Casting a Long (Fore) Shadow

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As far as I can tell, you guys have been doing a perfectly adequate job of stuffing the ballot box with your own opinions! But we must think beyond the narrow confines of our own idyllic community. 2022 was the LAST YEAR of Funky Winkerbean. This vote may very well be the last time anyone on the internet has a chance to fill out a GoogleDoc Poll on which drawing of a 50 year old comic book character they most would like to see punched in the face. Unless Wanders updates his Worthy Awards next year with a most slapable Wilbur Weston. Which he probably should.

Already a strong contender, and it’s only January!

So get out the vote! Share The Funky Awards on your socials, your FaceSpaces, and MyBooks, and InstaToks. Chirp about it on Tweeter. You never know who might find it interesting.

For example…

When Act III launched, John Byrne provided ‘model sheets’ for a Meet the Cast page on Batiuk’s Funky Winkerbean website. The page was taken down in 2013, but TFH has preserved it here. We’ve gotten years and years of enjoyment laughing over such unforgettable characters as ‘Carrie’ and ‘Eddie’.

Included in the cast was this Mr. Fantastic looking chap.

Silver Fox.

When Batiuk skipped ahead in time following Lisa’s death, I’m guessing he had a general trajectory in mind for where the strip would go for the next several years. Story by story characters reached the endpoint he had imagined back in 2007, and then he mostly stuck them in pointless holding patterns to await the end while he played around in comic book Hollywoodland. The only exception might be Bull’s CTE arc.

Point here being, I think that Frankie showing up again was something Batiuk had been planning for years. Les would write his tear jerking memoir, which would eventually get optioned for a movie. Darin and Jess would get pregnant. And then Frankie would come back in the picture.

In a 2013 interview with CBR, Batiuk tried to make it sound like the whole story just kinda happened to him, rather than it being a conscious decision to write it. Which he always does and it’s always so dumb, and I don’t even think I believe him. He’s subconsciously enamored with the narrative of serendipitous spontaneous storytelling. As if it’s quirkier, or a sign of more natural talent, or gives the story a certain je ne sais quoi. When, you know, you get a lot better results by sitting and thinking critically about the assets at your disposal, the point you’re wanting to make, and the structure of the narrative to tell it.

I’ve got a storyline coming up and it’s sort of a Lisa story. It’s interesting. A couple of summers ago I felt compelled to go back to Elyria and take some pictures around my old apartment and the alley across the street from us. I don’t know why but I took all those pictures and I ended up writing a story where Frankie — he’s been mentioned a couple times and has actually appeared in the strip very briefly, the guy who got Lisa pregnant — returns. In the return of that story we deepen the teen pregnancy story and say that it was a little more than just youthful indiscretion on Lisa’s part. There was some coercion involved and it’s like a coda to “Lisa’s Story.” This character was always hanging there. Whatever happened to him he comes back into their lives, disrupts them completely and then everything gets resolved, so in a way I guess that does involve Lisa. We find a journal of hers and we’re reading her journal so she kind of speaks to us from the grave.

How does Frankie’s biggest and most important arc start? Well, following Fred Fairgood’s stroke, his estranged daughter, Kerry, shows up, and Darin and Kerry get talking about birth fathers.

Gunpoint? Promising…

This is just a little teaser, a bit of foreshadowing. The next two months are pretty basic FW tripe, OMEA, school, and comic book filler. Then, in April, Les gets the news that Cable Movie Entertainment has picked up the option on Lisa’s Story and wants him to write the first draft of the script.

And Les Dreams of Oscars to Come.

In the meantime, Jess and Darin have just announced that they are expecting a baby

“And that’s what’s so powerful about it.”

And Jess announces her intention to, once again, work on a documentary she will never actually finish.

Do you remember when Jinx Bushka was a huge techie and nerd? Harriet Farms doesn’t remember.

Into all this drives Frankie Pierce, with a firecracker of a plan that will light the strip up.

“Like the time her ghost phoned in a bomb threat.”

