Today’s glurge filled festival of pathological coddling gives me the opportunity to delve into something I’ve been wanting to examine for a long time. But it’s going to be a challenge to talk about, because I swore that I wouldn’t talk about CERTAIN CHARACTERS by name this week.
Let’s talk about Cayla.
For the last several years, whenever she’s appeared Cayla has been the target of a strange mix of pity and ridicule in the comments. And it’s earned. Because Cayla’s presentation in strip is the most conspicuous manifestation of just how twisted and weird the enshrinement and cult of Dead St. Lisa has become. She is a consolation prize. A tacked-on coda. But rather than be resentful of her situation, she has become a priestess and mouth piece of her glorious predecessor.
The external reason for Cayla to be this way is that she’s been written to be a benign gift to the author avatar. She’s built for comfort, not conflict.
But it is so strange to follow Cayla’s journey, and try to imagine a real, flesh and blood woman choosing a similar path. If there was such a woman as Cayla Williams, who would she be?
What do we know about her personality and her history prior to her entering the strip? She comes from an athletic family, who cared enough about her to attend her wedding, but whom she hasn’t seemed to worry much about since. She has completely adopted Funky, Harry, Holly, and crew as her circle of friends, so must have had no close friendships extant before her move to Westview. She worries about her financial matters, while being a shopaholic. She’s class conscious, and seems to want to buy the good opinion of rich people. Current insecurities and prior blows to her ego seem to have hampered her confidence. A previous romantic partner left her with a daughter to raise alone.
Soon after moving to Westview she saw what she wanted and she pursued it. Of a hundred different seats that were open with no asking, she had a particular one in mind.
And from very early on, she knew that she would be jostling for position with a corpse in a race she might never win.
But she went after it anyway, even duked it out with a younger woman. She was pretty bold with her intentions.
Why? What did Cayla want?
Well, one thing she seemed to want was financial security for herself and her daughter. She was looking for someone to ‘pool resources’ with.
Second, she seemed to want people that she could care for, that would be emotionally dependent. She seems to genuinely enjoy being needed. This would fit with her underlying lack of confidence.
In fact. She enjoys being needed so much, that she seems to put herself in a position to both be needed, and remain needed. She wasn’t just looking for someone who appreciates a kind heart. She wanted something to prop up, because when something is leaning on you for support, your position is secure. They can’t leave. And the type of support she offers often promises future financial or social gain on her part.
So of course she is willing to jump on the Dead St. Lisa bandwagon. Her affection for her predecessor might even be genuine. That dead woman is the source of all her current and future security. And it could be she is content to have a decoy and mirage to distract her meal ticket. Some people find too much romantic attention smothering, better to shunt some of that off on a ghost. Let the feelings you elicit be lukewarm, safe, and necessary. Keep feeding the muse of pathos by offering those threesomes from beyond the grave.
Because. Let’s be real for a minute Cayla. You don’t care if you’ll never live up to Lisa any more. You only cared for a moment, when you were worried she’d keep you from scoring the prize that matters. Lisa’s dead. And the helpless withering worm left in her wake needs you. You’ve made sure of that. Yeah, sometimes he’s annoying and insufferable. But he produces, and he provides. You can give him pleasure, and you can give him pain, according to your whims. And either way, he’ll wake up needing you tomorrow just the same. What you really get off on is the control. You like watching him fawn, but you love watching him squirm.
And that is my headcanon for Cayla. She didn’t want a healthy and whole husband to love only her. She wanted a meal ticket just broken enough so it wouldn’t run out on her. And she’s carefully cultivated the relationship, keeping her victim just neurotic enough to maximize her comfort, security, and enjoyment.
It’s been an interesting two weeks folks. Hope you enjoyed! Beckoning Chasm will be in on Monday. I’m interested to see how he handles Batiuk’s upcoming homage to ‘The Day the Clown Cried,’ we’ve seen presaged in the banner.
35 responses to “To His Coy Mistress.”
Great post. CBH. And thanks so much for leaving out the ones where Les made out with himself and the time Cayla forced Les to (ugh) “consummate the relationship”, as I really don’t want to see those strips again, at least not in this lifetime.
Comic book Harriet,
I very much enjoyed the two weeks of your commentary and insight. From the scraps of resurrected Phil Holt arguing/cuddling with Flash to partying with Cayla and Hiiiiiiiim, I eagerly looked forward to what you planned to write the next day. There was wit, knowledge, research, and respect. You even gave us stories of your family and travel. Funky Winkerbean is unworthy of such observations, but you blessed the readers of Son of Stuck Funky. Thank you.
