You won’t believe Summer’s brilliant idea for a book! It’s not about Lisa! It’s about Westview! Which is about 70% Lisa by volume.
There are already enough books about Westview, Summer. They’re called The Complete Funky Winkerbean Volumes 1 through 12. Nobody buys or reads them.
Is Batiuk trying to be meta here? He’s already blurred the line between Lisa’s Story, the in-universe book Les wrote, and Lisa’s Story, the real-world book of Funky Winkerbean comic strips you can buy online for only $80.
Let’s see how meta this gets. Someday, Tom Batiuk will sit down to put together a future Complete Funky Winkerbean compilation, that will contain the “Summer wants to write a book about Westview” plotline. When he does this, he will be writing a book about Westview about writing a book about Westview.
And what if Summer’s book includes information about the many books that have been written by Westview residents? Most of them are about things that happened in Westview: Lisa’s death, Holly’s majorette career, Dinkle’s life story. So when Batiuk sits down to compile this future Complete Funky Winkerbean book, he will be writing a book about Westview about writing a book about Westview about writing a book about Westview.
But wait! What if Les’ earlier book Fallen Star contains an account of how Plantman threatened Les when Les’ writing was going to reveal Plantman as the murderer of John Darling? It has to; it’s an important part of the story. Now, imagine Summer interviews her father about this, for her own book about Westview. This would mean… take a deep breath…
Tom Batiuk is writing a book about Westview (the future Complete Funky Winkerbean collection these strips will appear in) about writing a book about Westview (Summer’s in-universe book) about writing a book about Westview (Fallen Star) about writing a book about Westview (the accounts within Fallen Star about how writing Fallen Star brought out the killer).
This isn’t just another book publishing story. I feel like like I’m unpacking a Russian nesting doll of book publishing stories.
58 responses to “Infinite Recursion”
A book about Summer’s home town? Given the way her face is mutating, the title should be Westview: Town Without a Warning Label.
$80 for a slipbound collection of Funky Winkerbean strips! Who would actually pay for such a thing? Who would want it in their home?
Turns out one Robert Plautz would. Read the review in which Plautz plotzes over Batiuk’s plots:
Where would you even put it? It requires an entire shelf of its own, and who the hell would want that? It’s like the ultimate vanity project, maybe of all time.
The ‘Complete Funky Winkerbean’ volumes are just as bad, if not worse. There are presently eleven volumes, with a twelfth available on preorder. That only covers up to 2007. Each volume is only available in hardcover, covers three years worth of strips, and varies in price on Amazon between $39 to $71. Who the hell wants to pay approximately $45 for a 500-page book containing recycled comic strips? Who the hell wants to pay over $500 for an incomplete Funky Winkerbean collection? Where would you keep them? Would you put them on display in your bookcase?
Houseguest: Wow. You must be a really big Funky Winkerbean fan (idiot). *snicker*
We’re not exactly talking about ‘Peanuts’ or ‘Calvin and Hobbes’ here. ‘Funky Winkerbean’ is the Mario Mendoza of comic strips.
Each volume is only available in hardcover, covers three years worth of strips, and varies in price on Amazon between $39 to $71.
I think that’s partially because Kent State University Press is a small niche publisher. It’s not Andrews McMeel, who can mass-produce 50,000 softcover copies of every title. Mainstream comic strips collections also have fewer pages (200 instead of 500) and come out more often, meaning there’s always a “new” book to keep buying interest up.
So this arrangement makes Batiuk’s books more expensive, harder to buy, and generates less hype. Lord knows why he opted for this self-defeating business model, but I’m sure he has some impenetrable reason.
Here’s my theory: who the hell else would publish these things? FW is a comic with no fanbase, minimal web presence, and almost no name recognition. There is zero chance that a print run of even 20,000 copies of an FW book would sell out — or even come close to it. Zero, zilch, none. Liz Truss has a better chance of being reinstated as prime minister. And ANY publisher knows this. There were NO offers on Batiuk’s table.
Conning Kent State into publishing these books is the only business model that was an option.