This arc ran for two whole months. This is what Epicus had to say at the conclusion of the arc.

So it comes to this: the huge Frankie Date Rape Mega Retcon arc dies a limp, soggy death. Frankie stomps away sneeringly, defeated by Saint Lisa’s magical powers and unimpeachable veracity, while his sidekick/accomplice/henchman/back-up White Lenny off-handedly offers Jessica a possible paying gig. Which she of course sarcastically mocks in the Westviewian way these obnoxious people have. What a debacle this turned out to be. Good riddance to bad garbage, I say re: Frankie…the last thing that town needs is more sneering. Such a disappointment.

So, where does this one rank with Act III’s most epic disasters? I have it a close third, right behind Funky’s car crash/time travel arc and Les’ book-tour-launch, still the gold standard in annoyingly long, ponderous irritating mega-arcs. Although they all kind of suck equally when you really stop to think about it.

Epicus Doomus, June 28, 2013.

How naïve we all were at the time, scoffing at this multi-tiered story, a convergence of plotlines complete with several characters actually having conflicting deeper motivations. I wasn’t yet commenting on SOSF when this hit, but I was following FW via Curmudgeon. It seemed awful. Now it seems like Dostoyevsky. (I mean. It is still awful.)

But there’s a lot in the set up here that later plots lack.

Jess’ obsession with her own lost father.

Darin’s adoptive father ailing.

Darin facing fatherhood himself.

Cayla pushing Les to work on the movie script.

Summer’s transition to adulthood.

The incestuous nature of the Funkyverse itself.

How deep you want this dive to be? Because I’m only now starting to realize how much I could say about good old Frankie.

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41 Comments

Filed under Son of Stuck Funky

41 responses to “Casting a Long (Fore) Shadow

  1. Epicus Doomus

    I wasn’t merely being a contrarian wise ass re: Frankie, he really was one of FW’s more, uh, “interesting” characters. But Batiuk just lacked the backbone to really use him in any kind of substantive way. He’d establish a premise, hint at some real malevolence, but his schemes always turned out to be half-baked, half-assed, and lame. He could have been like a Sideshow Bob character, but instead he was more like Newman, but not nearly as funny.

    • daveydial

      Batuik can’t write simple ”heroes” without them being dull, annoying, smug, & punchable; are you really surprised he couldn’t write smart, clever, diabolical, or even capable “villains” lol?

      • Epicus Doomus

        Given his masterful ability to inflict various agonies upon his cast of characters, I kind of did think he might be at least reasonably adept at writing for a villainous scumbag. And I was, as always, wrong. Unless “The Universe” is doling out the agony, he’s totally hapless.

  2. Green Luthor

    Looking at what you considered the top three Act III epic disasters at the time, I can’t help but wonder where any of those would rank now. I mean, I could probably think of three epic disasters just from 2022 alone that would top some or all of them. (Crazy Harry’s own time travel adventure surely beats out Funky’s, plus we got Timemop, the epilogue, the Oscar, plus anything and everything concerning Atomik Komix, Batton Thomas, and “climate damage”, including Prince Valiant…)

    Really, were it not for the actually nice Christmas strip and the glorious dementedness of Mitchell Knox, would there have been any *good* stories in 2022…?

    • Epicus Doomus

      Bear in mind, though, that Funky’s journey through time kind of spawned Starbuck Jones, which in turn spawned a veritable shit load of arcs and characters and such. Plus it had the black panel.

  3. billytheskink

    I am contractually obligated whenever Kerry is mentioned to mention that she exists entirely because TB made a throwaway joke way way back at the beginning of Act I about the football coach kidnapping Fred’s daughter to make sure Bull had the grades necessary to remain on the football team.

    And, of course, after Frankie does his Dom Toretto shtick for the Econo Lodge clerk… we learn that his stay in Westview is ENTIRELY about business.

    Of all the Tom Batiuks in the world, TB is the Tom Batiukiest.

  4. ComicTrek

    Darin has never looked anything like Lisa or Frankie.

