Plot Twist: Phil Holt Was Never The Main Character Of This Story

The story completely undermines itself.

It doesn’t look like Phil Holt had much of a “try out” for Prince Valiant. It looks like he made an unsolicited submission to a large publisher, which was promptly thrown in the trash. By the receptionist. Ouch.

This is typical, though. Most big media companies have a stated policy of “we do not accept unsolicited submissions,” and return them to the submitter with a letter to that effect. This so people can’t claim the publisher stole some half-baked idea they submitted, and try to sue them for damages.

But who’s that in the background? A man who is very specifically drawn; has a monogrammed art satchel; a pair of initials no real person who worked on Prince Valiant had; and looks like he’s waiting for an interview.

It’s Batton Thomas.

As further evidence, I submit this photo from the Funky Winkerbean blog:

That’s Tom Batiuk on the left. I don’t know who the other man is, because I don’t know the context of this photo. It’s too young to be Hal Foster, who was born in 1892, and looked like this in 1962.

Today’s strip makes it clear that Phil Holt tried to nag his way into a tryout, when Batton Thomas had a genuine tryout lined up. Which raises the obvious question: why is this story about Phil Holt and not Batton Thomas??!! Just from today’s strip, we know that Thomas has a better “I tried out for Prince Valiant” story.

This makes Phil look like a liar. In fact, this strip raises a lot of questions:

  • Two days ago, Phil said he has memory problems. Are we supposed to infer that his recollection of events is false?
  • Phil said he was “up against” Wally Wood and Gray Morrow, but he didn’t even have an appointment to show his work when Batton Thomas did.
  • Sunday’s strip was Phil telling an obviously fake story. Is he doing it again?
  • Does Kitch know everything Phil says is baloney, and is just humoring him for some reason?
  • Does today’s strip mean Tom Batiuk himself auditioned for Prince Valiant? Batiuk has never spoken of this.
  • Why would Batiuk give this storyline to his Jack Kirby clone instead of his self-insert character?
  • What does it say about the cast of Funky Winkerbean that it has multiple characters who could have plausibly auditioned to draw Prince Valiant in 1970?
  • What’s even real in this world?

The Funkyverse tries to use Expy Coexistence. Characters are analogues of real people, but mention real people, places, and events. This is done very inconsistently, though. Some characters are real people (Hal Foster, Conan O’Brien); some are ersatz versions of real people (Phil Holt, Flash Freeman, Batton Thomas); some are purely fictional (Ruby Lith, Pete); some are unclear because they’re real names that are spelled wrong (Gary Morrow, Joe Schuster); and some are fantastic entities that can’t exist in a realistic world (Holtron, Lord of the Late). Some fictional characters are real people in this world (Dick Tracy); some fictional comic worlds are still fictional in this one (Prince Valiant, Batman); and this world has its own in-universe fictional properties (Starbuck Jones, the entire Atomik Komix oeuvre).

There are a lot of other inconsistencies that need to be cleared up, too. Like how the time skips are supposed to work.

Funky Winkerbean needs a Universe Bible. I know Tom Batiuk can do this, because he wrote one for Batom Comics. And it’s actually decent. It’s concise, has a clear idea what it wants to convey, and isn’t trying to bludgeon you with a dictionary. Compare that group of blog posts with this group and you’ll see the difference.

This will also be a Cartooning Suggestion:

Write a Funkyverse Bible. And then obey it.

This would solve a lot of the problems that arise from Tom Batiuk constantly reinventing characters and the strip’s history to fit short-term story needs.

35 Comments

Filed under Son of Stuck Funky

35 responses to “Plot Twist: Phil Holt Was Never The Main Character Of This Story

  1. KMD

    Fools, sinners, madmen! The Funkyverse Bible is already in the Bible. All of Act Three can be called….the Book of Lamentations!

    • Anonymous Sparrow

      When the Rachel looks for her lost children, she only finds another orphan. (Ishmael, to you.)

  2. Epicus Doomus

    Hell, even a few post-it notes stuck on his desk would help with the, uh…”continuity issues”. let’s call them…that always plague FW.

    “Becky only has one arm.”
    “They already made “Lisa’s Story” into a movie.”
    “Funky already owned a horse, named Lambchop.”

    Stuff like that, just so he doesn’t forget. And he’s added more and more new characters in Act III, to a point where I’m surprised he remembers the old ones anymore. If he ever put together a FW flowchart, he’d need to build an extension on the studio of his. He could knock down that wall where his awards and trophies shelf is, as that’ll be easy to clear. Zing!

    • gleeb

      “Les and Summer are in Tanzania.”

    • Banana Jr. 6000

      “Phil Holt is dead.”

    • be ware of eve hill

      Sluggy Freelance is an indie webcomic that is the anti-Funky Winkerbean as far as continuity is concerned.

      There are links at the bottom of most Sluggy Freelance comics referring back to the archive about characters and events featured in the current strip. The author must have one hell of a database.

