Link to this Sunday’s Very Special Episode of Funky Winkerbean.
Most of you in the comments seemed okay with me at least touching on the subject of this arc.
What Batiuk wants this week to be about is racial profiling and ‘shopping while black’. Which is why Cayla, of all people, has been called in to interfere. (At least her being at the mall fits one of her two known character traits.)
Racial profiling in retail is, of course, a real thing that does happen. Like this case in Missouri in 2018 where cops were called on three black teens shopping for prom because a customer had accused them of shoplifting. The teens calmly let the officers check their bags and receipts and were let go. (The store later formally apologized.) So I’m not going to argue with Batiuk that what he’s depicting today is something that never happens. This isn’t a legal immigrant with a pro-bono lawyer on her side being deported immediately without recourse only to be saved by Bill Clinton.
But today is extremely muddled, because it isn’t clear that the cashier is racially motivated.
When I’m not working on the world’s ugliest tan, I work part time at a gas station to earn fun money for robot conventions and my raging caffeine addiction. During my shift, I am the only cashier in the store, and I have to watch for shoplifters. You know who I watch for? Kids.
And I won’t even be egalitarian about it. I’m especially sharp-eyed, right or wrong, when it’s a group of three or more boys between the ages of 12 and 16 unaccompanied by an adult. The only people I watch closer than a group of unchaperoned adolescents, are the few poor ghost people every town has, no matter how small. Scraggly familiar faces, just coming down off a high, who scrape together cans and change for just enough to self-medicate their demons with high-gravity beer and bargain cigarettes.
Is this kind of profiling wrong? I don’t know. Maybe. I try not to be too harsh with it. I try to joke with the kids, and smile kindly at the tweaked out.
But nothing puts me on guard faster than the kid who is always looking over his shoulder to see if I am watching THEM. That’s when I watch them even closer. And I have seen, many times, that my stare makes the kids act weirder. And I’ve known in the back of my head, that maybe they never were intending to fill their pockets with Twinkies. That maybe they’re acting weirder now simply because I’m watching them.
So what do we have here? Actual racial profiling, or a feedback loop of suspicious stares?
If Batiuk wanted to make this clear, he failed. Big surprise. But I’m guessing in most real cases of this scenario there isn’t someone shouting slurs and saying, “You people!”
But if Batiuk wanted to leave it ambiguous, to tackle the issue as it really is: Where it’s often unclear where racism ends and justified surveillance and suspicion begins… well, that might be a bit too ambitious for old Tom here.
He should just go back to thugs nonsensically hating on Chinese food.
Another story that appeared in 1997 was inspired by a completely different source. A Vietnamese couple had moved to our town and opened a restaurant on the site of a former Red Barn. Cathy and I enjoyed stopping in there, and one time while waiting for an order, I read a yellowed newspaper article that was framed on the wall by the door. It told of the young couple’s escape by boat from Vietnam and the harrowing journey they undertook facing pirates and being stranded and abandoned at sea until finally making it to a hoped-for life of freedom in the United States. I started getting some ideas for a story. One of the advantages of getting ahead on the strip like I had at that juncture was I could take the time to let an idea have a longer gestation period. I could keep rolling it over in my mind, examining all of the facets and considering various possibilities until I felt it was ready. And when it was, a young Chinese couple moved into the space next door to Montoni’s and opened a restaurant called the Jade Dragon West. Zhang Li and his wife Liu Lin were political dissidents from Hong Kong who, fearing a crackdown when Great Britain handed Hong Kong back over to China, made the decision to escape to America. They met their good neighbors Tony Montoni and Funky Winkerbean, but soon the couple also experienced the racism that lurks in the American shadows. In the course of telling their story, I made use of a number of elements of the tale I found in the yellowed newspaper clipping (I seriously doubt if that would have happened with Grubhub, and I’m glad that the nascent internet hadn’t grown big enough to ruin that opportunity for me). Go out to dinner . . . come home with a story. Nice when life works that way.From The Complete Funky Winkerbean Volume 9
59 responses to “The Charlie Brown Cosplay Caper.”
