Stump Speech

Link to Today’s Strip.

Yesterday I did something relatively unorthodox in these parts: I found something to praise Tom Batiuk for. Of course, the overly-long post ended with me screaming at Batiuk in all caps, but that is part of the reason I did it. I never want to get to the point in my beady-eyed nitpicking where everything is a bug to me. Because when I force myself to admit what is good, what is acceptable, and what is innocuous, then when I am confronted with the unbearably bad I can nail it to the wall with confidence.

Today is really really bad guys. Just so bad. This is worst-case-scenario Les Moore at his most insufferable. Self-pitying, sarcastic, complaining, self-absorbed, quipping without being clever. The strip is worse than pointless. It’s not funny. It does nothing to further any ongoing plot, or even advance the conversation in a meaningful way. And the only way it develops character is to further metastasize the tumorous-asshole side of Les’ personality.

And it’s a shame. Because the art today is kind of interesting. One, Les is in pain in panel 2. Which is always nice to see.

And two, he’s putting a pumpkin on a stump.

I can only assume that it’s the stump of the large maple tree in their front yard that was cut down back in 2015.

And before we have our normal reaction, ‘Ah, a relic of Dead St. Lisa, of course it is fetishized,’ the tree was also a favorite of Cayla’s, who wanted to be married under its branches, and felt like the tree was ‘part of the family.’ Plus, Summer grew up eating the fallen leaves from under that tree.

I understand grief at the loss of a tree. Emerald ash borer beetles came through my state a couple years ago and took out seven massive beautiful ash trees on my parents’ farm. It makes me sad in a very Batiukian way, wandering across the acres of yard at home, and so many sentinels of my childhood are missing. Nothing left but weed filled dimples where oceans of shade once marked out the borders of fantasy continents.

Les and Cayla left the stump of the tree they were married under. They’ve left it for years. They decorate it in the trappings of fall it can no longer produce. Because they’d rather have the reminder of the tree for a while longer, than a pristine yard. And all of this is told visually. It develops their characters much better than the awful dialogue on display today. It rewards long time readers. It gives the strip a continuity of place. And there’s that word again, continuity.

When Batiuk chose to have his strip move forward in time, he subjected his strip to the harsh and beautiful realities of continuity. In the measured compliments I’ve given the strip the last couple days, I hope I’ve pointed out how continuity can lead to deeper and more meaningful storytelling. But Batiuk wants all the blessings of continuity, without paying the price of its restrictions. He’s not shy about how little he cares. In fact he revels thumbing his nose at it, like an edgy atheist in Sunday School. And that is why his storytelling so often fails, because we don’t trust it any more.

But still. I would miss that tree too. It was a good tree. After all, it once trapped Les high in its branches, to the joy of all the neighborhood children.

And the very first thing it did upon being introduced to Les Moore was smack him right in his dumb smug head.

Our Leafy Hero.


Filed under Son of Stuck Funky

49 responses to “Stump Speech

  1. Epicus Doomus

    I didn’t even realize that the stump is THE STUMP, I just thought it was, you know, a stump. Some copper sulfate will take care of that eyesore.

    Once again Les is popping off with the snappy answers. That’s some marriage they have there, I don’t think I’ve ever seen a less compatible couple. Even Becky and John are like Dwight and Mamie Eisenhower next to these two misfits.

  2. William Thompson

    Sorry, Les, those flowers hid your smile in the middle panel.

  3. erdmann

    Another day, another stellar post.
    We had our last big maple taken down a year ago. We knew it was dying, but I didn’t want it cut down, in part because of the cost, but also because I just liked it. But then its roots ripped through our incoming water line, forcing us to make expensive repairs. And one breezy day a few weeks later, I came home to find a limb about 12 feet long and eight inches in diameter laying in the street where my son often parked his truck. It had fallen about 30 feet and would’ve made the water line damage look like a scuff mark if it had landed on something other than pavement.
    Good-bye, tree.

  4. DickJohnson

    Are pumpkins really that heavy, the way hes carrying it and acting you’d think it was 100 pounds (yanks should really switch to metric)

    • Eh, they’re awkward. At least once they get big enough you need both hands. There’s no good handholds — you’d think the stem would be one, but it’s not — and you want to set it down gingerly so you don’t chip it and give the squirrels the chance to really dig in. I’m not at my best carrying them around myself.

      Still, at least Les Moore is lifting with his back, instead of his knees, so he can destroy both.

