The Cartooning Commandments (Revised)

Oh goody, a needless vertical strip. To do an exposition dump on some tedious comics-related administrative process that happened 50 years ago. And wank over New York City some more.

Tom Batiuk speaks often of the “Cartooning Commandments.” Despite his assertions they are well-known and can be found on the Internet, they don’t seem to exist anywhere other than his blog. A lot of them don’t even make sense, or just reflect Batiuk’s own sensibilities. “Thou shalt only do funny comic strips. Your characters shall never grow up.” Nobody thinks those things but you, Tom.

Most importantly: they’re not helping. Tom claims he was given these guidelines to follow when he got started in cartooning 50 years ago. To the extent he’s following them at all, they’re not reducing any of the glaring problems in the strip. Sometimes they’re even counterproductive.

With that in mind, I want to write some new cartooning commandments. Commandments that, if followed, would actually help Funky Winkerbean be better. If I’m going to criticize something, I think it’s also my job to be constructive about it. And I can think of a lot of simple steps that would start to pull Funky Winkerbean out of the dull, self-indulgent abyss it’s been in for all of Act III. To keep the tone friendly, I will call them the Cartooning Suggestions.

Most of these suggestions will be in the form of “No more…” something. Because “Thou shalt not” is needlessly pretentious. One of my suggestions will be not to talk this way anymore. I’ll get to that one. But for right now:

No more vertical strips.

Vertical comic strips can be used to good effect. It was done once in Bloom County, in an arc where they made a flying machine by attaching balloons to Cutter John’s wheelchair. For the big reveal, the drawing was rotated 90 degrees, to show this tall, thin object in detail. It was the readers’ first look at something that drove a months-long arc. And it was a strange object that needed to be explained to the audience. This was a perfectly good reason to draw a strip sideways. And I think Berke Breathed only did it one or two other times.

Vertical panels in Funky Winkerbean are used to indulge Tom Batiuk’s worst tendencies as a writer. They’re used to make space for word zeppelins, author rants, pointless info dumps, self-indulgence, and worst of all: Sunday comic book covers. All of these things need to go. A blanket ban on sideways strips in Funky Winkerbean would be a great way to start improving it. If an idea can’t be expressed horizontally, it probably doesn’t need to be expressed at all.

Today’s strip is a shining example. This is strip #8 of the arc, including Sunday, and it’s the fourth one that could have been omitted entirely. It’s all been transactional talking, and a “witty” Sunday joke that’s only witty if the other character is a complete blithering idiot.

Phil Holt’s life makes even less sense now. After he quit his Batom Comics job and stole their property in the process, he… moved to one of the most expensive neighborhoods in the world? To do what? That needs more for an explanation, not 23 words of “I heard Prince Valiant needed a new artist” when we already knew that.

And: it’s apparently vital you know this happened in New York. Nope, Phil’s definitely not in Hollywood, that empty place of vacuous people!

43 Comments

Filed under Son of Stuck Funky

43 responses to “The Cartooning Commandments (Revised)

  1. KMD

    Spoiler alert. Hal Foster is alive and will end up working at Atomik Komix where he will treat Mopey Pete with contempt, do awful and mediocre work, smirk too much, and make awful puns.

  2. William Thompson

    Phil Dolt’s words would be much funnier if they showed the events he talked about. Like, a boot in the ass when he left Batom Comics. Sleeping in the alley behind a swank hotel and fighting an alley cat for the scraps in a trash can. Lying drunk in a patch of ivy, his head wrapped in vines, when he overhears two cartoonists talking about Prince Valient.

  3. robertodobbs

    “Times Square in New York” LOL

    • Hannibal’s Lectern

      I guess Batty didn’t want us to think Phil O’ Dendron was talking about the “Times Square” restaurant in Kinsman, Ahia (currently closed). Maybe that’s where Ahia cartoonists hang out, looking for work.

  4. “If I’m going to criticize something, I think it’s also my job to be constructive about it.”

    I feel no such duty. I snark for snark’s sake. But I certainly agree with your first Suggestion.

