When Everything Goes Pear Shaped.

I know I promised you guys the distant past. But first, a brief timeline of the last couple years.

December 2019 to March 2021: Life in Westview proceeds as normal; people self-medicating with comics to stave off the usual nihilistic despair. No mentions of pandemics, lockdowns, masks, or quarantines.

March 2, 2021: Les Moore mentions a previously unrecorded flu quarantine from when Lisa was undergoing breast cancer treatment. A week of retrospective strips on the ‘famous Flu Epidemic of 2007.’

April 2021: Funky Winkerbean attends an Alcoholics Anonymous meeting and begins blathering about ‘last year’s pandemic’. It’s as if from a moment in the future the past has been altered, Flashpoint style, so that a pandemic occurred ‘last year’ but is mostly over.

September 30, 2021: Holly Winkerbean breaks her ankle. During her time in the hospital we see people wearing masks in the present, though no one at the football game was masked. (Consistent with late pandemic trends.) She begins a recovery that sees her using a pair of crutches through at least January.

TODAY: Holly Winkerbean is implied to have broken her ankle at the beginning of the pandemic.

You know, when I did the Funky Award for Most Puzzling Continuity Question, I really figured it would be a one time deal, since many of the continuity snarls had been kicking around for a while. I never imagined that by MARCH 2022, we would already have three or four potential nominees.

But Batiuk is no stranger to continuity snarls. They cropped up in his VERY FIRST month of Funky Winkerbean.

The fifth ever printed Funky Winkerbean strip, 3/31/72 introduces Fred Fairgood as the school counselor.

And yet, the next time we see him, 5/9/72, he introduces himself as if he is just arriving.

And that isn’t the only first month snafu. On 4/5/72, we see first see Les working on the school paper, an early running gag.

And a few weeks later, he announces to Funky that he is applying for the position.

Now, both of these are understandable within the context of trying to launch a strip. You’ve got (I’m guessing) a few months of strips prepared, but then you want to lead off with your best and most easily digestible material. So strips are put out of order.

Batiuk actually has some good insight into why starting a strip is difficult.

Starting a comic strip is a unique proposition that requires a slightly different skill set from the one you’ll hopefully be using a few years later.

When I was just beginning with Funky, I read a Peanuts strip that completely frustrated me. The strip in question had come after a week during which Linus had had his blanket taken away, and he was lying on the ground shaking as he went through withdrawal. In the second panel, Snoopy walks up wearing his WWI flying helmet and scarf. He pauses to look down at Linus shaking on the ground and then walks off saying, “Poor blighter, his kind shouldn’t be sent to the front.”

It was an elegant strip that Schulz had taken twenty years to set up. Twenty years in which he had developed the theme of Linus and his blanket, developed the character of Snoopy and Snoopy’s fantasy world as a fighter pilot in WWI—all so he could create the opportunity to eventually dovetail them into that one perfect strip. Twenty years that I didn’t have behind me in those first few weeks of Funky.

Instead, what you have in a beginning strip is a great deal of expository dialogue trying to establish your characters’ names, personalities, and situations. Oh, and have them say something funny. I’ve often likened it to a stand-up comic who has to win over new audiences each night with a series of individual jokes.

Later, if he’s lucky, he moves on to a sitcom where the situational humor allows him to extend the comic narrative. Finally, if he’s really lucky, he gets to make movies, where there’s room for the subtleties of behavioral humor. It takes a long time to establish your characters and develop their personalities.

From the introduction to The Complete Funky Winkerbean Volume One

We can debate all day if he ever established his characters or developed their personalities into something consistent, but the above does, I think, point to one reason that Funky Winkerbean maintains it’s ironic audience. History. Any one year of Funky Winkerbean is mostly unremarkable. If it had only lasted a decade, any decade of its lifespan, it wouldn’t catch our attention.

But 50 years of this? 50 years of the Cronenberg-esq transformations of these strange sad-sack characters within a single universe, generated by a single mind.

When Marianne Winters pulled two VHS tapes out of her purse last week, that was the awful entrancing Funkyverse flipside to Snoopy as the Red Baron pitying Linus. It was a nauseating non sequitur built from years of disdain for a fictional character compounded with decades of facts and moments being referenced incorrectly.

Oh. And Batiuk was already creating inexplicable continuity biffs all the way back in 1973. Only a year after Les announced that he had applied for the position of school paper editor, the entire thing is retconned to being recruited by the school principal.

Never change, Tom. It’s too late to start.

48 Comments

Filed under Son of Stuck Funky

48 responses to “When Everything Goes Pear Shaped.

