Life’s a Gas

J.J. O’Malley
October 20, 2022 at 12:49 am
Is tomorrow’s strip going to feature Ms. Smith saying to her would-be Clarence the Angel (Second Class), “Oh! You thought I was going to jump? No, I just stopped here because I have a flat tire!”?

Close enough, O’Malley, close enough. A flat tire can happen to anyone, though; a driver of today’s cars would have to be pretty damn hapless to run out of gas. Guess Susan’s still so distraught over having to say farewell to Les (and to her teaching job) to see the “low fuel” light through her tears.

This “Susancide” arc that wraps up tomorrow has been particularly pointless. Batiuk brings back from an eleven year absence a long running, albeit secondary, character who starred in one of his early prestige arcs. But we catch up with her here mere hours after we saw her last. Where is she now?

And where was Ed Crankshaft then? Susan split the scene in July 2011. Less than a year later, Les and Summer were training for their Kilimanjaro klimb when they spotted their old bus driver:

“How do you know that decrepit old man in the wheelchair is Crankshaft, Mr. All-Smart?” Because in ’09, Batiuk & Ayers gave us a week where Crankshaft becomes unstuck in time, flashing forward and back through his life.

Come to think of it, inserting Ed Crankshaft into this flashback gives Ayers an excuse to draw the character the he drew for thirty years: the classic Ed Crankshaft that everyone knows. Not Mindy’s feeble “Gramps,” or that Hector Salamanca lookalike that Rick Burchett turned him into. Even Batiuk himself never drew Crankshaft very well. Dan Davis draws the strip these days, and does a creditable job currently, but only Chuck Ayers could render Cranky’s contemptuous scowl in panel 3!




Filed under Son of Stuck Funky

37 responses to “Life’s a Gas

  1. Epicus Doomus

    Given Susan’s history, this really is pretty tacky and tasteless. “Oh, ha ha ha, YOU thought I was contemplating suicide, hee hee! Nah, not THIS time…I just failed to put gas in my car like a moron”…I guess I can see why that was humorous to him, but only because I have some insight into how he thinks. Otherwise, it’s deranged to the point of being almost unbelievable.

    And Crankshaft appears annoyed that she isn’t contemplating suicide, which is in character, I suppose. It doesn’t make it any less warped and disturbing, though. As of right now, I’ve changed my mind again, and I now believe this is setting up “something”. Something stupid, something incredibly dumb, but “something”.

    • billytheskink

      ‘Shaft’s annoyance is pretty understandable to me. People who run out of gas don’t sit around a bridge and mope… they get on their cell phones and call AAA, or they start walking to a filling station, or, if they are waiting around for assistance, they don’t let people who’ve stopped to help them ramble on about their failed baseball careers without getting a word in themselves.

      • Epicus Doomus

        Susan has always been such a ridiculous, contrived and kind of creepy character though, hasn’t she? A troubled, emotionally-damaged young woman whose entire adult life was shaped by her undying, unrequited love for Les/Tom…it’s like some sort of really disturbing wish-fulfillment fantasy. Being in love with Les was her one defining character trait, it’s not like she ever did anything else of consequence, like write a comic book or save someone from a fire or win an Oscar or something.

        • Rusty Shackleford

          Batty has no shame. He really talked this up. He had 3 blog posts about this to fill in the backstory, all for this.

    • Banana Jr. 6000

      You could actually make this story touching. Susan could say:

      “You know, I actually did try to kill myself once, when I was in high school. But today was the worst day of my life. I was rejected, humiliated, had to leave my job, my car just broke down, and…. I never thought about death once. I guess… I’m stronger now. But I didn’t realize that until you talked to me. Thank you, bus driver.” Then she hugs Crankshaft, which annoys him just like in Panel 3.

      What a great ending that would be. It gives Susan Smith some dignity, rescues Ed from embarrassment, and actually has a joke in it. It would have justified revisiting this long-forgotten character.

      • Gerard Plourde

        Giving any character other than Les (and POSSIBLY Flash, Phil, and Batton Thomas) dignity is the last thing TomBa would do.