    Why would anyone care WHERE the Very Late Philled Hole heard about the Prince Valiant opening? This info adds nothing to the “story.” Vertical philler.

  5. Epicus Doomus

    Ah yes, the storied NYC cartoonist scene of the 1950s, where on any given night you might bump into a young Charles Schulz stumbling out of Toots Shor’s or bump into Bil Keane sneaking some “reefer” in an alley. We’ve all heard the stories. Phil was no doubt drawing on the street for tips when he overheard the big news about Prince Valiant, at which point he put that charm and personality he was so well known for to work.

    The thing is, though, that “what was young Phil Holt’s life like?” is a question that, believe it or not, has never come up. He was way more entertaining when he was a surly disagreeable enigma, now he might as well just be Flash or Cliff or Buck or any other indistinguishable Act III codger character.

    • Banana Jr. 6000

      And the story refuses to fill anything in, like why he was in New York. If we’re supposed to be invested in this character, that would be far more relevant than this entire arc has been.

    • gleeb

      Phil got by working as an enforcer for Jimmy “The Bat” Thurber and the New Yorker gang.

      • Banana Jr. 6000

        That sounds like a Far Side strip. “Seymour Frishberg, accountant of the wild frontier” meets “Let’s see if Rudy and his wiffle bat can encourage you!”

  6. J.J. O'Malley

    “So how did you come to try out for ‘Prince Valiant'”? It’s a (real-life) story you can find on Wikipedia, Kitch, along with a list of the artists who worked on the strip during the transition from Foster to Murphy in 1970-71. And besides, Phil wasn’t picked in the Funkyverse, so what’s the difference?

    This week is shaping up to be a pointless reminiscence that was done much quicker and better in the 1967 version of “The Producers,” during the Singing Hitler tryouts:
    “Hello, Arthur. Tell us something about yourself.”
    “I just finished the road tour of ‘Lilac Time,’ and last season I was up for the lead in the Broadway production of ‘The Gypsy Lover.'”
    “What happened?”
    “I didn’t get it.”

  7. billytheskink

    “I was unemployed, so I moved to the heart of Manhattan…”

    I know this was a different time, but still, really? And people used to complain about the apartments in Friends being unrealistic…

    • Rusty Shackleford

      Didn’t Friends explain this by having one of the girls say that she inherited the apartment from her grandmother?

      No explanation or plausible reasoning from Batty, just pointless banter about NYC so Batty can show that he is some kind of insider.

    • hitorque

      “I was unemployed, (FROM A JOB THAT WASN’T PAYING ME SHIT IN THE FIRST PLACE) so I moved to the heart of Manhattan (EVEN THOUGH I WOULDN’T HAVE BEEN ABLE TO AFFORD IT EVEN WHEN I WAS WORKING)…”

  8. Gerard Plourde

    Following up on the observations of robertodobbs an Epicus Doomus –

    Phil Holt quit his job at Batom in Cleveland and moved to New York City? And moved to a building in Times Square? He wants Kitch to believe he got an apartment in Times Square?

    To quote Addison Dewitt – “That was a stupid lie, easy to expose”.

    • Banana Jr. 6000

      Is he is still telling yarns? The joke Sunday is that he was making up a phony story, but the serious part is that he moved to Times Square? I guess that inadvertently fits with what Times Square was in 1970 – the real-life set of Midnight Cowboy, as erdmann said. But I don’t think that’s what Batiuk is aiming for here, based on the dignified look of the buildings.

    • Anonymous Sparrow

      Thus, making the whole strip an insult to dead heroes and the women who loved them.

      To quote someone else — Ray Davies in “Celluloid Heroes” — “if you covered him with garbage, George Sanders would still have style.”

      Sanders won the Academy Award for playing Addison in “All About Eve.” Smoke on your pipe and put that in, Tom Batiuk!

  9. Y. Knott

    Not only is this strip needless in terms of storytelling, putting it vertically was equally needless. It could have easily been aligned horizontally, without losing any meaning.

    Which means that what we have here is a needless strip in a needless arc of a needless act of a needless intellectual property, aligned in a needless fashion.

    Gee whiz, what layer of meta-needlessness will Batiuk add next?

