Relics of the Past

(It’s a long one today folks. Sorry ’bout that.)

Link to another dumb question from Maddie that I can’t believe she’s never asked her mom before. And how has Maddie not seen the picture at Montoni’s? She worked there.

Who doesn’t at least know the very basics of how their parents met? Heck, I referenced my own parents’ story of sneaking out to the county fair behind my grandma’s back in the very first post of my shift. I will admit, sometimes I pretend like I haven’t heard a story, just so I can hear it again; but that doesn’t seem to be the case here.

And, as many of you have commented, this story has more holes than Swiss Cheese. The real backstory here is that in 2001 or 2002 Batiuk realized that he had married off Les to Lisa and Funky to Cindy and wondered who he should set Crazy Harry up with. He then had the idea to reveal that The Eliminator kid was a girl all along, and have her and Crazy fall in love. Not the worst idea, really. Done right it could have been a cute reference to ‘Samus is a girl!’. The problem was in the execution.

No. It wasn’t.

In Metroid, Samus isn’t ‘hiding’ her gender because the Mother Brain is sexist and won’t fight a woman. She’s just in an androgynous space suit for most of the game. Players might assume she’s male, but it’s not confirmed either way until the end.

Hai Guize

I haven’t read all the old The Eliminator strips; I don’t know how often she self-refers as male. So I don’t know how feasible it would be to present Donna’s past actions as allowing the people around her to think she was a boy because she didn’t care to clarify, or because she thought it was funny. (“I was named for your Grandpa Donald. My mom always called me that when she was angry.”)

But the only other way to salvage this would be writing a more serious story about Donna as an insecure little girl who thought she needed to disguise herself coming to the realization as an adult that she was wrong. Because she didn’t need to. Period. Mary Ellen, and Livinia, and Junebug, and even Wanda have proved that handily almost a decade before The Eliminator is introduced.

Batiuk is repeatedly guilty of recontextualizing his own past to suit the narrative of the now. I found some old puff piece newspaper articles that just plain don’t make sense after reading the first few years of Funky Winkerbean.

To Batiuk, delving back into the high school years with the gay prom issue underscores the generational changes and contemporary challenges his characters faced once he decided to let them begin aging along with Batiuk and the rest of us.

“I had crossed the threshold and I had grown up and the characters wanted to grow up too, it seemed like,” Batiuk said in an interview in his cozy and bright studio jammed with books and mementos.

“Funky Winkerbean” might have a lower profile in mainstream culture than, say, “Doonesbury,” possibly because “Funky” was a gag cartoon in the early years when society was highly politicized in the Vietnam era and has become more issue-oriented since the 1990s…

The San Diego Union-Tribune
Thomas J. Sheeran, AP
May 29, 2012 

When he began “Funky Winkerbean” on March 27, 1972, Batiuk was a 25-year-old cartoonist who seemed to be purposely unaware of the furor then affecting American society. The Vietnam War was still a focus of the nation’s rage, Watergate was just beginning to heat up and all the rest of the post-‘60s-era concerns – sexism, racism, the Cold War, social-welfare programs – hogged the daily headlines.

In the midst of this, Batiuk’s strip existed as if in another dimension. His characters were mostly students whose main interests involved air-guitar contests, flaming-baton routines, bullies roaming the hallways, student popularity polls and how to survive the daily humiliations of gym class.


The Spokesman-Review
Dan Webster
July 20,1997

In the 90’s and beyond, Batiuk wanted to pretend he hadn’t been talking about ‘serious issues’ in Act I, because he wanted attention for talking about them now.

The first years of Funky Winkerbean didn’t exist in a ‘different dimension.’ They were more contemporary than the modern strip has been in years.

VIETNAM

Let’s talk about the draft on the fourth strip ever.

WATERGATE

August 4, 1973

THE BICENTENNIAL

PLANE HIJACKINGS

LABOR STRIKES

SUGAR PRICE SPIKE OF 1974.

Some of these events were very much ‘of their time.’ For someone like me, born after this era, reading through is a fun little history lesson. Like when I was a kid, learning about the 80’s by reading Dave Barry’s Greatest Hits and watching old VHS of Saturday Night Live.