    • James

      They can be pretty hefty? The effort on display in panel one doesn’t seem that extreme for someone who works a desk job.

  5. Gerard Plourde

    I have to repeat a point I made late yesterday on Monday night’s thread – Les admits that the movie made a PROFIT. That translates as actual box office earnings exceeded the cost of production. Let’s assume that all of the A-Listers, including the director worked at their usual high salary levels while cutting production costs, as evidenced by the use of that minuscule and using (probably unpaid) Les in that cameo role. Those costs would have to be made up in box office receipts before any profit occurs and that happened.

    “Always ask for a percentage of the gross. The net is bupkis.” – Freakazoid

    • Hannibal's Lectern

      I’ve read that as a general rule a movie needs to gross at least three times its production costs to break even. So, even assuming Masoné worked for scale so he could add “director of a ‘serious’ movie” to his resume, this film still cost multiple millions… let’s say, ten million or so. That means it had to gross thirty million to make even a “micro profit,” which means something over three million tickets sold (Grandpa Google says the average ticket price in 2019 was $9.17). This in turn leads to the terrifying idea that at least one percent of the American public saw (or at least bought tickets to) this movie.

      • Gerard Plourde

        That’s not as impossible as it first looks. According to Goggle, there were 44,111 movie screens in the US at the end of 2020. Let’s say it showed on 5% of those screens. 3,250,000/2205 = 1,474 viewers er screen (roughly). Estimate 3 showings per day over a seven day run and you have about 71 people per screening. Definitely mediocre.

    • Mr. A

      I wouldn’t necessarily take Les’s quips as an accurate description of financial realities. Maybe Mr. Professional Writer just thought that “micro-profit” had a better ring to it than “micro-revenue”.

    • I think it’s more likely that Les doesn’t know the difference between “gross” and “net”, and when he says “micro profit”, he really means “micro gross”, where the production costs were not covered. Otherwise, for a production like that, any profit would be seen as a huge success.

  6. billytheskink

    Not that Cayla’s asking me, but I’m OK with the movie flopping. I’m not OK that we didn’t get to see if the movie really did have Kablichnick in stitches.

  7. Hitorque

    Passive-aggressive douchebaggery at it’s worst… I’m dying for Cayla or someone to finally remind Les that he’s the fucking co-producer and author so it’s his responsibility to actually DO SOMETHING…

  8. Y. Knott

    Tom Batiuk continues to unload his inner pain about the world’s failure to recognize the brilliance of Lisa’s Story. Or that of Lisa’s Story: The Other Shoe. Oh, plus The Last Leaf: Lisa’s Story Concludes. Oh, yes, right, and The Complete Funky Winkerbean, Volume 10. And also volumes 1 through 9.

    Man’s got a *lot* of pain. It’s like, it’s like… like carrying around an anvil. Or a big pumpkin, or something.

  9. J.J. O'Malley

    Cushlamachree, but today’s visit with the Battling Bickersons is passive-aggressive with a capital “ass.” Wife Not-Lisa apparently spent the whole car ride from the pumpkin patch biting her tongue about asking Lester any more questions regarding his emotional state in the wake of “Lisa’s Story: The Snoozie” not reaching the box office total of such 2021 releases as, say, “In the Heights” or “Paw Patrol: The Movie.” Now that they’re home and decorating the Sacred Stump, she opens her mouth to check and see if the man she loves is hurting or in need of empathy, and how does Les respond? “Oh, I’m just dandy! Look at the big grin plastered on my face! Don’t you know JOY when you see it, you sequel spouse who will NEVER have a piece of vegetation linked to her?”

    Truly, though, it’s clear from CBH’s encyclopedically researched tapestry of strips that Cayla always knew how things would be. Look at the pre-wedding episode when she referred to the house as the “Taj Moore-Hal.” After all, the Taj Mahal was built as a monument and final resting place for Mughal emperor Shah Jahan’s favorite of his four wives, Mumtaz Mahal.

    Honestly, I haven’t witnessed such a maudlin tree-related entertainment piece since Bobby Goldsboro’s 1968 song “Honey.”

  10. This may be dooming us all but I realize that I was so irritated with the Holly Breaks Her General Foot-Related Body Area storyline, coupled with the Crankshaft Insufferable Newspaper Guy story, that I haven’t minded Les Moore yet.