  2. Y. Knott

    Ed’s look is the exact same look we’re all giving Tom Batiuk right now.

    And possibly also Chuck Ayres’ look when he realized Tom wanted him to illustrate this crap.

  3. Green Luthor

    She wasn’t going to jump, but I think Ed’s now gonna push her. Oh, the hilarity!

  4. William Thompson

    She wasn’t going to off herself after all? I hope she’s forced to listen to Crankshaft for another week. It would serve her right!

  5. Susan; “Hah hah. This is most humorous because I have a history of crippling depression and suicidal ideation, so you thought I was going to jump off of this bridge, even though you don’t know who I am! When in fact I just paid no attention to the low fuel light and ran out of gas. What a comical misunderstanding this is!”

    Crankshaft: “Goddammit! Just shut up and jump, bitch! Oh wait… the longer you “live”, the more you’ll suffer! Never mind. I feast on human suffering. Enjoy your six-mile walk to the nearest gas station. I’m outta here. Bitch”

    Also, kudos for the thoroughly apt Hector Salamanca reference, TFH!

  6. And the point of all this? Is Susan coming back, or is this just another “Hey, check out my other strip about a cantankerous bus driver! Buy my books! Give me awards! Any awards! ‘Worst Crossover’? Where can I apply?”

    • Epicus Doomus

      That’s the only mystery here. It sure feels like it’s just another shameless “Crankshaft” crossover thing, with the totally pointless chatter about Ed’s idiotic baseball career, like it’s all just a really cheesy ad. But the Susan Smith element is really, really bizarre, even by FW standards. Suddenly going back eleven years to pick THAT story up where it left off…you almost HAVE to believe there HAS to be more to it than just this. But this is BatYam we’re talking about here. So I’m flummoxed.

      The way I see it, going with “nothing happens” is always the safest bet in the Funkyverse, as you’ll probably be correct a solid 65-70% of the time. But 2022 FW has been really peculiar, and I expect that to escalate. I think that maybe he’s finally totally going off the deep end, and something strange is going to happen.

    • Charles

      I think he probably read, and was stung by, a lot and/or devastating criticism over how he left the Susan Smith storyline back in 2011. It’s a totally reasonable reading of that final sequence to conclude that Susan was going to commit suicide after she left Westview High, and since Batiuk failed to address it one way or the other, there’s literally nothing countering that conclusion. Either he meant for her to kill herself and we weren’t supposed to care, which would make him monstrously callous, or he didn’t realize how Susan was coming off, which would make him a terrible writer for keeping it unsettled. So he wrote this fixfic.

      If it’s to reintroduce Susan to the current storyline, there’s no reason to make this week a flashback. The only thing this week does is address the question of whether Susan was suicidal when she decided to trash her career after Les rejected her. And, of course, it’s to point out that she was never suicidal, you silly ninnies! How could you possibly have thought such an absurd thing?

      But if I’m wrong and Susan somehow reappears in the modern timeline, she’ll mention how she was saved by “that cranky bus driver”, because like everyone else, she never learned Crankshaft’s name.

  7. J.J. O'Malley

    Lord, how I hate it when my mind somehow manages to sync up with what Batiuk is thinking. But, to paraphrase H.L. Mencken, no one ever went broke underestimating the stupidity of a “Funky Winkerbean” story arc.

    So, why in the name of all that’s good and right with the world did TB foist a week of bridgejumper bushwa on us? I have to assume that he intends to reintroduce Susan Smith (by the by, was it in poor taste to tease an auto-related death by someone who shares the name of a woman who drowned her two kids in a car in 1994?) at some point in the near future. Otherwise, why revisit this nonsense? The sad truth is that Batiuk may do stupid things in his strips, but he rarely does stupid unknowingly.

  8. ian'sdrunkenbeard

  9. Paul Jones

    Her car probably didn’t but this strip, it ran out of gas ages ago.

  10. The Duck of Death

    Another glorious arc wherein not one person behaves in a coherent way!

    1. If you ran out of gas on a bridge, and were able to pull over, you would whip out your cell phone and try to get help, not lean on the rail and contemplate life, the universe, and everything.

