Masky McDeath: Origins

Hi folks! Your potassium-rich guide to the Funkyverse is back again for another post.

Unlike my colleague Comic Book Harriet. I’m not the “deep dive” type. There are a few Funkyverse stories I want to dig into, as we continue to write new posts for you all to enjoy and discuss. But for the most part, I will have standalone posts to make. This is another one.

I’m a regular reader of “Komix Thoughts”, Tom Batiuk’s very fittingly-named blog. Even though they’re mostly just excerpts from already-published Funky compilations that nobody but the most devoted non-ironic fan has ever seen. This week, it dropped a doozy:

The last remaining hurdle for me was how I was going to depict Lisa’s death. The answer came at a concert. I had been working pretty intensively, so my wife Cathy and I took a break to go hear Apollo’s Fire, a baroque ensemble, at Oberlin College. Near the end of the performance, three dancers came on dressed as harlequins and wearing white-full-faced masks, and I suddenly saw my ending. Using a bit of magical realism, Death would come for Lisa in an otherwise empty white space, wearing a white mask and a tuxedo. Using that conceit, I could now address and depict death directly. I was almost finished.

“Match To Flame 198”

Yes, he means Masky McDeath. And yes, he is dead serious.

At the climax of Lisa’s tedious, decade-long death, Batiuk decided “some dude with a deeply cheesy tails/Phantom of the Opera get-up” would lend the proper gravitas to the proceedings. To put it mildly, this character’s appearance undermined whatever emotional weight Lisa’s death was supposed to have. It was a textbook example of Narm: something that’s supposed to be dramatic, but is so poorly executed it’s unintentionally funny.

The character was a laughingstock, even to people who were inclined to like the strip, and became a symbol of the strip’s ineptitude – to anyone who still cared in 2007. And yet, here is Tom Batiuk in May 2023, making a serious blog post about the thought process that led up to it.

It reminds me of Jar Jar Binks.

I bought a DVD of The Phantom Menace as soon it was released. It contained the usual “making of” features. They’re interesting in that they were made before the world had a chance to be repulsed by Jar Jar. George Lucas really believed in this character, and wanted it to work. He was going to make a cartoon character come to life, and feel like a real character who belonged in a scene with human actors like Liam Neeson. He talked about what CGI technology could do now, how Ahmed Best could act with his entire body, that the character was going to achieve a level of comedy not seen before in a Star Wars movie; and things like that.

It. Just. Didn’t. Work.

We don’t need to rehash why. But it’s instructive to keep in mind that the great George Lucas genuinely thought it would, and put a lot of effort into it. It’s honestly a little sad to watch now. Say what you will about Lucas and the Star Wars universe now, but at least nobody’s making these claims any more. Jar Jar was a misstep that was swept under the rug, and not talked about any longer than it had to be.

That’s what Tom Batiuk can never do: admit that anything he ever did was wrong. It goes against the whole headcanon he’s built for How To Enjoy Funky Winkerbean Correctly. My last post was about Batiuk’s need to control the narrative at all times: this is a fantastic example of that. He doesn’t even defend the character; he just pretends no one ever attacked it. Kind of the opposite of what he does with Les, who’s always “protecting Lisa” from things that don’t exist, but is too spineless to act in her interest when it actually would have helped.

And, as is common is his blog posts, Batiuk’s middlebrow elitism is on display. “When I was overworked from deciding how to end my comic strip after eight years, my wife and I went to see the baroque ensemble, at Oberlin College.” I live in a city with an opera company and I have a range of cultural interests; I just don’t feel the need to bring them into unrelated conversations. Tom Batiuk is this woman, except he’s never been anywhere other than New York, Los Angeles, and Cleveland:

The other thing I love about this story is how impressed Batiuk is with himself for thinking he invented the most basic storytelling techniques. “Magical realism”? The personification of death isn’t a new idea. His other “Match to Flame” posts are all like this. “I know! I’ll have a time-traveling janitor deus ex machina our entire 50-year run into a galactic plot to make sure Les gets laid! That’s an elegant solution!”

But that’s a post for another day.



Filed under Son of Stuck Funky

77 responses to “Masky McDeath: Origins

  1. Green Luthor

    Seeing that “protecting Lisa” strip, all I can say is… God, I want to punch Les in that pissy face of his. A guy who’s probably in his 60s sulking like a petulant child. That’s the backpfeifengesichtiest backpfeifengesicht that ever backpfeifengesichted. (A word that simply can never be used too many times when talking about Les.)

