Dives within Dives

(You see that up there? That’s what happens when you make parody strips on Nyquil, kids. Don’t mix Phenylephrine and Photoshop.)

Thank you to everyone who suggested a new cognomen for Johnny Howard. Like an illustrious noble from a far Eastern culture, each of Johnny’s life transitions and transformations calls for a new name. To keep with the animal theming, I’ve decided to go with Paul Jones suggestion. So let’s all welcome Dead Cat Head John!

Got anything that will look good over a red ‘S’ or a yellow bat?

And, may I say, Mr. Gambi is the most unsettling looking tailor I’ve seen since this rubbery-armed nightmare from the public domain triggered the fight-or-flight response in my tiny toddler brain.

I’m sorry, what?

With his new sport coat on his back and his new dead cat on his head, John is feeling pretty suave as he takes Becky out for another date. Here, we get the famous strip where he tells her he doesn’t really need her to wear a strap-on.

The very next strip, Becky is looking to do something nice and maybe romantic for DCH John.

And we get a solid six panels where not a single face looks right.

I guess this means Becky and John are going steady. And now we come to the enigma in this riddle.

Becky Blackburn.

Trying to figure out a tertiary Funky Winkerbean character is like trying to sort dark men’s dress socks. Is that navy blue or brown? Is this black just a little bit blacker than that black? Look at a bunch of them at once, and they start to blur together. What makes one different? You can kind of sense it, but your eye can’t pin it down. Eventually you convince your dad to start wearing longer pants.

And it’s so easy to look at all the copy pasta Funkyverse females and throw your hands up and say, “They’re there to be love interests!” It’s true, but you didn’t get things sorted.

There’s two fun ways we look at these characters to try and give them some imaginary depth. One is as works of fiction from the mind of Tom Batiuk. Why did he make this character? Why did he make this character do THAT? (eww) What function does this character serve for his goals?

The other is more creative. It’s to look at these characters and imagine why a person would be like this. The in-universe explanation. Sometimes when I do this I strike upon stuff Tom may have actually intended, or stuff that led Tom subconsciously to this character choice. Or I just write a bunch of ridiculous headcanon about CauCayla really being in love with Dead St. Lisa, or Khan being the father of Rachel’s son. Either way. It’s fun.

So, we’re gonna go on a diveception here. A dive within a dive. It’s not gonna be a full Becky tour. I want to keep that in reserve. Just in case a couple of you are lurking around in a couple decades, still dissecting this dead comic strip from the darkness of our Tik Tok powered bomb shelters.

And then, Billy, remember how Wally Jr. just disappeared? It’s because focusing on Wally’s kids might have forced Tom to….

We’ll take this from the outside first, as written fiction.

Becky’s first introduction, August 15,1994 is actually simply a name drop in service of Roberta Blackburn’s big debut.

No, Dinkle, that’ll be her daughter.

When we first see Becky, it is very apropos. She’s a passive object to be observed and recorded.

Maybe someday I’ll even do a dive on Walter Blackburn. A very short. Very sad. Dive.

It’s months before Becky even gets to speak her first line.

Begin as you mean to go on.

This sets the tone for the first decade of Becky’s appearances in strip. She isn’t a character. Characters have traits, goals and a hint of agency. Becky is a device that must exist for the story to progress. Tom got it in his head to have a crazy band mom, ergo that mother must have a child. Becky is so immaterial she disappears for nearly an entire year in 1996.

In 1997, Wally Winkerbean needs an attainable love interest, and rather than toss poor Susan Smith a bone, Batiuk decides to pair Becky and Wally. And poor Susan Smith gets to be part of A Very Special Arc on dating abuse. Granted Becky and Wally are both in band, while Wally and Susan have very different recreational reading materials. But the whole arc is all about Wally. Becky is permitted to speak maybe thrice.

Just you wait, Wally, it only gets bigger from here.
Do you remember when Becky played flute? Harriet Farms Remembers.

Becky may as well be a smiley face taped to a mop.

The next time we see them they are necking in the back of an alley?!?

I love you so much that I have to remind the audience who you are in case they forgot.

This is some serious teenage rebellion given what we can surmise about Becky’s upbringing from the moralistic crusades Roberta Blackburn, by 1997, has already gone on. But none of that is explained or explored here. She’s not the one who is going to get in trouble for being out late at the scene of arson and attempted murder.

Did you hear that Wally!? You saved Lisa from the fire! I’m sure no one will ever steal credit for that!

