The Lost Retcon

Only two days left to vote for The 2022 Funky Awards!

Guys, I have a real confession to make today. Something intense, almost painful. It came up so suddenly, and completely blindsided me.

I feel like I’m a reporter about to drop some breaking news…

News you can trust.

But the breaking news is that I suck.

For the past couple years people have been puffing me up as some insane Funky archivist, able to spout obscure facts and make connections. But the truth is I have a huge 20 plus year blind spot in my Funky knowledge. Before the Comicpocalypse, Kings Features had Funky Winkerbean going back to late 1998, and Vintage Funky Winkerbean was up to the very late 70’s. I’d skimmed most of it.

But in that mid-late Act I, early Act II time frame, my knowledge of events is primarily based on what I’ve gleaned from other people, other posts, and the ubiquitous flashbacks Batiuk spams his strip with.

If I want to pull a strip, or actually read an arc from back then, I’m relying on the Google Archives of the Toledo Blade. Which is spotty and kind of a pain. I don’t do it unless I have a date and something specific I’m after.

Well, yesterday I jumped in the archives diving for something specific. Spurred on by the conversation between Duck of Death and Cheesy-Sama in the comments, I decided to look up the relationship between Matt Miller and Susan Smith. I had a time frame to start, because I’d pulled a stupid sideways strip for a dumb Les gag a couple months ago.

No, Les, I don’t think I will…

So I go back, and find the start of the relationship. (Sadie Summers had taken Susan on a whirlwind makeover tour a month or two before, BTW.)

Susan is proto hair-bob Cindy? Wat?

At this point, Matt Miller is a fairly new student in school, introduced just three days prior, but has already secured his spot as the football team’s quarterback during spring training.

And this is all I was going to be saying about Matt and Susan compared to Frankie and Lisa. That narcissistic douchebags often move in the circles of popularity, but are also disdained in those same circles for being aggressive, self-centered, or annoying. Come on, we all know that guy or girl. He’s on the football team, or the cheer squad, or the chess club, and people in the club let him hang, but they also hold him at arms length because he’s a dick. No one lets him get close. He’s no one’s real friend. The only people suckered in to thinking he’s really popular are the people who don’t really know him yet.

Maybe Frankie hung with the popular guys in Big Walnut Tech, but no girls that had attended the school very long would date him because of his reputation. Lisa was new. She still thought his letterman’s jacket and proximity to the football team meant something. She didn’t know enough to realize she was dating Zoidberg.

But then, after skimming through Susan Smith’s abusive relationship, (which dovetails with the drunken graduation party where Wally and Becky beta-tested that cliff on Nobottom Road,) I get to the breakup.

In case you forgot he plays football!

Then, the big stupid sideways strip.

Go up and slap HIM, Matt! Please!
Funky gets to help too, but Les has the ‘high ground’.

Then, after Susan tells Matt off one last time, and the mean bully is chased away, we get this…

Yes, that dumb ‘delivery’ joke is definitely the best thing to put right in the middle of this strip.

And wow. If I’d ever seen this before, I’d completely forgotten it. At the beginning of this insane multi-week retrospective, I said that the first scene in Montoni’s where Frankie’s flush with dot-com cash, is his Act II debut. Kind of true. (Maybe?) But I wrote that not knowing that the original Cerebus retcon was in 1998. (Maybe. I think. Oh Lord, what is HIDING in the preachy nightmare that was early Act II?)

And yesterday I said, ‘not rape’ and now Lisa’s here throwing around words like ‘forced’.

Which makes that stupid CBR article Batiuk did back in 2013 just so much stupider. Because he pretends like the retcon was in 2013. That the coercion was a new element. Rawr! Dumb dumb dummy! The truth is he softened it! He turned it from forced to pressured.

Let all of you witness this archive dive and know these two truths.

1.) Comic Book Harriet doesn’t know everything about the Funkyverse.

2.) Cancer death wasn’t the start of the fall for this strip, it was teen pregnancy.