    • billytheskink

      Les being all pissy about Mason Jarr-Jarre worshipping the ground he walks on was infuriating… but it also always gets a chuckle out of me. THIS is TB’s hero? He thinks this guy is remotely endearing or relatable to the audience? This guy who whines about being offered seemingly endless freebies from a bonafide movie star?

    • The Duck of Death

      That pouty, arms-crossed, hunched “I don’t wanna!” pose, in a guy of retirement age, is enraging enough.

      Then add Cayla’s concerned sympathy for Lisa, apparently the love of her life too.

      Then, to top it off, consider that Batty thought this strip painted Les as a heroic Sir Galahad, bravely protecting his beloved Lisa, even in death, from the defilement of Hollywood, after having sold her story to them.

      It is pure insanity that anyone could write this strip and think that it shows nobility and integrity, not a superannuated toddler throwing a tantrum.

  2. Bill the Splut

    Weird coincidence! I was just thinking about my brief time at Oberlin. I saw the Talking Heads in concert there on their tour for their 1st album! My favorite college newspaper review of all time: “David Byrne danced around the stage like a drunk walking across the deck of the Titanic.”

    My mother angrily told my sisters “Don’t be surprised if your brother comes home from Oberlin with a Black girlfriend!” which I guess was a bad thing in 1978 or maybe because I said once I liked Maya Angelou’s poetry. I did come home with a GF, who like us was a pasty pale Irish-Scots hybrid. Not Black at all! She was a bisexual radical feminist.
    (shrugs) The heart wants what the heart wants, right?

    • Rusty Shackleford

      It sure does! I was just out that way last weekend. It is a beautiful campus. Back in the day, I had friends in the music conservatory there and would go see them perform. Like Batty, I thought I would brag about that now.

      • bad wolf

        Look, i only mentioned the (seven sisters) school i went to the other day because Anonymous Sparrow said they attended the same one and i was curious if we’d overlapped. And also, like TB, i thought i would brag about that now.

        • Maxine of Arc

          And you were out of comment space so I couldn’t drop the (other seven sisters) school I attended.

        • Rusty Shackleford

          I hope you didn’t think I was criticizing you, because I wasn’t.

          Batty went to KSU, he didn’t have the grades to get into Oberlin.

          • bad wolf

            Rusty: Oh no, not at all. Just having a laugh at TB’s pretensions.

            Maxine of Arc, nice to hear from one of the other sisters; it is (if you saw me) easy to guess which school i am from as it is the only one now co-ed. Is there something about a liberal arts education that draws us to the end times of comic strips? I don’t remember that in the brochure!

          • Maxine of Arc

            bad wolf: let’s just say the one I went to also inspired a comic that won’t die, though in this case it’s a webtoon.

          • bad wolf

            Maxine, that didn’t ring any bells but Grandpa Google suggests QC as the webcomic that wouldn’t die. Hopefully you were also an 80’s student so Sparrow and I won’t have to call you “the kid” all the time.

        • Anonymous Sparrow

          Bad Wolf:

          We didn’t overlap, alas. I’m Class of ’84.

          Beware the Savage Storm, according to

          (or in the spirit of the friend back from abroad)

          selon David Bowie.

          • bad wolf

            Well salve anyway Sparrow, that’s an auspicious year or at least a good prom theme. Perhaps it explains a bit though as i find the frame of reference of your comments to be familiar but more erudite than i’m used to and we tend to think of the folks just ahead of us as the brightest and best.

            The classes just before me were also reputed to be a pretty wild bunch but that may also just be rumor.

  3. ComicBookHarriet

    Aww yeah, I just dragged my sorry butt back from a 9 hour shift at the gas station, booted up the old laptop, and this post of beauty was waiting to comfort me.

    Thanks for the save BJ6K! Just the potassium boost I needed!

  4. Paul Jones

    What Batiuk doesn’t see any more than he wants to see that The Phantom Of The Low Rent Opera was a terrible idea that sabotaged the story he wanted to tell is that to the outside world, the only thing Les wants to protect Lisa from is agency. The best way to become a ‘bad guy’ is flat out accuse Les of wanting to make things all abut him because he’s not aware of his own selfishness.

  5. Gerard Plourde

    It seems that Masky McDeath wasn’t the only misfire in that saga.

    I hadn’t previously noticed that he decided that Lisa’s superhero alter ego in the radiation therapy strip is named Control Freak.