Batiuk wrote this story for Wally. Necking with the girlfriend, a daring rescue, a no-good-deed-goes-unpunished ending…those all fit Wally at this time. Tom wanted Wally making out in an alley, and he didn’t care that Becky had, hitherto, been presented as two steps away from a convent.

Whelp…the Nyquil is REALLY kicking in now…my brain is making Funky connections where there probably are none. Is Becky Blackburn the Act II version of Holly Budd?? Or is Melinda Budd the Act I version of Roberta Blackburn?…Melinda…Roberta…Rose…what did mothers ever do to Tom?… I’m gonna drift deeper and deeper into this dive, and hopefully by the time I resurface on Monday I’ll have some more One-Armed-Dead-Cat fun for y’all.

(we’re still enjoying this yes?)

background art credit to Beckoning Chasm.



Filed under Son of Stuck Funky

42 responses to “Dives within Dives

  1. J.J. O'Malley

    Hello, Mr. Silver-Haired Silver Age Comics Fan here. Forgive me if it’s been mentioned before, but DCH John’s clothier in the “sports coat” strip is a shout-out to 1963’s “Flash” #141, in which it’s revealed that a Central City tailor named Paul Gambi is the man outfitting Flash’s Rogues Gallery.

    “The elaborate costumes of my are always superbly tailored!,” muses the Scarlet Speedster, “Yet they aren’t tailors! In the back of my mind I’ve always wondered if there isn’t some real tailor–who works hand-in-glove with the costumed criminals–and makes the colorful uniforms to order!” FW’s Gambi doesn’t resemble the DC iteration, save for them both having mustaches, but that’s the origin of the reference.

    And yes, I did check all this out in my hardbound edition of DC’s Flash Archives, Vol. 5 (I can’t afford the originals, either).

    • Anonymous Sparrow

      Completist note!

      Paul Gambi had a brother named Peter, who designed Black Lightning’s original costume.

      This was a bid for redemption, as Peter murdered Black Lightning’s father…and Peter completed the bid when he died saving BL from Tobias Whale’s agent Syonide.

      “Justice, like lightning, should ever appear to some men hope, to other men fear…”

      Paul Gambi also had an apprentice! His name was J.M. Leach: the Rogues turn to him when they’re unexpectedly freed from prison in *Flash* #155.

      Before I call it a night…”Dives within Dives” makes me think of “Dives and Lazarus.” I recommend June Tabor’s version of the song with the Oyster Band.

      • be ware of eve hill

        Ooh, connections. There’s a GoComics title called Last Kiss. A contributor to that strip is Batiuk’s buddy, Tony Isabella. Someone once mentioned in the Last Kiss comments that Tony Isabella created Black Lightning.

    • Scott J Lovrine

      And Paul Gambi was named after Paul Gambaccini.


    • Rusty Shackleford

      Thanks, I was just getting ready to look this up. Batty always shills for things he likes and so most names in this strip have a backstory.

      • ComicBookHarriet

        Ditto on the thanks from JJ, Anony Bird, and Scott. I had a feeling he was a reference to something but didn’t even know where to start hunting.

  2. Epicus Doomus

    Like I was saying the other day, Byrne’s artwork makes everyone look like they’re up to something sinister, doesn’t it? Look at Crazy there, he looks terrifying, doesn’t he? Egad, man. It’s like nightmare fuel.

  3. Green Luthor

    I could be wrong, but I think a guy who goes around videotaping his daughter 24/7, including while she’s sleeping, is PROBABLY going to end up on a sex offender registry. (Though this is from the same tone-deaf writer who had a time-traveling janitor admit he was willing to mind-control Saint Lisa into mating with Les (*insert vomit sounds*) just to guarantee that The Prophet Girl Les would be born, and TPGL thinks that was just adorable, so…)

    As much as I’ve liked Byrne’s art, I have to agree that it just looks WRONG here. I don’t know if it’s because comic books and comic strips are drawn at different sizes, and the change in scale is throwing things off, or what the deal is, but… man. It’s still obviously his work, but it looks like it was done by a twisted funhouse mirror imitator or something? (Mr. Gambi in particular looks like he should be saying “NONE OF YOU ARE SAFE.” Especially since the way he’s grabbing his tape measure looks like he’s about to strangle Almost-Skunky with it.) (Which, admittedly, would be worth reading.)

    • Banana Jr. 6000

      I’m willing to chalk it up to “it was a different time.” Video recording didn’t have the sinister connotations it does now, but it was still obnoxious, just for different reasons. Here’s the great George Carlin in (I think) 1999. Also very on point for the Blackburn family.