  10. erdmann

    “After I left Batom Comics, I moved to Times Square where I worked as a hustler. I didn’t make much money, though, because even the most vile degenerates found me unappealing. So I decided to go back to cartooning.”

  11. be ware of eve hill

    BANANA JR. 6000,

    The Cartooning Commandments (Revised). Unlike the current FW story arc, this is a great topic. The only disappointing aspect about it is you only gave us one tonight. I was furiously scrolling up and down the page looking for the next ‘Cartooning Suggestion.’

    Me: What?! Where’s the second one?! Noooooo! Don’t end the blog there!

    You gave me a nibble, and now I’m hooked. I can’t wait for tomorrow.

    • ComicBookHarriet

      Nothing displays Batiuk’s arrogance like ‘The Cartooning Commandments’ He makes up this list of arbitrary rules, pretends that they preexist him and were nearly universally followed, all so he can give himself a big old pat on the back for breaking them.

      Completely ignoring that popular daily comic strips used to have MORE continuity, better artwork, and weren’t humor based. Where does he think the dinosaurs of Mary Worth, Rex Morgan, Judge Parker, and PRINCE F**KING VALIANT come from.

      If you want to bubble over with rage, head to Tom’s blog and read Match To Flame 137- 141.

      “But . . . somehow, in some mysterious way, these antediluvian principles would become known to newspaper editors, syndicate editors, cartoonists, and, Lord knows, most especially readers of newspapers. Which explains why the Cartooning Commandments have been hewed to religiously (pun, of course, intended) ever since, and it’s the reason that comic strips have remained virtually unchanged until, oh, I don’t know, let’s say some of the strips contained in this volume. ”

      I try to be nice to Tom when I can, but THIS is the stuff he does that I cannot stand. He misrepresents the artists around him to make himself feel special.

      • Banana Jr. 6000

        They also illustrate his pompous writing style. “But… somehow – in some mysterious way; Tom Batiuk believes in never (stops to insert an unrelated thought) using a simple word (another unrelated thought) when a plethora of superfluous nomenclature will facilitate the be-all and end-all with a suchlike quantum of satisfactoriness (congratulates self on his wittiness).”

      • Rusty Shackleford

        Yeah, poor Tom. He is such a maverick artist, always being held back the system and and all of its crazy rules. Ok Tom, you broke all of these imaginary rules and your strip still sucks, who you gonna blame now? Ayers?

      • Bad wolf

        “Most especially readers of newspapers…”. Um, Tom, those aren’t arbitrary rules or “antediluvian principles”, that’s audience reaction. Wowzers.

        Let’s be glad (?) he didn’t go into something requiring live performance, where he could lecture a restless audience unhappy that he has stopped the performance or gone 180 off script.

        • Rusty Shackleford

          He is as respectful of his audiences as much as Les is respectful of his students.

        • Banana Jr. 6000

          I wish he had. Batiuk must control everything at all times, but live performance doesn’t let you do that. And when you suck this badly at live performance, you tend to find out pretty quickly.

      • gleeb

        A very good try, but there is still nothing that will ever make me read Tom Batiuk’s weblog.

      • be ware of eve hill

        I should read those ‘Match to Flame’ blogs to better understand why people find his creation and handling of the commandments so objectionable.

        Make my blood boil, eh? Perhaps I should read them after work. I don’t want my work associates to think I’m on the warpath.

    • Banana Jr. 6000

      My plan is to introduce them one at a time, as needed. I made a new “Cartooning Suggestions” tag so they can all be viewed in one place. There will be more later in the week.

      • be ware of eve hill

        I was wondering about that gray bar heading. Nice.

        I’m greedy. You’re doing great. Please work at a pace where you feel comfortable.

  12. be ware of eve hill

    Conversely, I find it hard to imagine there is someone out there who can’t wait to read the next installment of Phil Holt Once Had a Try Out for Prince Valiant and Didn’t Get It. It’s hard to fathom. This story arc is the Phil Holt backstory nobody demanded.

    Who the hell is Kitch Swoon, and why are they saying all those terrible things about her?