Please tell me there are other books or magazines to continue experiencing your writing skills.
I wholeheartedly concur. The analysis of the nature of death in FW was particularly great.
Wow! In a week where my older sister told me she thought I was losing weight, I really didn’t think I’d be getting a compliment that tops even that.
Currently Son of Stuck Funky is the ONLY place where you can experience my rambling tangents every couple months. So if you can stomach the recurring appearance of HIM…
I think this blog has the finest panel of comic strip commentators this side of heaven. Everyone brings something different, insightful, and useful to the table. The rotation is the secret to longevity and success.
“It’s all in the wrist.” Or, it isn’t every day a jerk-off like Les Moore labels himself so neatly.
Wow. It’s clear, CBH, that you’ve given more coordinated thought into Cayla’s persona in this one post that Battyuk seems to have bothered with in the past decade and a half. She and her current spouse do seem to truly deserve one another.
Moving on to today’s installment of “Ma and Pa Kettle Go to Hollywood”…”So, are you getting nervous about the ‘Lisa’s Story’ movie?” GETTING nervous! Masonne proposed the project to you-know-how back in the Fall of 2019. Since then there have been “scouting trips” to New York, Masonne’s stalking visit to Westview, the last trip out to L.A., reading scripts, selecting the actress to play Dead St. Lisa, and–one would assume–downloads of shooting dailies, screenplay discussions, and other minutiae. The film’s wrap party seems like the wrong time to be having reservations. Maybe there’ll be an arc in the fall where you-know-who gets up and denounces the whole project at the premiere and then runs away with the film cannisters (Yeah, I know, most movies are shown digitally these days, but TB will screw that up, too). Can’t wait.
Yeah, he’s been “nervous” since the day he sat down and starting writing that damned book. He was nervous about writing it, nervous about getting it published, nervous about it becoming popular, nervous about being interviewed about it, nervous about optioning it, nervous about turning it into a screenplay, nervous about filming it, nervous about filming it again and now he’s going to be nervous about seeing it. It’s really been the entire crux of his entire personality for like thirteen years now. So of course he’s nervous.
Maybe there’ll be an arc in the fall where you-know-who gets up and denounces the whole project at the premiere and then runs away with the film cannisters
A Funky Winkerbean remake of “An Alan Smithee Film: Burn Hollywood Burn”, with Les in the Eric Idle role? SHUT UP AND TAKE MY MONEY.
CBH makes a strong case for Cayla’s characterization. I have two objections to it:
1. Les has never made any effort to move past Lisa’s death. Which happened almost 15, possibly 25, years ago. That’s too long to be mourning, even for a lost spouse. It’s one thing for a partner to be patient with a widow/widower’s feelings for someone they’ve lost. But that doesn’t mean letting yourself be put on the shelf, and participating in an endless Viking funeral, to the extent Les has demanded of Cayla.
2. It’s not consistent with Cayla’s personality. It’s awfully cold of her to enjoy Les’ financial support, and not even care that he’s destroying himself with pointless, performative grieving. And she was a lot less meek when first introduced. I still say Susan Smith would have been a better second wife for Les, since she’d be far more willing to tolerate his Lesness.
Also remember that Cayla actively pursued a hesitant and lackadaisical Les for YEARS before she forced herself on him, even as he was thinking about, writing about AND actually talking to Lisa the whole time. He even told a Lisa story DURING his marriage proposal. He’s not just not over Lisa, he’s still actively wallowing in her sainted memory.
Fact is that Cayla ended up married to ol’ Dickface because in early Act III BatYarn did a big “interracial dating” prestige arc, then realized he had to keep them together lest he be accused of creating an African-American love interest purely as a cheap attention-seeking gimmick only to abandon her right after. He wrote himself into a corner and had no way out. They were sort of vaguely “together” for so long that it began to get really weird, leaving him no choice but to pull the trigger. It was really half-assed too, like his heart just wasn’t really in it, which of course it wasn’t.
Susan Smith gave it her all but in the end she was shamed and banished for her pitiful unrequited love for ol’ Beardo, never to be heard from again. Yep, there was a period in Act III history where TWO women were throwing themselves at Les, three if you count Ghost Lisa, which I do.
It’s probably for the best that Susan disappeared, because I can’t imagine that even non-beady-eyed-nitpicking fans would have taken kindly to the baggage in the “she tried to get Les’ attention by killing herself, while she was his student” storyline (and the fact that she was even considered as even a Red Herring love interest after that says a lot about the author.)
