This Goes To Eleven

Today’s strip forced me to choose between the Spinal Tap reference and the Spaceballs reference. Tough call.

Having said that, the Spinal Tap reference in this strip offends my improv sensibilities. We call this “being too jokey.” Today’s strip tries to force a joke, in a way that undermines the reality of the scene.

Phil is right to be annoyed with Kitch here. He’s an accomplished artist. Auditioning for a comic strip is well within his ability, and it’s insulting that she’s so surprised at this. “Dial back your incredulity” is enough to make that point. If he just said that, without the tacked-on “goes to eleven” joke, it would have been much more effective.

And there’s the universal Funky Winkerbean problem of awkward dialog. Try saying this aloud: “Maybe you could dial your incredulity back from eleven just a bit.” Now say “Maybe you could dial back your disbelief a little.” That second one sounds much more like a real person talking, doesn’t it?

On top of that, “tried out to draw” is a very clunky way to say “auditioned.” Is this an Ohioism? When I was in school, people only “tried out” for a sports team, or maybe a play. The first time I read today’s strip, that phrase struck my mind as “tried to out draw,” as if Phil Holt had challenged Hal Foster to a cartooning duel at high noon. Which would have been much more fun.

I’m kind of shocked this wasn’t another comic book. It’s a comic strip, which isn’t exactly the same thing. But as usual, Tom Batiuk tipped his hand about this plot twist:

The comics that interested me the most were Flash Gordon, Dick Tracy, Terry and the Pirates, and of course the ineffable Prince Valiant by Hal Foster (shoe drop alert—the significance of the strips I’m mentioning here will drop later on, so hang with me and all will come out in the shoe store). Especially Prince Valiant, wherein classical Renaissance figures, rather than being frozen in time, came to life and moved from panel to panel.

Ugh, that’s terrible writing. But we can infer that this is going to be another love letter to something Tom Batiuk likes that hardly anyone else cares about. Fine by me. I’d much rather have a week of Prince Valiant than a week of The Phantom Empire. Or of Funky Winkerbean.



Filed under Son of Stuck Funky

42 responses to “This Goes To Eleven

  1. Epicus Doomus

    Here’s where I totally zone out on this one. I don’t know a damn thing about Prince Valiant, although I’m sure at least one of our regular commenters does, so I defer to them on that topic. I have HEARD of Prince Valiant and I remember the haircut from an old “M*A*S*H” episode gag, but that’s the extent of my Prince Valiant knowledge. Good ol’ Batom, reveling in the popular culture of the 1940s and 50s again. Sigh.

    All that aside, why is she so surprised? I mean after all, Phil Holt’s whole thing is that he’s a legendary comic book artist, so what’s so unbelievable about him having drawn a comic strip? It is his job, is it not? Once again BatYap undermines one of his own creations for no obvious reason.

    • Gerard Plourde

      “Prince Valiant” is still running with its third or fourth generation of artists. Foster’s Wikipedia article contains this description of the strip. Especially note the last sentence of the excerpt.

      “In 1937, he created his signature strip, the weekly Prince Valiant, a fantasy adventure set in medieval times. The strip featured Foster’s dexterous, detailed artwork; Foster eschewed word balloons, preferring to have narration and dialogue in captions.”

      • “[Hal] Foster eschewed word balloons…” What’s the opposite of “eschew”? Whatever it is, that’s what Batiuk does with ’em!

        • J.J. O'Malley

          “Eschewhorn in”?

        • be ware of eve hill

          What’s the opposite of “eschew”?

          The way Batty goes overboard with the word balloons may explain why Chuck Ayers’s art in Funky Winkerbean appears to be well below his talent level. Chuck doesn’t go all out on the art because what’s the use? It’s just going to be obliterated by TB’s word balloons.

    • Aw, it’s a great strip, set during in the time of King Arthur, which misses the Renaissance by only a thousand years or so. To be fair, the strip has always been drawn in that style of late-medieval/early-Renaissance knights and stone castles and all. It tries to be taken as a fable so it’s fair that it defies literal historical truth.