    2. If you saw someone parked on a bridge and leaning on a rail, and you stopped to try to help, you’d probably lead with, “Are you ok?” or “Car trouble?” not “You know, back in ’41….”

    3. If a weird 90-year-old guy stopped a school bus for no reason on a bridge, approached you, and started telling his life story, you would be freaked out, and with good reason.

    4. “You think you’ve got troubles? Let me tell you the story of my troubles! Why, when I was your age…” is a terrible way to approach a suicidal person. Notice that not once does Ed ask her what’s troubling her.

    5. Anyone on earth in Ed’s situation would be relieved, or embarrassed, or both. No one who cared enough to stop to help a potential suicide would be enraged to find out they were actually ok.

    I could go on, but I’ve already spent 5.5 minutes, which is twice as long as Puff Batty spent writing this arc.

    • Banana Jr. 6000

      2b. If someone saw you parked on a bridge and started telling you their life story, you’d probably interject and ask what the hell he’s talking about.

      So much of the “humor” in the strip relies on people passively not responding to strange behavior. At least not until it’s late enough in the week to wrap things up.

  11. ComicBookHarriet

    I think Tom working on the ‘Match to Flame’ digressions and annotations for his massive Complete Funky Winkerbean volumes are the real culprit here. He was probably getting ready for Volume 12 (2004-2006), reread his Susan Smith student teaching arc, and realized he didn’t really like how he’d ended her story. So he just tacks this in 12 years too late.

    I also blame him working on previous volumes for the return of random named AA members last year, (introduced in 1999, collected in Volume 10, published last February.) and Donna retelling her Eliminator-is-a-girl backstory again. (introduced in 2002, collected in Volume 11, published this January.)

    • So, it’s basically Batiuk looking over his work and thinking, “Boy, was I a terrible writer. Look at this crap. I wish I could fix this.” *finger snap* “But, actually I can!”

      Pity it doesn’t inspire him to, you know, improve his current writing. Because in another ten years, we’ll see more of this “better fix this” junk. Maybe we’ll find out what happened to Becky’s mom on that scissors-lift.

      • The Duck of Death

        I’m pretty sure that, like another beloved cartoon character, she went up and never came back down.

      • Anonymous Sparrow

        Like the story of the Matilda Briggs (a ship, not a young woman) and the Giant Rat of Sumatra, I think the story of Roberta Blackburn and the scissors-lift is a story for which the world is not yet prepared.

        The story I’m waiting for — and it’s passed fifty-four years now, so I don’t think I’ll ever see it — is how Metamorpho cleared his name and returned to Simon Stagg’s payroll after Algon framed him for the death of Wally Bannister, Sapphire Stagg’s husband.

        Jeff Murdoch’s mother probably destroyed the only copies of the issues in which it appeared.

    • be ware of eve hill

      Your ‘Match to Flame’ theory makes a hell of a lot of sense. How often have we seen writers borrow from the past when they struggle coming up with new material?

      I’ve had a different theory this year. TB said in the Washington Post puff piece he has no intention of retiring, yet many of the story arcs he has featured this year feel (to me) like a farewell tour. A trip down memory lane. TB seems to be tying up numerous loose ends.


      1). TB avatar Batton Thomas frequently visits the Atomik Komix office, fulfilling Batiuk’s fantasy of being part of a comic book bullpen. Life didn’t see fit to grant TB that dream, so he’s doing it his way. Why else is Batton there?

      2.) TB gifts his favorite character Les with a major award, the class of which TB himself is incapable of winning but feels he deserves.
      Batiuk: Well, if you fools aren’t going to give me a major award, I’ll have to give one to my avatar. Les wins, I win.

      3.) Revisiting the Eliminator/Donna arc. One of TB’s most memorable story arcs from Act I. What was the fate of the Eliminator helmet? The old high school is featured for the final time.

      4.) The most recent batch of Westview high school seniors graduates. The shopping mall story arc is their final farewell. TB can close the book on them.

      5.) Cory and Rocky finally have their wedding, an event that can only be described as Batiukian. Another years-long loose end is tied.