Have to admit though that if Les had hooked up with Susan, it would have worked *because* it was creepy.
I’m often skeeved when I read about a professor marrying one of his students, even if they didn’t have a romantic relationship in the middle of their student/teacher relationship. Throw in the fact that Susan was a child (her earliest appearances with Les made her look about 12) rather than a college student makes it worse, and then of course there’s the fact that, as a child, she tried to kill herself because he wouldn’t love her.
It’d be disgusting, but it’s be so perfectly Batiukian and in character for Les.
At risk of making Cayla manipulative to the point of sociopathy, I think CBH is on to something.
Let’s start with the security angle. I’m not familiar with Ohio probate law, but in Pennsylvania, a surviving spouse of an intestate decedent receives 50% of the estate. In order to inherit half, all she’d have to do is ensure Les doesn’t make a will (and given Les’ neuroses, I’m willing to bet he doesn’t want to confront his mortality in that way). I’m also willing to bet that, given her concern about financial insecurity, she’d have made sure that Les made her the beneficiary of his pension.
Who would challenge her status? Darin can’t. His adoption by the Fairgoods cuts him off from any inheritance he might expect from Lisa and he’s not at all related to Les, so he can’t inherit from him.
How about Summer? Well, she seems totally onboard with her adopted family (Not a surprise. Ten years of hot dog dinners prepared by less violates the 8th Amendment of the U.S. Constitution’s ban on cruel and unusual punishment, the Geneva Convention regarding the treatment of prisoners of war, and the United Nation Declaration of the Rights of Man.) i don’t see a challenge to Cayla’s right to inherit coming from that quarter.
So Cayla, having assessed the situation, took a safe bet to ensure her financial security.
In response to your well thought out objections.
1.) I agree that Les has been grieving too long, and that it isn’t healthy, and that it wouldn’t be fair to expect a second wife to forever play second fiddle. In my hypothetical Cayla, I meant to present a woman who doesn’t care, and in fact feeds the pathological grief. Because his grief over Lisa keeps him producing the books, movies, and thus money and prestige that she really craves. She doesn’t mind being put on the shelf, because the shelf is sturdy, and she’d rather be at arms length than pawed over constantly. She has helped to build the shelf she’s on.
2.) I agree that what I’ve lined out is not consistent with what I think Batiuk intended as Cayla’s personality. What I was intending to point out is that it IS a personality that you can extrapolate from the given information. The Cayla we’ve been presented IS content to watch and even feed Les’ histrionics. Sometimes she had seemed annoyed by it, but she shows no signs of massive discontent. It is the CARE that is performative in my ManipulCayla. She is only too willing to tolerate his Lesness, because she IS cold.
I can’t argue with you on either point. You’ve totally reinvented the character of Cayla, in a way that is satisfying but also fits into the story. And I love the idea that Les is being played the way he thinks he’s playing everybody else. She’s beating him at his own game of performative grief. This is the kind of thing I’d love to see if someone else ever took over Funky Winkerbean: a fresh look at the relationships and what really drives them.
“It’s all in the wrist,” said the chronic masturbator (figurative and literal)…
Oh, and a college professor writing “careless” on Kayla’s paper doesn’t rank in the top 100 worst things that could happen… I’ve known professors to read the first page of a paper, immediately hand it back to the student and tell them to re-write it…
Not directly related to FW, but…
I can top that story, I think: in my corporate R&D career, I once got a visit from the second-highest executive in our building. He was heading off to HQ and needed a couple pages of background information on something or other, immediately. So I wrote up a quick summary and gave him a copy. As a courtesy, I also dropped a copy with my boss. Two days later, it came back… she had circled a typo in the second line and written “I STOPPED READING HERE. PLEASE RUN THINGS THROUGH SPELL CHECK BEFORE SUBMITTING TO ME.”
I never ran it through spell check, she never followed up, the executive must have had a good meeting because we all still had jobs the following week… and BTW, I would never “submit” to her.
Like I said, nothing to do with FW, but during a HIIIIM arc any distraction might be a good thing.
Does anyone know the name of Cayla’s cosmetic surgeon?
Sweeney Todd. He also styled her hair, and his girlfriend was a better cook than Les.
A brilliant dissertation on why Cayla is comfortable with calling a book Les wrote about the beginnings of their relationship Lisa’s Story Concludes.
A beautiful dissection of the Cayla character. And, given that I do not believe for a moment that TomBa would have the ambition to plan out such a character, a bit of an insight into the mind of the Glorious Auteur. (Shudder)
Just to add my congratulations re Cayla character. It, as others have noted, showed thought more about the character than the author has. EVER.