      If I may, I do write recaps of about three months’ worth of plot at a time over at though the most recent summary dates to late May, when they hadn’t quite finished off a story with Morgan Le Fey. They’re on to a different story now.

      • gleeb

        Yeah, PV is clearly written in about the 6th century. Batiuk not only stinks at writing comics, he stinks at reading them.

      • Hannibal's Lectern

        “King Arthur” was always a pretty flexible fantasy anyway. Putting knights and stone castles into the sixth century still makes more sense than that Jerry Bruckheimer movie that tried to re-invent Arthur as a Roman general trying to protect his people during the Roman withdrawal from Britain, and Guinevere as a scantily-clad Celtic warrior (played by Kiera Knightley, who complained afterward about how she’d been… inflated… for the posters). Compared to that fiasco, Foster takes minimal liberties with what little we actually know about the origins of the Arthurian legend!

  2. KMD

    They used to show a Prince Valiant cartoon on the Family Channel back in the early 1990s. Even then I knew it was a half century past its prime. Now its 80 years past its prime. Needless to say, that’s perfect for TB. In another five years, Crazy Harry will tell kids if they really want to be hip, they should listen to the Platters.

  3. William Thompson

    “Yes, I wanted to draw a comic strip known for its excellent art. Why does that surprise you?”

    “Have you looked at this strip in, like, ever? The background alone is less detailed than our personalities, and that’s saying something!”

  4. J.J. O'Malley

    Just to give some historical perspective: health problems led “Prince Valiant” creator Hal Foster to start searching for someone to carry on the strip in 1970-71. Comic book legends Gray Morrow and Wally Wood drew transition strips before Foster finally tapped a third “fill-in” artist, John Cullen Murphy, to succeed him in ’71.

    So, once again we are left to wonder just how old The Late Phil Holt is supposed to be in that he was an established artist over 50 years ago when he “auditioned” for the Valiant gig…and why he’s making “Spinal Tap” references. The reference from that film that comes to my mind when it comes to FW is usually “It’s such a fine line between stupid and clever.”

  5. “Those are just some of the sketches I made for when I tried to replace Hal Foster….” More elegant dialog from Batdick. Dude, just remove the “for” and you’re getting close to human speech. Are you even trying to pass the Turing Test?

    My Spinal Tap contribution: “There’s a fine line between clever and stupid.”

  6. Epicus Doomus

    It’d be different if Phil was a teacher, a pizza maker, a comic book writer, a comic book publisher or a comic book retailer, but he’s a comic book artist. Comic book art is what he does. And he has to be like ninety by now, so is not surprising at all that he took a shot at, you know, landing a comic book artist job with a comic strip that was popular when he was around ten or so.

    Coming tomorrow: Phil angrily quits Atomik Komix when Flash’s girlfriend books the gang to appear at a comic-con being held at the local air force base. They later reunite at the Tokyo Comic-Con, where AK remains inexplicably popular.

  7. Hitorque

    1. Does this pinhead have to be a jaggoff every waking second of his miserable life? Seriously, who over in the AK office can even stand being around him all day?

    1a. I got to stop calling him Phillips 66 and label this guy what he REALLY is, which is Krankenschaaften’s bastard half-brother… How does “Phred Crankshaft” sound?

    2. Yeah, lady… You know Prince Valiant is a trademarked character and you can’t put this on display without permission, right?

    3. Comic strips I wish she was holding up instead:

    Steve Roper
    Oh, Wicked Wanda
    The Meaning of Lila
    Mary Worth
    Shylock Fox
    Wizard of Id
    Apartment 3G
    Anything Japanese and lewd…

    • be ware of eve hill

      How about 9 Chickweed Lane or Pibgorn?

      In a previous discussion here, someone likened Tom Batiuk to Brooke McEldowney. They do seem to be a bit similar. Part of me would like to be a fly on the wall to witness Batiuk and McEldowney having a one-on-one conversation. Talk about a war of the egos. The other part of me would be beating my brains out on a window pane, trying to escape.

