Hello! This is your friend Banana Jr. 6000 stopping in to make a guest post. Inspired by Comic Book Harriet’s efforts to have a new post up regularly, I’ll make a post whenever I think there’s something worth talking about.
Regular poster Be Ware Of Eve Hill shared this interview with Tom Batiuk himself, early this year just after the strip ended. I was going to transcribe the whole thing, but it was so boring I gave up on in it. The most interesting thing is the interviewer and subject looking like twins:
The interviewer is Terence Dollard of the University of North Carolina at Pembroke. He hosts Comic Culture, a regular interview show that sits down with cartoonists. Another recent show was with Henry Barajas, the new writer of Gil Thorp. So there’s a lot of good stuff for regular fans of newspaper comics. Which we all are, to be sure. Here’s a typical exchange with Batiuk (starting at 19:14):
DOLLARD: You’ve done a lot of interesting stories that wouldn’t normally be in what we could consider the funny pages. So when you’re handling something like CTE or DWI, how do you balance between what the reader might want to see first thing in the morning with their coffee, and you as an artist wanting to tell a compelling story?
Could it be any more obvious that Tom Batiuk wrote this question for himself to answer? In a 21-second sound bite, look how many of Batiuk’s conceits this indulges:
- Calling his own stories “interesting,” and then “compelling,” in case you didn’t catch it the first time
- “Funny pages are not for serious stories,” and then saying this a different way, in case you didn’t catch it the first time
- Referencing major Funky Winkerbean arcs
- Calling him an “artist”
The Stan Lee foreword recently shared by poster Andrew does the same thing. It batters the reader with bland, unnecessary praise. “Deliciously different”, “brilliant strip”, “perfect artwork”, “deceptively simple”, “cleverly conceived”, “titanically talented”, “awesome authenticity”, “extraordinary economy of line” – all in the first three paragraphs. There are nine total, and the rest are the same. Did Stan Lee really talk like this? Some people are effusive by nature, but Lee didn’t strike me that way. Dick Vitale would tell him to dial it back.
Anyway, let’s get to Tom’s answer:
BATIUK: Well, I just – basically went ahead and did it. I think my biggest – my readers – learn to trust what I do. And that I’ll handle situations like that in a good way and a thoughtful way. And so they come along for the ride. And in each step I would take my readers, I’d move them over a few inches, and say “let’s go over here and do this” and they’d all come over. And then a little while later, “now that we’re here, let’s go over here” and then I’d take them a little further. I think the Funky readers have come to expect that, so it’s less jarring in the morning for them, I think, they know where I’m going. I think they kind of almost expect that.
A typical Batiuk answer, because it uses a lot of words to say absolutely nothing. It’s an answer you’d get from an elected official, carefully crafted to sound important while not revealing any actual information. He’s actually kind of good at deflecting, except for how much he stammers his way through it. Dollard’s got nothing to work with here. What follow-up question would you ask?
But that’s not the exchange I came here to talk about. Dollard asks him about a joke The Simpsons made at Funky Winkerbean’s expense. Here’s a clip of the incident:
The episode name is “Homer Vs. Dignity.” Homer has squandered his family’s income, leaving them in dire financial straits once again. He seeks a raise from Mr. Burns, who pays him to throw pudding at Lenny instead. This amuses Mr. Burns, who hires Homer to do more and more humiliating tasks. One of which was the infamous “raped by a panda” incident, that made this one of the show’s most despised episodes. Lisa (who else?) convinces her father that earning money isn’t worth throwing away your dignity. He gives his earnings to charity, who appoint him to be Santa Claus in a parade, restoring the Simpsons’ dignity for the moment.
Funky Winkerbean isn’t relevant to the main story. It’s part of a side joke about how lame the licensed characters in parades tend to be. Here’s the transcript:
BART: “Rusty The Clown”? Springfield gets the lamest balloons.
MARGE: Are you kidding? There’s Funky Winkerbean! Over here, Funky! Oh look, it’s a Noid! Avoid the Noid! He ruins pizzas!
Local news anchor Kent Brockman and guest star Leeza Gibbons talk about another lame entry, an animatronic gingerbread desk set. The plot then switches back to the main story.
So what did Batiuk have to say about this? Let’s see the question first (starts at 24:27).
DOLLARD: How does it feel knowing that Funky Winkerbean is Marge Simpson’s favorite newspaper strip?
This is why I’m convinced Tom Batiuk writes all his own interview questions. Because what Dollard says does not happen in this scene. Marge never said that, or anything that implied it. She’s just aware Funky Winkerbean exists, at a moment she’s fishing about for something to placate Bart. Funky Winkerbean came between a blatant ripoff of an in-universe celebrity, and an out-of-date Domino’s Pizza campaign that tried to annoy America into accepting it as a legitimate animated character. It’s pretty obvious what the joke is. And if it’s not, Bart tells you!
BART: Springfield gets the lamest balloons.
Dollard asked a leading question and a loaded question at the same time. It’s based on a false assumption, and it’s designed to prompt the answer Batiuk wants to give. Which is:
BATIUK: (laughs) I think it’s pretty cool. I think that was just an absolutely fun thing to see pop up in The Simpsons. And getting a shout-out from something you enjoy, it’s always fun. So yeah, that was fun.