    And in the other strip he chose to post in the blog (in which Lisa inexplicably appears comatose), none of the super heroines in panel one is blonde despite the fact that Cindy and Donna are two of the friends providing respite care. Couldn’t Byrne be bothered to modify the illustration he sent?

    • Banana Jr. 6000

      Control Freak! The superheroine who stopped fighting and let the villain kill her! Aided by her faithful sidekick, Useless Man!

      I don’t know which tendency is worse: Tom Batiuk’s need to make everything about comic books, or his need to declare Les and Lisa heroes when they’re anything but.

      • J.J. O'Malley

        Sorry, but whenever I hear the name “Control Freak,” the first thing I think of is the TV-obsessed super-villain with the souped-up remote control who fought the Teen Titans in both their animated incarnations.

        By the by, CF first appeared on the original TT cartoon series in Feb. of 2004. Does this predate any such character’s debut in FW (not that I’m accusing Batiuk of ripping it off, mind you!)?

    • billytheskink

      Oh yeah, there were more misfires in the story of Lisa’s battle with cancer than just Masky McDeath, but most of them were not wholly out of the realm of typical soap opera-level melodrama drivers (the mixed up charts, the trip to Washington DC, etc.). There were too many of those drivers, and the story would have probably burst anyways with the endless hot air TB was pumping into it… but I think that up until the end that the bubble was still just barely holding together. Masky McDeath was a cruise missile into the bubble, and Act III was somehow 15 years of TB wallowing in the scraps of the story he didn’t even realize he himself destroyed.

      We weren’t the only ones who found Masky McDeath to be just too much. Stephan Pastis, Ed Power, and Melissa DeJesus would dunk on the character in the next few years after he appeared.

      Ed Power himself defended this site after the cease-and-desist crisis in 2011. I must admit that I was not a big fan of My Cage back in the day, but all respect to Ed Power (and Melissa DeJesus too).

  6. Rusty Shackleford

    Thanks BJ6000 for the post and the funny clips.

    I do give a pass for people who just came back from their first overseas trip and are excited to talk about it. At this stage of my life I’ve made that trip so many times that I only talk about it if someone asks me. That said, visiting a new country is still exciting.

    • Banana Jr. 6000

      Don’t get me wrong, I love to hear about people’s travels. The joke of the video is that this woman is trying to act more sophisticated than the listener, when she clearly didn’t learn a single thing.

  7. Y. Knott

    How long has it been since anyone at the syndicate has bothered to proof — or even read — Batiuk’s work? The most recent Battyblog entry gives definitive proof that no-one was paying attention to his material as early as May 24, 1987:

    • Andrew

      Just the fourth panel? Shamray was just recycling the same pose in different sizes for every panel. For all we know Batiuk is mistaken in calling it a blooper.

      Guess he was always working with art recyclers outside of himself and Ayers, he just can’t notice/care enough.

  8. The Duck of Death

    Thank you, BJr6K, for nailing one of TB’s most eyeroll-inducing traits: His middlebrow-ness.

    To me, the defining trait of being middlebrow is not what you like, but how you wish to be percieved for liking it. It’s about striving to be seen as highbrow, an “intellectual,” a deep thinker who likes “difficult” works, without doing the mental or scholastic work.

    I don’t judge anybody for liking anything. You like what you like. If that happens to be “The Phantom of the Opera” by Andrew Lloyd Webber, you’re in good company, since it was the longest-running musical in Broadway history.

    But it seems that TB must’ve learned somewhere along the way that highbrow critics consider ALW’s musicals middlebrow or even lowbrow, and God forbid he like something that’s loved by the masses. How will we ever know that he’s special, a real intellectual? Better cover it up with this ridiculous story about dancers dressed as harlequins.

    Harlequins typically wear tight, highly colorful, clownish clothes, often with ruffles and a large, colorful hat.

    The iconic, world-famous costume of the Phantom of the Opera on Broadway, however, is a tuxedo with a white mask that covers almost all of his face. And that’s what everyone saw when they looked at Masky McDeath: The Phantom, inexplicably mimicing the gestures of a maître d’ at a French restaurant.

    Sorry, Bats. Oberlin or no Oberlin, you’ve been made. Busted.

    • Banana Jr. 6000

      I looked on the Apollo’s Fire website for a photo of whatever it was that Batiuk found inspiring. Didn’t find anything, but this was a 2006 or 2007 show that may have had context of some sort. I wonder what it was. I will not even try to guess.