      I always found McEldowney to be full of himself and a bit of a perv. He removed the comments from his titles on GoComics because he was too thin-skinned for the snark. He considered snark “abuse.” I saw no reason to continue reading his strips after he disallowed comments.

      • Gerard Plourde


        I’ve referenced McEldowney on those occasions when TomBa’s work tries to go “off color”. We had two recent examples. The July 1 strip where he out of nowhere turned Holly into a helicopter mom so she could lead off the day’s strip with her asking Cory leaving for his honeymoon, “What are you going to do when you get there?” Equally random was last Sunday’s “Crankshaft at the drive-in movies” strip. Other examples are the strips involving the Dinkles and making Mort Winkerbean into Bedside Manor’s Lothario. Admittedly, the Mort arc could have been triggered when TomBa read news accounts about the unexpectedly active sex lives of seniors in Florida’s Villages communities but now that it’s established, he can employ it randomly like he did during the Dinkle Stages a Jazz Funeral arc.

        Each of these examples also displays TomBa’s habit of creating and sending off the first draft of the first thing he thought of.

        • be ware of eve hill

          Yeah, last Sunday’s Crankshaft was quite the shocker. C’mon, Ed, there are impressionable young children in the adjacent automobile. That poor traumatized little girl will have to undergo decades of therapy.

          Batty has gone off-color occasionally, but IMHO he hasn’t gone as far as McEldowney has. I don’t mind seeing women drawn in a sexy manner or the implication of sex. I unfollowed Pibgorn when a female character was shown hung by her wrists and tortured. I thought it was unnecessary and gratuitous. I think McEldowney has issues with women and can only address them in his strips.

          Another thing Batiuk has in common with McEldowney is the inability to create likable characters. The only 9 Chickweed Lane character I liked was Solange, the cat.

          The way TB haphazardly develops his stories makes me wonder when he no longer enjoyed creating Funky Winkerbean?


          • be ware of eve hill

            Oops. I made a boo boo with an italics tag. For every open tag there has to be a close tag.

            C’mon Eve, It’s not rocket surgery.

          • Gerard Plourde

            I agree that McEldowney has major issues. TomBa is more like the eight-year-old who’s learned about sex jokes. When he drops one it’s jarring and sometimes mildly inappropriate but never anywhere as disturbing as McEldowney can get.

            And you’re right that he gives a lot of signs that he’d rather not be writing FW.

    • How about XKCD? I think even Phil could handle that.

  8. sorialpromise

    Are the “Prince Valiant” sketches actually drawn by Mr. Batiuk? If so, I would be interested in seeing them in greater detail.
    To Mr. TF Hackett, I enjoyed the heading of SOSF done in the style of Hal Foster. Thank you.
    And to think, Banana Jr. 6000 missed a Dinkle focused strip by just this much….
    (Please someone, anyone, put Batiuk’s thumb and forefinger at the end of my post.)
    BJ 6000, you should immediately, go out and by a lottery ticket!

    • be ware of eve hill

      🤏 It looks more like a pinch. Close enough?


    • Hannibal's Lectern

      I assume that the “PV tryout” sketches were drawn by Chuck Ayers, since he draws the rest of the strip and we’ve seen other examples of his art that demonstrate he knows which end of the “Funky Felt-Tip” to hold (for instance, the beer labels he did for the Lock 15 Brewery in Akron).

      Which, again, raises the disturbing idea that the art in “FW” is intentionally crappy, that a talented and capable professional artist is drawing pencil necks and awkward perspectives and the infamous “I tell the girls this is six inches” finger-and-thumb pinch because the strip’s creator told him to. I can see Battocks writing in his blog, something like: “when Stephan Pastis, a man with little artistic talent, makes a crude drawing, it’s just a crude drawing; but when I order Chuck Ayers, an artist with proven abilities, to make a crude drawing, it’s an ironic statement about ART! Now where’s my award?”