    • billytheskink

      He bore some resemblance to Lisa before TB started tweaking his artwork mid-Act II, but since? Not a chance. Especially in late Act II when he grew the Bob Hope caricature nose.

  5. The Duck of Death

    One thing I won’t miss is Puffy’s boring habit of telegraphing all his villains from miles away. He practically put a black hat on them and had them twirl a Snidely Whiplash moustache. It takes all the tension out of a supposedly “1/4 inch from reality” storyline, especially since you know there’s nothing really at stake, because Batty doesn’t do conflict, or nuance.

    • Banana Jr. 6000

      Funky Winkerbean went from bad villains from no villains. The last three years were completely conflict-free.

      • The Duck of Death

        What about the EEEEEEeeeevil white shop lady who somehow, despite living in the outskirts of Cleveland (less than 1/3 white as of 2020), has a total freakout when she sees black people? She was telegraphed as a villain so hard her villainy was visible from space. Subtlety just isn’t Tom’s thing.

        • Banana Jr. 6000

          That story still cut around all the conflict. And it had Cayla conveniently nearby to get involved, completely watering down the impact of the incident. Then they blathered in an ice cream shop about nothing. You’ve heard of deux ex machina. Funky Winkerbean runs on taedium ex machina.

        • Green Luthor

          Wait, the villain of that story wasn’t Cayla and her “eh, nothing we can do” speech? Huh.

          • The Duck of Death

            Well, we know who the hero was. The hero was Tom Batiuk, who could confidently pat himself on the back for being One of the Good Ones and certainly wouldn’t need to feel guilty and uncomfortable any more when the Cleveland NPR affiliate runs one of their frequent stories about racism and the disenfranchised. Yep. One of the Good Ones. He’s helping! What a hero! Next up, Tom tackles Climate Damage!

        • be ware of eve hill

          despite living in the outskirts of Cleveland (less than 1/3 white as of 2020)

          Most curious. Where do you think that mall was located in respect to Cleveland and Westview? Wasn’t it called the “Westview Mall”?

          Could this be a future blog topic for SOSF? The title almost writes itself.
          Where in the hell in Ohio is Westview?

          Perhaps it’s only of interest to an Ohioan (or an Ex-Ohioan). It has always intrigued me.

          • Rusty Shackleford

            Well Westview implies west of Cleveland, he probably picked that because Elyria is out that way.

            But from the strip, the gazebo and shops all resemble the square in Medina which is close to where Batty lives.

          • be ware of eve hill

            @Rusty Shackleford

            From what I’ve read, as a child Batiuk’s family moved to Eaton Township, just southeast of Elyria. I think Grafton in Eaton Township could be a likely model for Westview. Centerville?

            Batiuk graduated from Midview High School, located in Eaton Township.

            Strongsville is several miles due east. Could Southpark Mall be “Westview Mall”?

      • Green Luthor

        But we had Pizza Monster! And, uh… climate damage? Does that count?

  6. The Duck of Death

    Another thing I won’t miss — though it’s not too late for him to take it up in Crankshaft — is Puffy’s irritating way of claiming that his characters are calling to him, talking to him, pulling him in some direction almost against his will.

    “For I am naught but a humble scribe, a mere tool of the divine breath that the blessed Artist calls Inspiration. And yea, verily, thus did the muses Calliope and Thalia tug at mine sleeve, leading me in a merry dance, touching mine forehead with their fingers and imbuing me with a divine inspiration to retcon Lisa shagging Frankie as rape.”

    • Anonymous Sparrow

      If so, then the Calliope isn’t the one of myth, but the one Warren Zevon references in “Tule’s Blues”:

      It’s a sad song we always seem to be singing to each other
      You and me, sweet and slightly out of key
      Like the sound of a running down calliope

      The “Thalia” may be the dying Texas town in Larry McMurtry’s novels, which became Anarene in “The Last Picture Show.”

      Stephen King references both Larry McMurtry (*Lisey’s Story*) and his son James (*Under the Dome*) in his work.