  4. Paul Jones

    Insane Obsessive Band Mother would go on to become Insane Obsessive Vice Crusader. Batiuk never realized it but he deconstructed the shit out of Elly Patterson in that he showed how damaging a bored, stubborn, ignorant and self-righteous housewife with nothing constructive to do with her yawning void of free time could actually be.

  5. gleeb

    So there was a time when obsessive creating and watching of video was presented as a bad thing, or at least an odd thing, not the Key to the Mysteries.

  6. William Epps

    All I can say, is this is way more awesome than the actual strip ever was. Great job CBH and keep it up.
    I can’t wait to see the deeper dives into other characters.

  7. Smirks 'R Us

    To answer your question CBH, I am very much still enjoying this. Your deep dives are interesting and funny and a great way to keep our little community going.

    Thank you again and hope you’re feeling better.

  8. sorialpromise

    1. Yes, CBH. Get better soon. Nobody can convince me that cattle breeding and coronaviruses do not go together.
    2. Not a fan of Byrne. Don’t get me wrong. He is a great comic book writer and artist. But to me it’s rubbing fur the wrong way. Obviously he was great on Superman, X-Men, and Fantastic Four. But often time, it seemed the inking or characters were drawn onto the wrong medium. It just looks off. It seems at war with itself.
    3. Ooh! Steve Ditko. Love him. Creative, bizarre, and the master at drawing multiple dimensions. I was a few years younger than Peter Parker. I could really identify with teenage problems, and not fitting in. He and Stan Lee were often at odds, but Lee still gave him artistic freedom and Ditko was a standard. He could publish side by side with Jack Kirby, and there was no clash, just complementary greatness.
    4. I saw a dramatic sighting of the elusive Be Ware of Eve Hill two days ago on Crankshaft. She thought she could elude me by just posting as “Eve Hill.” I was not fooled. It was a 100% prime sighting. She nailed some do-gooder and raked his name over hot coals. She even pulled his name through an urban dictionary. Priceless. I felt rejuvenated. Drinking pure elixir from the fountain of youth.

    • ComicBookHarriet

      ❤ 🙂

    • Hannibal’s Lectern

      I’ve been posting on Kranky Funkerbean over at GoComics as well, just under a different handle that I had before I discovered SoSF (see if you can figure it out). My, my, there are some folks over there who take great offense at snarkers. I find it interesting that they never give reasons why they can’t just ignore the snark; they just demand we stop. I also find it interesting how they insist that if we don’t like the strip (presumably in the specific manner they do), we just shouldn’t read it at all.

      Funny thing is, there was plenty of snark on Crankshaft when it was on CK. Did these folks not notice?

      • sorialpromise

        I have seen posts that mention Kranky Funkerbean!!! Now I have to go back and find you, my friend. You have given me a reason to read Crankshaft. (How dare you!)

      • be ware of eve hill

        Sorial Promise forgot. That boy has the memory of a Goldfish. Mind if I take a stab?

        Is your new profile name on GoComics ‘Mopman’?

    • be ware of eve hill

      That wasn’t me. Much like Santa Claus’s mall Santas, I have “Eve Hills.”

      Seriously, I guess the rapidly increasing invasion of Funky Winkerbean characters and locales into Crankshaft made me want to speak up. Sometimes I enjoy Crankshaft and don’t want to see the comic strip get Scrappy-Dooed by DivotHead John Howard.

      Many GoComic readers seem unaware of how tedious the frequent comic story arcs were in the final years of Funky Winkerbean. I wonder how many people defending the strip last week will feel the same way in September when hit by the umpteenth Crankshaftstory arc featuring comic books.

      Synopsis: Ralph Meckler travels to the Atomix Korner to shop for a very special comic that will curry the favor of a young carhop from the local drive-in. Ralph and Batton Thomas discuss the paper shortage.

      Former Komix Korner Defender: In the name of God, not comic books again!

      There was one regrettable incident. I may have been responsible for getting one of J.J. O’Malley’s comments deleted. J.J. posted his comment, and a defender hit him with the dreaded “Why are you here?” (If you don’t like the comic strip). I replied to them, “Why does it bother you?”, and told them GoComics’ Comment policy does not prohibit criticism (snark). I said they were harassing J.J., which is against policy. I made the mistake of flagging the comment, which drew the attention of the GoComics moderator who decided to delete the entire thread. Credit to the indefatigable J.J. O’Malley, who reposted his comment. This time I left it alone. Sorry, J.J.!