  1. Epicus Doomus

    As always, BatYam regresses to the most mundane common denominator, in this case, grocery shopping. Honestly, other than the toilet paper panic in early 2020, the pandemic didn’t really affect my grocery shopping at all, but maybe things were different in mid-central Ohio, as they frequently are.

  2. billytheskink

    So is Funky complaining about the person he and Holly paid to risk getting COVID so they could eat or is he bragging about how he could afford 6 boxes a month from Harry & David during a time when millions lost their jobs?

    Which answer will get him the hook more quickly?

  3. Y. Knott

    “Of course, each of these boxes is only big enough to hold one pear … so, yeah, we got six pears.”

    “Oy!”

  4. RudimentaryLathe?

    Those early strips are interesting; back then Batiuk was apparently aware of Les’ self-absorption and could poke fun at it. When did he become the Gary Stu?
    Today’s strip is just revolting. People have died, people have lost their livelihoods, everyone who isn’t obsessed with politicizing Covid is 1000% sick of talking/hearing about it. But those remote grocery orders, amirite? (And yeah, how TF is Holly’s ankle injury supposed to factor into the “distant-past” treatment of the pandemic?)

    • Charles

      When did he become the Gary Stu?

      When Batiuk realized how much Les resembled himself.

      No judgment really, but I suspect that Batiuk was awkward with and did poorly with girls in high school. He was also probably physically inept. And like a lot of kids, he probably got bullied a bunch. After all, there are plenty of hints over the years that some part of him thinks his comic book geekery is shameful. That didn’t come out of nowhere. That’s the sort of thing that comes from internalizing other people’s negative opinions of you and your hobbies.

      So when he was portraying Les as hapless, he was portraying himself. At that point, the empathy he felt for Les along with his shortcomings as a writer meant that Les would get Mary-Sued in time.

  5. Sourbelly

    This is what you’re bitching about at a freaking AA meeting? That sometimes during the pandemic the lowlife scum delivery slobs got a grocery order wrong? What a nightmare! How did you manage to sustain your sobriety under such travail?

    Also:
    *This reads more like a shitty standup routine than an AA lead.
    * Those boxes don’t seem deep enough to hold life-size pears.
    * Holly’s “Oy” is quite jarring.

    • Banana Jr. 6000

      It’s a shitty standup routine for several reasons:

      1. It doesn’t flow naturally from any conversation that could have been going on. Funky’s forcing the dialog into the material he’s prepared. Yes, almost all standups pre-writer their material, but they make some effort to make it flow, or tailor their shtick to the audience. He’s not reading the room at all. Nobody wants to hear this. Look at their faces.

      2. As I said below, the premise makes no sense. “The pandemic played havoc with relationships, but I found there was a flip side to that: your grocery delivery order being wrong.” Huh?

      3. The soul-sucking banality of a wrong grocery order being a real problem in life. This is what a generation of bad Seinfeld imitators did: try to mine “observational humor” out of nothing.

      4. The situation isn’t believable. These boxes look like packaging from a high-end organic fruit company, not a grocery store. And to the extent it is believable, it’s Funky’s own stupid fault. It’s not difficult to tell when you’ve ordered six fruits or six boxes of fruit. Especially when you’re a restaurant owner!

      5. As is often the case in Funky Winkerbean, the humor is based in bashing ordinary people for doing their jobs. Audiences don’t like that. They’re ordinary people with ordinary jobs themselves, and they don’t like being made the target of the vitriol. Lisa Lampanelli and Don Rickles can do the insult comic shtick, and abrasive types like George Carlin and Bill Hicks can bash their audience sometimes. But both require skill to pull off.

      6. Funky is completely unlikable. He’s rude, insulting, condescending, wordy, drones on about his first world problems, and is not at all funny. He’s a rank amateur who’d booed off the stage before his five minutes are up. To say nothing of how he’s co-opting an AA meeting to ramble on about his precious Walkman and his grocery order.

      7. The audience isn’t enjoying themselves. Look at everyone’s face in past AA meeting strips. That face in the SoSF banner isn’t a face you want to see in a crowd you’re trying to entertain. It looks bored, angry, and judgmental.

      Get off the stage, Funky.

  6. J.J. O'Malley

    I’m not sure what is more shocking in today’s strip: the total disregard of any sort of timeline consistency (the pandemic began in the U.S. in March/April, and Holly injured her ankle at a Homecoming football game, November at the latest); the idea that there’s a grocery store chain out there that delivers pears by boxes of 10 or 12; the idea that Funky finds said pear delivery mishap is in any way “interesting”; or the possibility that Holly Budd Winkerbean is Jewish.