    • Rusty Shackleford

      Yes! And also like CBH said in her post that Tom likes to act like this all just popped into his mind spontaneously. Either way, he wants act like the stories just flow…reminds of that Family Guy where Brian was trying to impress a girl by saying he was writing a novel and that he sees stories everywhere.

      • The Duck of Death

        Yes, there’s a lot of Brian Griffin in Puff Batty. I wish that, like Brian, he were foolish enough to talk to any “journalist” willing to actually engage with his material and ask him real questions. (Brian had the hubris to go on Real Time with Bill Maher to promote his idiotic book, and was verbally torn to shreds when he answered questions with smug, canned platitudes.)

  7. Rusty Shackleford

    Nobody in the history of the comics page have ever asked for another Lisa strip. And these Frankie arcs are just so dumb. What is his motivation for all of this? This is why so many of theses stories fail, they are just so far removed for real life that nobody can relate. A guy like Frankie looking for another dependent? Not likely.

    • Banana Jr. 6000

      I don’t want to keep beating the autism drum, but you touch on another reason I believe it’s a major factor in Funky Winkerbean.

      The great story moments in Calvin and Hobbes or Peanuts affect us, because they’re all feelings we’ve had ourselves. Especially when we were kids. We’ve all had a beloved pet die, or felt neglected by our friends. So when it happens to Calvin or Charlie Brown, that impacts us. We know how they’re feeling.

      Funky Winkerbean is all about feelings that nobody has! And they’re presented as if they’re self-evident, with no further explanation needed. A perfect example is Les’ “I must protect Lisa” act. He never says why. Nobody ever asks why. 99% of the time there’s nothing she needs be protected from. 100% of the time Les ever does anything that would accomplish this. Batiuk just writes this line in the last panel, and checks his mailbox for Pulitzer nominations. As if we’re all going to say “I know how it feels to have to protect my wife’s reputation when Hollywood is making a movie out of my best-selling book. This comic gets me!”

      Or he completely fails to recognize feelings that real people do have. The “Holly does her majorette show” plot was a great example. Holly’s mother badgered her into doing it, and then became an overbearing stage mom about it, angering Holly to the point of them shouting at each other. And then… it was just dropped. The idea of a 60-something still having that kind of childhood-like conflict with their parent was a very interesting and relatable story idea. Batiuk couldn’t drop it fast enough, so he could do jokes about “chocks away!” and free ice cream.

      • The Duck of Death

        That whole story line creeped me out because, to me (and I know CBH got something else entirely from it), it spoke to a very unhealthy and disordered relationship that we somehow hadn’t seen clearly before — and then it was dropped.

        And just when I was expecting Melinda Budd to burst into a particularly unhinged rendition of “Rose’s Turn” from Gypsy….

        Why did I do it?
        What did it get me?
        Scrapbooks full of me in the background.
        Give ’em love and what does it get ya?
        What does it get ya?
        One quick look as each of ’em leaves you.
        All your life and what does it get ya?
        Thanks a lot and out with the garbage,
        They take bows and you’re battin’ zero.
        I had a dream!
        I dreamed it for you, [Holly]….

        I think you nailed it, BJr6K. TB didn’t even seem to register the emotional impact of a mother in her late 80s/early 90s pushing her daughter, in her late 60s, into a majorette uniform and forcing her to perform with flaming batons.

        The whole scene was so David Lynch. We saw no crowd. We saw none of Holly’s friends. No one else on the wet field in the rain. Just the phosphor lights glaring down. No Dinkle. No nothing. It was nightmare-like. And none of her friends helped her in the ambulance or visited her in the hospital. In fact, a woman of nearly 70 breaking her footankleleg while doing high kicks with a flaming baton should have been the talk of the town.

        Nobody noticed. Nobody cared. We never saw Melinda Budd again.

        • The Duck of Death

          In fact, I’ll stick my neck out further and say that this story would have ended up in the Daily Mail and on the r/instantregret subreddit at the very least. It would have gone around the world.