    • Rusty Shackleford

      Yep, Batty just west his thumb and holds it up to see which way the wind is blowing and then adjusts his interests/ likes accordingly. Hence all the blabbing about NYC and Woody Allen movies. Nothing wrong with liking either, but with Batty it just comes off as fake.

      He talks so much about being 1/4 inch from reality but his work lacks authenticity— mainly because nearly every character is a puppet of Batty.

      • The Duck of Death

        He’s not understanding that Allen’s humor is intensely self-deprecating and basically contemptuous of the entire milieu of NYC “intelligentsia.”

        That’s because Allen doesn’t put a black hat and vest on his characters and play a minor-key leitmotif when they walk on screen. You have to read between the lines to figure out how the auteur feels about them. It’s subtle, and TB doesn’t do subtle.

        I think he just looks at the screen and thinks, “Look at all these New York sophisticates! What intellectuals! Wow, I’m pretty sure I’d fit right into that world!”

        • Banana Jr. 6000

          It’s subtle, and TB doesn’t do subtle.

          No, but he thinks he does. He thinks he’s being subtle when he’s just being unclear.

        • Rusty Shackleford

          Yep, he heard about his films from people he wanted to fit in with but never bothered to watch and understand anything.

          As BJ mentions below, Batty doesn’t do subtleties. ( Almost wrote subtitles.). He doesn’t do that either.

    • Paul Jones

      There’s a deeper, sadder and weirder component to this fear of the crowd. If he isn’t a persecuted martyr, if people like the same things he likes and say he’s maybe a great guy for liking them, his life has no meaning.

  9. Andrew

    Did someone mention Phantom Menace?

    I preface of course in saying I unironically enjoy the film as a top favorite in the saga (I’m neutral to Jar-Jar himself, but at the least I do pick up his action figures from time to time), but also that one of my favored bits is what Banana Jr touched upon with the behind-the-scenes material, of which Lucasfilm provided generously for all the prequel trilogy (something that cagey-Disney/Bad Robot infamously didn’t, even cancelled the tell-all making-of book for Force Awakens, but that’s another story). I really enjoy the insight they gave for the decisions behind the films and filmmaking in general, particularly with what people later came to contest. The 3 feature-length documentaries for each prequel are great deep-dives, and the web serial episodes they made are both cool for their individual focuses and a reminder of a bygone era of internet content in film promotion.

    People certainly reach their own conclusions with it (I don’t watch RLM but I know that they dwell on those features a lot in their analysis), but it does give some nice earnest perspectives to the facets of production and how we got to the end point, regardless of their reception. The amount of work that went into Jar Jar only for him to become the ultimate scrappy character, the training and choreographing that went into the lightsaber fights that people called too showy, and all of ILM’s CGI/effects work that to this day is seen as crap greenscreen effects that should’ve used more models/puppets. It’s funny in a sort of sad sense, yeah, though for me at least I still enjoy the final products even if others don’t, so said work pays off for me at least, along with others who see the prequels more favorably these days.

    Overall, the BTS features very much enriched my fandom for the series growing up, and I honestly watched them more than the films themselves. More creators should be more open about this, certainly adds to the content they create. A shame Batiuk only seems to work in pre-prepared statements when his BTS blog posts mainly involve reposting his collection introductions and the occasional tibet about the Act IV era. Would be interesting too to see him discuss contrasting views on his strip more, even if it just involves him calling us “trolls” or need to understand “it’s called writing”.

    • The Duck of Death

      Occasional Tibet? Perhaps a sequel to “Impossible Germany, Unlikely Japan” by Wilco.

    • Banana Jr. 6000

      I also enjoyed the prequels, except for the godawful love scenes in Episode II. I was even OK with Episode VII, but VIII started to lose me. To this day I have not seen Rise of Skywalker.

      I just don’t know what some people wanted from these movies. Showy lightsaber fights and green-screened aliens is exactly what I want to see in a Star Wars movie. They should be over-the-top, loud, bombastic, and fun, with that kickass John Williams music going on. I don’t care how flimsy the plot is or what half-baked spiritualism they try to introduce. It’s like people who complain Avatar had a thin story. It did, but that wasn’t the point. It’s a visual spectacle. Enjoy the ride.

      All these movies, along with the Matrix 2 and 3, got so much hate. I thought they were all perfectly adequate, and had some good moments. Not as great as the originals, but still better than a lot of things.