    • Anonymous Sparrow

      I think she’s related to Quackser Fortune’s cousin in the Bronx, but I’m not positive. Harry Kellerman, as far as I know, isn’t related to the mystery-writing Kellerman (Faye, Jesse and Jonathan).

      • Y. Knott

        Bring Me The Head Of Tom Batiuk.

        • sorialpromise

          Y. Knott,
          I got that reference!
          I always enjoyed Warren Oates and Sam Peckinpah

          To Be Ware of Eve Hill,
          Trying to picture you on the warpath. I bet all your coworkers say,
          “Eve is beautiful when she Is angry.” (Probably not! But I’m willing to chance it!)

  13. PrezGAR

    A bigger reason to eliminate the vertical strips is the fact that an increasing number of readers do so digitally. A newspaper can easily be turned sideways. A computer monitor not so much. And if you’re reading on a tablet, you turn it sideways, the screen rotates, so the strip is still vertical.

  14. hitorque

    1. No, I’m not commenting on that bullshit sword in the bar…

    2. So let me get this straight… Phred could have simply created his own comic strip… he could have gotten into advertising, political cartoons, illustrated books, crafted those witty one-panel spots in the ‘New Yorker’, gone to ‘Mad Magazine’ or any number of a million opportunities awaiting a talented commercial artist in 1958 New York, or 1966 New York, or 1972 New York or whatever the hell this year is supposed to be; and of course he decided to sit on his ass and do nothing until hearing through the rumor of a rumor that PV might be looking for a new artist?? Weren’t there like literally a thousand syndicated comic strips back then? Because I remember what the Virginian Pilot/Ledger Star comics page looked like in circa 1982 and there would have been even more comic strips for Phred to muscle in on back in his day…

    3. I refuse to believe Mrs. What’s-her-name is actually interested in this yarn, much less ever read a Prince Valiant strip in her life…

    4. It’s funny because despite reading comics all my life I barely even know PV… It never ran in my hometown paper so I’d only ever see it on the days my dad bought a Sunday Washington Post, or when I visited my grandmother in the summer I think it was in the Montgomery Advertiser… And even then I’d just ignore the strip because the art style reminded me of the “bible story” comic books I read as a kid so I just assumed it was something religious…

    • Banana Jr. 6000

      1. Apparently Tom Batiuk has never seen Borat. The fun of any fish story is to see how big you can make it. Phil’s got her on the hook, but he just gives the game away for no reason. (Ignoring the problem that she has to be colossally stupid not to figure this out on her own.)

      2. Everything in Tom Batiuk’s publishing stories is about corporate validation. You’re only a good artist if some large publishing company courts you… but Hollywood is full of artless people who only care about money. He thinks he’s the champion of small independent publishers. But his stories, and even his own preferences, belie that.

      4. That’s also my reaction to PV. The art style and the coloring are very staid, in ways that also remind me of those Bible storybooks. And Arthurian legend was never my area of interest. PV was in my local paper, and occasionally I’d glance at it for his artistic merit, but it was hard to get interested in. It seems better suited for the “compilation book” format, where you can read the whole story at once.

    • Gerard Plourde

      “Weren’t there like literally a thousand syndicated comic strips back then? Because I remember what the Virginian Pilot/Ledger Star comics page looked like in circa 1982 and there would have been even more comic strips for Phred to muscle in on back in his day…”

      Your point is well taken. Many cities had more than one newspaper in those days usually with two pages worth of comics. Here in Philadelphia we had three papers (now down to two), the Bulletin and Inquirer were broadsheets and the Daily News was a tabloid and may have had three pages because of its smaller format. My wife is from Buffalo which had two papers. That’s a lot of space to fill.

  15. Green Luthor

    Eh, Times Square in the 1970s really wasn’t one of the most expensive neighborhoods in the world. (I’m assuming this was around 1970, since that’s when Hal Foster started having John Cullen Murphy do the art on Prince Valiant.) At the time, it was all porn theaters and other adult shops, drug dealers, and violent crime. That Not Yet Undead Phil Holt could get himself an apartment there is actually one of the more believable parts of this story.