          Picture the story — to be run with a photo of 16-year-old Holly at the peak of her bimboish beauty, doing her majorette routine, captured mid-high kick, with the flaming baton at its apogee. In the same story, a video of the 67-year-old Holly stuffed like a sausage into her too-small costume, breaking her leg. Photos of her in the ambulance and an interview at the hospital.

          “67-year-old former majorette Holly Budd Winkerbean fractured her leganklefoot in a bold attempt to revisit her award-winning teenage flaming baton routine. ‘She did this to spite me! I told her she should have rehearsed more!’ said Ms Winkerbean’s mother, Melinda Budd, 92.”

          Guaranteed eyeballs worldwide.

          • none

            I was particularly incensed by that entire storyline.

            Beyond all the faults and illogic that you correctly cite, let’s not forget that one of the things that he did make a point to depict was her having a picture taken next to an Iron Man statue. Because reasons.

        • The Duck of Death

          Replying to myself once more to add: This arc was just another example of Puffy’s odd tendency to sort of brush off the extraordinary (majorettes pushing 70, talking murder chimps) and focus on the ordinary as if it were earth-shakingly unusual (someone’s wife dies, a woman works in comic books).

        • The Duck of Death

          I beg your indulgence, my friends, but I had a moment of esprit d’escalier.

          Tom did not realize it, but Holly’s disastrous failure to revisit the routine that knocked ’em dead 50 years ago is a metaphor for his own failure when revisiting his own routines that were successful 50 years ago.

          Dinkle’s antics were funny in 1973. Practiced on oldsters in 2021, not so much.

          Life revolving around comix and pizza was on point for teenagers in the 70s, sad for Medicaid recipients in the 2020s.

          And, as with Holly, it took a painful and catastrophic break (with his syndicate) to get TB to retire his routines for good.

          • Y. Knott

            Most of what TB wrote in these last years is very clearly the work of someone unconsciously trying to sort out the distance between his own self-image and his utter failure achieve his goals. (And then not having the tools, self-awareness or insight to actually do so.) The fact that TB completely fails to realize what he’s unconsciously doing is — to a certain mindset — one of the few entertaining things about his Act III work.

            But as a comparative newcomer to FW, its interesting to see the mid-period Batiuk here in the CBH recaps. Clearly, TB was terrible in a different way in Act II. He’s still thoroughly un-self-aware, of course, but the dementia is fresher. At least for me, the creeping Act III dementia eventually started to resemble a barfly mumbling into a shotglass, not really caring if anyone was listening. The Act II dementia, meanwhile, is a bolder dementia of forceful characters and occasional action.

            Keep ’em coming, CBH!

  8. Rusty Shackleford

    The Worthies were dull this year, too much Wilbur. My votes went towards Iris and Helen.

    Now with the Funkies we have a wide variety of crap that should please even the most discriminating critic! Lisa would have liked this.

  9. The Duck of Death

    Apropos of nothing, I was thinking of the dropped threads idea, and I realized…

    Another character that appeared without explanation and disappeared without fanfare: The doofus-looking sidekick who accompanied Phil-Holt-in-a-Darth-Vader-Mask to the big reveal at the awards ceremony.

    Why did he even exist? Why was he introduced, then dropped? What was his relationship to Phil? He didn’t seem that bright, yet he was clever enough to keep Phil’s alive status under wraps, perhaps for years. Weren’t we told that Phil left civilization to get some time alone to work on his magnum opus (ie, a few penciled Bristol boards)? But he wasn’t alone, was he? Was this guy just a friend, an assistant, or… something more?

  10. The cat in the sidebar looks very peeved to have been named Funky Winkerbean. And I can’t say I blame him. That’s almost SPCA-level meanness.

  11. be ware of eve hill

    Frankie apparently doesn’t need to do anything to be a menace. The mere appearance of Frankie fills the main cast with dread.