And I mean it. Quality humor in Funky Winkerbean was in early/mid Act I. ‘Quality’ storytelling (such-as-it-was) was late Act II.

From what I’ve seen, I think I hate early Act II most of all. Because the success Batiuk was riding high off of wasn’t a literary award for a ‘complex’ look at dying and grief, it was getting his back patted for producing trite pamphlets for King’s Features to sell. He wasn’t writing stories. He was writing Jack Chick tracts.

Barf.

Oh. And. In case you were wondering.

You can’t hide from me, DAVIS!
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45 Comments

Filed under Son of Stuck Funky

45 responses to “The Lost Retcon

  1. sorialpromise

    CBH,
    You are an expert. You are not a know it all. We love you for yourself. The research is the gravy on the roast.

    • billytheskink

      I don’t know the long-term future of this blog, if there even is one… but I do know that I could read CBH dunk on Davis’ art swipes from now to eternity.

      • ComicBookHarriet

        ❤ 😀 ❤

      • Epicus Doomus

        We don’t know the future either LOL. We’re playing it by ear, as they say. Eternal gratitude to CBH for giving us a January, because if the “Crankshaft” Komix Korner thing was indicative of how Batiuk will handle his FW characters going forward, the pickings will be awfully slim. I’m sure we’ll be posting some stuff from time to time, though. It’s honestly been kind of weird without the daily strip to kick around every day.

  2. Y. Knott

    Please, CBH, I beg of you — please dive into some Act I material when Batiuk actually wrote things that were mildly entertaining.

    This stuff is awful. Absymal. Absolute crap.

    Seriously. Act III was awful, because it was directionless wheel-spinning. But this? This has direction, and it’s somehow even worse.

    But, okay, I DID get a laugh out of that press release. “Tom Batiuk was among the first to call attention to the growing problem of teen-dating violence.” Wow.

    Tom — a word? Just because it wasn’t in The Phantom Empire or an old Flash comic, you were not the first, or anywhere close to being among the first, to write about this topic.

    Also, you didn’t do it well.

    Also, you didn’t influence anything or anyone. Not even the three people who wrote you, all of whom wrote in to say, “I already agreed with your main point, and then I saw the point being made in comic strip form, and I guess I continue to agree with it.”

    ______

    Personally, I blame these three people for giving Tom attention, and inspiring him to continue doing this for the next 30 years.

    Although I’ll give ’em this — they at least had enough sense to not sign their names to their letters.

    • Rusty Shackleford

      Talk about a puff piece. I can guarantee this strip did nothing to inform young people of anything, and many people continued making bad decisions.

      Nothing Batty ever wrote on these serious topics did anything to help in any way. Lisa’s Legacy run was nice and all, but like all these runs, the money generated is trivial and it ends up being nothing more than a vanity project for people who think they are doing something.

    • robertodobbs

      I’m in the middle of reading early Act 1 “the Complete FW #1 (1972-1974)” and it is charming and funny. TB should have kept the formula unil the teen zeitgeist had completely shifted (maybe ’77, ’78 at the latest) and then retired FW to move onto other projects.

    • Epicus Doomus

      Skunky Funkybuns: “…because schools had already been integrated, for a while”.

  3. Epicus Doomus

    FW history, especially Act II, is so convoluted and so batshit insane that no one, not even CBH, could possibly be expected to remember it all. And yes, the teen pregnancy arc was the turning point, as that was the arc that established BatHam’s entire FW template from that point forward. The addition of Lisa already had FW treading on thin ice, what with her annoying twee nerdiness and that irritating poodle hair and her disgusting courtship with an increasingly unsympathetic Les and all. But the pregnancy arc was when the hull was punctured and FW began taking on water for real. That was where BatYam fell in love with his prestige arcs, and he spent the next several decades trying to top himself (and Lynn Johnston) until actually killing one of his main characters was the next (and only) possible step.

