I’m Aware Of His Work

Link to today’s strip

Today’s strip is a lesson in how Tom Batiuk’s sloppy writing is undone by his sloppy writing.

Phil’s remark feels like a passive-aggressive insult. The name Phil can’t think of is John Cullen Murphy, the artist who took over Prince Valiant when Hal Foster retired in the early 1970s. He remembers the names of brief fill-ins Wally Wood and Gray Morrow, but not the man who drew the strip for the next 30 years. These were all real-life people who worked on the real-life Prince Valiant comic strip.

When you’re making a list of something and intentionally leave off the most prominent example, it looks like you’re trying to make a point. You’re saying “The New England Patriots’ last few quarterbacks were Mac Jones, Cam Newton, Drew Bledsoe, and some guy whose initials were T.B.” It looks like you’re trying to downplay the person for some reason.

But the joke fails because… he got one of the names wrong! It was G-R-A-Y Morrow, not G-A-R-Y Morrow.

When the joke is “I forget the important one,” you have to remember the unimportant ones. Forgetting them too makes the intent unclear. This is why “beady eyed nitpicking” matters. I’m not being a spelling pedant here. I’m pointing out a problem with the execution of the joke that makes it fail. And because we’re supposed to believe comic strip characters are speaking aloud, it’s not a trivial error. If it was incorrectly spelled G-R-E-Y, it would be less bad, because it’s said the same.

The intent is unclear for another reason: What did John Cullen Murphy do to deserve being snubbed like this? This story doesn’t involve Murphy at all. Batiuk’s never mentioned him on his blog either. Murphy could still be introduced, but bringing real (and deceased) people into the story would get into some thorny areas. Is he going to be the villain?

I do like Phil’s description of “your mind playing charades with you” when you get older. I recently turned 50, and I can relate to this feeling.

The other day I was trying to remember the name of a college hangout from decades ago. I said “it was something like ‘Thirsty Turtle.'” I remembered later it was Purple Porpoise. I couldn’t remember the name, but I remembered Adjective Marine Animal, and also that it was alliterative. That helped my brain find the right answer. I figure this is just how your brain works when you get older. Your mind can’t make the direct connections it used to, and you have to take roundabout paths to find pieces of information.

The real problem is that Phil Holt has never been depicted as having memory loss. He needs it for today’s joke, so suddenly he’s always had it, and has a mechanism for coping with it. Tune in tomorrow, when Phil remembers the precise details of things that happened 50 years ago.



Filed under Son of Stuck Funky

35 responses to “I’m Aware Of His Work

  1. Epicus Doomus

    New York City, 1969, Times Square, the famed Cafe Huh? A hot young cartoonist is kicking down third walls with his mind-blowing comic strip about a typical suburban Ohio high school. Fans and fellow comic strip creators alike are dumbfounded and awe-stricken by this rising new star. A despondent Chic Young is seen leaving in tears, while a youngster in the crowd named Lynn Johnston is inspired to buy her very first pen the next day. The common refrain is, “only a hundred comic strip creators saw him create comic strips, but every one of those people went on to create their own comic strips”.

    But his rise to fame was only rivaled by his precipitous downfall. When he began bitching about the fans, some wondered if they should crush his sweet hands. Soon he was addicted to intense ennui, and began churning out cheap serialized commercial drivel to feed his habit, then further watered down the product with various side projects no one liked. He took it all too far. But boy, could he draw comic strips.

  2. William Thompson

    Then Phil Dolt glances at his sketch of that PV character and concludes the entire arc with “Whoever it was, they were all better artists than me, so I didn’t get the job. Hey, did I tell ya I was there when Montini’s opened in New York’s Manhattan region? Now there was a story!”

  3. Oh c’mon, BJ6k, he;s been brain dead for years. Of course his memory is messed up. I’m talking about Philled Hole, not Batdick. ….Or am I?

  4. billytheskink

    Oh, the guy who used to be dead is talking about stiff competition?

  5. RudimentaryLathe?

    What. Is. The. POINT?!?!!!

    • Y. Knott

      The point? The point is that King Features expects to receive *something* to fill the blank space every single morning.

      It doesn’t have to be funny. It also doesn’t have to be memorable. Or interesting. Or good. Or even particularly comprehensible. It just has to fill up the appropriate amount of space with some words and some pictures.

