The Saga Of The Stinging Sword

Link to today’s strip.

It’s hard to believe I once thought this bitter, hateful story would be “a love letter to something Tom Batiuk likes.”

This story had almost nothing to do with Prince Valiant, except for trashing its real-life artists. Three of the four from that era were slighted in some way. Hal Foster was depicted as unscrupulously plagiarizing someone else’s art; Gray Morrow’s name was gotten wrong; and John Cullen Murphy was conspicuously omitted. And since “King Features Syndicate” was proudly displayed on the office walls, Tom Batiuk even implicates his own employer in this fictional misdeed. And couldn’t even bothered to explain why.

The story wanted us to empathize with a character whose work was so good it was stolen from him. It achieved the opposite effect. Phil comes off as dishonest, lazy, and unqualified. And his behavior is completely out of character to boot. He stomped off Batom Comics because his unreasonable demands weren’t met, but he’s proud that his work was ripped off? He’s been carrying it in his wallet for 50 years?

What a typical Funky Winkerbean conclusion. A sappy, wordless, empty display that thinks it’s poignant, but isn’t. A man longs for a past he did nothing to deserve, and can’t let go of. But mostly, he wants to go to Montoni’s. The product placement in this comic strip is Happy Madison levels of obnoxious, but that’s a battle I’ll fight another day.

To further undermine its own intent, the story failed to show us Phil’s artwork in detail. I know we complain about the needless comic book art on Sundays, but this would have had a point. Funky Winkerbean wouldn’t let us see it for ourselves, but still ripped off the Prince Valiant wordmark and singing sword insignia.

This arc even ripped off an actual Prince Valiant strip! The comic strip we’ve been seeing in miniature as Phil Holt’s submission was a real Prince Valiant strip from 1978. The Daily Cartoonist found it, and you can see it at that link. Brian Kane, an academic who has written and edited books about Prince Valiant, identified it. (Hat tip to commenter Unca $crooge.)

No wonder nobody went to Tom Batiuk’s Comic-Con panel. (Hat tip to TFHackett.) Who will also take over commenting, as this is the end of my shift as guest host! I hope you all enjoyed it.




Filed under Son of Stuck Funky

45 responses to “The Saga Of The Stinging Sword

  1. sorialpromise

    Banana Jr. 6000 You were magnificent. Worthy!

    • Y. Knott

      Agreed! Great job on a terrible, terrible arc. Looking forward to more “Revised Commandments” in future weeks!

    • Banana Jr. 6000

      Thanks to everyone who enjoyed my commentary on this strange arc! And I do plan to introduce more cartooning suggestions as the strip illustrates the need for them. There’s two that I think are bigger than all the others, and they didn’t even come up this week. So there’s a lot more ground to cover.

    • ComicBookHarriet

      I heartily agree! An amazing debut shift BJ6K.

  2. Epicus Doomus

    So wait a minute. Kitch and Phil were just at Phil’s house. But now they’re back at AK HQ. So OK, fair enough, they left Phil’s house and went back to AK, no big deal. But lo and behold, Flash and Kitch have lunch plans. So when, exactly, did they make these lunch plans? Does Batom even remember that Phil and Kitch were just at Phil’s house? What the hell is happening here?

    • Y. Knott

      I’ve said this elsewhere, but I really believe it. With its meandering and nonsensical detours, its almost dreamlike approach to continuity, and its endless repetition of a few key themes (all of which are linked to reliving an idealized past), it’s impossible to read Batiuk’s work and not conclude that he is in some early stage of mental decline. I don’t say it lightly, because it’s not a fate I’d wish on anyone. But the signs are there.

      • Gerard Plourde

        I’ve been wondering this for a while as well, but if he were experiencing mental decline I doubt that he’d be on a panel at ComiCon this week.

        It may be that he (like Pete) is a procrastinator and (like Phil) also takes a long time in illustrating his work, leaving the actual dialogue for last. It goes a long way in explaining the lack of revision. It may also explain the long lead time – he works way ahead so he can make deadline, but doesn’t go back to revise anything before submitting it.

      • Banana Jr. 6000

        Batiuk needs oversight. He’s been allowed to do whatever he wants for all of Act III, and his worst tendencies have gotten more and more pronounced. This week’s hatchet job on the Prince Valiant artists – and the syndicate itself – really should have gotten someone’s attention.

      • Y. Knott

        I would be more than happy — delighted, even — to be proven wrong.

        Is there any video anywhere of his SDCC appearance? Or even a write-up from an attendee?