CBH, what do you do when you do suspect the kids of shoplifting? Do you commit battery, as this lady does? Where I live security guards don’t even stop overt shoplifters.
Is Malcolm a magician? Supposedly this lady has been dogging them the whole time, but she didn’t see him drape a sweater on the table?
I wish the first 2 panels had continued, with each panel the cashier creeps closer and Malcom’s face grows wonkier.
Also, Cayla is shopping at the same clothing store as these high school seniors?
That, I can believe.
Of course they all shop there, Cap’n. The stores offers discounts to AARP members.
But in Westview, how many residents face the fact that they’re no longer teenagers?
The finest words in comic strip commentary:
Thank merciful God, Dream Ted was wearing shorts.
I trust most of you got this reference from JJ O’Malley. It is priceless
Ah, bless you, me darlin’. ‘Tis fine praise indeed.
CGS, when I know the kids have shoplifted, I call them out on it and ask for the items back. When I suspect shoplifting, and see pocket bulges, I ask to see what’s in their pockets. I never get physical with customers, so if the kid refuses and makes a runner I can’t really stop them. But anybody caught shoplifting is forbidden from the store. We’re in such a small town, that the more regular cashiers can actually call the kids’ parents.
Now more than ever, we need Principal Nate on the scene, to diffuse this tense situation with his sound judgment and plain old common sense, along with the handbook, assuming there is one. And then ALL the black characters would be there, except Keisha, who vanished mysteriously some time ago.
I don’t know, I mean I get what he’s trying to do here and all, but it’s just so gimmicky. It might have more impact if these two were regular characters who we knew a little, but then again, probably not. It was mentioned yesterday but there’s just such a strong Tim Negoda-ness going on here, a certain obliviousness that’s tough to define, but that I know when I see it.
Coming soon: the two overweight Italian-Americans who wandered into Montoni’s turn out to just be ordinary fat guys and not mobsters, as Funky first feared. Everyone learns a valuable lesson.
As expected, a potentially interesting issue poorly handled, in a typically boring, clunky Batiukian way.
However, there is one small thing to be thankful for: Batiuk elected NOT to have Les as the person in the store, attesting to these kids’ goodness. Imagine what an all-around trainwreck that would have been…
This is an excellent point. I was kind of expecting to see Les too. So there is that. Other than how she’s a bland, generic doormat and Les Moore’s wife, I don’t really have any specific animosity towards Cayla. It might be nice to see a different side of her personality…or even A side.
Unless, of course, Kashier Karen decides to escalate matters, accusing Cayla along with WhatsHisName and WhatsHerName, thus forcing Les to be the White Knight (pun only partially intended) who saves Westview from the vile forces of racism single-handedly.
Well, since Cayla is there Les could be there, too. After al;l, how often do we see Cayla without Les?
Can a mall store cashier just legally confiscate your purse and search it? I didn’t think that was how any of this works.
Legally nothing can be done to a shoplifter until they pass the exit. Why the cashier wasn’t served up an extra large can of whupass for the assault mystifies me.
Correct, because it is not shoplifting until you actually try to leave the store.
“I am taking a class called Racial and Cultural Minorities. We have an assignment to stop oppression.”
And I thought I had hard homework assignments in 1997… I wonder who got a passing grade on that one.
OK, now that TB has laid pretty much all of his cards on the table (not that we didn’t figure them out yesterday), I’m comfortable noting that Neal Rubin wrote a Gil Thorp story covering THIS EXACT SAME SCENARIO nearly 18 years ago. This was pretty early in Rubin’s tenure writing the strip, in fact it was his first football season story arc after taking over writing duties from Jerry B. Jenkins (yes, the Left Behind co-author), so the story is much more tightly-paced and better-spun than the plodding messes he’s known for today.