  7. Banana Jr. 6000

    How does this flow from yesterday’s strip? “The pandemic played havoc with relationships, but I found there was a flip side to that: your grocery delivery order being wrong.”

    • Y. Knott

      Kick back, relax, and let the saga unfold tomorrow, and tomorrow and the tomorrow after that. It’s called writing.

      (Of course, it’s not called good writing. Or enjoyable writing. Or comprehensible writing. Or worthwhile writing….)

    • Charles

      It’s weird too, since going back to look at yesterday’s strip after today’s makes it look as if Funky were meaning to say “For a lot of you, the pandemic harmed relationships you had with family and friends. But not for me! I just had some funny mixups with ordering groceries!”

      • Rusty Shackleford

        Funky used to be likable, but now has turned into a big jerk. Maybe Batty did this on purpose to make Les look better by comparison.

  8. Gerard Plourde

    “This reads more like a shitty standup routine than an AA lead.”

    Sourbelly’s nailed it. For TomBa, the AA meetings are merely the backdrop for a week of gag-a-day-type strips. The only thing missing is a mike drop panel at the end of Saturday’s strip.

    • Charles

      And what’s remarkable is how Batiuk apparently doesn’t try in the slightest to contextualize this story.

      Funky decided that “Two years ago, my wife mistakenly ordered too many pears from the grocery store” was a story that he was going to tell this AA meeting. He thought about it, thought about how he’d introduce the topic, thought about the details he’d include, and said, “yep, I’m going to do that.” And then he stood up in front of however many people at this meeting and just went for it.

      “My wife one time a couple years ago ordered too many pears.” This is a story to him. This is a story he wants to tell other people. It’s not simply that it’s inane and inappropriate. It’s also flat out weird. Batiuk never thinks for a moment about why the hell would Funky believe this was a story worth sharing. And as such, he never provides any reason in the strip why this was a story worth telling.

  9. Dood

    Since the beginning, this strip, in the words of Funky, “was always interesting.” Only not.

    • Rusty Shackleford

      But at least in the beginning there were no prestige arcs, no interviews where Batty brags about the rich tapestry of characters he has created which allows him the ability to take the medium on new directions previously unexplored.

      In the early days it was just simple high school gags, a lot of which I found funny.

      • Banana Jr. 6000

        Act I had a purpose and a clear direction. It had two jokes: “people take high school too seriously” and “we suck at everything.” But it worked. Batiuk’s shift to “serious” material destroyed the strip. He got a little positive feedback for an adequate story about Lisa’s pregnancy, and made the (defensible) decision that he couldn’t take the characters back to high school hijinks after that.

        The problem is his ego got too full of himself as a Serious Writer. In Act II he attempted all these ambitious stories, but he simply wasn’t skilled enough to give them any emotional weight. “Oh look, my arm is missing and my Julliard scholarship is lost at age 18, oh well.” The strip’s relentless but shallow misery became a joke.

        It still might have been okay if the strip ended after Act II, when Lisa died and Les rent his garments about it. That was going out on a high note. Act III has been nothing but self-indulgent Mary Sue wish fulfillment, and endless moping about Dead Lisa. It jumped the shark, bigtime.

        • Rusty Shackleford

          So much needless misery, all because he didn’t get his Pulitzer.

          • Y. Knott

            I’m not sure about that. Can you imagine what this strip would be like if he had won the Pulitzer? Is it possible to even conceive of the extent to which validation like that would fuel a ceaseless outpouring of misery porn?

            As bad as Funky Winkerbean gets, I say we should be thankful we don’t live in the Darkest Timeline where Tom Batiuk is a Pulitzer prize-winning author.

  10. Bad wolf

    Batiuk’s great nemesis is Time itself, but all the injuries are self-inflicted. Who wanted the timeline to jump ahead? Who wanted the strip to age in ‘real time’ (until he ran out of ideas)? Who wanted to run a ‘simultaneous’ strip in the same continuity and still keep jumping back and forth? And most of all, who wanted to hedge their bets that they could do ‘topical’ material with a year of lead-time, mostly generated so that he could take a vacation whenever convenient?

    “I wear the chains that i forged in life” as Marley would say.

    • charles sperling

      Three spirits visited Ebenezer Scrooge, and in one night they changed him from a a miserable, grasping, covetous old sinner “to as good a friend, as good a master, and as good a man as the good old City knew, or any other good old city, town, or borough in the good old world.”

      Patrick Macnee played the young Jacob Marley in the 1951 “Christmas Carol.” We know him best as John Steed in “The Avengers.”

      That’s called acting, and like Pulitzer Prize-winning cartooning, you don’t learn it in one night or from three spirits.