    • hitorque

      Hell, I still haven’t gotten over Phillip Freaking Holt *literally* coming back from the dead a couple months back…

      (And yes, Batiuk really did portray him as a Force Ghost conversing with another Force Ghost three or four years back)…

      • Maxine of Arc

        I’m still not over introducing a Drunken Talking Murder Chimp in one panel and then pretending that didn’t happen.

  11. Rusty Shackleford

    ThanksCBH! I forgot a lot of the history behind that tree, appreciate the refresher.

  12. Suicide Squirrel

    Thank you for a most enjoyable blog, ComicBookHarriet. I like the way you can find a talking point about an object or premise. You then provide a half dozen comic strips to help refresh our memories. I had forgotten all about the maple tree, but who could forget the cringe worthiness of the “Taj Moore-Hal.” Who knew tree stumps make for good reading?

    I’m not sure if it’s just something I’ve finally noticed, but there is way too much yammering between spouses about past events in this comic strip. Ever since Holly broke her ankle/leg/foot, this comic strip has been nothing but a tepid version of the ‘Lockhorns.’ Let’s change the name of the strip to ‘Marital Mouthings’. We need something to spice things up in this strip. How about some action? Reminds me of an old comic book where the Incredible Hulk is tired of the endless conversation and angrily states, “Talk, talk, talk, only action counts” and bounds off out of sight over a mountain.

    As Joseph Nebus pointed out, Les is incorrectly lifting and lowering that pumpkin. Use your knees! If Les wasn’t such a Marty Stu, Batyuk might actually think about laying Les up with a strained back. Nah, let’s have two more weeks of Les pissing and moaning about the movie’s box office performance and Cayla constantly bringing the subject back up over again and again.

    Heck, Les is about my age, and I’ve strained my back about a half dozen times. I’ve badly strained my back while performing the most mundane of tasks, like putting on socks or bending over to pick up a beer can that was sitting on the ground. Crippling back strains where I spend the day in bed or have to use one of my father’s old canes I have stored in the garage.

    At least have the local juvenile delinquents notice how that pumpkin is perfectly teed up and smash it all over the lawn. If Les is going to whine, Batyuk might as well give him something to mope about… besides something Lisa related.

    • Suicide Squirrel

      The leg muscles are among the most powerful in the human body. I believe the most powerful muscles in a Funky Winkerbean character are their smirk muscles. Every Funky Winkerbean character works out by performing 200 smirk-ups a day.

  13. Banana Jr. 6000

    Oh, fuck you, Les.

    If you don’t care, then why did you spend well over a year complaining about every single aspect of this production, demanding that it be made to your absolute specifications? Why did you spend so much time away from your wife and job? Why don’t you have a shred of appreciation for all those powerful people who did so much to give you what you wanted, and a ton of free travel, money, clout, and experience besides? Or for your wife, who indulged your in this project while you ignored her needs for months? Whatever happened to “protecting Lisa?” Why have you forgotten the one the thing you claimed to care so much about, which is not tied to box office results?

    But now that the movie is not a success, and you’ve already gotten everything you’re going to get out of it, all of a sudden you don’t care any more. That says a lot about you, Les. It says an awful lot. Not that we didn’t already know that you’re a colossal, selfish piece of shit.

    • William Thompson

      I still expect Les to take one more stab at filming Lisa’s Story, but this time he’ll do it as a high school production. No crass Hollywood interference this time! He’ll have dictatorial powers over every aspect of the project, will push everyone around, and when it’s finally released on YouthToob it will go bacterial and earn eleventy-five million click-clacks on the first day. Plus receive a special award from some artistic group nobody’s ever heard of before.

      • Banana Jr. 6000

        It’s as good a guess as any. But I suspect Tom Batiuk himself has gotten so bored with this story that this may be the end of it. He spent an eternity getting the story to the beginning of filming, then burned Los Angeles to the ground, and completed the movie off-panel without Les’ involvement. Which contradicts Les’s reason for wanting to make the movie at all: which was to “ensure Lisa’s story is told correctly.” Funny how Les doesn’t even care about that anymore.

    • be ware of eve hill

      One part I’ve never really understood is what does “protecting Lisa” even mean? What is Les protecting? Is Les protecting Lisa’s “legacy” of how people remember her? Does “protecting Lisa” mean Les is protecting his story of her? She was my wife, this is our story, read my book(s). Please don’t try to make a movie of my book because I’ll pout the entire time and hope you fail.