A “shout out?” It was making fun of you! It did everything but look at the camera and say “Funky Winkerbean sucks!” That’s more of a South Park approach, but I digress. A shout out implies some level of affection. This mention clearly has none. It just used the strip as a prop for the joke it wanted to make, which was about lame cartoon characters. And again, the question was based on the false premise that Marge is a fan of the comic strip.
By the way, earlier in the episode, this happened:
We’re supposed to believe Mr. Silver Age Comic Books Changed My Life kept watching after this? The panda rape seems minor in comparison.
If you read any interview with Batiuk, they’re all like this. His interviews are more stage-managed than a North Korean military parade. Every question prompts one of his preferred talking points: people don’t want serious stories in the comics; I did things in the comics that had never been done before; and how culturally important Lisa’s Story is. None of which is even true. But every interviewer, from different media sources and different parts of the country, asks them every time. Nobody ever asks anything contrary to what Batiuk wants to portray, or even the most basic open-ended questions about unexpected fan reactions. I wonder how Dollard felt about having to ask a question that requires him to have completely missed the point of a 20-year-old TV episode. Yes, that’s how long ago this joke was made.
I know we’re all a bunch of haters, but there’s a lot of room for interested parties to ask Tom Batiuk uncomfortable questions about his creations, without being disrespectful. Here’s a good example. Or even this. But no deviating from Batiuk’s party line is allowed. And it’s amazingly how willing supposedly professional journalists are to go along with it.
83 responses to “Tom Batiuk Comments On Funky Winkerbean’s Appearance On The Simpsons”
1. Welcome back to headlining the Forum, Banana Jr. 6000! However, I do miss the cattle pictures.
2. Was Tom Batiuk that much in demand that he could control the entire interview? My opinion of journalistic integrity just went way down.
3. What does it say about clueless Tom Batiuk that he agreed that Funky Winkerbean should appear in the absolute worst Simpson episode ever?
4. What else does it say about FW, that Homer being raped by a panda, is not the worst part of the episode.
5. Yes, Be Ware of Eve Hill. I will have my Claret alongside your Merlot! Iced, please.
1. I’ll take some pictures of my arcade machine to post. I am a 1980s computer myself, after all.
2. That’s my big question. Why does every Tom Batiuk interview feel like he wrote it himself? Who would agree to his terms? The questioners all make the same wrong assumptions Batiuk does, and ask about the same unimportant things only Tom Batiuk cares about. To paraphrase Paul Jones below, they ask him about the Funky Winkerbean in his head, not the Funky Winkerbean that actually exists. Independent third parties would frame their questions around the latter, and have their own opinions about it.
I tried to tread lightly on the whole “journalistic ethics” thing, because that discussion never goes anywhere good. But I think it’s instructive to point out these situations when they manifest themselves. We are so dependent on news media for much of our understanding of the world, and it’s so easy for truths to become manipulated, even without ill intent.
I appreciate your fresh insights. You fit in so well as a poster.
And I, yours, good sir.
Also, I meant to answer your #3: That was another thing that struck me as odd about the question. That episode is on a lot of “worst ever” lists, and also “most controversial” lists, so it probably doesn’t get re-aired much. It was also 20 years old at the time. It was kind of a strange thing to bring up.
And FW is the worst part of the episode!
That’s saying something!
I don’t think Funky Winkerbean is the worst thing in that episode. But the panda rape set that bar pretty high.
I believe I was mostly snarking the Tom Batiuk bear, and only being mostly factual.
Perhaps, I was channeling my inner “Be Ware of Eve Hill.”
There are two Funky Winkerbeans. There’s the one that ran in newspapers for a million years, and there’s the one that only exists in BatYam’s insufferable puff interviews. That’s the one that’s breaking new ground, tacking difficult issues and so forth. The real one, of course, was never doing any such thing, as Batty went to incredible lengths to dodge, duck, and hide from the very issues he was supposedly addressing. Like how the gay prom arc ended up being about the WHS handbook and Becky’s meddlesome old bag of a mother, or how the CTE arc was really just an excuse to have Linda moping, which was her default setting anyhow.
I would argue that Simpsons gag is what FW is best known for, and there’s just no way he’s happy about that, unless he really is as totally oblivious as he often appears to be. It’s really tough to tell if it’s a put-on, or if he really is like that.
I would argue that Simpsons gag is what FW is best known for, and there’s just no way he’s happy about that, unless he really is as totally oblivious as he often appears to be.
Which is exactly the problem. The question requires Dollard to be oblivious. If Dollard just asked about the episode and Batiuk gave an oblivious answer, fine. But the question was framed in a way that obscured something we know Batiuk would prefer to obscure: that his work was the butt of the joke.
Maybe you downplay that, but the “Marge is a fan” thing turned looking the other way into active dishonesty. Maybe Dollard was just trying to frame the question in a playful way, but everything else was so by-the-books for a Batiuk interview its hard to believe this wasn’t also.
We know Batiuk has no stomach for any kind of criticism, even the most playful. And the Simpsons gag was honestly pretty tame: it would have worked just as well with any mid-tier newspaper comic. “Are you kidding? Look! There’s Rose Is Rose!” It wasn’t even that harsh by Simpsons standards. It certainly wasn’t the existential roasting Dan Ronan gave him.