  11. hitorque

    1. Yeah, when I see Funkenstein rockin’ his official “stand-up comedian” pose in panel 1, I know I can write off the rest of this week…

    2. Okay I’ll admit I laughed at the ‘brothers and sisters’ gag from 1972… Who knew that Lester would go on to later marry a black woman himself?

  12. Maxine of Arc

    I’ve never attended an AA meeting so I don’t know, but: seriously, are the other attendees/moderator allowed to (politely) tell you to sit down and shut up if you don’t have something to say that’s germane to the topic of the meeting? I mean. Politely, of course.

    Those old slice-of-70s-life strips have some amusing gags.

    • I’ve been to a few AA meetings, and generally when a person is sharing something, you let them keep speaking unless they really go off the rails. Different groups and different meetings might have specific rules.

      • Maxine of Arc

        Fair enough. I withdraw the question.

      • Jeff M.

        Yeah, I’ve been to more than a few and oddly, it varies from place to place. In Chicago there’s usually something at the start suggesting that “we keep our comments to two minutes or less” or “be mindful of the time so that everyone will have a chance to speak.” Unless you’re being hateful or racist or toxic, as long as you keep it under two minutes, nobody really cares if you just want to complain about food delivery. People do get politely cut off if they go *way* long. Then again, I went to some in London and over there you’ve got two minutes, that’s it. At about 90 seconds someone holds up a yellow card, and at two minutes, says, “Time!” At which point you say, “thank you” and shut up. In Westview, don’t know; don’t care.

    • Banana Jr. 6000

      There’s some published etiquette rules which Der Funkmeister blatantly violates.

      And why does anyone need permission to tell Funky he’s out of line? They’re all adults. They’re at a meeting with a stated purpose. Some of them may need to fulfill court or recovery program requirements at this meeting. Funky is being very rude, and wasting everyone’s time.

      But that’s life in Westview for you. These people live by a strict code of complete passivity. The noblest deed is taking whatever bullshit life hands you, no matter how badly you’re being treated, because you must never under any circumstances speak your mind about anything. That road leads to conflict, and we can’t have that.

      Look no further than the town’s #1 hero, The Most Honorable Dead Saint Lisa (Her Name Be Praised). She refused to do anything at all about a medical mis-diagnosis even though she was a lawyer, and chose to die painfully instead because life is just such a bother. These AA attendees even look like they want to tell Funky off, but know they don’t dare say a word.

      What’s ironic is that this passivity is exactly what the town’s biggest pricks take advantage of. Dinkle, Funky, and Les are all just bullies who know their targets won’t fight back. All three of them are false authorities that nobody has to listen to, but all of their stories involve them co-opting the room for their own arrogant, selfish needs;

      • Yeah, I have to assume that Funky’s been a member of this group for a long time, and he’s got several years of sobriety under his belt, so I would expect at least one of the people in the room knows him well enough to pull him aside and say “Funky, STFU! You’ve got to give the newcomers a chance to speak”. Where’s his sponsor?

        • billytheskink

          We haven’t seen Funky’s sponsor, Wade Wallace, since 2011, though Funky talked to him on the phone in 2014… or so he claims.

          • The Duck of Death

            Wade was a little bit interesting and didn’t seem to be part of the Montoni’s-WHS hive mind, so of course he got axed.

          • ComicBookHarriet

            I think it’s believable that Wade would have passed on by now, since the last time we saw him he was looking pretty rough. It just would have been nice to get a single strip of closure on it. Like Funky cracking open a beer in panel 1 (SHOCKING) “I know it’s been a long time buddy.” as he stares at the can. Then panel 2 he pours it out. Panel 3 shows that he is at a cemetery, and the headstone reads Wade Whatissname.

          • be ware of eve hill

            @ComicBookHarriet

            Wade Wallace. He was a newscaster until he was replaced by John Darling.

            I agree with @Duck of Death. Wade Wallace was one of the few FW characters I actually liked.

  13. hitorque

    Meanwhile, over in Krankenschaaften:

    1. Don’t tell me the hot ‘n’ heavy young married couple who regularly boned in the seats of their own movie theater are getting prudish all of a sudden…?

    2. I’m sorry, shouldn’t these two able-bodied mid-twentysomething parents of an infant BE OUT WORKING SOME FUCKING JOBS EVEN IF IT’S BAGGING GROCERIES??

  14. During the pandemic, we often got online grocery deliveries from Costco. Costco does sell pears in boxes of 12, and I guess I could envision accidentally hitting the + button and ordering more boxes than you like, but the way the online orders work, the person who makes the delivery is also the person who is at Costco doing the shopping for you and they are in contact via text message while they’re doing it (in case some item is out of stock they can tell you what else is available to substitute, etc). So there’s a pretty good chance when the shopper gets to the line item that says 6 boxes of pears, they would text me and ask “Are you SURE you really wanted 6 boxes of pears?”