Interestingly, you mention Andrews McMeel. Ten years ago, they published the ‘The Complete Calvin and Hobbes’ box set. It is available in hardcover and paperback.
The paperback version is still the #1 Best Seller in Graphic Novel Anthologies on Amazon.
It turns out the Crankshaft books are published by Andrews McMeel, but not the FW ones. As best I can tell from his rambling blog posts, it had something to do with his many lawsuits against the syndicate over FW. He also mentions meeting a John McMeel early in his career, and being happy to reconnect with him later. Which makes the FW/KSU arrangement even more odd.
I boggle at how this man passed high school English. He is incapable of giving you a clear, straightforward account of anything.
Sure, Andrews/McMeel published a few Crankshaft books — 20 to 30 years ago. And you can bet that after the fourth Crankshaft book didn’t sell enough to break even, they dropped him like a hot load of toxic waste.
The most recent Crankshaft collection (Strike Four) would appear to date from 2014, and is published by….Kent State.
From yesterday, Eve: how does one purchase your brother’s book?
He sent the book to us as a gift. It wasn’t either of our birthdays or a holiday. We didn’t think it was right, so we sent him a check covering the cost of the book and the estimated shipping. He never cashed it.
I left him a text telling him he might have a buyer. 🤞
I will support a new writer’s work!
The link above seems erratic, so here is the Amazon review from Robert Plautz on the three-volume set:
“This box set is so beautiful, Black Squirrel of Kent State U Press does an outstanding job packaging and printing. I love holding these books. They are all that superior quality books can hope to be. The story is nearly impossible to put down, which is sad in a way, because one can miss some of the beautiful art. I suppose the rereads will allow one to savor the really great art as well. Tom Batiuk and comics are the perfect match. Funky was really funny in the 1970s, great in the 1980s, and soared in the 1990s. Always has the pulse of the zeitgeist right under its finger. And reading the earliest strips in chronological order gives one a sense of all of the innovations that Mr. Batiuk made in the comic strip format. He really has the Master’s Touch. This love story is so very human, and so very American at the same time. That is the hallmark, apparently, of the highest Art: to be local, and to be universal. Thank you for your dedication to your craft, Mr. Batiuk, and for depicting our lives as they were, as they are, and always will be.”
So. There is at least one (1) unironic reader of Funky Winkerbean out there. Or…wait, is “Robert Plautz” somehow an anagram of Tom Batiuk?
“The story is nearly impossible to put down, which is sad in a way, because one can miss some of the beautiful art.”
It’s a comic strip. How do you read the story and miss the art? Did he cut out the word balloons and set them aside?
I looked up some of the reviewers and the ones that have Facebook pages all have ties to KSU. All are either friends of Batty or just want to shill for KSU.
Figures! Robert Plautz is either a relative or KSU paid him by the word. Sincere question: What innovations? Also, what’s uniquely American about FW? Canadians don’t lose their loved ones to cancer? Don’t tell that to Ohio’s number one Blue Bombers fan.
What is there to say about people would shill online reviews for Kent State? I couldn’t think of anything worse than “they shill online reviews for Kent State.”
Or…wait, is “Robert Plautz” somehow an anagram of Tom Batiuk?
“Always has the pulse of the zeitgeist right under its finger” is just the sort of ridiculous line that Batiuk would write. When his metaphors aren’t mixed, they’re overwrought.
I would guess that Batiuk sent an email to all his fellow KSU chums with requests for reviews. He also included several paragraphs of how such reviews might read (“You can order them any way you want, and you don’t even have to buy the book!”).
And most of them will use the word “zeitgeist”. Also known as “trend chasing”.
It’s like one of those over-the-top parody Amazon reviews people used to write for Family Circus books.
“There are some who chafe at the seeming repetitive themes within Keane’s major works; I would respectfully submit that all great stories are about life and death, love and loss, fear and triumph. If not Keane, then so go Shakespeare, Lewis Carroll, Sor Juana Inez de la Cruz and Callimachus, too, for good measure. It is not originality that spawns thought and wonderment; it is the vessels of those themes (Billy, Grandma, Barfy, PJ) that inspire and enlighten.”