Maybe you downplay that
I meant that as “Maybe you, as the theoretical interviewer, downplay an unflattering aspect of a question.” Not “Maybe you, Epicus Doomus, downplayed this in your comment.”
In another episode we learned that Mr Burns is a fan of Ziggy.
If memory serves me correctly, Homer puts in a good word for *Rex Morgan, M.D.*
Does Batiuk not know that Jarvis looked forward to catching up on *Funky Winkerbean* in an *X-Men* Annual?
To borrow some more words from Tom Lehrer:
One can always count on Tom Batiuk for a rousing interview – full of words and ideas… all signifying … nothing!
TB gets away with all these puff piece interviews because even ostensible comics enthusiasts like Mr. Dollard can’t be bothered to actually examine his work, much less the guy pulled off the city beat of the Topeka Christian Reader to fill column inches while chatting with TB as shoppers avoid his book signing at the local Hastings. Outside of this site and a couple other small pockets of the internet, no one cares to see if TB’s emperor has any clothes on. They don’t care and I don’t blame them. Any genuine interest in TB’s work at this point is morbid, and that’s just not for everybody.
Isn’t it obvious that his interviewers have no interest in his work? Heck, one even called him Todd.
These interviews were just easy space fillers that wrote themselves.
TB gets away with all these puff piece interviews because even ostensible comics enthusiasts like Mr. Dollard can’t be bothered to actually examine his work
Very true, but it’s not that simple. The questions don’t come from a place of lazy research. A lazy researcher wouldn’t ask “how did you do the baseball research for Crankshaft? It’s an incompetent horrible interview question, because it provides no insight into the artist or work; it’s a question everybody knows the answer to; and it’s banal procedural trivia no reader actually cares about.
Journalists are taught not to ask questions like this. Batiuk wanted to be asked this question, so he could say “not the internet.” Hence my belief that Batiuk tells his interviewers what to ask.
On a related note, the recent Crankshaft shows how little Batiuk knows about how interviewing is supposed to work.
No, Skip, you write what they said. Or you paraphrase it instead of quoting the person directly. You don’t negotiate their statements with them.
That’s always been the secret…no one actually read FW, so no one really knew what they were talking about. They merely read a few blurbs about the strip, and assumed those blurbs were accurate. And it went on like that for decades. No one who actually read the strip every day could possibly say with any genuine objectivity that it was “good”, or anything like it’s typically described. With his puff interviews, you can always tell right away that the author hasn’t read more than one or two individual strips. And no one has ever asked Batiuk a real question, not that he’s ever allowed that to happen, of course.
You can tell when a host/interviewer doesn’t really have an in-depth grasp of the subject and just goes with generic, view-from-10,000 feet questions. Hey Bob Geldof, when’s the next Live Aid? Hey Pete Townsend, gonna smash a guitar tonight? Hey Jerry Seinfeld, what IS the deal with airplane food?
Maybe these things all end up as puff pieces because no one wants to be bothered to give it much thought.
He seems to forget his mention on a more recent tribute, from a RiffTrax live several years back.
Much as I hate to quote myself, a phrase only ever said by someone who’s about to do that:
“I should’ve posted this during the “Funky sightings irl” thread, which turned out to be about a Simpson’s one-off joke about a giant bloated gasbag that wasn’t Tom’s ego.
I forget what Rifftrax Live event it was, but Kevin said “This movie is as depressing as Funky Winkerbean!”
It got the biggest laugh, and also the least laughs. If you got it, it was hilarious, but most people didn’t. I looked at the friend I was with, and he was baffled and annoyed.
That is FW’s true legacy. As a joke that most people didn’t get, and will never remember.”
a Simpson’s one-off joke about a giant bloated gasbag that wasn’t Tom’s ego.
Please feel free to quote yourself any time you’re being that funny.
This hints at the problem he had adapting Crankshaft in real life: there’s the strip in his head and then there’s the strip he actually created. George Kennedy tried to bring the real strip to life and Batiuk is stupid enough not to notice what he’s actually created so he thinks that Hollywood distorts things.
I’m sitting here trying to think of what I would ask Batty in an interview. Unfortunately, this is all I can come up with:
“Have you no sense of decency, sir, at long last?”
“Why, why, why, why?”
“Who Wrote the Book of Love?”
“What are you doing here? How did you get so far off the interstate? Don’t you know how to use GPS?”
Actually, my best question would be for a co-worker:
“Can you talk to this guy that’s coming in? I’ve… uh… got a doctor’s appointment.”
Why did Lisa have to be killed off? Did you think that would finally cinch that Pulitzer?
Why did you never produce your own comic books? Why weren’t you prepared for retirement? Why did you put so little thought into the last FW strips?
I could come up with a few that are respectful, yet probing.
“You have said, both on your blog and through your characters, that ‘comics saved you.’ Can you elaborate on what you mean by that? They saved you from what? And how exactly did they save you?”
“You’ve made an interesting choice in some of your plotlines: To essentially drop a subplot in media res. I’ll give you one example out of many. You explored the lengthy process of getting the Lisa movie made, but after it wrapped, you never showed any of the consequences to Westview’s inhabitants or Lisa’s family. The subplot basically went quiet until Marianne Winters gave Les her Best Actress Oscar. Or the 10-year leap that skipped over Les’ grief and Summer’s growing up without her mother. What leads you to make a bold choice like skipping the denouement of your plotlines? Have any of your readers commented that they wanted to see the consequences of major events, or do they prefer it to be left to their imagination?”