      Examples:
      The first time a character appeared.
      The last time a character appeared.
      The last time a character was mentioned in a comic.
      The characters are talking about a past event. Here’s the link to it.

      https://sluggy.com

  3. Gerard Plourde

    A Funkyverse Bible would be great. Your suggestion would eliminate the constant inconsistencies that plague the strip.

    A busy schedule prevented me from posting an observation about the Wednesday strip. It strikes me that the length of time Phil Holt took to prepare his submission may say something about The Author’s own routine. In the past, we’ve noticed the amount of detail that went into rendering backgrounds (not a recent feature except for the Wednesday strip’s rendering of the lamp and the background in the flashback). Dialogue just doesn’t register the same amount of worth in his world.

  4. Thanks for the research, BJ6k. I stand (well, actually sit) in line.

    So apparently Batdick/Batton Thomas was in line for a presentation, while Philled Hole dumped his unwanted contribution on the receptionist’s desk. She promptly filed it appropriately. Look at that thing! It’s deliberately blurred, but regardless, it looks like shit. What the hell is going on?

  5. J.J. O'Malley

    Will the Funkyverse Bible open with “In the Beginning Les Moore created the Heavens and the Earth”?
    Also, if The Late Phil Holt’s PV tryout page was promptly placed in King Features’ circular file, how did it eventually wind up back in his possession?

    • Tom from Finland

      On the first day, Tom created Les Moore in his own image and saw that he was perfect.
      On the second day Tom got bored but saw that there was still the rest of the week to fill and so he halfassed Men, Women, Westview, Hollywood and New York and he saw that the were good enough.
      On Sunday he created a comic book cover.

    • Margaret

      I was wondering that myself! I think that maybe the next strip will show him sneaking into the dumpster at night to get it back.

  6. Unca $crooge

    No, Btaiuk never auditioned to draw Valiant. The only people that did were people that Foster personally invited to try out. He intended to continue to write the strip, which he did for several years, and he wanted someone he could work with and who was a good artist. That doesn’t necessarily exclude Todd but Foster didn’t reach out to unknowns. I think this is just Batiuk trying to ground this in reality by showing him in their offices trying to sell his “Funky” strip. But if they threw away Holt’s strip, how did he get it back? And why didn’t he ink the darned thing? No wonder they tossed it.

    • Y. Knott

      Batiuk, on his absolute best day with the wind at his back and a fifteen-yard head start, didn’t (and doesn’t) have the artwork chops to so much as hold the inkpot for whomever has drawn Prince Valiant. And I would think that, despite his overblown ego in some areas, even HE knows that.

      So yeah, this is Batton Thomas trying to sell his little “Three O’Clock High” strip. Which years later, in an astounding coincidence, Batton gave up doing the artwork for — paving the way for Phil Holt to draw the strip in his later years!

      I mean, c’mon … is that any dumber or less interesting than what will really happen in this arc?

      • Banana Jr. 6000

        I didn’t want to to say it, but… yeah, this is what Batiuk was drawing at the time:

        To put it mildly, this was not up to the high standards of art and realism that Prince Valiant required.

    • Banana Jr. 6000

      You may be right. But it’s a confusing detail. Batton Thomas’ presence in the story implies that he’s relevant to the story somehow. And everything about Thomas suggests that he’s there for an art interview, which is what the story is about. Why couldn’t this have been Wally Wood or Gray Morrow or John Cullen Murphy? Or just some random nobody? Why does this person have to be there at all?

      • Gerard Plourde

        I suspect that Batton Thomas wasn’t there to apply for the PV position. I think he happened to be in for “Three O’Clock High” saw what happened to Holt’s submission and retrieved it from the trash and returned it to Phil Holt.

        I’m guessing that Batton Thomas likely read Starbuck Jones as a kid growing up in Ohio, was a regular reader of “Wentworth’s Wisdom”, editor Brady Wentworth’s monthly column in the book, and idolized Flash Freeman and Phil Holt.

  7. I have to defer to people who’ve seen subsequent strips of the story, of course, but I don’t see where this strip gives evidence that Batton Thomas tried out for Prince Valiant. Just that one day sometime around 1970 he had some business with the syndicate.

    I don’t know that it’s been established when Thomas’s “Three O’Clock High” strip entered syndication, but if we’re supposed to take it as the Sadiverse’s version of Funky Winkerbean, 1970 would be a reasonable time for Thomas to have been shopping his concepts around. This is earlier than Tom Batiuk was working but, you know, fiction.

    (I’m aware that Funky Winkerbean started out with Publishers-Hall Syndicate, moving to King Features only after a couple of mergers, but I’m sure we have no idea of the syndication history of Three O’Clock High, and a comic could be tried at many syndicates, back in the days when there were more three.)

  8. billytheskink

    Batton Thomas is, in-universe, the creator of a comic strip called Three O’Clock High, so something related to that (pitching, I guess) is what he is supposed to be doing at the King Features offices I’m sure.