    And that arc really set me off at the time, as it was a sad-sack sorry piece of shit from panel one. Every single FW reader instantly knew that: the baby was not Les’, it was a “mistake”, they’d go to Lamaze classes together, Les would be there when she unexpectedly went into labor, and she’d surrender the child for adoption. At that point, hate-reading it became the only option, aside from ignoring it completely, but in case it isn’t clear by now, I just don’t do things that way. I’ve never forgiven him, either. Not for taking the strip in a (sigh) new, brave direction, but for insulting my intelligence to an almost cruel degree.

  4. ComicTrek

    Take a deep breath. You don’t, and could never, suck. ❤️ Funky Winkerbean, on the other hand…

  5. Green Luthor

    Eh, no one expects you to know EVERYTHING about Funky Winkerbean (because truly, that way lies madness), but you do probably know more than anyone I’ve ever seen. I mean, you DEFINITELY know the continuity better than Batiuk, that’s for sure…

  6. billytheskink

    Lisa’s cancer and death cast such a shadow over Act II that it is easy for even us devoted readers to forget how much of it actually involved TB flinging his characters through every other “substantial idea” he could dig up too. Every other week another character was under a new personal raincloud.

    Today’s Gil Thorp readers think Henry Barajas has unleashed a firehose of “relevant” topics into that strip in past 6 months… He’s got nothing on TB’s Act II.

    We’d go from Susan being hit to Lisa retconning the Frankie story into something awful to Susan getting hit again to Frankie drinking at a graduation party to Wally drinking at the same party to Lefty getting her nickname to Funky’s alcoholism to Zhang Li and Liu Lin fleeing the CCP to Montoni’s being accused of redlining to Rachel bringing drunk Funky home being misinterpreted by Cindy to Crazy learning the Eliminator was female to Pete and Ally being sad that their parents were divorced to to baby Summer in the NICU to Danny Madison on death row to Kablichnick blaming global warming on kids rotating d-pads while playing video games to Wally becoming a POW to DSH’s mother forgetting his birthday and then sobbing next to a Superman cake after he angrily reminded her she forgot…

    Look, I dunno if that all happened in order, but it all happened in Act II, and that’s just the tip of the iceberg.

    • Y. Knott

      So … and I’m being serious here … what compelled you to read it? I’m not being judgemental at all, I’m just genuinely curious.

      Me, I know the strip through SoSF, where the level of discourse is is always funny, smart and engaging. This means that I view the strip itself merely as the jumping off point that then leads to actual entertainment — FW (to me) has absolutely no worth or value in any other context. Which is to say, I can’t imagine reading Batiuk’s material without a community of people offering commentary, camaraderie and commiseration as compensation for having read the stupid thing in the first place.

      But in 1995 or so, there would have been no such community…would there?

      • Rusty Shackleford

        I stopped reading the strip around this time as it was just too much misery and BS. Then one day I decided to start reading it again and could not believe just how dumb it had become. I was surprised the strip was still being published and wondered if others thought the same. I did a web search and found this site.

        If I had not found SoSF, I would have stopped reading FW again.

      • billytheskink

        It’s a good question, but I’m not sure I have a great answer.

        I read Funky Winkerbean through all of Act II’s growing misery because I developed a habit if reading all the comics and I took a particular interest in FW and a few others because my mom also read them and we could discuss what was going on. I like the comic strip medium a lot and I still read all of the more limited number of comics my paper puts on the page (digitally, these days). I should also note that that I really came of age during early Act II and had only limited memories of Act I as I grew up reading the misery parade the strip was becoming, so I didn’t have the perspective to consider that some long time FW readers might have.

        I will say that the FW during most of Act II was a much better comic strip fundamentally in nearly every way ways than the one you found us covering here on SOSF. The misery was frequent, but also ever-changing so you usually didn’t feel like it lingered the way it did in Late Act II when Lisa shriveled and died or pretty much all of Act III. The dialogue was a bit of a step up as well and the pacing of the strips was light years better than the horrible plod that was pretty much all of Act III. This didn’t make the strip “good” necessarily… just better than what it became.