One comment about the strip – it shows that yes Cayla is reassuring the delicate genius of well his delicate genius but it also, to me, it shows that underneath the delicate genius pose is of course a raging egomaniac fully convinced of his own superiority to everyone he meets. A normal person would have said something like ‘thank you’ not made that dumb joke ( or throw the any number of temper tantrums he has over the course of this movie being made).
It’s kind of sad actually, I’m sure the author is trying to show this as a loving and committed relationship but what comes out is pathological. It argues that there is something broken in the Author.
It’s kind of sad actually, I’m sure the author is trying to show this as a loving and committed relationship but what comes out is pathological. It argues that there is something broken in the Author.
I don’t know about that. I think it’s reflective of Batiuk’s desperate need to end each strip with some vaguely defined punchline, so he can’t simply have Les appreciate his wife. He has to say something “funny”.
That it often makes his characters look like sociopaths or narcissists is just something Batiuk seems unaware of.
Coming up soon: in light of the “unexpected popularity of the movie,” the book trilogy is re-released…with the stars of the movie on the cover, and possibly a reworking of the title. (This is pretty much what happened with “Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep?”; yes, there are versions of the book that were published under the title, “Blade Runner.”)
Maybe a little.
No, I’ve been nervous lots of times.
Again, ComicBookHarriet once more proves she is an alpha among alphas with today’s essay. As for Cayla, when you look at her when she was first introduced and compare her to now, it is clear she’s had more cosmetic surgery than Michael Jackson ever had. And the surgery wasn’t just to her face. TB has removed her personality to make her joyfully subservient to Les. She’s not her own person anymore, she is a reflecting mirror for Les echoing whatever he needs to hear or see at that moment. Sadly, I don’t think their relationship is based on love as much as it now seems to be based on mutual benefit. Les gets an echo and Cayla gets security.
Cayla, such a fine Irish name.
Funny, she doesn’t look Irish.
I love this analysis of Cayla (and your decision to all but ignore today’s strip.) In real life, she’d be a horrifying person to be acquainted with, that’s for sure.
I think Cayla started out as a sincere attempt to show that Les was ready to move on, but since he wallows in everything else relating to Lisa (because the author wanted to promote Lisa merchandise,) it just couldn’t work on a basic character motivational level. So Cayla also ended up stuck in an eternal holding pattern of waiting to be promoted above “coffee and kvetch date.” Too bad they got married.
The most loathsome part of these entire sequences is how Batiuk is completely unaware of how his individual storylines do not line up with the cynical, world-weary outlook that he gives his characters.
Okay, so Hollywood’s mercurial, and fickle, and can screw and destroy you. It doesn’t care about you. It doesn’t care about what you want. It only cares about what you can do for it. That’s fine. That’s probably true. And that’s the primary presumption Batiuk gives to everyone when they deal with Hollywood.
Only it doesn’t reflect reality in his strip in any manner whatsoever. Let’s look, shall we?
In Funkyworld, Hollywood approaches you to have you work for them. You don’t have to solicit anything from them at all. They come to you, with a job offer that consists of “we’ll pay you to write whatever you want, take as long as you want”. That was the case with Les, and with Pete, he got his job when his dumb friend told a stranger about him. And that stranger had to tell her boyfriend about him. And then that boyfriend had to tell the producer about him. But this pipeline was just fine in getting Pete hired.
It doesn’t matter who you are. It doesn’t matter if you’ve never written a script before. They’ll give you that freedom. Hell, Pete had just been fired from a major comic book company and blacklisted because something he had written was so bad that the public reaction to it forced the company to fire him. Yet Hollywood doesn’t care. They’ll hire him essentially sight-unseen to write, again, with little editorial oversight, the script to a multimillion dollar summer SciFi blockbuster that’s already in production. And when they do offer that miniscule editorial oversight, Pete gets all pissy, and whines about how terrible he’s being treated, and takes extended breaks from work to wonder if writers throughout history ever had to deal with the hardships he’s facing.
Les gets wined and dined out in Hollywood, and is put up for an entire Summer all-luxurious-expenses-paid to edit his script during production, a script that they had already given him three years to write. He comes in and does nothing but complain, alienate everyone and sleep on the job. And then when he calls in his “kill fee”, which allows him to leave the production without suffering any professional consequences, he still gets paid. When the production fails, Hollywood lays none of the blame on Les, or on Les’s new best friend who was to play the lead, who bailed on the production after getting to know Les.