Rubin’s take on the issue isn’t especially impactful or worthy of high regard for its take on racial profiling (the white guy tells off the bigot and learns the lesson, seen it), but it is far far more interesting than what TB is doing here even though his racial profiler is just as zero-dimensional as TB’s inexplicably dogged cashier. Why? Well, largely because he actually let us get to know the characters involved. Before we get to the racial profiling incident in that 2004 Gil Thorp football season, we get to know Nick Zollar and Von Haney, the incident means something to both of them, and it has an effect on them going forward.
Nick Zollar and Von Haney were the star QB-WR combo on the 2004 Mudlark football team, both excellent students with designs on attending and playing football for Yale. Nick was black and Von was white, but neither fit many of the stereotypes one might associate with their race: Nick was the quarterback while Von was the receiver, Nick liked jazz while Von liked hip-hop, Nick’s parents were wealthy professionals and Von’s father made ends meet working at a furniture store. Their great friendship faced a rift when Nick received his letter of acceptance to Yale… and Von didn’t. Von was furious, essentially blaming affirmative action for wealthy Nick getting into Yale when he didn’t. Von took an after-school job working “loss prevention” at the store his father worked at to save some money and avoid Nick and his other teammates, all while their QB-WR connection faltered and the team started losing.
All of that story was told in about two months, and had to be done around the action of the football season itself (it really is some of Rubin’s better work). That is what we knew about Nick when he was accused of (potential) shoplifting and Von when he confronted Nick and his bigoted boss. That is far far far more than we know about either Malcolm or Logan (or Cayla, one could argue). That is why the Gil Thorp story works and why this one trips over its own shoelaces. Nick and Von were characters, Malcolm and Logan are props.
Exactly. And on top of everything else everyone previously mentioned, this strip reads like Malcolm deliberately baited the store employee into believing he’d stolen a sweater. There was nothing in the strip that indicated that Malcolm was being followed. Was the racist cashier watching Malcolm all along, or did she begin watching him when he moved the sweater?
Coming next week: Malcolm reveals he’s suffering from CTE, which puts the whole thing into perspective.
I just realized that Les Moore and Marty Moon are similar in appearance. Separated at birth? You make the call.
The important thing is that Marty is far more likeable. And that’s saying something.
Malcolm didn’t have a name last week.
Another case of Batiuk trying to do something that was done better in another comic strip 20 years before.
BUT WHAT DID THE STORE CLERK THINK OF “THE LATEST MARVEL MOVIE”?
THE FACT THAT THE STORE CLERK HAS NOT EXPRESSED ONE SINGLE THOUGHT ABOUT COMIC BOOKS CONFIRMS THAT SHE IS EVIL!!!!
Chekov’s Handbag has been front and center since June 1. Who didn’t know she would be profiled for shoplifting?
Hmm. It’s no wonder Scowly McNametag is glowering. The first panel in the bottom row of ian’sdrunkenbeard’s post shows an eerie foreshadowing of evil: The word “Sweenie” trailing behind Malcolm Eccch’s head.
“Sweenie…” Todd, perhaps? How much do we know about this guy? Is he by any chance a barber? What does Scowly know that we don’t?
“Malcolm pondered and Malcolm planned,
Like a perfect machine he planned,
Barbing the hook, baiting the trap,
Setting it out for Scowly to snap.”
It’s actually highly unusual for Batiuk to follow up on a pointedly obvious novel element. I’ve used the phrase “Batiuk’s Gun” here a few times to describe his tendency to insert elements that he drops without ever using them.
The population of Akron (aka Westview) is 30% black.
The population of nearby Cleveland is 48% black. Whites are a minority at 34%.
Scowly McNametag must be very very very very very busy with her baseless accusations.
I think there’s more than one demographic in play here. This incident, the Nordstrom Rack incident mentioned in ComicBookHarriet’s blog, and the Oberlin college incident mentioned by Rusty Shackleford, all involved black teenagers.
I figure your comment was made tongue in cheek, but here’s a serious question. Do you think Scowly McNametag would stalk Cayla and forcefully search her bag?