    Why he has Pete’s haircut, I don’t know. Maybe Batton Thomas is Pete’s real father… which explains why he changed his last name?

  9. William Thompson

    The Funkyverse Bible: the one you swear at, not on or by.

  10. robertodobbs

    OK I usually leave anachronisms alone but I can’s stand it. That’s a late 80s/90s telephone on the receptionist’s desk. The call directors that secretaries used 69/70 would have had a rotary-era handpiece cradled off to the left of the unit. (Old phones is one of my hobbies go figure!) I’m not sure about the ball casters on the office chair either. Those have existed for a while but became common on (inexpensive) office chairs much later than 1970. Go figure!

  11. Banana Jr. 6000

    Several of you have said that Batton Thomas could be there to pitch Three O’Clock High, and not for Prince Valiant. Yes, that may be true. But why is the story telling us this when it’s told us absolutely nothing about the main story?

    This story has spent 11 days talking about Roy Lichtenstein prints, Times Square, the Palm Restaurant, a sword-in-the-stone legend, some of the real artists who tried out for Prince Valiant, and every verbal transaction of the process of Kitch getting to Phil’s house. It hasn’t told us thing one about why any of this matters. There’s literally nothing in this story except transactional talking and self-indulgent details. There’s not even a plot!

    Act III runs on bad Narrative Filagree. Batiuk loves to inundate the reader with little details about things he likes, but can’t be bothered to ever have a point. Steve Martin said it best:

  12. Maxine of Arc

    Okay, so, Phil Holt never actually had “a tryout,” right? This would imply he had spoken to the syndicate and they gave him some parameters to draw a trial strip or two, but now we see he just showed up one day and handed over some unsolicited artwork. So he was “up against” Wally Wood or whoever in the sense that I would be “up against” Beyonce should I decide to deliver her producers an R&B tape I made in my basement, which is, not at all.

    Just when I thought I was used to the time wasters, they invent a new one.

  13. be ware of eve hill

    There used to be a gallery of Act II characters on funkywinkerbean.com. The art was much better than TB’s on his best day. I believe one of the artists who filled in for TB while he was somehow incapacitated created the gallery. It’s sad when a hired gun has more passion for the strip than its creator ever did.

    A few days ago, Y. Knott mentioned that TB would be at the SDCC and asked us what question we’d ask the FW creator if we had the chance. I’d ask TB when he lost his passion for the strip. Unfortunately, I’d probably ask in a tone that would result in me being frog-marched out of the convention hall.

    TB appears to be in pretty good shape for a man of 75. I wonder if he plays a lot of golf when he’s not slapping together submissions for KFS.

    Me: Hey, Tom Batiuk. Ever feel like creating a new web page identifying all your Funky Winkerbean Act III characters?
    TB: No man, I’m good.

    • be ware of eve hill

      For those of you who may be interested, I found the ‘Meet the Cast’ page in the ‘Wayback Machine’ internet archive.

      https://web.archive.org/web/20071215085558/http://funkywinkerbean.com/cast.html

      Anybody know who the artist is?

      • Banana Jr. 6000

        Who are any of those characters? Ally? Big Mac? Eddie? Monroe?

        • be ware of eve hill

          Those model sheets were from 15 years ago. Many of those characters are long-time residents of Batty’s Isle of Forgotten characters.

          Monroe was a student at the same time as Wally and Becky.

          Big Mac was the star center of the Westview boy’s basketball team. Same time as when Summer was a star of the girl’s basketball team.

          Ally was a teacher.

          Eddie and Carrie? No idea. Hopefully, they were a couple of neighbor kids who enjoyed giving Les hell.

        • billytheskink

          Ally is Pete’s older sister.

          Monroe is Wally’s high school BFF.

          Big Mac is a basketball player sparingly used in very early Act III.

          I have absolutely no idea who Eddie is and I suspect TB doesn’t either.

      • billytheskink

        I’m 99.9% sure John Byrne drew those character model sheets. Here’s a strip from one of his stints filling in for TB (I think the one when TB had a broken foot), the style largely matches what we see on the “Meet The Cast” page.

        • be ware of eve hill

          Ralph Meckler from Crankshaft?!

          I forgot he owned the Valentine movie theater before selling it to Crankshaft’s grandson, Max.

          😂John Howard before the dead skunk hairdo. Becky with long hair.

          Thanks.

      • gleeb

        Ah, Kevin, we hardly knew ye.

    • sorialpromise

      If you are frogmarched, promise me there will be video. If you can’t go, but have a desire to frogmarch, please have your husband take the video.
      I hope today is just a foretaste of Be Ware of Eve Hill Friday.

    • Y. Knott

      It’s hard to come up with a question that wouldn’t get you frogmarched out.

      – “Mr. Batiuk, does Funky Winkerbean suck on purpose, or is it more of an accidental thing?”

      – “How many copies of The Complete Funky Winkerbean have actually been sold? I mean, to people not related to you?”

      – “I’d like to direct this question to the audience — are any of you here unironically?”