Sounds the same, doesn’t it?
Here’s the most revealing thing about Lisa’s Legacy Trilogy:
Page Count 862 pages
This from a guy who claims to live by a rule of “no story should be longer than three weeks.” If three pages is one week (each page being three weekly strips or one Sunday strip, which is standard for comic strip compilations), then this set of books covers five years.
Despite a common criticism being that Lisa’s Story failed to explore the parts that would have been interesting. It just talks and talks and talks and talks. And in the 15 years since then, Funky Winkerbean has done little more than talk about Lisa some more. And this week, it’s given itself a brand new reason to go through it again.
1. In regards to Lisa’s Legacy Trilogy, isn’t it Mr. Batiuk at his best. There were times that he could be a good writer. Had he stopped writing about Lisa at her death, wouldn’t we have more respect for TB? But he did not. (But an $80 trilogy? Boss, come now!)
2. I tried making Summer’s face in panel 3 and saying her line to Les. I sounded exactly like Popeye, and lusted after a can of Spinach.
3. This is the most important. I watched the Dance of the Russian Dolls. All I could think of while watching it: Wow! Our own Beckoningchasm could knock this out of the park with his animation!
I’ll admit that I’ve never read the Lisa’s death arc in one sitting yet (mix of lacking the time/motive and the specific means, though a glance at the OG Stuck Funky site suggests I could use it to see at least the latter half of the arc), but honestly I’m fairly willing to give it benefit of the doubt for being touching. I’d say Bautik is genuinely decent at depicting hardships like this, with what I’ve seen of Funky’s alcoholism and Wally’s war traumas well done on an emotional level. The rub is just that sometimes the journey to those stories feels a little too contrived to stomach, like how Lisa’s death had the whole “whoops we mixed up your files” debacle or how Wally’s POW experience started with “sorry but you’re technically AWOL” and just went south from there. I’m sure Tom would have an excuse of “sometimes things just go that, sadly”, but it’s the sort of thing that gets this comic called a soap opera with the more negative connotations of the term.
Also I dunno when else would be best to say it, but I’m starting to feel that within the Funkyverse, I struggle to see what exactly make’s “Lisa’s Story” gripping enough to be a modestly successful book and a Oscar-winning cult-hit movie. If Les wrote it exactly like how the comic’s depiction went, it seems fairly tame for a cancer victim’s struggle and legacy. Being screwed by medical bureaucracy is drama-worthy but Lisa & Les just passively took it on the chins without a fuss, and the reunion with Boy Lisa could have some pathos but it’s more of a side story that needs more Act 1 context that’s not really present in that time period. Knowing what story of cancer victim stories get made into films in reality, arguably her tapes would be the most interesting “gimmick” to focus on, but the scope of their use and impact would seem like something a film focused on the aftermath of her death would cover (and would need more of the years that Bautik chose to immediately brush over with that 2nd time skip). Which I guess is to say that the whole novelty of Lisa’s story is lost when it’s removed from the context of “Cancer… but in the funny papers!”
Upvoted for various reasons, the first one being your nod to Rochester’s banter with boss Benny.
For Mr. and Mrs. Ronald Colman, Rochester will always be “Manchester.”
You really made my day by catching the reference to Rochester. To me Benny was the perfect comedian. I loved his motto, “I don’t care who gets the laughs, as long as it is funny.” Thank you, AS!
The historian in me responds more to Fred Allen…
The sitcom fan can’t get enough of Phil Harris and Alice Faye (even after Elliott Lewis had to stop using the “Frankie Remley” name)…
Yet the more I hear of Jack Benny’s radio work, the more I recognize how inspired it is, as Benny gives us someone we should despise, yet makes it clear that it is an act (listen to his voice whenever he says “we’re a little late tonight, folks, so good night” and you can hear the pleasure in his voice that he has an audience: to borrow a line from Carol Burnett, he’s glad we had this time together) that he’s in on the joke himself…and that the show really is the thing.