    • Mike V.

      Hi Andrew,

      If Red Letter Media isn’t to your taste, you might prefer Outlaw Vern’s “No Baggage” reviews of the prequels, wherein Vern pledges not to “talk about the usual things people bring up when writing about a star wars.” This includes nostalgia, its place in pop culture, or what anyone thought the prequels should have been. In other words, to judge them on their own merits.

      As a non-fan of Star Wars, I found these (along with Vern’s Lucas Minus Star Wars series) to be an enlightening set of reviews, giving me a newfound appreciation for George Lucas.

      Here’s the first review in the series:

  10. ian'sdrunkenbeard

    The bit about Apollo’s Fire was interesting to me. I’ve seen AF around 200 times, including twice this month, but I don’t recall ever seeing masked dancers perform with them. They have occasionally had Baroque dancers, but I don’t remember any masks. They have done at least three staged and semi-staged operas, but none of them seemed to fit.
    I couldn’t find a list of AF performances dating back to 2006. I finally searched for “Oberlin Apollo’s Fire 2006” and Bam! – a student’s review in “The Oberlin Review” from February 10, 2006.
    “The concert ended with Rameau’s Suite from Les Indes Galantes. Dancers came onto the stage once again, dazzling with their historical costumes and period dance movements. They looked like they had just come to life, popping up from a music history textbook .”
    The New York Baroque Dance Co. was the group that performed, and when I looked them up I saw masks galore.

    Even their masthead has masked dancers.
    I have watched some of their performances from “Les Indes Galantes”, but I have not yet seen any masked harlequins.

    • Gerard Plourde

      Thanks for finding this. I think you’re right that this was the group that Batiuk saw perform. Reading through their About Us page, they specialize in French Baroque Opera, which doesn’t appear to employ the Harlequin character.

      I can only assume that Batiuk thinks that all masked figures in opera are Harlequins.

      I have to say that tracing Batiuk’s influences does lead into some very interesting rabbit holes. It’s a shame that his work style is “First Thought = Best Thought”. A little more research combined with less need to make his characters mouthpieces could have had some interesting results.

    • Banana Jr. 6000

      Great find. Your Google-Fu is stronger than mine.

  11. ian'sdrunkenbeard


  12. J.J. O'Malley

    Anyone mind if I place this bon mot re: the current “Crankshaft” arc here for safekeeping, as I’m sure it will be gone from the GC comments section before the rooster crows on Tuesday dawn? Thanks.

    Crankshaft: Give Us Six Days, We’ll Give You Six Jokes About an Elderly Man’s Morning Bathroom Regimen.”

    • Rusty Shackleford

      Still up as of this morning. They are such babies over there. If they were smart, GC and CK would create dedicated discussion pages for each strip and encourage long term discussion. And they wonder why nobody wants a paid subscription.

    • Banana Jr. 6000

      I wonder if Ed (or Tom Batiuk) has forgotten that the Centerville Sentinel is a community-run enterprise now. One-armed Skip went to New York and pouted at the hedge fund office, and when he came back there was a convenient plot afoot to simply take the newspaper for themselves because hedge funds are bad. It’s like all his character share one mind.

      My point is, this would lead to some quality issues. I wouldn’t read a newspaper put out by such a bunch of dishonest amateurs. How do they even have a mechanism for delivery, anyway? Go buy it from the newsstand, you lazy entitled boomer.

      • The Duck of Death

        I was thinking the same thing. He’s dissing the beloved, honest, humble, lovable, salt-of-the-earth Centerville Sentinel.

        You know, the one led by beloved, honest Skip Toomaloo. The guy who humbly, lovably stole the assets that belonged to the hedge fund that bought them.

        And now the salt-of-the-earth codgers running the stolen business can’t seem to get it delivered in the morning. What a heartfelt example of small-town know-how and grit.

        Meanwhile, why doesn’t he read yesterday’s paper? He didn’t even learn to read till he was in his 80s or so; how fast can he get through a day’s paper, anyway?

        • Banana Jr. 6000

          It’s like there’s no intersection between any of his stories. We went from “in the hospital for bus PTSD”, to “every kid is being picked up” to “except one” to “Ed takes him for ice cream” to “all your jobs are safe” to “now we’re driving the teachers” in 9 days. None of which will ever be seen or talked about again.