      The point? The point is that no-one gets paid — not Batiuk, not Ayers, and not Tea Berry-Blue — if the panels are blank.

      Oh, and also, Batiuk is still mad that no-one hired him to write stories for comics.

  6. The joke fails for me because I have no idea who any of these people are, nor do I give two shits about Prince Valiant. I mean the artwork seemed good, but I never read it.

    • Epicus Doomus

      Some years ago I was trying to sell an old book, a catalog of coins issued in a very specific geographical region during a very specific time frame. I did a little research and discovered that this book was quite rare, and I found myself wondering how many people collect old coin collecting books. It turned out that the answer was seven. My point being: how many serious, still-living Prince Valiant fans can there possibly be? Maybe a hundred? I mean, I only know who Prince Valiant is based on old pop-culture references from fifty years ago, and even then it was pretty damn obscure.

      Then again, it wouldn’t really surprise me that much to learn that PV has a huge, passionate underground following, complete with yearly conventions and cosplayers and etc. But it just seems unlikely.

      • Unca $crooge

        The artwork seemed good? My goodness, it influenced a couple of generations of artists. And the writing was superb as well. The whole PV / Aleta story line has to be the best love story the comics medium has ever seen. I checked FB and saw that the Hal Foster FB page has 2,300 members but that is a small representation of the actual interest in the strip as many of us aren’t even members. Fantagraphics is into its second printing of the complete Foster run so there must be more than 100 people interested in it. And the current strip is pretty darn good too. While the stories may not be at the save level as Foster’s, the artwork is often jaw droppingly spectacular. It really is the best feature in the Sunday funnies.

        And the Daily Cartoonist had a recent post on Funky’s version, pointing out that the sample Phil Holt drew from a sample is an actual layout of a real Prince Valiant strip, ironically drawn by John Cullen Murphy rather than Hal Foster.


        • Rusty Shackleford

          A commenter posted yesterday that PV would have been better suited for a comic book rather than the newspaper. I agree 100%. I just could never get into that strip, it just seemed son inaccessible. FW is pretty inaccessible these days too.

          I know that back in the day PV would have been given a lot of space and so perhaps I would have enjoyed it more, but in my day I just couldn’t get into it.

          I bet even older readers wonder why FW is talking about PV.

        • ComicBookHarriet

          So between you Unca, and Nebus who posted earlier this week about following and recapping Prince Valiant, there are at least two Valiant followers in the comments section.

          Prince Valiant deserves a following. And if this weird plotline gets even one person to check it out, then I guess it would be the best plotline of the year in terms of making the world a better place.

          Like a filthy drunken man raving for hours on a street corner getting a single person to call their mom and tell her they love her.

          • Banana Jr. 6000

            Prince Valiant has a legitimate fan blog. That’s something Funky Winkerbean have will never have again.

          • be ware of eve hill

            I’m adding Prince Valiant to my Comics Kingdom favorites. I’m not sure why it’s not already there. PV has to be better than some of the mediocre KFS comics I’m already vetting.

            Perhaps I didn’t think I could get involved with a weekly episodic strip.

            Before this story arc, I viewed Prince Valiant as that wordy comic that used to appear in Grammie’s newspaper when I was a kid. PV was not in my local newspaper growing up.

        • Banana Jr. 6000

          Wow, that’s quite a find!

      • Hannibal's Lectern

        Over on CK, this week’s PV strip has 35 comments and 26 of those emoji responses (of which 24 are favorable). This is a bit above average, probably well above median. There are only a few strips that generate huge numbers of comments, and those that do (FW, Crankshaft, Mary Worth, Mark Trail) tend to have far more negative than positive comments. So, while PV may not have a “huge, passionate underground following, complete with yearly conventions and cosplayers,” it does seem to be attracting at least as much of an audience as most of King Features’ other properties.

        I read it mostly for the art, which is superb. The story lines are interesting. I wouldn’t call myself a “fan” (I have no collections of the strip, nor have I gone to any effort to read the old Foster strips); I just read the strip every week and enjoy it. It’s nice to get enjoyment from the comic itself, vs. being infuriated by it and getting my enjoyment from the snarky comments (can you guess which comic I’m talking about here?)