“You’ve often spoken of being the first to depict the death of a major character in a cartoon, with Lisa’s death in 2007. How do you feel that you treated Lisa’s death differently from the way Garry Trudeau depicted the death of Dick Davenport in the mid-1980s and his widow Lacey, from Alzheimer’s, in the mid-90s?”
I could easily populate an entire interview with these questions if I wanted to spend more than the 10 minutes I’ve already spent writing these.
But the sameness of the questions in every damn interview is suspicious. Could it be that TB insists on seeing/approving the questions beforehand?
Could it be that TB insists on seeing/approving the questions beforehand?
That’s another plausible way it could manifest itself.
Or Andy Lippincott, whose decline and death from a terminal disease was spectacularly portrayed with both humor and pathos. And if I’m remembering correctly, that storyline was met with criticism from those who believed that, well, comics should be funny.
DOD, I can easily hear Terry Gross from Fresh Air asking your questions. I’d love to hear her interview him because she would do her research and would not stick with such generic questions.
I’m with you-I’d also like to ask TB about Les and that 10 year jump. I understand that grief for a loved one never goes away, but why do a 10 year time jump and then continue to write Les as if Lisa had just recently passed? It made him insufferable as a result, and that’s really too bad because he ended up leading the charge in misery for the entire strip afterwards. I would have liked to have seen everyone at the Westview 50 year reunion smiling and saying, “Wow, we were totally awkward nerds and geeks (or in Cindy’s case, a shallow witch) , but guess what? We turned out OK.” But nope, we had “Lisa died” right up to the last panel.
I was going to say “…or Mary Gold’s death in ‘The Gumps’ in 1929, the first major character death in comics and an event that forced the Chicago Tribune to hire extra workers to handle the avalanche of letters and angry phone calls” and “…or the 1941 death of socialite-turned-missionary Raven Sherman in Milton Caniff’s ‘Terry and the Pirates'” and “…or the heroic 1995 death of Farley, the Pattersons’ beloved sheepdog, in ‘For Better or for Worse,'” but I didn’t want to sound like an old fogey.
Heroic…..right. Farley’s passing was a collision between two stupid ideas. On the one hand, Lynn wanted to avoid admitting that having to put a pet down hurts and on the other, her sister-in-law said that Farley had been a punching bag so long, he had to go out a hero. Thus, the Timmy Falls Down The Well bit. Makes you wonder who the stupid girl Schulz was bitching about was, doesn’t it?
The single panel in which we see Raven’s grave, with its diggers silent around it, is one of Milton Caniff’s best scenes.
That’s a pretty strong accusation about Prof Dollard. And, I think, built on a weak premise. Who’s going to sacrifice any part of his honesty for Tom Batiuk?
Like I said in the OP: it’s a leading question and a loaded question. If Dollard wanted to ask Batiuk about his work being referenced in the show, he should have just done that. It also misses (or ignores) the fact that the show was making a joke at Funky Winkerbean‘s expense. It’s a bad question even for a softball interview. And there are other reasons I think this question was planted. I realize I’m making an accusation here, but I just don’t see how this question could have come from an honest place. Maybe I should be a better journalist myself, and ask him about it.
Okay, we all got that on Monday the whole week would be nothing but the same endlessly repeated obvious exposition every day.
Now, in panel 2, it’s going to go on for “a few weeks,” after Mason’s “soft opening,” followed by gourd knows how many weeks before the “hard opening.”
This means, in Tommy-Time, this could go on for MONTHS, followed by at least a week of:
MONDAY: “I’m Mason Jarre Movie Star, I bought this place, the Valentine!”
TUESDAY: “We are the child owners of this place, Mason Jarre Movie Star, who bought our theater!”
WEDS: “Which I, Hollywood Movie Star Mason Jarre who is not a silent one with a monkey, have bought!”
THURS: Overexplained, yet never-explained, Old Relic: “I KILLED RUTHERFORD B. HAYES for his Mighty Beard! He never used a beard comb to pluck out the chunks of MUTTON which fell inside! I fed my family for WEEKS on his!”
FRI: “I am Movie Star who bought!!” (points at the Valentine’s stripper pole, punches old guy, who cries “But Flash comics suck!” Batuik has him run over by a truck for his heresy)
SAT, from kids: “The robots wore COWBOY HATS! Here is only movie we show.”
SIDEWAYS SUNDAY, ALL, pointing at some junk: “HA HA HA! A spinner rack! Launched into space by Angry Rotnose!”
MRS BLACKBURN: “What do you mean–HARD opening?!”
MASON: “But first–SOFT! Only tentacles!”
MRS BLACKBURN: “Well, I never!” as her pince-nez falls into soup.
(high school band comes up to play with ticker tape parade)
Okay, it would have another thousand words saying the same thing, but that’s what’s gonna happen.
I bet I know what Mason Jarre’s “hard opening” is going to be. You know, the Mason Jarre who wanted to be taken more seriously as an actor, then financed a movie about that local woman who died. What was her name again?
Wow didn’t know the Panda scene was so controversial. I remember my wife and I laughing hysterically at that.
It’s weird what audiences get offended by and what they accept. I never saw the episode live, so I can’t say what my gut reaction would have been. But it wasn’t out of line for the kind of black comedy The Simpsons routinely did.
