And what is with Mindy’s clothes? She wears a little black dress one day, pants and top the next, bare shoulders one day, covered the next.

      • Epicus Doomus

        You know how women are, with the shopping and the clothes and all. I assume she somehow tricked Pete into buying her a whole new wardrobe for their trip.

      • be ware of eve hill

        Consistency, even between panels of the same strip, appears to be an issue for Chuck Ayers. His work on the strip this year has been real crappy. As some have said, maybe he’s trying to force Batiuk’s hand to replace him. OTOH, the sloppy illustration is appropriate for the sloppy writing.

        Batiuk: “Hey Dan Davis! How’d you like to draw Funky Winkerbean too?”
        Dan Davis: “Nah, man, I’m good.” (wipes brow)

    • newagepalimpsest

      Do you think they’ll bother to draw Ruby as more than just a background scribble for the strip in which she empties her desk?

      • Rusty Shackleford

        Ruby who? Batty’s already forgotten about her as he gushes all over these elderly men.

      • be ware of eve hill

        Not sure. In the past couple of weeks, Ruby has gone from center stage, to the edge of the panel, to being halfway off the panel, to the background of the panels this week. I have a feeling the story arc will change tomorrow. It’s possible we may never see her again.

        Ruby might be looking to buy into a timeshare with Batiuk’s other award bait character, Adeela.

  11. newagepalimpsest

    You know what? I’m glad that Phil Holt is back from the dead and has a job now. Because now SDCC can sue both him and Atomik for their dumbassed “PHIL HOLT BACK FROM THE DEAD AND CRYING FOR YOU ON STAGE!!” publicity stunt!

  12. Rusty Shackleford

    Thanks CBH for the interesting commentary. I’m not into comic books but I watched the videos you posted and enjoyed them.

    This is the kind of information I would expect to find on BattyBlog as it would have provided context for his strip. But alas, just crappy covers, and more self congratulatory essays. I do like the old John Darling strips he posts.

    • Banana Jr. 6000

      John Darling can be pretty good if you remember the 1980s. But I think it relies way too much on caricatures as punchlines, as opposed to having any wit or insight of its own. For example, John was going to interview some illegal aliens, and they are revealed to be E.T., Chewbacca, and Mr. Spock. Cute, but this sort of gag barely needs a writer. The caricatures are excellent, though.

  13. Suicide Squirrel

    As some have commented, this comic-book-related story arc seems to be coming to an end for now. Now seems to be a good stopping point unless next week is going to feature the road trip moving Phil Holt to Ahia. I wonder what Holly and Funky are doing next week? They have experience moving crotchety old codgers on cross-country moves. The ominous specter of Les in the SOSF banner is also most likely a harbinger of the horror to come in the following weeks.

    Just a couple of thoughts about the Flash and Phil reunion I’d like to share while they’re still somewhat relevant.

    1). The gushing ‘Horribly Portrayed Geeky Fan’ seemed incredibly young to be a real fan of Flash and Phil’s work. I’d like to think Phil hired him to influence an emotional Flash into reuniting the team. Flash would have found out about the deception, and mayhem would have ensued. This level of writing is, of course, beyond Batyuk’s purview. He’s going to stick with his putrid Flash and Phil love affair no matter how tedious it is.

    2). If Phil Holt was such a beloved figure of all ages, why didn’t any of the obsessed fans bother to verify his death? Was there a fake funeral? Didn’t anyone of these fans make the pilgrimage to pay their final respects? Did the funeral home handling Phil’s arrangements set up a webpage for the fanboys to offer their eCondolances? Where did everybody leave the signs, flowers, and stuffed animals? Wouldn’t fans constantly harass Phil’s surviving relatives looking for answers? Wouldn’t the media confirm the news? I know, that last one is kind of sketchy.

    Imagine if Les attended Phil Holt’s funeral. We’d have to suffer through an entire week of him whining about how Phil Holt never answered his fan mail.