        • Y. Knott

          That your mother also read it, and you therefore had a ‘community’ to discuss it with, makes sense. You could both share opinions about it, or you could shake your head in disbelief at it and have someone understand. In fact, the ‘community’ bond may have been more of a motivator to continue reading than the comic itself.

  7. Paul Jones

    Phase II was the Glorified Very Special Afterschool Special Episode Of Virtue Signaling. If he’d made these people actual versions of what they would have become, he would have had something to be proud of. All we have now is Batiukese for Standee because DSH just gave Lilian Lizard a “One To One Figure” of Miss Marple.

    • The Duck of Death

      IRL, 99% of people would refer to that Miss Marple not as a Standee, or a “One to one figure” (shouldn’t that be written 1:1? It took me a while to figure out what “one to one” meant).

      People who are not sellers or obsessive collectors call those “life-size cardboard cutouts.”

      Miss Marple is an interesting choice, since there is no canonical version. I’m guessing the figure pictured is the Joan Hickson version from the BBC series, but I don’t really know.

      • be ware of eve hill

        IMHO, Margaret Rutherford was the best Miss Marple. That sure as hell isn’t her, though.

      • J.J. O'Malley

        It’s definitely based on pictures of Hickson from the late’80s series. I still say that DSH John just took an old Aunt May Parker standee from one of the Spider-Man movies and added some blown-up shots of a hat and purse from a QE2 tribute photo.

    • J.J. O'Malley

      The actual Batiukism from today’s ‘Shaft was “one-one figure,” which annoys me to no end, since the only One-One I recognize was Tulip’s robotic travelling companion in the first season of “Infinity Train.” Am I right, IT fans?

  8. The Duck of Death

    CBH, I think people who question themselves and are willing to learn more, even if it makes their earlier opinion “wrong” are the wisest people of all. You have no reason to regret anything you wrote or criticize yourself. And this deep dive was… educational.

    Especially the point about the Jack Chick tracts. I’m sure the money was welcome, but the praise, back pats, and publicity might have been even more so.

    Remember, this is a guy who was obsessed with the Marvel “bullpen” and has quoted Stan Lee’s soapboxing reverently and at length, as if it were the work of a great philosopher.

    “I have deep thoughts too!” I imagine 13-year-old Tom thinking. “Someday I’ll have my ideas in ads and public-service pamphlets and stuff!”

    Don’t get me wrong. It’s great to spread the word about abusive relationships, no matter what medium you’re using. It’s possible that some of these “Chick tracts” helped some people. But those blurbs! “Tom Batiuk was among the first to call attention to the growing problem of teen-dating violence”?

    What’s the matter, Tom? Being one of many, many people who are trying to help isn’t enough? Will you not donate food to a soup kitchen or money to a cause unless you are “among the first” to help, and get special praise? Can’t you just pitch in and be proud that you’re helping without claiming “FIRST!” and thumping your chest?

  9. The Duck of Death

    By the pricking of my thumbs,
    A “Black Raven” cover this way comes.

    If he does a Sideways Sunday cover, we’ll know the transformation of Crankshaft into FW Act IV will be complete.

  10. The Duck of Death

    CBH, your commment/link about the “Cerebus Retcon” sent me to TV Tropes, and a trip there is a guarantee that I’ll spend at least half an hour in a click-hole.

    It wasn’t long before I encountered a trope I hadn’t seen before: “Too Bleak, Stopped Caring.”

    https://tvtropes.org/pmwiki/pmwiki.php/Main/TooBleakStoppedCaring

    Choice words:

    In other words, there is nothing really at stake. It might seem like there is, but ultimately, if you’re given a choice between supporting one of two equally horrible groups of people, or one of two equally despairing outcomes, then it’s a Morton’s Fork; there’s not really a choice at all, the outcome is going to be awful either way, so who cares who wins?…

    This reaction is often the result of writers believing that True Art Is Angsty, and going overboard with it.