“There’s no delicate way to put this. Running around naked in public was one of the biggest and strangest trends of the 1970s.”

But other ‘current events’ only serve to prove that time is a flat circle, and the more things change…the more they stay the same.

35 Comments

Filed under Son of Stuck Funky

35 responses to “Relics of the Past

  1. Epicus Doomus

    OK, let’s put all this April foolishness aside and get back to the heart of the matter, namely how much this strip sucks. Boy, does it ever. Not to keep flogging a long-dead horse here, but it just seems totally impossible that this is the first Maddie has heard about any of this, then he doubles down on the inexplicability by having Donna pretend she’s “not sure” where her stupid helmet is, even though it’s right there in the attic in plain view. As if over the course of all these years none of her kids noticed the weird space helmet in the attic. Real plausible there, Tom.

    Even more alarmingly, this is what passes for a Batiukian cliffhanger, which means that this pile of slop isn’t over yet. And even more alarmingly, it would appear that Donna’s stupid helmet, which she cares so little about she’s not even sure if she still owns it, is going to play a major role. “I don’t seem to remember throwing it out”…man, he can’t even do MacGuffins right.

    Wow, mind blown by CBH again. I actually remember that dollar bill strip. And FW strips with actual jokes…I remember that too. Christ, am I f*cking old.

    • Rusty Shackleford

      Yeah, those clips brought back a lot of memories. When I re-read act 1, I was surprised at all the politics. I remembered mostly the school gags. But I suppose that was because I was much younger and not so connected to politics yet.

  2. billytheskink

    The first 5 years of Funky Winkerbean are more relevant to today’s America than anything printed in the strip in the last 30…

    I mean, I’m not surprised by that fact, but I am a bit surprised at the extent of just how factual that fact it is.

    • Epicus Doomus

      The strips CBH posted today generate more chuckles than decades of Act II & III strips do. Batiuk is like a two-sport athlete who really isn’t very good at one of his sports, then chooses the one he stinks at. He was actually a pretty decent gag-a-day writer, but he stinks at writing those cornball dramatic stories he loves so much. But, sadly, he just doesn’t know it and apparently no one ever told him. It’s just so weird how he’s always so dismissive of what he was best at.

      And just speaking for myself, I’m kind of relived to know that FW really was kind of funny, and it wasn’t just some misremembered 1970s fever dream, like when you go back and listen to the Bay City Rollers now. It’s so sad when a healthy sense of humor dies so young. That Lisa really was an angel of death, spreading gloom, misery and half-assed melodrama all over a perfectly fine cast of wacky characters.

      • Rusty Shackleford

        Lisa encapsulates all that went wrong with this strip!

        • Banana Jr. 6000

          She really does. When Batiuk decided he wanted to write Poor Little Victim stories, she became the most important character in the strip. And she still is now, 15 years after she died.

        • Banana Jr. 6000

          The other thing that went wrong with Funky Winkerbean is those damn Pulitzer Prize nominations. Tom Batiuk never deserved them, and never had a serious chance at winning. (Come on Tom, did you really think you were going to beat Deathtongue?) They gave him false validation that people wanted more sappy melodrama and more Lisa. And boy, did we get it.

      • Bad wolf

        I laughed harder at “big pox” than anything I’ve seen in the strip in years, I’m embarrassed to admit. Yeah this is all very cozy, like picking up the old scratchy Doonesbury collections and trying to decode the ‘hot topic’ from the historical record. Batiuk really had a wry midwestern outsider sensibility that has almost vanished from American media; MST3K being another example.

        • Totally agree on the “big pox” gag. He had that flyover wryness that Jim Davis and Letterman had. And then, to quote Fight Club, She. Ruined. Everything.

          • Epicus Doomus

            It started innocently enough. Nerdy Les found a nerdy girlfriend, their braces locked, it was all harmless gag-a-day fun. Then Batiuk had to stretch his dramatic legs, failing to realize that he was a double amputee, dramatically speaking. Then Lisa ruined FW as quickly as The Fonz ruined “Happy Days” and nothing was the same ever again.