          And he spent all this time and effort on the “hedge fund” plot, handed the newspaper to Skip via some cockamamie plot to have unpaid local amateurs produce it, and then did nothing else with it. And this week we’re talking about the newspaper without its unusual nature being a factor – even though Ed met Skip personally and talked to him about the newspaper during these events.


          • Rusty Shackleford

            Yeah hedge funds = bad. Batty probably is invested in one or more hedge funds via his retirement investments and thinks they are only for evil rich folks.

          • Green Luthor

            I thought Batiuk’s “retirement investments” were all tied up in Silver Age comic books?

    • Y. Knott

      * For a very generous definition of the term ‘joke’.

    • be ware of eve hill

      As of 8:13 PM EDT, your comment is not only still there, it is the Crankshaft “Featured Comment.”

      I haven’t seen your poop joke counter in the Marvin comment section lately. There’s no need for it anymore. The character of Marvin in Tom Armstrong’s comic strip lately seems to change age to fit the joke of the day/week, rather than relying on potty humor. Marvin can be portrayed as a toddler, a pre-schooler who speaks in complete sentences, or a baby communicating through thought bubbles with his dog Bitsy. This approach is similar to how Batiuk has handled the character of Mitch Murdoch in recent years, who can be shown as a baby in a high chair or as an older child engaged in activities like lifting comic book long boxes or driving a tractor.

      Tom Armstrong used to collaborate with Batiuk on John Darling. Perhaps years later, TB and Tom Armstrong are still exchanging ideas.
      Batiuk: I’ll trade you the indeterminate age child jokes for your poop jokes.
      Armstrong: /b> Deal! Thank God. I was running out of poop jokes.

      What’s up with the red shirt? Crankshaft looks like a tomato.

    • be ware of eve hill

      Also, will Crankshaft be the sacrificial red shirt the next time he’s beamed down to the planet on an away mission?

      Spock: Captain, it appears Crankshaft has been turned into a cube.

      • J.J. O'Malley

        Kirk: Thank you, Mr. Spock. If anyone wants me, I’ll be in my quarters finishing off the latest Captain’s Log. Err, you don’t have any reading material on you, do you?

        As far as I’ve seen, BWOEH, “Marvin” has been scatologically barren for several weeks now (maybe prunes would help). And yes, the little twerp’s developmental level changes on a daily basis depending on the circumstances. Armstrong wants to be able to write jokes around an infant, toddler, and kindergartener all at once, it seems, and I guess a three-year-old constantly soling themselves takes something away from the humor.

        But hey, in Wednesday’s ‘Shaft, Pmm gives Ed a phone/tablet as an AV aid in his morning evacuations and ablutions. I shudder to imagine what the AC and GC crowd will do with this.

        • be ware of eve hill

          I rarely visit the Marvin discussion after my Comics Kingdom subscription was cancelled. Whenever I do, I notice that your comment is usually the only one present.

          As of 9:21 AM EDT, you have the Crankshaft GoComics featured comment again. You’re on a roll.

      • Banana Jr. 6000

        Funny you should bring up red shirts – Batiuk has another batshit insane blog post, where they play a role.

        Even though much of Lisa’s story was already finished, (editor Jay Kennedy) wanted me to make a secondary character be the one with cancer and the one who dies. He said that people cared so much about Lisa that there would be a powerful outcry, and I pointed out that it was their caring about Lisa that would make the story resonate.

        I asked him if he was familiar with the trope of the crew members on Star Trek who wore the red shirts. Whenever a secondary crew member showed up wearing a red shirt, they would invariably die before the end of the show. Almost without exception. However, since there was no investment in the characters, they were meaningless deaths that never caused anyone to care. I told Jay I wasn’t going to put a red shirt on one of the strip’s supporting characters.

        He’s on brand, I’ll give him that. If Funky Winkerbean is remembered for anything, it’s for administering cruel, pointless fates to characters we’re *supposed* to like and care about. And if Tom Batiuk is known for anything, it’s for overstating the importance of his precious Lisa. And for lecturing people on the obvious, while also being wrong.

        • Rusty Shackleford

          As if anyone cared about Lisa…good one Batty.

        • The Duck of Death

          I dunno. Something about this story lands wrong. In general, controversy and/or outcry is a good thing for the comics page, yes? There’s no such thing as bad publicity. An editor should understand that intuitively.

          It’s not as if this were some kind of outrageous political or social stance that could get the strip cancelled and the papers that run it inundated with protests. It was a perfect excuse to get a whole lot of ink for an aging, not-very-relevant strip.