    I have a family member like that. He’s lazy, selfish, over-entitled, and inconsiderate. When Mr. bwoeh and I moved into our new home, this person wanted to pay a visit to see us. He invited himself without much notice and at a time that wasn’t very convenient. His behavior over the last ten years hadn’t been the best, but he’s family, and we thought we’d try to be hospitable. We tried as best we could to fit our work schedules around his visit. The night before he was to arrive, I was filled with so much dread I couldn’t sleep. I had that awful feeling in the pit of my stomach.

    His visit was worse than we feared. From our house to the airport takes 45 minutes. He neglected to tell us his flight was delayed, and I had to kill two hours when I went to pick him up. He also neglected to mention he was bringing his cat, which could have been an issue in a household with a dog.

    During his visit, he helped himself to anything of ours he wanted without asking. Despite stopping at the liquor store on the way from the airport, he drank half my husband’s expensive single-malt Scotch (he got buzzed every evening). Every time we took him out to dinner, he would later eat my leftovers. He never offered to pay. Furthermore, he helped himself to our DVD collection for the player in the guestroom and even had the gall to take a couple of titles home with him.

    While he was considerate enough not to smoke inside our home, we didn’t appreciate the cigarette butts wedged into the seams of our driveway and back patio. Nor all the butts scattered in the street beyond our driveway and in the backyard. He left numerous wet towels all over the guest bathroom floor. How hard is it to put them in the tub? Couldn’t he use the same ones more than once? He spilled something on the guest bedroom carpet, mashed it into the carpet with one of the aforementioned towels, and neglected to tell us about it.

    Despite living over 1,300 miles away, he asked for our house key “in case of an emergency.” We said we left our key with other people and would think about it (blatant lie).

    To be honest, I fear he’s suffering from alcohol-related dementia.

    By contrast, my sister-in-law mentioned she and her husband would like to visit. They waited for a convenient time when we could take time off work and invite them. They waited for us to pick them up at the airport. Not only that, but they arrived with several housewarming gifts and clashed with us over who would pay for restaurant tabs. Never took anything without asking. Never asked for a key so they could invite themselves whenever the mood struck.

    TL;DR: Perhaps Frankie isn’t really evil. He’s just a pain in the ass.

  12. be ware of eve hill

    Do you remember when Jinx Bushka was a huge techie and nerd? Harriet Farms doesn’t remember.

    I remember Jinx’s character for some reason had to be a huge contrast to Bull. Bull was an outgoing big dumb jock, so Jinx had to be reserved, petite, brainy, and a bit of a nerd.

    TB: Jinx is the exact opposite of Bull. Don’t you get it?! (laughs, slaps knee, high-fives the mirror, and runs the imaginary bases)

    I don’t recall Jinx being a huge techie.

    • be ware of eve hill

      🤬🤬🤬
      I omitted the slash in my close italics tag for CBH’s quote.

      Is there a special HTML tag for quotes?

      • be ware of eve hill

        Nobody ever told me I found out for myself
        You gotta believe in foolish miracles

        The prophet Ozzy Osbourne
        ‘I Don’t Know’ Track 1 on ‘Blizzard of Ozz’

        ———————–

        Hello? Oh, well. 30 days at the funny farm for talking to myself. See ya! 🤪😜👍

        • The Duck of Death

          Hey, what was that tag you used to get the quote?

          Oh, and hello! No funny farm for you. We’re here. 🙂

          • be ware of eve hill

            Hi Duck! Thank you for the reply.

            The tag for quotes is the same as Disqus: “blockquote” to open. “/blockquote” to close. Surround tags with “”, of course.

            Glad to share. I don’t know what the big deal is, but everyone around here seems to treat comment formatting as some kind of goddamn ancient Chinese secret. My requests of “How do you…” are always met with a rousing round of silence. Everything I’ve learned about text formatting is either by researching on my own or by asking a non SoSF source.

            I’d like to see a formatted quote in one of your comments soon.

            Cheers.

          • be ware of eve hill

            Surround tags with “”, of course *sigh* Even in quotes, they don’t show up.

            Surround your tags in “less than sign” and “greater than sign”.

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