You probably know this, but here’s the winning entry to the “I Can’t Stand Jack Benny Because” contest:
I Can’t Stand Jack Benny Because…
He fills the air with boasts and brags,
And obsolete obnoxious gags.
The way he plays his violin
is music’s most obnoxious sin.
His cowardice alone, indeed,
is matched by his obnoxious greed.
And all the things that he portrays
Show up my own obnoxious ways. ”
Batton Lash’s *Supernatural Law* series contains a superb tribute to Benny in its twelfth issue (when it was called *Wolff & Byrd*). The well-meaning but inept Benjamin is a guardian angel for a naive young man named McNulty, and…
Yes, there is a thirty-nine joke, to say nothing of a gag about “The Horn Blows at Midnight.”
I salute Fred Allen. A month ago I saw one of his movies that Jack Benny had a small part. Great chemistry. I can’t hear Foghorn Leghorn without remembering Fred.
My daughter got me an Audio subscription and the first 2 selections were “Charlotte Sometimes” by Penelope Farmer, and Jack Benny’s radio programs.
On my TV, I have saved every guest appearance by Jimmy Stewart on Benny’s TV show. The one with Barbara Nichols is my own personal favorite. Yet it is so hard to only have one favorite. Jack pours so much comedy gold into 30 minutes even with the simple part of Don Wilson’s son, Harlow. “He never did like me!”
Thank you for sharing the winning contest entry. I had not heard it.
Thanks again, Anonymous Sparrow. You are a joy!
Are we still supposed to view Summer’s desire to write a book as something interesting and worthwhile now that we know the subject? Because taking a gap year and freeloading at your parents’ house in order to write a (nonfiction?) book about your dying, nondescript rust belt hometown is just an order of avocado toast away from winning in outdated entitled millennial stereotypes bingo.
“It’s about a somewhat emotionally stunted young woman who goes away to college, gets a taste of the bright lights of Akron, and realizes her old hometown is a dying shithole full of depressed, overweight losers who use wryness as an escape from their impossibly mundane lives.”
“But it’ll have at least SOME cancer, right? Because you GOTTA have some cancer!”
“Yup. Lots of autumnal imagery, too.”
(Les beams with pride)
No. No no no no no. This is going to be an excuse for a character, who means nothing even to us, to go around town collecting stories about Montoni’s, the high school, and…did anything else ever exist in that town? So much boredom ahead. I may be hypersensitive because I just finished Mary Cantwell’s book “American Girl: Scenes From a Small Town Girlhood” a memoir I can’t recommend highly enough. There is nothing unusual about it and there is no drama to speak of, but she is a wonderful writer with an amazing eye for detail, and although nothing much happens, you happily close the book with a head full of characters and most importantly a sense of why she loved her hometown despite its flaws. Sorry for the digression, but seriously, it’s a wonderful read – if you want an example of how to write about life in your hometown. Which we will not be seeing in this strip.
1. You are a master of horror. You nailed the next 12 months of FW. You are farsighted in your vision of depravity. Oh, the humanity!
2. Then you switch gears and rescue me from my fears. I so want to read Mary Cantwell’s book “American Girl: Scenes From a Small Town Girlhood” I will add it to my family Christmas list. You painted a picture so clear that her book is the
Anti-Batiuk. You have given me hope.
That’s my first thought as well.
He doesn’t need any kind of excuse to do so, given how much he has done so before, and that he has explicitly said that he isn’t above doing so himself (carrying Lisa/Marianne out of a burning building), but this theme is him making a declaration that he can and will radically retcon basically anything that has happened in the strip before, because it will allow Summer to re-discover and re-state what she should already know right now.
Those things that she should already know right now are things which “we”, much less the Internet at large, already know right now as well, bear in mind. “We” know more about this strip’s history than the author cares to remember. This is not an exaggeration – the comments prove this true day after day. But yet again, our memories are going to be preempted by whatever he decides to write this time.