          I just can’t see an editor discouraging that.

          • Banana Jr. 6000

            The whole thing doesn’t make a drop of sense. How was another character supposed to die of cancer when Lisa was the one who had the cancer? And he ended up giving cancer to a “red shirt” anyway: Donna (or was it Holly? I increasingly can’t tell these characters apart) so there would be a Washington D.C. trip for Lisa to co-opt.

            I may do a full post on this. I’ve got a lot more to say about it.

        • be ware of eve hill

          I don’t get how you folks can read Batty’s blog. Instead of drawing your attention, his writing style repels it. I can’t read more than a few sentences before my mind starts to drift. The same happens while watching his videos.

          It must be next to impossible to have a conversation with the man.
          Me: I’m sorry, Tom. Did you say something? My mind wandered again.

          He said that people cared so much about Lisa that there would be a powerful outcry, and I pointed out that it was their caring about Lisa that would make the story resonate.

          To be honest, I don’t remember how I reacted. My reaction to Masky McDeath was most likely, “WTF?”.

          • Banana Jr. 6000

            That’s the appeal of it. It’s fascinating for how comprehensively bad a writer – and human being – Tom Batiuk is.

            He can’t make the simplest point without an avalanche of irrelevant details, pointless stream-of-consciousness, and overwrought vocabulary. He writes like a pretentious 14-year-old who thinks he’s a lot smarter than he is.

            And all of it is in service of his planet-sized ego, and his delusions about Lisa’s place in the universe. And he never tells you things you might want to know, like “why were there masked dancers in a baroque music concert” or “why are you interested in Canadian football all of a sudden”? He has nothing to say about anything, but he talks and talks and talks and talks and talks.

            He’s also secretive about anything that might be interesting to read. Other cartoonists will admit when something backfired, didn’t get the intended response, was a bad creative choice, or was downright embarrassing. Not Batiuk. According to him, nothing he’s ever done has ever failed to meet his loftiest goals. I’ve called his propaganda North Korean a few times, but it’s really the best adjective I can come up with. It really is that level of pervasive, inflexible, delusional, and absurd.

            Blog posts are about the simplest kind of writing you can do. There’s no formality or pretense involved, and no one else has to edit you. Batiuk is so lazy he just reposts the forewords of past books. And they’re STILL terrible! They’re full of the same elementary-school mistakes, despite having been published professionally by a university press that presumably wants to be taken seriously.

            And there’s more I could say. He’s the Amanda McKittrick Ros of bloggers.

  13. Donny Brook

    Hello, Son of Stuck Funky. Recent skulker, first time comment.

    “Masky McDeath” is such a funny name, reminicient of the British research vessel “Boaty McBoatface”. The character is so silly looking. Are you supposed to tip him after you pass over to the other side?

    Does anyone know who came up with the moniker “Masky McDeath”? Was it the Comics Curmedgeon or one of you talented people here?

    • Banana Jr. 6000

      It was Comics Curmudgeon, in the link in the OP. Welcome aboard.

    • none


      However, since you broached the subject, I do have to say that Boaty McBoatface has basically stalled Internet discourse for a good ten years. It’s something that should have been a one-off joke for one event but has become one entry of shorthand for being devoid of humorous creativity. I can practically see the Batiuk-like smirk every vacuous asshole wears as they write their latest “[x]y Mc[x][y]” name to mock something, as if nobody else saw it coming. Get a new shtick, assholes. It’s been done. You’re not funny.

      And on the character in question here, I viewed it as being in non-snark territory. The intent is clear, the character doesn’t do anything, and what else is there to even say about it. There’s nothing about it that’s profound or repulsive. It’s a dude in a tuxedo with an arm out. OK? Great? Is that really something that should be acknowledged as inspired? Can it be viewed as inspired? Or as… anything? As usual, it’s the meta discussion around it and around how TB presents it as being inspired which is where the discussion lies and where the derision is justified.

      This is what it seems like so many do not understand about his work in general, as seen in the GoComics comments now as in times past. The content being dull or bad is one thing, but it’s how it’s presented and portrayed is what makes all the bad quality especially worse.

      • The Duck of Death

        X McY is a snowclone that denotes laziness or cookie-cutter quality in the thing that’s being named; at least that’s how I read it.

        In other words, in a formulaic detective show, you might call the protagonist Trenchcoat McGumshoe to indicate that he was cobbled together from cliches.