        • ComicBookHarriet

          The spirit of midwestern outsider sensibility lives on in Red Letter Media.
          The opening of this video was the most cathartic piece of comedy to come out of the pandemic.

          • ComicBookHarriet

            (Didn’t know I was posting one of their age restricted ones…though it makes sense. They’re reviewing a trashy B Movie.)

        • Sourbelly

          Big Pox was great, and I also got a laugh out of “most of them can’t read anyway.”

  3. J.J. O'Malley

    Wait…”behind the bar at Montoni’s”? Montoni’s is owned and operated by a recovering alcoholic, and it has a bar? Or is “bar” just an Ohio regionalism for “counter”?

    • ComicBookHarriet

      It has been established that Montoni’s continues to serve alcohol. And yeah, even if it didn’t the long counter that people can sit at might still be called a bar.

    • Rusty Shackleford

      Don’t get me started on Montoni’s coffee counter. Ok, yes, Montoni’s is based on Luigi’s, and Luigi’s has a bar. I’ve never seen anyone drinking coffee at Luigi’s.

  4. Banana Jr. 6000

    The fluff newspaper pieces about Funky Winkerbean don’t make sense, for a very simple reason: because Tom Batiuk wrote them. Every single one of them. Look at this shit. These supposedly independent journalists do nothing but parrot Batiuk’s talking points verbatim:

    The Funky Winkerbean creator in 2008 was named a Pulitzer Prize finalist.

    Where other comics center on a small handful of characters, Batiuk manages a cast of dozens.

    “Funky Winkerbean” became more of a drama than a comedy.

    By 2006 and 2007, he had gained notice for putting (Lisa) through a horrific cancer ordeal, which, ultimately, she did not survive. And then in October of 2007, he accelerated the comic again, jumping everything ten years ahead.

    That (11-month) lead time has proved to be very important. It allowed him to step back from the grind of the daily newspaper comic and really examine where he wanted to take it. And it turns out, he wanted to go bigger.

    On and on and on it goes. All these opinions that Tom Batiuk, and nobody else on earth, has about Funky Winkerbean. What little commentary I can find on the web about the comic strip is full of the same things we say: the strip is boring, poorly written, self-indulgent, packed with Mary Sues, and Les Moore is a detestable ghoul. A legit fan of FW turned up on the SOSF Twitter blogroll. Guess what they said?

    This is admirable for 1995 Les. 2017 Les would be drawn so smugly. 2017 Les would’ve been acting like he’s the superhero of the century.

    And that’s from someone who LIKES the strip. The few people who care enough about Funky Winkerbean to comment on it notice the same problems that we do. And yet none of these fact-finding journalists has ever asked Tom Batiuk “So, what’s the deal with Les?” But they had time to call Les – sit down for this one – “a nebbishy widower trying to keep his new wife happy while remaining devoted to the memory of his first.” Uggggh.

    In a world where “Celebrities Read Mean Tweets” exists, there is no reason for professional writers to be tiptoeing around the sensibilities of a mediocre cartoonist, Or printing his press releases verbatim.

    • gleeb

      It saves time, allowing the writer to move on to the next poorly-paid piece work.

    • Epicus Doomus

      I was wondering how the FW fan was doing. Apparently he keeps a low profile, and really, who can blame him?

      • ComicBookHarriet

        Poor soul. I would hope that, if he wanted to come here and talk about how much he loves Funky Winkerbean, he would be treated with the respect such a rare creature deserves.

        • Mela

          I think he/she absolutely would. One of my favorite things about this site is that everyone here is polite to one another. There are no personal attacks or condescending attitudes toward fellow posters. Any snark is directed solely at the strip and not at TB personally. Even we recognize that 50 years of maintaining a comic strip (or any anything for that matter) is no small accomplishment. This is a fun, intelligent group. Either that or we have good moderators (maybe at bit of both)!

  5. Gerard Plourde

    It’s really sad how good those original strips are. The key was that the humor was timely and sharp. TomBa wasn’t giving himself an eleven month lead time. He had to be on top of current events and produce quality material on deadline. Sadly, it appears he didn’t want to continue to work that way and the product suffered for it.