I’ll admit, this episode is so forced and contrived you could argue either way. Would Batyuk have had the testicular fortitude to make Cayla the victim of racial profiling? I think not.
The Oberlin case doesn’t really support Batiuk’s point here. It’s pretty well established that the teens were shoplifting wine. They also assaulted the store owner when caught. In addition, the teens were underaged and had shown a fake ID; if Gibson’s Bakery had allowed them to leave with the wine, they could potentially have been held liable for supplying alcohol to underage people.
Oberlin College got involved and started a campaign to boycott Gibson’s. They maintained the teens were innocent and Gibson’s Bakery had shown a pattern of virulent racism, of which the teens were the most recent victims.
Lawsuits followed, and to cut to the chase: A jury found that Oberlin defamed Gibson’s bakery and awarded the Gibson family $44 million in punitive and compensatory damages, plus attorney’s fees of over $6 million. (A judge later reduced the jury’s award to $25 million.)
Oberlin and others still maintain that the teens did nothing wrong and this is an open-and-shut case of racial profiling. Even if it is, the jury award shows there may be room for doubt, at least in some people’s minds. So it’s probably not a good case to use as an example of profiling.
The Wikipedia article Rusty Shackleford linked gives a pretty good and evenhanded summary of the event.
Well the teens did admit to shoplifting, so to their credit they took responsibility for their actions.
Likewise, the Gibson’s offered them an out. We keep your fake ID and you put those two wine bottles back on the shelf and leave. They did not want to get the Police involved.
In the end, the Gibson’s just wanted a formal apology from Oberlin College and a retraction of their public statements. But instead, the college doubled down and it cost them a ton of money.
All this crap aside, Oberlin is a beautiful little town. Come visit in fall and you will see why Batty loves his fall foliage. They have an excellent conservatory of music and they own some nice art which is on display.
For every Oberlin I can name a hundred Delaware States…
And for the record, the fact that Oberlin happened doesn’t magically erase the countless examples of racial profiling in retail chains…
I don’t think he would make Cayla the victim for the simple reason that Lisa will forever remain Queen of the Martyrs and Les will forever remain the Truest, Onliest Victim. If Cayla were victimized by anything, it might draw the tiniest bit of focus off Les’ holy suffering. That’s a no-no.
And plotwise, it might force something to actually happen. It might require actual consequences. We all know that’s not in the cards.
Even Lisa was just another throwaway character for bad things to happen to. Whatever personality she had in Act I was sublimated to her role as Les’ Lost Lenore.
Here in Northern Ohio there was an incident back in 2016 where a business was accused of racist actions with respect to shoplifting.
Batty has not based his story on these events for obvious reasons. In the real world, things often go both ways, and there are no easy answers.
I describe the case a bit more above, Rusty. I’m not sure whether TB was thinking of it when he wrote this arc (and I’m using the term “wrote” rather loosely). Plenty of people still take Oberlin’s/the students’ side in the matter.
Query why, if she’s following them that damn close, she did not see Male Good Student move the sweater.
She did, but she is an Evil Racist, geddit? And she was framing our adorable protagonists, geddit? So she could brag about it to the local KKK meeting, where all white Ohioans besides Tom Batiuk hang out. He’s one of the Good Ones, you see. One of the very few truly Good Ones. Let us stop and appreciate how rare Good Ones like Tom Batiuk truly are. We stand in line.
Don’t you think he deserves some kind of surprise award for his incredible bravery, for confronting everyone else’s unspeakable evil and not being chicken? Some kind of wonderful chicken-related surprise, like a Pullet Surprise?
As yesterday’s strip clearly shows, the clerk was already watching them from the moment they entered the store. How could she have missed Malcolm moving the sweater?
Meanwhile, a white, middle-aged man takes advantage of the situation and makes off with a dozen pairs of panties.
Also, isn’t Indiana Reader the cousin of noted author Page Turner?