  11. robertodobbs

    Maybe TB and Ayers were using a ChatGPT beta to make strips for the last few years?

  12. The Duck of Death

    Oh, Leroy? 🎵Leeeee-rooooyyyy!🎶

    I made a post with a link and I think that offended the automod. Is there a trick to it or should I just bork the link slightly by changing the “.” to “dot” or something?

  13. Tom from Finland

    I have a question:
    Was teen dating violence a thing in the USA in the 90’s, or was it an euphemism for date rape, or something that Batty invented?
    I was in my teens in the 90’s but I don’t remember ever having heard, that teen dating violence would be a specific problem to solve.
    Of course not all trends carried from US to Finland or maybe I just wasn’t aware of that because I hadn’t read Funky Winkerbean, in which case I congratulate Tom for successfull awareness rising.

    • The Duck of Death

      Wherever there have been interpersonal relationships, especially sexual interpersonal relationships, there has been violence. This has been true forever. It happens when men are violent with women, and it happens even more often in same-sex relationships, whether male or female. In heterosexual relationships, usually it’s men physically abusing women, but it certainly happens the other way around as well. It’s not a new problem, in this century or in this millennium. I’m pretty sure it even happens in Finland, even if you don’t see it, because Finns are human beings, and you know how human beings are. Crazy, irrational, and all too often violent.

      However, despite what Puffy’s depicted repeatedly, most abuse doesn’t happen in public. Some does — I’ve seen some nasty domestic violence squabbles on the street — but most of it happens in private, where Balcony Les can’t call out manfully, “Wherefore art thou hitting that chick, ya big bully?”

      The other nasty secret of domestic/interpersonal violence is that all too often, the victims want to stay with the perpetrators. Cops show up, find the victim bruised and bleeding, and they’ll say they “fell down the stairs.” Friends will try to intervene and the victim will insist that it was a one-time thing, he really loves me, you don’t understand my poor schnookums, you’re just jealous of our love, etc.

      I realize that’s all a bit complex for a comic strip, but you could at least touch on the Stockholm Syndrome/trauma bonding aspect of abusive relationships as long as you’re going to open up that can of worms. It would make the stories a lot more real and useful, vs “all abuse victims need is for a strong manly man like Les to interrupt the hitting and they’ll be okay.” That’s not how it works. The people who get into these relationships have unique vulnerabilities that don’t go away when someone physically intervenes between a fist and their face. Without help, they’ll go from one abusive relationship to another, and predators will keep smelling blood and pursuing them.

      Come to think of it, after being “rescued” from Frankie, look who Lisa ended up with….

      • Tom from Finland

        Yes, I know there is lot’s of violence happening in relationships of people of all ages and unfortunately it has been more common in Finland than some other western countries.
        But has teen dating violence been somehow more prominent than the other forms so that awareness of that should be specifically increased?

        • The Duck of Death

          I don’t know of any specific initiative, but I was long out of my teens by the time these strips ran. Maybe someone else can recall whether there was a big teen-dating-violence awareness push at the time?

          There definitely was an absolute explosion of social-issue or social-justice initiatives in the 90s/2000s. I’m sure teen dating violence was in there somewhere, along with any and every other issue you can imagine. Domestic abuse in general was a hot topic at the time, with some highly publicized TV movies, etc.

          Broadly, I’d say that the best time to raise awareness of the fact that hitting your partner is never okay would be during the teen years. That’s when many people have their first intimate relationships.

      • ComicBookHarriet

        To be a minor, extremely minor devil’s advocate. The Matt and Susan story did show a descent into a worse and worse situation. And hit (get it!?) on the ‘only one time’ or ‘didn’t really mean to get so rough’ kinda thing.

        Oh man! To get really off topic. We we’re ranting about Mark Trail yesterday with my gal pals. I was talking about how the current artist had devolved from looking okayish if stylized, to just garbage. To confirm my suspicions I went back and reread that first arc of Rivera’s and OMG the way it laughs at domestic violence is AWFUL. Both Mark and Cherry instigate violent confrontations with family members and they act like it’s fine.