  3. billytheskink

    Why would it surprise Flash that he didn’t know this? Phil’s Prince Valiant tryout didn’t happen when he and Flash were in high school or whatever, it happened after the fallout from The Subterranean ownership dustup. Flash does not give the impression that he and Phil were on speaking terms then.

    • Epicus Doomus

      There isn’t even a small trace of continuity in any part of this story, literally every single detail makes no sense. Why, it’s almost like it was planned that way.

  4. William Thompson

    Oh, he’s taking that “Prince Valiant” clipping out of his hip pocket. For a moment I thought Batiuk was pulling it from somewhere else in that vicinity.

  5. Ray

    A slightly ironic and real life tie in…my buddy used to carry a FW strip around in his wallet in the early 80’s as a litmus test if people could catch subtle humor.

    Panel 1 – Les and ? go to a restaurant.
    Panel 2 – Waiter asks if they’d like to see the wine list.
    Panel 3 – Waiter pushes top of the bottle of table wine to the side with his pen while Les looks on with an “Ugh” look on his face.

    Wish I could find that one.

  6. erdmann

    He has the 51-year-old strip stored in his wallet? And it fits because he (apparently) folded it in half, despite the fact that “Prince Valiant” was printed far too large for that to work? And the paper is white?
    Add newsprint to the things Batty knows nothing about. A comic strip stored in those conditions for that long would be damn near DUST by now. At the very least it would be yellow and faded.

  7. Rusty Shackleford

    What a typical Funky Winkerbean conclusion….going to Montoni’s..

    Now this is Pulitzer material.

    • Banana Jr. 6000

      The story before this one was two people sitting at Montoni’s!

      • Rusty Shackleford

        And the one before that…and the one….

        The tag line for this strip should be: Pizza and comics with a heavy dose of boomer gripes.

        • Banana Jr. 6000

          Boomer gripes would be a huge improvement for Funky Winkerbean. At least one human being other than Batiuk himself could relate to those. It’s more like petty smug delusional obsessive mediocre cartoonist gripes.

          FW looks more and more like a bad webcomic every day. Every character is a Mary Sue, or exists solely to indulge the Mary Sues. Storylines are primarily interested in praising things the artist likes, and bashing things the artist doesn’t like. And it can’t even do those things coherently. It’s lost all concept of plot, characterization, or having a point.

  8. Phlush Phlappyhead somehow looks more Easter Island-y than ever. In fact, none of the characters are recognizable today. Is this some meta-commentary on….No, never mind. This thing is over, right?

  9. Epicus Doomus

    “Hey everyone, we’re back from Phil’s place and….owwww! Why are you grabbing my arm, Flash? Where are you taking me? What are you doing?”

    “Shhh, I don’t want Phil to hear. Wanna go to Montoni’s for lunch with me?”

    “Uh, OK, I guess. Speaking of Phil, did you know…(lengthy story)”

    “No, I didn’t know that. Hey Phil, Kitch and I are going to lunch together. You can come too, if you want.”

    Coming tomorrow: Flash’s fixation on Kitch takes a creepy and unseemly turn as he complains about the food and becomes combative with Wally. An embarrassed Kitch leaves with Phil, sending an agitated Flash into a seething jealous rage.

  10. newagepalimpsest

    Did he really just rip off someone else’s art in the middle of a story about how those someones actually stole it from his Mary Sue character?

    Congratulations on surviving your first shift, Banana!

  11. Tom from Finland

    I don’t understand why Batiuk is not able to write the characters according to their established personalities. Phil’s backstory defines that he was willing to resign instead of giving away his IP rights. That Phil wouldn’t have said that stealing his art was no big deal. He would have told about that to everybody and shown the originals as a proof.

    I think Tom is trying to show the soft side of Phil, but now he just feels like a bitter old man keeping a memento of his mistreatment. Ending doesn’t work because Tom does not allow any real flaws in his characters. It was not possible that Phil would not have won the tryout, without him being treated unjustly. And the art stealing plot point had to be added to show that Phil’s art was actually perfect.
    This could have been easily fixed by making Phil himself decide that he is not up to the task of creating comics in the pace required by Prince Valiant schedule and then showing him telling that to Hal in the tryout. Hal could then have said that he is sorry to hear that but he likes the art and could work it into Prince Valiant, so that Phil’s work was not in vain.
    That would have made the ending much better: Phil is a bit embarrassed about his failure, so he doesn’t want to tell anybody about it, but also proud that he was able to get his art in Prince Valiant.

    Also, I don’t understand Tom’s treatment of his female characters. Once again the female main character of the arc is pushed into the background and her only purpose is to smirk. I don’t think Kitch had any lines this week. And to add to the insult she is not allowed to speak even in the ending strip, but instead everybody is teleported back to office, just so that Flash can steal the spotlight. Just like Flash and Phil stole Ruby’s spotlight in the hall of fame panel and turned it into an all male panel.