I had to re-read the strip a couple times before I realized that Cayla’s contribution to the story is exactly… nothing. She speaks up in defense of the two kids, which accomplishes nothing at all: the clerk still searches the bag, nothing is found, and Cayla stands by doing nothing. She’s just there as window dressing. As always.
Yes, but she had to mention that they were students in her husband’s class…the implication being that surely everyone in town knows who her husband is. So Les’ presence and influence are implied.
I have a friend who works in a chain store on the main street of a posh Long Island beach town. He informs me that all the stores got a memo from headquarters that shoplifters are not to be stopped or detained or confronted. He says people just walk in, take stuff off the shelf, and walk out. He and the other employees watch and do nothing, as instructed.
He also informs me that other chains have instituted the same policy. Countless videos and comments online confirm that.
TL;DR: Tom Batiuk is laughably out of touch, as always.
PS: Possibly related? Walgreens, per my friend, is one of the chains with the non-confronting policy. I went to my local Walgreens this week and found virtually everything, from Suave shampoo to Secret deodorant, was behind locked Plexiglas fronts.
This story completely undermines itself. So many of Tom Batuk’s worst writing traits are front and center here:
1. Conflict avoidance. Batiuk brings in the deus ex machina, Cayla, before there’s a even a problem she needs to solve. She’s in the first panel, as if to announce “don’t worry, nothing bad is going to happen here.” Funky Winkerbean absolutely must never have any tension, not even for even one panel. Not even in a strip about a racial confrontation, which would seem to defeat the purpose.
2. The commitment to being award bait. Every character knows where Batiuk wants the story to go, even though it’s completely illogical to the scene. Malcolm and Racist Store Employee (RSE) do nothing but glare at each other, but he plans a counter-move tailored exactly to the weirdly specific accusation she intends to make. Cayla gets involved in protecting them from someone who has no authority to do anything to them. Logan doesn’t fight back against someone who is taking her purse without permission.
3. The lowest stakes imaginable. This is a mall store employee, not a police officer! She isn’t even a mall cop. Let’s say they theoretically did steal the sweater. What’s the worst thing that’s going to happen to them? Compared to real-life stories, this incident isn’t even worth talking about.
4. The main characters claiming knowledge they don’t have. “They’re good kids! I know them!” Do you really, Cayla? You’re a secretary. You’re not a teacher, administrator, or anyone whose job is to know anything about two random kids from among the hundreds who just graduated your high school. You and “your husband” have spent the last two years gallivanting around Hollywood anyway. People can change a lot between 16 and 18.
5. Ignoring his characters’ backstories. Hey, do you know who it would be a really bad idea to racially profile? A young woman who sold a business blog to ABC News before she entered high school! Or even a young man with ordinary high school journalism experience, because he would know how to write, and get in touch with company spokesmen and media figures. To say nothing of the multimedia wonderland The Bleat is supposed to be, complete with TV newscasts. This does not occur to any of them. Tell me again, Cayla, how well do you know these kids? Sheesh, how well do they know themselves?
6. Complete research failure. As has been said, this isn’t how a store would handle a suspected theft. And metro Cleveland has more black residents than average, so this place wouldn’t stay in business long if they treated them like this. To say nothing about how corporations have behavior policies, and people whose job it is to hear complaints to about it.
7. This is probably Ayers’ fault, but: art failure. How did the purse get from where it is in panel 4 to where it is in the last three panels, if the strap didn’t go straight through Logan’s arm? When Logan leaves the store, she has both straps on her shoulder with her arm covering it. That’s a standard “anti-purse snatching” posture. But in the next two panels, one of the straps is off her shoulder, meaning RSE must have pulled it over her entire arm and hand. Even though Logan is resisting, and was in a strong position to defend against it. The artwork would make sense if that strap was broken in the struggle, but it’s not. Again, the stakes here are so low that Logan can’t even have her purse damaged.