Speaking of which, yes, when you’re doing this, movie stars will become your best friends! They will fall in love with you, even or perhaps especially when you treat them with nothing but disdain and contempt. They’ll fly you all over the country in their private jet. They’ll pay for your vacations to California. They’ll let you stay in their houses on the beach in Malibu. They’ll take you halfway across the country to watch movies in your favorite movie theater and eat pizza at your favorite pizzeria, and they’ll even love it themselves. They’ll be fascinated with every stupid detail of your worthless life. They won’t take offense when you insult them. They’ll marry the burn-out broken diva from your high school class. They’ll give jobs to your best friends. Hey, got a friend who owns a restaurant? The production needs a caterer! Got a friend who loves the movie’s source material? The production can always use a background researcher! Got a friend who drew pictures in high school? They’ll bring him out so he can draw conceptual drawings of your script that they’re giving you years to write even though no such job has ever existed in Hollywood’s history. When will the mistreatment end?
And that’s not even enough! Sometimes they’ll just hand the entire production over to you! They won’t make a single decision without consulting with you to make sure it’s all right. And you’ll still complain. And Hollywood won’t mind that you complain. If anything, they’ll be chastened that they offended you. They’ll fly you all over the country to visit places that are important to you and your relationship with your dead wife. They’ll walk on this hallowed ground with you, and if they ask anything about it, you just have to give them a glance of disdain for them to decide that none of their questions are worth asking. After all. the thought that *they* might be getting something out of this pales in comparison to giving you the respect you feel you deserve.
This is how Batiuk presents Hollywood. They’re more generous and forgiving than any employer the world’s ever seen. And his characters *still* whine about it. Do you think he ever wonders why people find them so loathsome?
And this all fits perfectly with Tom Batiuk’s ideas of how he thinks mass media should work. What did he say about that Marvel Comics job he didn’t get in 1973? “I figured that they would immediately move me to Spider-Man once they saw how well I could write.” To put it mildly, that didn’t (and shouldn’t) happen. So he invents a Hollywood that works the way he thinks it should. Where randos from Akron like Les and Pete are such gifted little snowflakes that the most powerful people in media will do anything to appease them. With no regard to their mediocrity or their toxic personalities. And he still burns it to the ground out of sheer spite.
Well, why shouldn’t movie stars become your best friends? Rock stars aren’t your friends, according to “Almost Famous,” so somebody has to be.
On the other hand, rock stars may kidnap your sons, which I don’t think movie stars would.
Cayla’s transformation through the years reminds me of the casting of the Egyptian ruler Cleopatra on ‘Xena: Warrior Princess’. At one point, they simply forgot they had previously cast a black woman to play Cleopatra, and cast her again as a white woman, so Xena could pose as her.
Great post again, Comic Book Harriet. I’d love to see your stint last longer, but that path might lead to madness. You folks must have a two-week stint for a reason. Beckoning Chasm has a tough act to follow.
You’ve most definitely cast Cayla in a new light. I now see Cayla in a new way. A cunning and manipulative Cayla rather than the Stepford wife I always believed her to be. There’s no question who wears the pants in that family. She has HIM wrapped around her finger. Cayla might be my favorite FW character now. Slim pickings, I know.
My question of why Cayla always drives the car, between the two of them, has been solved. She’s in control.
Cayla: Just sit in the passenger seat, honey. I’ll take care of everything.
I joked the other day about Cayla shoving Les over the balcony railing. I wanted her to put Les out of our misery. Perhaps the thought crossed her mind, but she reconsidered. That wasn’t the time. Not yet. I’d love to see what this new Cayla might do to Les when he no longer serves a purpose.
Cayla: Cyanide with your cocoa, dear? Sign this suicide note. Lisa wants you to be with her. You two belong together. (reassuring smile)
BC is more than up to the task for the next two weeks! He might not ramble on as long as I do, but he has a way of cutting right to the heart of the matter and showing the hidden horror of it by bathing it in a dark and twisted light.
Yesterday I wrote:
Is that supposed to be a limo? Maybe that’s why I’m confused. It’s awfully short for a limo. It’s hard to say. Most of the automobiles Ayers draws look like subcompacts. Maybe it’s a subcompact limousine. The Montoni’s delivery vehicle that Adeela drove last year looked like a circus clown car.
Hokey smokes, check out that back seat. That car must be a compact. It reminds me of an uncomfortable ride-share experience. The backseats of Chevy Cruzes are small!