        It can also be an expression of irritation at the over-the-topness of a character. In Downton Abbey, there was a character, Bates, who had a limp from a war wound, and the show never missed an opportunity to pile onto his tragic victimhood. It was ridiculous. In our house, he was called “Gimpy McCanewalker.”

      • be ware of eve hill

        Your reply to a first time commenter was a little harsh, don’t you think? ‘Donny Brook’ mentioned two things they found humorous, and you derided both. Was that your idea of a welcome?

        I’ll be surprised if we ever see ‘Donny Brook’ again. At least he received an answer to his question.

      • be ware of eve hill

        Sorry. It wasn’t my place to criticize your post. Nobody elected me discussion monitor. A recent discussion has made me a little sensitive.

        Where’s the delete button?

        • none

          It’s fine. All the same, my gripe is with the naming convention itself – I didn’t say anything about his finding it humorous. It’s something that I was going to address in isolation, but that prompted me to give an on-topic response to it.

          As stated by Duck, it’s shorthand for laziness. I also find that shorthand for laziness to be an equally tiresome shorthand for laziness. That’s all.

        • Banana Jr. 6000

          Where’s the torso chute when you need it? 🙂

        • sorialpromise

          I will come from a different perspective. I enjoyed how Mr. Batiuk ended the Lisa story. I liked Masky McDeath. Just seeing it again out of context, I found it moving. I thought it was fair use of his creative abilities. Rightfully, he received credit for taking a bold direction. He stuck the landing. Death coming for Lisa was powerful.
          Death is so lonely. You might be in a room of loved ones, but you are the only one experiencing the drama of death. Then after your last breath, you open your eyes and someone is there for you.
          In the Torah, often when someone dies, it says that the dying one has rejoined his fathers. Perhaps, I am misquoting Gandalf, but I find that “a comforting thought”.

          • The Duck of Death

            Thanks for your perspective. I’m genuinely interested to hear from people who have opinions different from mine, as this site is by its very nature a bit of an echo chamber.

            I asked this question below and you sort of answered part of it: Were you satisfied with the 10-year time jump that happened almost immediately afterwards?

          • sorialpromise

            Thank you, dear Duck. To answer your question: No. That pulled the rug out from under his attempt to reach maturity as a writer. It was a sorry decision to almost return to a status quo.
            You are appreciated.

  14. hitorque

    Krankenschaaften: This woman is how old and she doesn’t know that people read while they’re sitting on the john?!

  15. “He said that people cared so much about Lisa that there would be a powerful outcry, and I pointed out that it was their caring about Lisa that would make the story resonate. At least, that’s how it happened in my head. Jay rarely called me unless he wanted to correct my spelling.”

    • Banana Jr. 6000

      I think that’s kind of the problem. My dad was like this at the end of his life. He’d start a conversation with you in medias res, like you were already in the middle of it. He’d ask out-of-nowhere but very focused questions about vague things like “the game” when we hadn’t talked about any game recently. It was like he couldn’t differentiate his internal and external conversations.

  16. The Duck of Death

    I’m morbidly curious. Is there anybody — from Chuck Ayers to comics pros to those long-time readers who used to visit CK occasionally to anemically attack the snarkers — anybody who thinks the end of FW was well done and satisfying? Is there anyone at all who could look at it and say, “Yep, Tom Batiuk really stuck the landing. Wrapped up all the loose ends, and elegantly too!”?

    That goes for the Lisa story. Was anyone satisfied with the denouement? Lisa dies, Masky escorts, then skip 10 years. Did anyone defend it or praise it at the time?

    Even in the puff pieces, I don’t recall it being praised. Maybe noted as “controversial” or “polarizing” or something, but not actually praised. Maybe I’m misremembering or my PTSD (Post-Tom’s Shitty Denouement) is kicking in.

    • Banana Jr. 6000

      This is another thing I want to dive into – reactions to Funky Winkerbean from sources other than us. I haven’t looked into Lisa’s death much, but up until about 2012 there were people who wrote blog posts and “open letters” and whatnot. Some of them were pretty insightful. A non-ironic fan website even existed – on Geocities.

      • Gerard Plourde

        “ This is another thing I want to dive into – reactions to Funky Winkerbean from sources other than us.”

        That would be interesting. But there is a possibility that no one beside us “beedy-eyed nit pickers” noticed or cared enough about the strip to comment.

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