      I think what is important to Les is his personal suffering. His sorrow. That’s why he never shares with Summer or Darin. Their feelings of sorrow are unimportant to Les because only his pain matters. Nobody has suffered as he has. Summer was a toddler when Lisa died, and Darin only met Lisa shortly before she died. To Les, their sorrow couldn’t possibly match up to his and by comparison is irrelevant.

      • Banana Jr. 6000

        What, indeed? The Lust For Lisa plot twist was mind-blowingly stupid, but at least you could understand where Les was coming from. Why did he need to “protect Lisa” from people who were bending over backwards to portray her the way Les wanted?

        I have two theories about what “protecting Lisa” really means. One, it’s Les protecting his own version of the story. We all know that Les didn’t bat an eye when Lisa decided to kill herself, and never made any effort to keep her alive. He doesn’t want anyone else looking into this story, and finding out he’s not the romantic hero he portrays himself as. His version must be the definitive one, and everything about Lisa’s life must be exactly as Les says it was. Which is why people like Frankie are such a threat to him.

        Second, it’s Les’ inability to break his codependency on Lisa. She had a victim complex, and Les had a hero complex. So much of their interaction was based around him saving her from something. And after she died, his need to save her didn’t go away. So he’s got to continue “protecting” her from things. Even if he has to invent them himself. Which is why he didn’t reject Mason Jarre’s proposal in the first place. If protecting Lisa was his motivation, all he had to do was say “no.” He said yes and hoped for it fail, because he still gets paid that way

        Both of these also tie into my “Hawkeye’s chicken” theory. Les knows on some level that he helped kill Lisa, and is trying to keep it suppressed within himself. He is compelled to protect her in death, because he failed to protect her in life. Much like Lillian in Crankshaft, when she took the dead letter to the dead building for the two dead people. As if this empty action would bring back the lives she destroyed.

      • Paul Jones

        Damn fucking straight. If other people can be said to be victims, Les isn’t special. Les isn’t even the worst off because, hey, HE grew up with a mother. A boomer meat-tube like him can’t handle being in the back of any line.

    • Charles

      It’s amazing. What’s the point of this week’s strips? What does Batiuk intend to communicate with them? It’s just to say that off-screen, the movie bombed, and more importantly, that Les really doesn’t give a shit. Here’s a man who had a relatively high budget film made about his life, by one of the hottest actors in Hollywood, who portrayed him in the film, and Les doesn’t give a shit. Not only does it come across as completely unbelievable, but it also makes Les look like a gigantic feckless ass. He gets the dream of a lifetime given to him and he takes it but he doesn’t give a shit. Aside from Lisa rising from the grave, is there anything that would provoke something from Les beyond bored indifference?

      I also like how Les’s reaction to this is obviously the only thing that matters. Cayla’s not allowed to have an opinion about it, despite the fact that the financial success of this film could have guaranteed the financial security of her family and her children’s families. But Les’s indifference is more important. Les certainly isn’t going to be second-guessing what he could have done differently to change this dreary outcome, so it’s a cinch that Cayla can’t even broach the subject. Again, it’s just not believable. Batiuk forgets that there’s more at stake here than Les’s feelings. Cayla should be pissed that Les cares so little about a potential windfall they could have had had he been more proactive, or even given a shit at all.

      I mean, after all that was the only reason why Les had any part to play in this stupid Lisa’s Story: The Movie Done Right. He was supposed to be there every step of the way to ensure its success, and he abjectly failed, and he doesn’t give a shit, so no one can give a shit.

      I’ve said it before: You know that thing called Writing that you talk so much about, Batiuk? You are fucking abysmal at it.

      • Epicus Doomus

        Also remember, he’s done this THREE TIMES now. When the book was released, Les complained about every aspect of the promotional tour. It went on for months. When he flew to Hollywood to re-write “Lust For Lisa” he fought the studio every step of the way THEN “killed” the whole project. Now, after agreeing to “do it right” with Mason, he’s all indifferent about it AGAIN. It’s like he secretly wishes he’d never written LS at all.

        And of course that’s in contrast with Batiuk, who hasn’t shut up about LS since it was published fourteen years ago. He NEVER stops talking about it and he’s ALWAYS looking for new ways to work it into the strip. Les’ whole shtick is that annoying false humility, the very same false humility Batiuk doesn’t display re: his stupid cancer book.