      • sorialpromise

        Crap! Damn! How many Eve Hills are there?
        What kind of perverse network are you running?
        Does Mr. BWOEH know there are more than one of you? Next thing I know, you will get me deleted and barred from SOSF! Well, maybe not. I hear CBH loves me more than life itself. 😜
        I agree with you that the GoComics people are a much kinder, gentler, naive crowd than CK. Those people ate raw meat and were vicious. If they smelled blood in the water, they were like piranha circling. But GoComics? They thrive on milk, cookies, and Sarsaparilla. SOSF is somewhere in between. Intelligent, respectful snark. Although a certain bwoeh can curse like a deranged sailor and eat frozen hotdogs and peas from last summer. ♥️💖❤️🫂🌺💐🌹

        • be ware of eve hill

          I did notice how Comic Book Harriet gave both William Epps and Smirks ‘R Us a singular “💗”, but gave you a “💗” AND A “🙂”.

          I posted last Thursday that I hoped she would feel better soon, and got nuthin’.


          • sorialpromise

            It’s cause you cuss like there is no tomorrow. She probably wanted to give you a ♥️, but was afraid of the wrath of Be Ware of Eve Hill!😎
            But let’s be honest. Bupkiss from CBH is better than some people ♥️’s. (and I am nicer than you)

        • ian'sdrunkenbeard

          • sorialpromise

            Ian, you captured the pure essence of Be Ware of Eve Hill!

          • be ware of eve hill


            Bite me. You Froot Loop Dingus.

          • sorialpromise

            It’s those kind of comments that you got JJ O’MALLEY kicked off of GC!!!
            I can just hear Mal: you both are sitting in a loveseat. To calm you down, Mal is patting your hand, “That’ll do, Eve. That’ll do.”
            Signed: I’ve been bitten! I’m a Froot Loop Dingus ♥️💖❤️🫂🌺💐🌹😎

          • be ware of eve hill


            Mal says, if he ever meets you, he’s going to crush your spleen.

          • sorialpromise

            1. “Mal says, if he ever meets you, he’s going to crush your spleen.” Course he means that in the nicest possible way!🤪😎😜
            2. You are a day behind. I have been scheduling Merlot parties at your house with some of our SOSF friends. (That should give Mal time to plan my coming spleen event.)
            3. Speaking of being a day behind, some fake BWOEH posted on ArcaMax today. Apparently, you have a doppelgänger. If the legacy of BWOEH isn’t sacred then what is???
            My wife thanks you…
            My spleen thanks you…
            Most assuredly, I thank you.

            P. S. To honor you, I am going to watch this week “Asphalt Jungle” with Sterling Hayden.
            ♥️❤️💖 Still a Froot Loop Dingus
            The Lovable SorialPromise 🌺💐🌹
            (Some day, I will ex-spleen it better!)

    • be ware of eve hill

      I mentioned to you a few weeks ago how a well-respected neighborhood friend nominated me for a position on the local HOA board of directors. Voting took place at the annual association meeting this past Wednesday. They must have had trouble getting volunteers to run for the open positions. Only three candidates were vying for two board positions.

      No prizes offered for guessing who came in third. I guess I’ll have to shelve my dreams of neighborhood conquest for now..

      I reckon these folks don’t cotton to a relatively new out-of-stater taking their jobs positions. The fact it was the first annual meeting Mal and I attended in the four-plus years since we moved into the neighborhood might have had something to do with it too. I’m not too disappointed. Nobody mentioned the term was three years until the meeting. That’s too long. The only reason for me running was respect for the friend who nominated me. We’re still friends.

      Each ballot said to vote for only two candidates. The other candidates and I introduced ourselves and explained why we were qualified. At that point, I realized the other two candidates were more qualified than me. I didn’t vote for myself. Wouldn’t it be funny if I lost by one vote?

      • sorialpromise

        1. When I was a kid in Catholic School, it was general knowledge that you never voted for yourself. I guess it was to foster humble leadership. At least, there is Merlot to soothe the pangs of a fortunate defeat.
        2. Regarding Crankshaft: it has taken less than 3 months for TB to ruin his best strip. Ed was goofy. The other characters, other than the one armed newspaper writer were tolerable. I did not mind Lillian. I am in a tiny minority for that opinion. The jokes compared to FW generally hit their target. I admit, I laughed at Ed’s proclivity to start fires. I laughed out loud when he started the roof fire with his flame thrower. How does TB not see that FW characters ruin Crankshaft? It’s like putting a serial killer in Peanuts. CS is a different mindset than FW. Putting them together is like making a bride carry a dead mackerel down the aisle.
        3. I see that you also use WordPress. I switched to JetPack, but I see no difference between them. But I only use them to follow SOSF and Beckoning Chasm. Take care, my dear Eve. Although now I have no idea which Eve Hill is posting or answering me.
        You guys are loved.