  15. It’s also possible we have this all wrong. Maybe it’s not really an AA meeting. Maybe AA stands for Agrandizing Asshole.

  16. The Duck of Death

    This is it? The leadup to the 50th anniversary? Funky bloviating another boring anecdote at the AA meeting at the methadone clinic? (I assume it’s a methadone clinic, because what else accounts for the audience’s dead eyes and unquestioning tolerance of interminable soapboxing?)

  17. The Duck of Death

    That Batiuk comment about Peanuts really illustrates his cluelessness.

    First, I can pretty much categorically say that the evolving personalities and history of the character drove Schulz’ gags, not the other way around. He didn’t take 20 years to set up “one perfect strip,” ya damn fool. He had an endless fount of possible gags because he had rock-solid characterizations and consistent history, and also because he knew how to write and draw a gag.

    And “a great deal of expository dialogue trying to establish your characters’ names, personalities, and situations”? I’ve read the first 5 or so years of Peanuts, and though I don’t have the books right in front of me, I don’t remember any obvious expository dialogue. I’m sure there were small bits of dialogue identifying Lucy as Linus’ sister and such, but there was little enough that it never seemed like exposition. None of this “So your beagle, Snoopy, likes to sit on top of his doghouse in the back yard and pretend he’s a WWI flying ace, isn’t that so, Charlie Brown?” The fact that Batiuk thinks of himself as in any way analogous to Schulz is either poignant or eye-rollingly obnoxious. Perhaps both.

    • hitorque

      Exactly…. I didn’t have the time today to list everything wrong with his Peanuts hot take.

    • Charles

      He had an endless fount of possible gags because he had rock-solid characterizations and consistent history,

      This is an excellent point, and why the first ever Peanuts strip could still be hilarious even though we didn’t know either Shermy or Charlie Brown.

      He does have a point, but I think he conflates author and reader knowledge. We didn’t need to know Charlie Brown’s character in full to appreciate the humor in Schulz’s strips. Schulz just needed to know it to write the strip. I didn’t need to know Shermy and Charlie Brown’s relationship and personalities in order to laugh at that first strip, or to even understand it. All that it needed was Schulz knowing their relationship and personalities to write the gag.

  18. be ware of eve hill

    Poor Holly. She’s doomed to be on that damn crutch for the rest of her existence in this strip.

    I sure bet those AA members wish they had a pear or two to chuck at Funky. Instead of donuts, somebody should bring eggs and tomatoes.

    Boxes of pears? Most households shop at grocery stores, not order in bulk from restaurant food distributors.

    Les is not somebody (something?) a writer can develop in one fell swoop. The Les we see today is the result of 50 years worth of haphazard development in some sort of Batiuk brewed ooze. Not sure if I can categorize Les’s development as Cronenberg-esq. Les makes Seth Brundle and Darryl Revok look like Sunday school teachers. Les is a hideous monster beast.

    • be ware of eve hill

      RE: my boxes of pears comment.
      @bobanero makes a great point about Costco. I’m not that familiar with wholesale clubs because my husband and I live in a desert. The nearest wholesale club is a dozen miles away.

    • Jeff M.

      I assumed it was (an attempt at) a gag about the overpriced pears sold by the online merchant Harry and David. Box of 6: $39.99 plus shipping. The kind of thing your lousy boss gives the staff instead of a Christmas bonus, or that rich people give that sister-in-law they don’t like.

      • be ware of eve hill

        I read your comment earlier, but it didn’t really register. $40 for a half dozen pears?! They must be something special. Are the pears wrapped in gold leaf? Is it a monogrammed mahogany box lined with velvet?

        Pears are about a buck a piece where I live.

        I’m somewhat jealous now. Where have you worked? I’ve never received a $40 cash Christmas bonus in my 35+ year career. Some V.P.s gave gift certificates towards a butterball turkey. Others gave a $10 gift card or two for a local grocery store. Some department heads or group managers gave a Christmas party at a bar after work (drinks and hors d’oeuvres). Others gave nothing at all aside from a “Merry Christmas” wish.

  19. The Duck of Death

    If Holly were really a Yiddish speaker, her response in P2 would have been, “What’s not to like?”

  20. The Duck of Death

    This could have actually had a slightly amusing punchline if Batiuk were only willing to expend the extra 20 seconds of effort.

    Holly, P2, “Yes, I ordered 6 Bosc pears. Why?”