8. The straw villain. RSE has no name, and we don’t know anything about her except that she glared at these people. But we’re supposed to jump to all kinds of conclusions about her motivation. Isn’t that exactly what bigotry is? Judging people based on how they look? Maybe she just has Resting Bitch Face. And this ties into another problem:
9. The villain’s motives are unclear. Why are we supposed to believe they were wrongly accused of stealing when Malcolm gave her a reason to believe they WERE stealing? “I moved the sweater to another table to troll you, ha ha aren’t I clever?” No, you’re a goddam moron, and you deserve whatever trouble you get into as a result.
Very nice summary. Today’s Crankshaft is a perfect illustration of a typical Monday afternoon in Batty’s studio. It’s 3PM and a week’s worth of strips were created and inked. They start reading comic books and zzzz.
Amazing summary. I will only push back a very small bit on number 3. Both Logan and Malcolm worked on ‘The Bleat’ which Les runs. So they would be much more familiar to Les, and thus perhaps Cayla if they talk about students.
Of course…we never saw this. Because until this week one of these kids didn’t have a NAME.
But to the extent of vouching for their innocence when they’re accused of shoplifting? I can believe she knows who they are, but she’s kind of sticking her neck out here. It’s also another instance of #2: despite being a bystander, Cayla magically knows exactly what’s going on, the motivations of the people involved, and what Batiuk needs her to say to steer the story where he wants it.
This touches on writing problem #10: the adults are no wiser than the children. Why does Cayla assume these kids need their reputations defended, from a white person who is clearly out of line? Why isn’t she asking more about what’s going on here? Even if they did steal something, a actual adult would have the wherewithal to see this situation isn’t called for, and would get greater authorities involved.
All very good questions. Batiuk would answer by saying, “It’s called writing.”
And yeah, kids in the strip are never written different than adults unless the joke is lul technology durrrr.
Commendable work. This post and others are particularly important to discuss the last three panels and their logic. I just looked at today’s strip for a few minutes and couldn’t quite understand how anything flowed together in a realistic manner.
I don’t get it. Scowly McNametag decided that Malcolm Eccchs was a criminal just because he’s black. So why would the word of another black* person mean anything to her?
For added hilarity, there’s hardly been a juvenile criminal of any race in the last 30 years about whom someone didn’t insist, “He’s a good boy! He’s innocent!”
*(“Cau”Cayla is at least canonically black, though she appears to have been transitioning to [mumble] over the years, as we’ve all noticed.)
Yeah, the change in Cayla’s appearance from before she was with Les to after she was with Les is odd. It’s almost as if Batiuk isn”t as comfortable depicting an interracial marriage as he would want you to believe.
I know good students who have shoplifted. “Good student” does not equal “law abiding”
I know Logan’s carrying a huge purse, but there’s still no way in heck that bulky sweater would fit in it, not without bulging or a sleeve flapping out.
Also, from the very little I know (as an old white woman in Canada) of the experience of Black youth in the Central USA, wouldn’t the more likely action be to politely comply while filming it all on your phone, then uploading to TikTok or whatever with captions about Karen’s Public Meltdown?
Baiting the clerk by moving merchandise around suggests Malcolm has Les Moore levels of privilege.
Ah, TB, once more putting the White into White-knighting.
Oh, if only there were a local Brave Activist Lawyer willing to fight for the underdog! and then give up the second she faced the slightest obstacle.
Oh well, there’s always Atticus “I bill by 8-1/2 minute increments, and that includes time sitting cooling my heels in Montoni’s while Bill Clinton pulls strings in Trúmp’s State Department” Breef.
Lisa could represent them! I know she’s dead, but that’s never been much of an obstacle to her continued presence in Funky Winkerbean.
Yes, surely Lisa left some tapes to cover this very situation. “New wife, when one of Les’s students gets accused of shoplifting in your presence, play this tape at the trial. Ready? Hello, judge, I’m Lisa Moore representing the defense….”
While you better call Saul, you can always take a leaf from Amicus Breef!
Alternate universe Skunk-Head John is dancing with Dawn in Mary Worth today.