  9. Epicus Doomus

    Here’s a question for you long-memoried FW historians. Did John have any “serious” Act III arcs, or were they all pretty much comic book related? I’m trying and failing to remember any such arcs. By “serious”, I mean things like arguing with Becky, getting sick and/or injured, or anything where he, and not the comic books, were the main focus. Like the rare Becky arcs where Dinkle wasn’t involved. I remember the one when Wally came home and she gave him the news, and I remember the thing with her mother. But with John, I’m drawing a blank.

    • ComicBookHarriet

      Nope. Haven’t poured over Act III yet to look, but nothing that I can remember.

      Batiuk was a complete coward in showing DSH John’s long term reaction to Wally’s return and them hashing out co-parenting and co-dading. Tom brought it up once, realized it scared him, and ran away.

      • billytheskink

        “Ran away” is an apt description, but it kind of feels like an understatement. Once TB decided to just ignore the mess that he himself put DSH, Lefty, and Wally in, he ran so far from it that:

        – Rana and Wally Jr. completely disappeared… to the point that TB thought it was completely normal for Wally to have absolutely NO IDEA what Rana was up to when she returned for her late stage cameo (and send off), and vice versa. Wally had no idea what his adopted daughter who lives in the same small town had been doing? Rana had no idea what her adoptive father, the man who rescued her as an orphan in a war torn county, was up to? In real life, that is called estrangement, and it doesn’t generally result in friendly surprise encounters at community college common areas.

        – Lefty and DSH stopped being depicted as a couple with a family almost completely… to that point that they became much more strongly associated with their work spouses than each other. This also probably kept the perpetually un-aging Wally Jr. from making it to high school even though the second and third generations of of Act III high school students could have easily accommodated him. The minute TB puts Wally Jr. in high school, even TB would have a hard time ignoring the fact that he had made Lefty and DSH a couple.

        The whole situation may have been the most cowardly-written aspect of all of Act III, if not the entire history of the strip. TB moved mountains to avoid telling the story he set up.

  10. Paul Jones

    And of course, the sad thing about Becky is that she remains a plot device. She’s someone things happen to in order to tell a stupid story that is only half-told due to cowardice.

  11. none

    There is an endless mine of content to analyze with this strip, and I’m glad to see it come along, bit by bit. We now have the gift of closure and hindsight to help establish a perspective and make insights without having a looming presence of an unknown future in the analysis. This body of work is complete, and hence, is valid for judgment and criticism.

    A1 Dinkle was depicted as spying on high school girls to ensure they practiced enough, among other things like machine gun Les. There’s a current connotation to Camcorder Dad that didn’t exist back then. That he and George Carlin observed the same character archetype shows that TB simply had a better ability to write about characters then in comparison to where it ended up. Someone back then could see that bit or see those strips and say “Hah! Yup! Just like my Dad / my friend’s Dad!” or whatever, have a grin and not read any further into it.

    What is common with those strips and everything else is that Becky just smiled and endured it without any kind of response.

    While I’m here, I wanted to comment about it in the prior post but was too late, regarding the strip lead time and TB being driven near suicidal with deadlines. The comic artist making a comic strip about having writer’s block is one of the tropiest tropes there is, and it is difficult to make something that has genuine high quality every single day. There’s an account I maintain where I write something every day. Sometimes I have to peck at the keys for a while until I get something that resembles coherence and roll with it to call it a day. I do sympathize with feeling forced to write something and drawing a full blank. I get it. But on the other hand… he’s talking about Funky Winkerbean. When he writes about what he’s proud of, it’s in the most florid of floral prose, as if the deities of muse and creation itself were lending a hand to its creation… and he’s talking about Funky Winkerbean. When he spoke of being driven to near suicide for not making deadlines… he’s talking about not being able to make content for Funky Winkerbean. You’ve nailed yourself to this crucifix that you made, TB, and quite honestly, nobody really cares that much about it. It’s a newspaper daily comic strip. For all that you say about it, there’s only so much that people want out it and care about it. Is Dinkle still a maniac? Is Crankshaft still an asshole? Yes? OK good, checks out, we’re done here.

    All you had to do was step away. For a month. For a year. Forever after Lisa died. It would have been enough.

  12. billytheskink

    Here’s some fun-ky trivia: Walter Blackburn is the only character to have ever been more prominently-placed on the cover of a FW book than Dinkle.