      • Hannibal's Lectern

        Speaking of Lock 15 Brewery… I am going to be passing through Akron sometime in the early afternoon on Wednesday, and their website says they are open for lunch. Hmm. Might just have to stop by and see what beer with a Chuck Ayers label tastes like.

        If I choose the correct route, I can even pass by the infamous Luigi’s! (And keep going–for me, “Luigi’s” will always be a hole-in-the-wall pizza joint in Terre Haute, Indiana that is apparently no longer in business. However, somebody’s still selling t-shirts and coffee cups with their stereotyped Italian cook artwork, which looks a whole lot better than Montoni’s.)

  9. billytheskink

    Unfortunately for Phil, his tryout to draw the Plymouth Valiant didn’t go much better, and he was reduced to having to draw Ford Granadas to make ends meet.

    • Hannibal's Lectern

      We always used to pronounce the Ford’s name with a long “a,” so it sounded like a throwable exploding device. Which leads to a story of college-kid hijinx…

      At one time, the Chicago area Ford dealers had hired Abe Gibron (the spectacularly unsuccessful head coach of the Bears) as their spokesman. About a week before the Auto Show, they saturation-bombed the radio airwaves with a Ford jingle set to the Bears’ fight song. At the Auto Show (after a few overpriced McCormick Place beers), a friend and I arrived at the Ford Grenada exhibit and were inspired to sing (to the same tune)…

      “It’s party time! Grenada’s here!
      So go to your dealer and get a free glass of beer!
      And then, he’ll make you drive
      The biggest piece of crap you’re gonna see this year!
      So come on and buy a brand new Ford Grenada
      Before we finish singing the serenade-a!”

      That’s when we noticed the Andy Frain security people approaching, so we melted away into the crowd and never finished the song…

  10. erdmann

    The fact this significant piece of 51-year-old original art is just sitting there where it can be easily found after Phil faked his death, hid out for four years and then moved all the belongings he somehow still had from California to Ohio has my incredulity over 9,000.

    • William Thompson

      No, I can believe that somebody looked at it, shrugged, and placed it back in the drawer, face down. That would have taken less effort than wadding it up and tossing it into the waste basket.

  11. Dood

    “You tried out to draw For Better or Worse? This is so going on my refrigerator!”

    • billytheskink

      Phil originally drew Farley and April drowning in that creek…

      • Hannibal's Lectern

        What really made it work was the way he drew Elly holding both of their heads under the water.

        • William Thompson

          Let’s not forget the final panel, where all the fish in the creek died from FOOB poisoning.

  12. Hannibal's Lectern

    So… (sorry, channeling Batty’s writing again) … these less-than-half-finished sketches are Philled Hole’s “tryout” for the job of “Prince Valiant” artist? Doesn’t look like he got very far before he either lost interest or Hal Foster sent him a rejection slip. I’m betting it’s the former, because giving up in the middle is such a Funkyverse thing.

    Compare these sketches with the audition that Joe Staton and Mike Curtis did when they were trying out for the job of Dick Locher’s replacement on the “Dick Tracy” strip: a complete story arc, lasting over a month, drawn, lettered and colored and put up on the web for readers to see. Tribune Media Services made no public comment while the audition strip was running, and many of us who found it assumed it was unauthorized fan work and would soon be getting a “Cyst and Decease” (sorry for the “Flesh Gordon” reference) letter from TMS.

    So, as I said, if that’s as far as Phillips Screwdriver* got with the project, I’d say that in the real world it’s unlikely Hal Foster ever even saw his drawings. Which gives them a value of… maybe not zilch, but down there in the “formerly famous artist’s doodles” realm.

    * Vodka and Milk of Magnesia, of course

  13. Banana Jr. 6000

    I’m loving the Prince Valiant-style SoSF banner. Big kudos to the artist.

  14. ComicTrek

    I love old school Prince Valiant. And I’m sorry, but I doubt that such an arrogant stick-in-the-mud type of guy like Phil could have pulled that off.