        • ComicBookHarriet

          Mary Worth is an odd one, because while people snark on it and complain about certain plots or characters, there also seems to be genuine if ironic love for what it is. Judge Parker and Rex Morgan occasionally tap into this energy as well.

          • Banana Jr. 6000

            Funky Winkerbean could learn a lot from Mary Worth. But after that dumb Wilbur arc, I fear the reverse is happening.

    • erdmann

      And that’s another problem with this strip. The joke only works if the reader knows who “M” is. For all their considerable skills, Murphy, Wood and Morrow are hardly household names. Some readers will likely guess “M” is the guy who actually got the job, but others will be mystified.

    • Hitorque


      Maybe someday I’ll tell y’all about that time I tried out for the Cincinnati Reds (I didn’t make it)…

      • Y. Knott

        Remember to tell the story The Batiuk Way: start off by showing contempt for your audience, then meander endlessly while focusing on unimportant details, and just generally be a pedantic schoolmarm from a bitter hollow. It’s sure to make for a fascinating tale!

  7. J.J. O'Malley

    “Gary Morrow”? Somewhere the ghost of “Joe Schuster” is laughing his arse off.

    I, for one, hope that the family of John Cullen Murphy are relieved that he wasn’t mentioned in Phil Holt/Tom Batiuk’s sour grapes remembrance. Is TB upset because Murphy won the National Cartoonist Society’s Story Comic Strip Award and Elzie Segar Award in his noteworthy career, and he has yet to?

    • Gerard Plourde

      Maybe TomBa thinks he created an “Easter Egg” about Murphy who was a multiple winner of the National Cartoonists Society Comic Strip award (1971, 1974, 1976, 1978, 1984, 1987) in addition to the Elzie Segar Award in 1983. Unfortunately, as Banana Jr. 6000 and J.J. O’Malley point out, it comes across as sour grapes.

    • I was just listening to some podcast talking about Gray Morrow’s work on Mark Hazzard Merc for Marvel in the 80’s. That guy was solid for modern day war and I think romance; can’t remember if he did fantasy or historical as well? Anyway he deserved mention but a respectful one. Also, “Gray” is infinitely cooler than “Gary”

      • Hannibal’s Lectern

        Gray Morrow drew Tarzan for a number of years (I think the current Sunday strips on GoComics, which come up in the middle of the week for some reason, are his art). I remember his fantasy/SF covers for Ace Books back in the ‘60s (well, that’s when I read the books, anyway). As good as his comic drawings were, his paintings were even better.

  8. batgirl

    Isn’t Phil-in-the-Blank the same guy who raged at Flash-in-the-Pan (publicly!) for misremembering a very minor detail (during his spectacular return from the dead)? And sulked for decades over not receiving credit for his work?
    And now he’s claiming that he’s the artist of the work executed by the very guy whose name he “can’t remember”? Is this like the cartoonist equivalent of stolen valour?

  9. batgirl

    Also! It’s pretty well established that Phil is TB’s stand-in for Jack Kirby. Kirby’s art style is very very distinctive and unmistakable. Foster’s style (and Murphy’s) is completely different. I’m not saying that accomplished artists can’t use a variety of styles, but … Jack Kirby’s take on Prince Valiant? Man, that would tick PV fans off worse than the Mark Trail makeover.

  10. robertodobbs

    Blasphemy for someone like Wally Wood to be mentioned in something like FW.

  11. Jimmy

    The Purple Porpoise was legendary. Their chicken wings had so much meat on the bone. It was an inexpensive, fun joint; a great spot to hit before or after football games.

  12. be ware of eve hill

    Aw, no ‘Cartooning Suggestion’ today? 😭

    I get it. The urge to call out Batty’s spectacularly sloppy writing was too hard to resist.


    “My brain likes playing charades with me” is a cute joke. It seems Batty can come up with them once in a while if he’s a good boy.

    I like my little brother’s joke about his memory issues better. He works in I.T., and sometimes his memory recall can be a little tardy. He claims his “processor is slowing down.”

    We’ll be talking, and he won’t be able to remember something. Five minutes later, when we’re talking about a completely different subject, the thing he was struggling to remember will come to him. It’s weird.

    • Banana Jr. 6000

      There won’t be one every day. There will be more this week, though. I’ll introduce them as each day’s strip suggests. This one is too broad to be a suggestion, which need to be specific.