      6.) A story arc featuring the Dead St. Lisa Tapes serves no purpose other than to retcon whose idea their creation was. Stop blaming Lisa and Les. It was Harry’s idea. Will we hear about the tapes again?

      7.) In a move that baffled many readers, TB makes the odd choice to create a story arc where the Act I classmates inexplicably age 10 years in order for their 50th class reunion to coincide with the 50th anniversary of the Funky Winkerbean comic strip. The festivities feel more like a funeral than a class reunion. This story arc allows Batiuk to say farewell to many Act I characters.

      8.) The Jessica-John Darling arc. Was TB trying to give closure to Jessica or himself? Revisiting John Darling, the story arc nobody besides TB wanted to see. One last chance to say goodbye to the comic strip John Darling? A decision he feels he was forced to make?

      9.) As folks have mentioned today, TB answers a question many have pondered for years. Perhaps TB didn’t like the way he left the story. Too much ambiguity. Today we find out Susan did not commit suicide after leaving Les.
      Batiuk: (scoffs) You people are morbid. Why would I kill off Susan? That’s sick!

      Many of the decisions TB has made this year seem questionable, and out of character. Several readers have theorized that TB is losing his faculties. I thought TB might be wrapping up loose ends while he’s still able.

      • Y. Knott

        I can’t imagine Batiuk voluntarily retiring, only because the minute his strips end, they’re completely gone and forgotten forever. They will not be re-run, let alone mourned; there will be no museum retrospectives or ComicCon tributes. Hey, if you think Batiuk’s strips are obscure and unloved now? Without daily publication, they will very quickly be consigned to the same utter and total oblivion as that 1940s cartoon from which he stole Kitsch Swoon.

        And even though Batiuk’s mental capacity may be diminished? THAT much he knows.

    • Gerard Plourde

      I think you’ve hit on the most plausible explanation. And it does make me wonder if this year is some sort of “victory lap”.

  12. Banana Jr. 6000

    Here’s a “Match To Flame” blog post you’ll never see:

    “The character in today’s strip is Susan Smith. She was part of a story in 2011 where she kissed Les, and a picture of it circulated around Westview High School. This caused them both difficulties, and Susan had to leave the school. I thought it would be interesting to revisit what else happened to her that day.”

    There. Was that so hard?

    Batiuk can’t simply tell you anything. Not even in the informal environment of a personal/fan blog. He has to be elliptical about everything, because he thinks that’s how writing works. For all Batiuk’s conflicts with editors, his worst editor has always been himself.

    • The Duck of Death

      I unironically believe that not only does he not edit his own work, he doesn’t even proofread it.

      He constantly alludes to his muse — says his characters are calling to him, or have more to say, or some other oblique bullcrap. A guy who thinks like that is not a guy who’ll say, “All right, a good day’s work. Since it’s not due tonight, I’ll sleep on it and have another look in the morning to see if it still works in the light of day. And if it does, I’ll give it a good proofread so I know I’ve done all I can to hold myself to a high professional standard.”

      He’s more likely to say, “Lisa/Susan/[whoever] speaks to me through my pen, and like Moses with the Ten Commandments, it is not my humble place to question the Holy Writ. First thought, best thought, and… done!”

  13. be ware of eve hill

    Ugh. Please tell me that’s not Summer in the SOSF banner.

    • Epicus Doomus

      That’s not Summer in the SoSF banner. I might be lying, though.

      • Charles

        It does kind of look like receding hair kid who graduated this year. Was his name Connor?

        With that smug smirk though, it could be anyone!

  14. be ware of eve hill

    Meanwhile, in Crankshaft, Ed sure is getting his money’s worth out of that leaf blower. Tomorrow, Ed is atop a stepladder trying to get that last stubborn leaf.

    Did Ed blow the crying Mitch into Lillian’s yard?

  15. Either one of two things will happen in tomorrow’s strip:

    1. Crankshaft accuses Susan of being a liar.

    2. This will be the stupidest FW storyline since Zanzibar the Talking Primate.

    I’m better on Number Two.