  14. Hannibal's Lectern

    I looked up the average price paid for movie rights to a book, and the Writers Digest website says it’s 2-3 percent of the movie’s production budget. Even going with the lower number, that’s a tidy $200K to Less up front, before production even began. No wonder he isn’t particularly bothered by the fact that the movie’s a bomb–it’s not like he has any other books queued up for possible film adaptations.

    I find it annoying, and typically Les, that he hasn’t given a single thought to how this flop is going to affect people who have careers in the movie business. I imagine Masoné and Marianne are going to have a harder time landing future roles, and will probably have to accept smaller paychecks (yes, even for the next “Starsuck Jones” movie, as “Dead St. Lisa’s Story: the Not Very Moving Picture” demonstrates that their star power is not what carried the first two “Starsuck” films). Masoné may never again be given a shot at directing. But does Less care about them? Nah…

    • The Duck of Death

      Are you kidding? Les gave Masonne a bent nail way back when. A bent nail! That’s almost as life-changing as a rock from Bronson Canyon! What on earth more could he do for the man?

  15. Perfect Tommy

    Well done CBH!

  16. To ComicBookHarriet: If you never write another word on this blog, rest assured that today’s post would be a fitting remembrance. “…sentinels of my childhood are missing” is a beautiful, poetic turn of a phrase that invokes sharp and clear imagery and it was just one of many jewels in your post. Well done…very well done!

    • ComicBookHarriet

      Thanks, Bill. Your kind words mean a lot. I hope I get a chance to write some more words on this blog, because it is too much fun to give up.

      Today must have been a decent enough post, because the downvote fairy came back to bless us.

  17. Mr. A

    Today’s Funkyblog entry: I think we found one of the inspirations for Dr. Atmos’s visual design. (Minus the skull, of course.)

  18. be ware of eve hill

    CBH, your story about the trees on your parents’ farm put a lump in my throat. I think I know how you feel. A few years ago, I visited the neighborhood where I grew up. When I was little, my neighborhood had woods on all sides. There was a swim park across the street. There was a drive-in movie theater where my friends and I would sneak out of our homes and watch the movies.

    Now all the woods have been developed into housing allotments. The swim park is permanently closed, and the drive-in has been developed into a strip mall. We went everywhere and never feared for our safety. No woods and no swim park? Where do those poor kids play?

    All the schools I attended, elementary, middle school and high school have been torn down and replaced.

    Now that I have completely depressed the hell out myself, there is a happier note. I enjoyed seeing those two strips of Les where he needs help getting down from the tree and the one where he hit his head on the branch. Act I and Act II Les, to me, was a somewhat likeable character. He wasn’t infallible, and actually cared about other people. He’s not hate absorbing black hole that he is in Act III.

    • ComicBookHarriet

      So often Batiuk goes for the wistful and sad feelings you and I had about childhood landmarks vanishing, but it usually doesn’t hit right. Either because he writes it in a way that makes the characters seem petty for never wanting things to change, or because important context is lost.

      Act II Les is a weird character to revisit. Les was always kind of a sad sack, but after Lisa died he became a sad sack with a cause, spreading his sad sack story all around the world. Barf.

      • Banana Jr. 6000

        Sometimes I think there’s too much context. We saw this last week. Funky wanting to be his wife’s “medical sugar daddy” was supposed to be sweet. But the use of the phrase “sugar daddy”, which means something specific that doesn’t apply to Holly and Funky anyway, was off-putting. Ditto the “2000 years” thing. Why was he comparing free ice cream day to the life of Christ?

        The larger problem is his male characters act when they’re not telling you how sweet they are. Funky was flat-out horrible to Holly for two weeks. He was unsupportive, intentionally upset her as she was being wheeled into surgery, never brought home her medication, and cooked her a meal that I wouldn’t feed to a stray dog. All with no explanation.

        It all bears a strong resemblance to gaslighting. And Les is just the worst at this.

  19. Banana Jr. 6000

    Oh, and I see from the banner that Batiuk has a shameless ripoff of Batman scheduled. Why hasn’t this man been sued yet?

  20. hitorque

    And I agree wholeheartedly with CBH about the trees… Pretty much all of my childhood trees at my parents’ home are long gone due to disease or hurricanes…

    And although I realize it’s the cost of progress, I always feel a bit sad when I see a big swath of trees around here cleared for the next big box store or hotel or whatever…

  21. be ware of eve hill

    A smile? No, Les, the only thing I see on your punchable face is a target.

    How about knocking off the snippy retorts and treating Cayla with some respect. I’m guessing she bought those flowers with her own money. Get a clue, you cad.