        Mark’s Right Fist of Justice should be used on bad guys posing immediate danger, not for punching out his dad for owning a speedboat.

  14. Gerard Plourde

    Once again, CBH’s research skills produce gold. Don’t beat yourself up for not having instant recall or command of the entire 50 year span of FW. The best librarians/custodians of knowledge are the ones who can frame the search, bring up the results, and present compelling cases. You excel at this and are an invaluable part of the SOSF team.

    BTW- This also shows that SOSF is an important site in chronicling and critiquing the strip’s history and that the work isn’t done.

  15. The Duck of Death

    Ladies ‘n’ germs, enjoy TomBa’s latest blog entry. He reprints two of this week’s Crankshafts and writes:

    Even though my plan to bring Funky Winkerbean to a conclusion was a long time coming, nevertheless there was still a bit of trauma about saying goodbye to all of those characters after 50 years of hanging out together. And then one day I was typing up a Crankshaft script where Lillian goes to the Komix Korner to sell her copy of Black Raven no. 1. As she entered the comics shop I typed: “where she’s greeted by Crazy Harry”… and, when I did that, I realized that everything was going to be ok.

    • Banana Jr. 6000

      Oh, it must be so difficult to be at the whims of narrative. “I just happened to be writing a story about selling comic books when” as if he didn’t contrive this ridiculous scenario for the 30th time.

      What’s he trying to say here? He misses the FW characters, but he “realized everything was going to be ok” because.. he can just draw them in Crankshaft? Is that really it? How else am I supposed to interpret this?

      By the way, this is shitty writing. There’s no need in a comic strip for anyone to be greeted by a store employee, unless the gag is centered on that interaction. But Batiuk must have his comic book transactions.

      The new syndicate needs to put a stop to this fast.

    • be ware of eve hill

      I think it hilarious that Batiuk continues to write blogs on his website but doesn’t advertise it anywhere. Who besides @Duck of Death is reading them?

      Mother Goose and Grimm, like Crankshaft, made the switch to GoComics on 01/01/2023. Check out where else you can find Mother Goose and Grimm on the web.

      That’s Twitter, Facebook, Instagram and the comic strip’s own website, grimmy.com.

      For contrast, here’s where you can find Crankshaft elsewhere on the web.

      Um, I guess GoComics is the only place to find Crankshaft. 🙄

      It’s not like Mike Peters, the creator of MG & G, is a social media savvy youngster. He’s 3 1/2 years older than Tom Batiuk.

      • be ware of eve hill

        Batiuk still hasn’t tweeted since December 5th.

        Slow down, you madman. Don’t go overboard on your new Twitter account.

  16. The Duck of Death

    Hey, didn’t they already sell that Iron Man statue to the guy whose wife forced him to sell his comix collection, as they all do, and he immediately used the proceeds to buy the statue and take it home amid a flurry of “ha-ha, divorce” jokes?

    • J.J. O'Malley

      That customer must have sold it back to pay his divorce attorney’s fees, because Old Shellhead was back at the KK that same Autumn so that Holly could pose with her recovery boot in front of it as Funky took a picture (because when you think of medical equipment, you naturally think of superhero armor). Either that, of Skunky has the biggest selection of Iron Man suits outside of Avengers Mansion.

  17. Perfect Tommy

    Tommy Boy made a PSA pamphlet on teen dating violence?
    Sweet Mary. It’s even worse than I thought.

  18. be ware of eve hill

    C’mon, CBH, stop being hard on yourself. Who doesn’t have gaps in their Funky Winkerbean knowledge? Batiuk doesn’t have gaps in his FW memory, they’re chasms.

    I’ve forgotten more about FW (and CS) than I remember, and I’ve read almost all the strips.

  19. Maxine of Arc

    I’m pretty sure Sweet Valley High had already covered these topics at least six times by 1997 and much better at that.

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