    • Rusty Shackleford

      Well what Kitsch supposed to say? I would have her say: “ Why am I wasting time with these idiots?” “Montoni’s? Count me out! “

      • Tom from Finland

        Well, the last strip could have been done like this:
        Place: Phil’s apartment

        Kitch: You didn’t mind your art being used in Prince Valiant without permission?
        Phil: No… It was no big deal
        Kitch: Flash invited me to a lunch at Montoni’s, would you like to join?
        Phil: Ok, go get you car, I’ll be right down.

        And the wallet panel in the end

        • be ware of eve hill

          @Tom from Finland,

          Sorry, you’ll never be the writer for Funky Winkerbean. You’re obviously overqualified.

          • Tom from Finland

            So, alas, I also failed my “try out”. Oh, the irony!

          • Banana Jr. 6000

            That’s okay, just print out this thread and save it in your wallet for the next 50 years. And mention it about yourself at every possible opportunity.

    • batgirl

      If the choice of this PV strip was random, there’s a bitter(bitterer?) irony involved. I read the completed strip (followed the links to FaceBook) and it is about women defending a city against pirates. The final panel has Aleta telling Valiant that the woman who shut the gate (that he left open) was “your own daughter, Karen the Amazon!”
      There’s no way Phil – who pushed Ruby Lith from her place on her own Comicon panel, who mocked Kitch with an obvious ‘tall tale’ – came up with a story that celebrates women. Not women superheroes, but the ‘women of the city’ protecting their homes. (and not fawning over their menfolk as they are routinely shown in the Funkiverse).
      Though I guess the bitterest irony is that TB plagiarized a Prince Valiant strip for a story that accuses the creator of Prince Valiant of plagiarism.

      • Tom from Finland

        Maybe Phil’s original script was full of misogynist crap and that’s why the secretary threw the comic away in disgust. The way Hal found a way to use it was to remove all text and rewrite it so it could actually be published.

  12. Rusty Shackleford

    Check out the BattyBlog. A new website is coming plus a return of the time travel helmet.

  13. Tremendous debut, BJ6K! Re: today’s strip, in the Book of Batom it’s established that Atomik Comix is situated in the former Batom offices in West Third Street in Cleveland. Westview, Ohio is a fictitious location, but if we assume it to be somewhere between Akron (where the model for Montoni’s, Luigi’s Restaurant is) and Medina (where Batty lives), they’re driving 30-40 miles for a pizza lunch. Of course, since we’ve just seen Kitch and Phil seemingly teleport from the office to Phil’s studio and back, this is not a big deal.

  14. KMD

    “We’ve known each other since high school….and I never was aware that you had tried out to be the artist on ‘Prince Valiant’”

    “Meh….nothing to tell….it was no big deal.”

    “We’ve known each other since high school….and I never was aware that you were still alive and stalking me at a comic convention.”

    “Meh….nothing to tell….it was no big deal.”

    And the sad part? This sociopathic behavior is being treated as no big deal by TB and a host of worthless characters.

    “You guys go ahead to get your car and I’ll be right down.”

    Oh, that explains it. The real Phil is dead. This one’s an android since no human would say that.

    • Banana Jr. 6000

      “We’ve known each other since high school… and I never was aware that you lost an arm in that car crash”

      “Meh….nothing to tell….it was no big deal.”

  15. be ware of eve hill

    I read the links in Banana Jr. 6000’s blog. I’m not sure what is more stunning.

    1.) Brian Kane, an academic who has written and edited books about Prince Valiant, does not appear to be angry about TB’s less than flattering portrayal of Hal Foster. More surprising, Brian is willfully defending TB on that Facebook page.

    2.) Brian Kane appears to be a non-ironic fan of Funky Winkerbean and Tom Batiuk. A non-ironic fan of FW? Wow! Found one!

    It’s not a myth. They really exist!!!

    • Banana Jr. 6000

      There haven’t been any comments about the plagiarism allegation in the story, or any comments at all since it was made. Apparently Batiuk contacted Kane for research purposes, but that’s about all Kane had to say. Lord knows what Batiuk thought needed researching for this pointless arc.

      • Y. Knott

        The Los Angeles ‘research’ he proudly posted for his “fire in LA” arc shows what Batiuk thinks research is: take a couple of random photos, and write down some vocabulary words you don’t fully understand and/or names which you don’t really recognize. Then, your research being fully done, incorporate it — however ham-fistedly — into the dregs of whatever sodden mess of a story your addled mind can come up with.