As a counterpoint, I have four words: “Roswell That Ends Well.” Oh yeah, we all know what happens in that episode: Fry goes back in time and shtups his own grandmother. And, this was used in future world-building – at great length – to explain why Fry had special abilities.
How on earth was this OK? Don’t get me wrong, I still think it’s funny as hell, but how on earth was this OK? In 2001?
I saw both shows live. The Simpsons routinely pushed the boundaries, but yeah it is surprising that the panda scene did not get cut.
Futurama had a lot of great episodes. At the time I was working with a guy who looked like Fry and his last name was Fry! He loved the show.
I started to watch that interview and couldn’t get through it. I know we’ve theorized about this before, but I do wonder whether Batiuk is in the early stages of some degenerative cognitive impairment. It would explain a lot.
If that theory is true, the series of softball interviews is both logical and generous on the part of the interviewers. An interview with the creator of a strip ending a half century run makes sense. And if Batiuk’s memory is in decline, the scripted nature of the interview does too.
A look at the output on his blog also shows a downturn in original writing. When was the last “Flash Friday” posted?
I watched the interview, and he seemed about the same as he ever has, so I’m hoping you’re wrong. He’s always been a vocal tic, vocal pauses, heming and hawing, kind of speaker.
I agree that most of the interview’s speaking points were rehashed from earlier stuff, but I think that’s pretty normal for anyone who has been on the interview circuit. I’ve been to so many Transformers conventions that some of the guests have repeated, and many of them have a kind of stump speech they’ve done multiple times.
I was most amused by the part about 10 minutes in where he confirmed that they put the tiny Band Turkey background gag in the long Harley conversation because he couldn’t let the last year go by without Band Turkey.
There’s probably a trope for this, and BJr6K will probably know what it is, but I call it “Wendell Willkie” Syndrome:
The phenomenon by which something or someone nearly forgotten is remembered primarily as a mention in something with enduring popularity.
I’m thinking of the 1943 Bugs Bunny short “Falling Hare,” in which a gremlin, when Bugs asks whether he’s actually seen a gremlin, screams, “IT AIN’T VENDELL VILLKIE!” I’m certain more people remember Willkie from this mention than from his political career.
His name was certainly used because it’s inherently funny, especially when yelled by Mel Blanc using a Yiddish accent. Similarly, “Funky Winkerbean” is a name that, even if you have no idea what it refers to, denotes a piece of pop culture ephemera from the 70s that was just trying way too hard to be cool.
Long after Tom Batiuk and FW are forgotten, The Simpsons will fly the Funky flag for all eternity. I’m not sure whether that should be a comfort to him, but since he clearly believes that the Simpsons writers are superfans, I guess it is.
Parody Displacement: “When a parody has become more popular than the property that it’s a parody of, often to the point where those unfamiliar with the source material will believe that the parody is its own thing.” That’s a little more specific version of what you said.
I can see it. I can see thinking, as I did when I watched Looney Tunes after school as a child, that “Vendell Villkie” was just a funny made-up name and not a politician with a long and eventful career.
And I’d bet that a lot of people will someday think that “the Noid” and “Funky Winkerbean” were made up, like Itchy, Scratchy, Poochie, and Krusty.
“Nimrod” is another one of those. People don’t know Nimrod was the name of a mighty biblical warrior, and Bugs was actually giving Elmer Fudd (or Yosemite Sam) a little respect by calling him that. But because of that cartoon, “Nimrod” is better known to mean “inept person.”
I don’t think, in context, that Bugs was saying it respectfully. It’s like saying, “great job, Einstein” after someone does something stupid, or “brilliant work, Sherlock” when they miss an obvious clue.
In short, it’s ironic. World’s worst hunter = Nimrod.
But a couple generations of little kids saw it and didn’t recognize the Biblical reference. They took it as a variety of Bugs’ other common expression, “what a maroon.”
And now it would be as impossible to use it as a compliment as it would be to call someone “gay” because they’re in a good mood.
I don’t remember it as being sarcastic (bearing in mind that it was said more than once), but you may be right also.
The Bible doesn’t actually say this, but in several traditions Nimrod is thought to be the king who ordered the construction of the tower of Babel, so that’s how the name came to be associated with folly or foolishness.
There’s another sort of displacement taking place. Five bucks says that most people think that Fred Flintstone is a caveman who sells cereal.
Journalism is a job like any other. You have column inches to fill, you have to fill them with something. And let’s face it, a Tom Batiuk interview pre-answered is an easy hours’ work.
Since no one has ever heard of the strip, it makes a good column because readers will say, “Huh, I never knew about this.” It’s also good because no one will go further than reading the column in question (ie, they won’t try to find the strip itself to see what’s in it), before going on to the crossword puzzle.
It feels a bit conspiratorial to think that Batiuk enforces a “write my own questions” rule for interviews. Though I certainly get how annoying they may seem with lukewarm questions or no challenges, does feel like it’s expecting a lot to see interviews where his writing was specifically critiqued. Those bits about the Stan Lee interview are interesting; I did entertain the notion that Stan was simply paid for putting his name on it with a bit of puff writing, though I suppose I was mostly focused on the humor that the Man was only praising Act 1 Funky in particular (which we are generally fairly charitable about, I figure)
I have thought about how I might approach Batiuk if I ever went to a signing or something, and I’d like to think I’d be biting my tongue a lot and look at it tactically, simply asking his thought process and whether he should’ve made Holtron the computer a proper character again or something. I don’t feel as though it’s worth telling him to his face his writing leaves a lot to be desired, but trying to ask him things in a Q&A manner would be interesting (one of us did that when we started noticing the Crankshaft time difference getting undone, IIRC).