The only, ONLY way anybody on earth would want a book about Westview is if Summer is such a gifted writer she can make it into something like that. Or a vaguely dystopian “beneath the surface of small town Ohio” Gillian Flynn thriller, maybe. Anything but a book ABOUT Westview, because nobody cares about Montoni’s and you know that’s as far back as The Auteur is capable of going.
if Summer is such a gifted writer
Oh, she will be. Batiuk will prove she is, with some vacuous flowery cowflop like “Westview was an immortal wound in my life.”
I hope she’s channeling Grace Metalious.
I don’t care about Westview.
I extremely don’t care about dimwit Summer’s observations about Westview. Yet it looks like that’s what we’re in for.
I’m trying to imagine what will happen between Les and Summer when she works on her book. There would have to be some conflict between them about what she writes, like, what sort of a father was Les during the years missed in the time jump? Does Summer uncover Susan Smith’s real reason for leaving Westview? Did Khan leave because of unshown prejudices? Are there secrets Les just can’t bear to have exposed?
Okay, it will all come down to comic books. Summer will tell Les that she’s starting with the Komix Korner as the true heart of Westview. When Les is revulsed by this, she’ll out herself as a comic book fan. Les will be shattered, and will mope over Dead Lisa Tape #178,329, “Summer Doesn’t Share Your Pretentious Tastes.”
I think we’ve reached a new level of sloppiness and inconsistency. On Sunday, Summer is talking about taking a gap year from her graduate work. On Monday she was mentioning changing her major again, implying that she’s still an undergraduate or more likely, using an incorrect term to describe what would be called a career change, The again, there’s no hint that Summer has had any sort of career.
Jeff M’s forecast is probably correct. Expect a lot of sepia-toned reprints of 70s and 80s panels. Summer’s response to them all will be various degrees of fawning over the awesomeness of the place, and most of all for the “discovery” of how her dad has inspired everyone in it. We can measure the intensity of those responses in slices of avocado toast (tip of the snark-o-pen to billytheskink).
We’re probably about to be told that she wants to honor the memory of the town where she came from. All she’ll be honoring is the lives of a clique of boring zeroes who spent the last forty years spinning their wheels.
Hey, now, they haven’t spent the last forty years spinning their wheels.
It’s been FIFTY years. (Y’know, until Batiuk forgets and retcons it again.)
It’s kind of amusing. For years now I’ve criticized Batiuk for leaving Susan’s ultimate fate up in the air, especially since it looked as if she were destined for suicide, but last week, he wrote an almost entirely superfluous sequence, seemingly to both answer that question and wrap up the character arc of Susan.
And some time in the last couple of years, I wondered here if Batiuk would have made Les less loathsome if he wasn’t exclusively writing books about his dead wife, and how much he loves grieving the loss of her. One of the examples I gave of the kind of book Les could write was… exactly what Batiuk’s having Summer writing.
Of course, I was talking about the entire history of Westview, from its founding around a stagecoach stop/brothel between Cleveland and Columbus. But you know Batiuk’s just going to have it address Montoni’s, Dinkle, that dumb sentient computer and the fucking Eliminator, as if anyone would be interested in reading about any of that shit.
“There was this one time this woman, when she was a small girl, wore a helmet in an attempt to hide that she was a girl while she played video games. Some dumb guy about 8 years older than her never figured it out over the course of about four years, even though he habitually stood behind her as she played, watching like a pervert. Her name was Donna, and she ended up marrying that idiot. His name is Harry, but he is known throughout the community as Crazy, so people could tell him apart from the other guy named Harry, whose name was more worthy of keeping since it was a joke referring to a sexual organ.”
Did I miss anything?
Did I miss anything in recounting the story of The Eliminator?
There is, of course, a nearly endless variety of two week sequences that Batiuk can drearily recount for Summer’s stupid project. I’m sure there will be at least one chapter devoted to Fishstick coaching the Girls basketball team in the cafeteria. And Montoni’s Bandbox deserves its own chapter separate from the rest of the Montoni’s stories!
No, “wore a helmet in an attempt to hide that she was a girl while she played video games” is pretty much it.
Also she made her mother call her “Donald” in public to keep up the pretense.