    Thanks for putting this reminder together, CBH.

  6. Perfect Tommy

    Whew! That was an enervating walk down memory lane! Another superlative job CBH! IMO, Tom made a Faustian pact with his dictatorial desire to own his IP. And with the long lead time, his work is no longer timely or topical. Do the comic syndicates have no teeth? Does Batiuk answer to no one? The man has shown some leg as to creativity. Dude needs less carrot and more stick.

    • Y. Knott

      Enervating?

      I’m pretty sure you weren’t trying to insult CBH. Did you perhaps mean energizing? (Or maybe you were trying to insult Batiuk … “enervating” surely accurately describes virtually any 21st century Funky Winkerbean plot arc.)

      Anyway, you’ve put together a great retrospective, CBH! Never having seen FW at all during its first 47+ years, I’ve only ever witnessed the pathetic, shambling, confused, directionless husk the strip morphed into. It’s continually fascinating to see that at one time, Batiuk was able to put together something that had actual entertainment value.

      • Perfect Tommy

        Aw crap! I should have researched better. I consider myself a notch or two above illiterate, but that one got away from me. Seriously, I’m extremely embarrassed and will endeavor to raise my game. Gah! Getting called out on one of my favorite forums! In my defense, I just stopped taking my “Happy Pills” as they were negatively impacting my creativity and cognitive functions. I will strive to be better.

        • ComicBookHarriet

          It happens to all of us! I’ve got a page called ‘then or than?’ permanently bookmarked.

          Good luck going off the meds! Pay close attention to your emotional state and know that going back isn’t failure! *hugs*

        • Y. Knott

          S’all right, PT — just blame your editor!

  7. sorialpromise

    An Ode to a Harriet de la Comic Strip (Or you make me Les Misérables!)
    One day more
    Another day, another Winkerbean.
    This never-ending road to Calvary
    Our guys seem to know Tom’s crime
    We’ll surely post another time.
    One day more

    I did not live until you posted
    How can I live when we are parted?
    One day more.

    After tomorrow, you will go away
    And yet with you, my world has started
    One more day, then on my own
    Can we ever Les again?
    More strips with Batiuk not caring
    But there is Billy the Skink
    And Beware of Eve Hill, too
    Epicus Doomus he posts!
    There are so many others
    Yet one more day before the Storm
    I can’t follow where she goes
    Beyond our own Son of Stuck Funky

    Dear ComicBookHarriet
    Will you post more days for me?
    One more day…
    Batiuk has a revelation
    He will write with punchlines too
    Stories with continuity
    We’ll faint from pure amazement
    One day soon?

    (It’s a mixed metaphor, but “Parting is such sweet sorrow!)

    • ComicBookHarriet

      Master of the spoof, doling out the laughs
      Ready with a clever little rhyme to craft
      Tells a funny joke, quick to use his wit
      Posters sure appreciate a comp-li-ment.

    • Perfect Tommy

      Double fisted upvote for Les Miserables.

    • be ware of eve hill

      I’m flattered and really appreciate that you mentioned me with the bloggers, but I think you should have used BeckoningChasm, SpaceManSpiff85, and especially TFHackett instead.

      That was sweet. Thanks. 🤟

  8. Hitorque

    1. So how did Donna conceal her other feminine traits? You know, her voice, her womanly bits, etc.? And what about her walk? That’s usually a surefire giveaway…

    2. Am I really supposed to believe a small town like Westview and nobody was able to quickly deduce who The Eliminator was?

    3. So was she good at multiple games or just the one? Did she hold court at anywhere besides Montoni’s? Was she putting up Guinness Book record scores, or was she just the best in her little Podunk Shitsburg small town? Did she ever compete in tournaments? (yes, they had them even back in the early 80s) Did her reputation spread and top players from neighboring counties come to challenge her? I’m just trying to figure out why the need to hide her gender…

  9. batgirl

    The last time the Eliminator was referenced was during Holly’s daring venture into the forbidden realm of comic book collecting. Donna reassured Holly that it was okay for girls to like comic books with a story about a girl who liked video games … but had to dress as a boy to play them.
    The Donald-Donna transition seems to create more problems than it solved.