It’s also interesting as the times I have tried to talk to others in family/friend circles about the strip and its failings, and while it could be my own lack of social skills, did feel like I wasn’t exactly persuading people and came off as more nitpicky than anything. It was only my word and I wasn’t showing examples, admittedly, but it does bring to mind the fact that getting too into the need to tear apart a comic strip a fraction of the population knows or cares about is a bit of a hazardous thing to do.
Man, we could really use a multi-hour video essay on YouTube about the strip. Go viral enough and we could definitely leave a greater impression on the strip’s legacy.
It feels a bit conspiratorial to think that Batiuk enforces a “write my own questions” rule for interviews.
Oh, I agree. It’s just what the evidence points to. The questions are so narrow, and so tailored to Batiuk’s favorite talking points, that they don’t sound like they came from other human beings. Much less skilled journalists, who are trained ask better questions. Even in a pseudo-promotional puff piece.
Though I certainly get how annoying they may seem with lukewarm questions or no challenges, does feel like it’s expecting a lot to see interviews where his writing was specifically critiqued.
There’s a lot of room for non-critical yet evocative questions. Three examples I found via Grandpa Google:
To Berke Breathed: Q. People have complained that your work is offensive. Some papers have refused to run various strips, and some people, like the Rev. Donald Wildmon, have demanded that you be fired for slandering Christians. What do such reactions tell you about your work?
You only see this question to Batiuk in the form of “people say comics can only be funny.” Which is not a position anybody actually holds, but is Tom Batiuk’s favorite straw man. Somehow, he gets asked about it all the time.
Almost everywhere you look in comic-strip annals, the star of the strip emerges well into the life of the strip. Pogo really began with Albert the Alligator as the star; Peanuts began with Charlie Brown as the star, now he’s second fiddle to Snoopy; even in Bloom County, Opus, who wasn’t even a part of the original cast, is now pretty much the center of the strip. Can that happen in (your strip)?
You know who got asked that question? Bill fucking Watterson. And he gave an honest answer! If the great Calvin and Hobbes can face a question about its central character changing, then Tom Batiuk jolly well can, considering his comic strip is a major case of it happening. (Arguably, multiple times.) Oddly, none of his interviewers ever ask this. Or even very much about Les, even though Batiuk has said he relates to Les, and this is makes a perfect jumping-off point.
To Scott Adams (in 2013): Employees who worked at your restaurant have said that you’re not a very good manager. As one put it, ‘Scott should be shielded from tough decisions the way a crawling infant needs to be protected from household hazards.’ True?
Ouch. That stung. But Adams gave an honest answer, despite being unfavorably compared to the villain of his world. Tom Batiuk is never asked a question with the tiniest grain of negativity in it. He has never even been asked about The Comics Curmudgeon, who is the loudest voice in the now-small world of newspaper comic readers, and who has been very fair to the Funkyverse.
And it’s not like Dollard is unwilling to do this. His second question to Henry Barajas called Gil Thorp “stuck in a time capsule.” A couple minutes later he asks a question about fan criticism, which Barajas answers. (And also touches on the nature of the GoComics forum, a topic that’s relevant to us because of how harshly JJ O’Malley is moderated.) Batiuk is never asked about criticism, unless it’s his own pre-approved straw criticism.
Go read/watch any of those interviews, and then any of the ones with Batiuk at https://web.archive.org/web/20221117215117/https://www.funkywinkerbean.com/bio.html or the entire Dollard/Batiuk interview itself, and the differences in questioning are apparent.
And Funky Winkerbean was a comic strip that invited questions, because so much about it was opaque. But nobody ever seems to ask them. Hence my belief that Batiuk is micromanaging the questions somehow.
Well, charitably, it might be as I suggested above: FW is just not considered worthy of scholarship.
Imagine that you were assigned to interview a popular writer of pirate-themed bodice-ripper romances. What would you ask? You’re sure as hell not gonna read the author’s body of work. I mean, who cares what “Clarissa Daindridge” (pseudonym for Helen Grossblatt) used as inspiration for her leading character Chad Worthington, Duke-Turned-Pirate, star of the 22-book “Lost at Sea” series?
You’re gonna look at previous publicity, and her press kit, and ask a bunch of softball questions, wrap it up quick, and get paid.
But imagine you had the chance to interview Camille Paglia. I bet you would be knuckling down with her books and trying to come up with something new and interesting to ask her. I bet you wouldn’t shy away from challenging, even provocative questions, knowing that she won’t shy away from challenging and provocative answers. A truly great interview with Camille Paglia could make or break your reputation. It could be studied years from now alongside her body of work. It’s worth it to give a shit.
Thus the interesting questions for Watterson and Adams, and the softball questions for Batiuk.
Yes, TB could insist on feeding the questions — but let’s be honest, does he have the clout to do that? Does he have any clout at all?