The really great thing about being a terrible writer with a gigantic ego is that all your stories are masterpieces!
If Batiuk wasn’t so devoid of self-awareness, I’d swear this was all a joke. It’s like she’s making fun of Les. The 29-year-old college non-graduate is going to write the Great American Novel, in complete reversal of her established personality. And when asked what it’s about, gestures at nothing.
Fay Weldon wrote a book called *Letters to Alice: On First Reading Jane Austen.* The book ostensibly is Weldon writing to her niece Alice about why Austen matters, and over the course of it, Alice writes a book of her own (*The Wife’s Revenge,* I believe it’s called — pay attention, Cayla, Holly and Donna…especially you, Cayla).
Not only is it published, but it’s much more successful than anything Weldon has written.
I’d like to see Summer show up Les with a book that does better than *Lisa’s Story.*
“Sales for it make *Lisa’s Story* look worse than those for *Fallen Star,* Les,” said Ann Apple.
“You really know how to hurt a guy, Ann,” groaned Les Moore.
Summer clearly loves Worstview, you know, given that she has spent approximately 3 days there in the last 12 years.
Ugh. What a pile of dreck this will turn out to be.
1. I don’t get it… Is Summer going through hormone replacement therapy or something? She looks like Lester’s 43-year-old half-brother?
1a. Yeah, that’s a real original idea, Summer… Absolutely millions of potential readers are waitlisting on Amazon just to read about your shitty-assed nowheresville hometown of mediocrity.
2. Meanwhile out in Malibu, 19-year-old Cindye Sommerse-Winkerbeane-Jarre is in some loud-rockin’ college bar doing some “Girls Gone Wild” tequila body shots off her sorors from Kappa Theta over at Pepperdine University in some pre-party festivities before they all head out to see Imagine Dragons at the Staples Center later that night… The world’s most famous “actore” Masone Jarre stands alone quietly observing from a balcony above the bar, completely anonymous and unrecognized by the general public…
2a. No, no, Mr. Jarre is home in the office of his burned down-and-rebuilt Hollywood mansion, feverishly pouring over the business receipts of his latest project, the Valentine Redux Cinema in downtown Centerville.
“I don’t understand! How can we only have taken in $54.50 at the box office for the month of October so far? We’re giving the common folk what they want: black-and-white Republic and Mascot serials run on Eisenhower-era 16mm film projectors! The Linda Stirling Festival alone should have packed them in! I’ve gotta call Max and Whatshername and tell them to take out more ads in the local newspaper, or else we’ll have to raise the concession prices again!”
Many thanks. I was inspired by this latest of your comprehensive and always-entertaining lists.
Go ahead and write your little book on Westview, Summer. Let’s call it an exposé. Then everyone can find out what a deplorable little town it is.
Westview has more vile humans per square mile than any other place on earth. Westview, is clearly some kind of Hell Mouth. Maybe the authorities will take some kind of action, like turning Westview into something like Centralia, Pennsylvania. Close down the town as a matter of public safety.
Let’s not count out nuking Westview from high orbit.
In the sequel to Grace Metalious’s *Peyton Place,* Allison MacKenzie wrote a book called *Samuel’s Castle.*
What would “Westview” be in a roman a clef? Northlook? Southvista? Eastglance?
I vote for “Northkey,” because that’s what Martin Chuzzlewit thought was John Westlock’s surname, as he knew it had something to do with a door and a direction of the compass. (Reading Emile Zola and thinking of Charles Dickens, apparently…perhaps because *The Debacle* begins in 1870, the year Dickens died?)
The appeal of a book like *Peyton Place* (and Henry Bellaman’s *Kings Row* before it) is that it “lifts the lid off a small New England town.” Summer seems to think that this isn’t a place you leave, but a place you come back to, as Harold Rome put it in a song for the musical *Fanny,* which I don’t think is the formula for a literary success.
However much we hope that Conway found his way back to Shangri-la, James Hilton never confirmed that he did.
And no one in the “Peyton Place” movie returned for “Return to Peyton Place.”