Remember Hanlon’s Razor:
If you include “indifference” as a variety of “neglect,” there’s your explanation.
There’s probably a simpler explanation–interviewer contacts Tom Batiuk about scheduling an interview, and Batiuk responds with “Great idea, thanks! I have some material on hand you might want to look at beforehand” and sends out his press kit. Done and done.
Not only is Batiuk never going to win an award for his work, no one will ever win an award for writing about it.
Wait, I’m not gonna win a Pulitzer for this?
He pats her soft, calf-pulling hand. “Yes, you will.” He pats her hand again. “Yes, you will win a Pulitzer.” Again, he pats her hand. “Yes, you will. You will win a Pulitzer.”
That’s probably the form it takes, but I still think it’s a little more obnoxious than that. There are some other examples I could go into.
Berke Breathed’s answer to the question I listed above fits here nicely:
A. (Negative attention means) People are reading, especially Donald Wildmon. They are probably angry, they are probably insulted, sometimes they are offended, but they read you every day just to find out how they are going to be offended for tomorrow and for the next day. Indifference is the enemy. When I’ve lost Don, I’ve lost the war.
Tom Batiuk lost the war a long time ago. He had fans and haters, but everyone just slowly drifted away. There were online criticisms other than this website and Comics Curmudgeon (and a legit FW fan site even existed), but it all mostly ended by 2012. It ceased to be worth mocking or defending. It is only of interest to we strange hobbyists, who find something compelling in its awfulness.
Of course, almost no comic strip these days gets attention except from strange hobbyists, unless it’s for the creator getting wrapped up in a political controversy.
At least Funky Winkerbean attracted a dedicated cult of strange hobbyists. The engagement this blog got in the last five years, as anemic as 40 comments a day may seem, blows almost any other single-strip focused blog out of the water. And that’s no shade on those places. Other strips don’t even get that. Hi and Lois WISHES it had a blogger as dedicated as This Week in Milford.
Also I could see Marge being an earnest Funky Winkerbean reader. She could feel the pathos of the story and reccomend it, and then someone else checks it out and questions the presence of Masky McDeath and the Pizza Monster
Her core personality is being filled with resentment because it’s somehow the fault of people who can enjoy life that she was stupid enough say yes to Homer and is so desperate to not admit fucking up that she gets stupider by the day. She loves Winkerbean.
“Are you kidding? There’s Elly Paterson! Over here, Elly!”
Well, I’ve said before that I don’t blame any young stringer for pulling softball questions from previous puff pieces. Seriously, the less time you spend on a piece, the more dollars per hour you make, and the sooner you can start on other paying work. It’s not as if I feel it’s a dereliction of journalistic duty to fail to drill down on inconsistencies in Lisa’s story. Call TB, write it up, file it, cash check, move on.
I would expect more from someone who considers themselves an expert on comics, but perhaps even people who specialize in the topic don’t care about FW. Not being sarcastic; you can be an expert on English literature without caring about the works of Stephanie Meyer. I’d venture to say most experts on the topic never give a thought to deeply analyzing her prose, characterizations, and use of symbolism.
Re: the first of BJr6K’s links (great to see you in the masthead again, BJr!):
I thought it was a myth, but score one firmly for TB: Someone who actually says “comics should be funny.” I thought the whole idea was a strawman he’d made up, since so many comics throughout the history of the medium have been drama/soap opera.
I cannot know for sure, but I suspect the author of the piece wasn’t really lamenting the lack of laffs, so much as the incredibly downbeat, hopeless, sad-sack nihilism of whole weeks at a time.
It’s one thing not to make people laugh. It’s another to depress the shit out of them by torturing your characters and then having those characters just passively accept their shitty fate. Even when something good happens to them, they mope. I love, absolutely adore, black humor. The blacker the better. But this isn’t black humor, just emo petulance.
Great post, BJ6K! Nice to see some real hard hitting investigative journalism! One-Armed-Skip could learn a thing or two from you.
When I win the Pulitzer for it, I’ll give to you during the award presentation because reasons.
OMG, Dying of lols here!
And it’s amazingly how willing supposedly professional journalists are to go along with it.
I imagine that no journalist has ever gone to the editor-in-chief and said, “Hey boss! How about if I interview this Tom Batiuk cartoonist!” Because the boss would never respond, “Now that’s how you sell papers, son! Get right on that now!”
No, I suspect it’s more a buzz on the intercom. “Jenkins, get in here. Now.” And after Jenkins squirms in the waiting room while the secretary smirks at him, he’s called in. “Jenkins, you’ve really been falling off lately. I have two choices, I can fire you or I can assign you to interview Tom Batiuk. Those are your two choices. Choose wisely. So, what’s it gonna be, huh? Huh? Fired [FERD]? Or Tom [TOMB]?”
Y’know, until this post, I never quite put it together that if you shorten “Tom Batiuk” to “Tom B.”, it spells “tomb”. Oddly fitting for how morbid the strip can be.
(I feel like this is the type of thing that everyone else already figured out years ago, and I’m just slow for not realizing it sooner.)
I took the time to read Bill Watterson’s interview in The Comics Journal. He describes his struggle to use his panels correctly. Compare any Sunday strip of “Calvin and Hobbes” to today’s Sunday Crankshaft. Watterson would need all five panels. Tom Batiuk needed 2, but used all five. I am not a longtime Crankshaft reader, so I do not know if this is typical. Yet I suspect it is. It has a nice premise: guys playing “Jeopardy” together. Then it bloats the story out, and takes 2 panels to get to the punchline. Davis draws a nice Mayim Bialik.
What is the punchline? That they’re fantasizing they’re on Jeopardy? I’m not laughing so far.
That is perhaps the most we can expect from TB. We see the start and finish. Laughter was not guaranteed.
Mop man, you are cleaning up!
Just doing my job.
Greetings, all. Thought I’d say my piece here since it will be bleeped off of GC by later this afternoon. Oh, and Happy Mother’s Day to all Moms out there.
One of the lesser-seen tropes in ‘Shaft is that Ed has trouble recalling the names of movie and TV actors, and I’m pretty sure the star of “Casablanca” bit has been done before (some deep-diver may verify this). The act of remembering for him is about as challenging as coming up with “Jeopardy!” responses. All of a sudden, while eating with his buddies at Dale Evans one morning, Humphrey Bogart’s last name finally came to him and he blurted it out. The first five panels are meant to be a metaphor…well, they’re meant to a joke, too, but at the very least they’re a metaphor.
Please, don’t play it again, Batiuk (Yes, I know the line isn’t said anywhere in “Casablanca”).
I caught your comment early this morning and saw all the lame replies. But you still had the most votes.
I’m afraid I don’t get this one either. I think the premise might be:
Ed is trying to remember the star of “Casablanca.” Batiuk likens this feeling of striving to remember something to being on a quiz show, under pressure. That’s not a bad premise in itself, but if that is indeed the premise, he’s totally bungled the execution.
But it looks as if the three pals were on Jeopardy and Ed couldn’t answer the question, but remembered the answer much later in the Dale Evans booth. Who knows, maybe that is what it’s supposed to be.
Either way, didn’t Ralph and Keesterman know? Yikes.
What really jumped out at me is that when a WWII veteran and vintage movie buff like Ed truly can’t remember the name of the star of Casablanca — arguably the very personification of a “movie star” — he needs to be admitted to Bedside Manor, stat.
Perhaps this is the origin story of wheelchair Ed?
I disagree! The punchline was executed perfectly! Likely while blindfolded and and smoking a cigarette.
If the last panel showed the Three Even Less Funny Stooges playing the home version of Our Game while eating their lifetime supply of Rice-A-Roni, the San Francisco treat, it would make sense. The other 2 staring blankly is more “Ah, yes. Ed’s old head wound is acting up again.”
Trust me, EVERY Sunday CS is like this. You’d get more reading from Blondie’s throwaway panels.
I hope Davis gets paid by the panel. I imagine him rubbing his forehead and saying “Got it, Tom. ‘Here’s the dead horse, here’s the hammer, get beating.'”
You paint in a rich variety of verbal pictures!
Link to today’s Crankshaft: https://www.gocomics.com/crankshaft/2023/05/14
Link to apply for a job as an editor at Andrews McMeel, very obviously the easiest job in the world: https://www.andrewsmcmeel.com/careers/
Don’t. Tempt. Me. Frodo.
I thought I posted some remarks about Krankenschaaften a couple days back but I don’t see them… Were they eaten by the website?
I see some wonderful Hitorque comments on the 5/10 ‘I Bequeath You, My Grill’ post. Were some others lost?
BJr6K, good to see you back in the guest blogger’s chair. I always thought you got dealt a bad hand, receiving only a handful of stints before FW came to an end. Perhaps Batiuk decided to throw in the towel when you were named guest blogger.
I’m pleased to see someone get some mileage out of that video. I’m 99% sure it was from The Daily Cartoonist. Odd how I can’t find the article using the Daily Cartoonist’s site search. Is it possible that the article was removed? Did I post a link to the article that featured the video, or just the video itself?
How many people made it through the entire interview? I forced myself to watch the thing in its entirety because it was only fair to do so before inflicting it upon others. It was a struggle. What a dreadful interview. Even though the interview was less than half an hour long, it took me an hour to watch because it was so dull. My mind kept wandering, and I had to rewind to watch the parts I missed. It’s amusing that despite being on YouTube for months, only one person has commented on the video. Bonus points for expressing their preference for Crankshaft over Batiuk’s flagship strip.
I find Batiuk’s interviews unpleasant to watch. He often adopts a fake “aw shucks” attitude, and his attempts at self-deprecating humor come across as insincere. He struggles to maintain eye contact with the interviewer or camera, and his eyes wander. He often wears a sly grin that seems to indicate he’s about to say something clever. His voice sometimes trails off to the point of mumbling, and it lacks the commanding timbre needed to hold an audience’s attention.
Batiuk is the world’s most irrelevant interviewee. A commenter in the Comics Kingdom said they watched a short Batiuk interview on one of the local Cleveland newscasts. As the interview concluded, the anchor had to resort to her notes to remember Batiuk’s name. That was in northeast Ohio, Batiuk’s backyard. I wish someone had uploaded that video somewhere.
He often wears a sly grin that seems to indicate he’s about to say something he thinks is clever.
I found the Daily Cartoonist article that mentioned the Batiuk interview video.
I searched for “Dollard” after receiving no relevant hits with “Batiuk.” The interviewer was tagged, but the interviewee isn’t? TB gets no respect. 😂