Here’s that “Rip Tide, Scuba Cop” cover that nobody asked for. Back in June, Batiuk shared Craig Rousseau’s preliminary sketches for this cover on the FW blog back in June. The draftsmanship is fine (certainly better better than Batiuk and Ayers recent output), even if the composition’s a little…busy. In this way, it has more in common with the action-packed Silver Age covers of Batiuk’s beloved Flash than with the edgier, minimalist modern day covers that he likes to feature (without attribution) on the blog.
No doubt that this one had its genesis when comics fanboi Batiuk seized on the “Scuba-side” pun. After that, it was just a matter of squeezing out a few more jokey names based on bodies of water to round out the “squad.” Then it was just a matter of finding a comic book artist with some free time on his hands.
All that was left was to contribute the “humerous bon mot” (that’s how Batiuk spells it) featuring Mindy and Pete, to give this strip some tenuous tie to an FW plotline. Mindy’s not just some dumb gurl who lucked into a colorist job at Atomik Komix. She’s the brains behind Pete. Her insistence on going to the beach, instead of hiking to Bronson Canyon, inspired Pete to create a new Atomik title (and potentially saved them from dying in a fire).
Oh, now hold up. Men’s Over Sixty-Five Division? This is the last time I’m going to harp on timeline and continuity: Batiuk clearly gives no fucks so why should we? But if you go by what Wikipedia says:
In 1992, Batiuk changed the strip’s format. It was established that Funky, Les, Cindy and all the rest of the previous cast had graduated from Westview in 1988…
In which case, today Funky would be right around 50 years old.
In November 2008, the gang assembled for a thirty year reunion (“the coming reunion”). This would make them WHS Class of 1978. Funky would be about 60 (at the “time pool” reunion in June 2015, any dates on the banners were artfully obscured). This number also would jibe with Funky being 46 at the beginning of Act III in 2007, as shown on the “Meet the Cast” page. So we have what amounts to a time jump within a time jump. The characters are catching up in age with their creator, and Funky (and his peers, including ageless Cindy) are at least 65 years of age. Older than me, even!
[I]n 2008 [Tom Batiuk] was named a Pulitzer Prize finalist. Only three other newspaper strip creators have achieved this distinction in the award’s 100-year history: Garry Trudeau (Doonesbury), Berkeley Breathed (Bloom County) and Lynn Johnston (For Better or For Worse). Pulitzer judges cited Batiuk’s controversial story line in which his Lisa character battles cancer – a subject not typically covered in the funny pages.
“That sort of validated my career for me because there are only four … Trudeau, Breathed, Johnston … and Funky,” Batiuk says with a smile. “I’ll take that company. That’s not bad.”
From the Interviews page at funkywinkerbean.com
Today’s strip…Who wouldn’t admire a guy who creates three hugely successful (in their day) daily comic strips? The main difference between Tom Batiuk and two of those other three famous cartoonists is that Trudeau and Breathed won their Prizes. Now, being a Pulitzer finalist is nothing to sneeze at, but this does put Batiuk in the lower percentile, alongside Johnston, creator of the only long-running, “serious” comic that engenders even stronger love/hate among its faithful readers.
Not having that Pulitzer on his shelf alongside his Flash maquette has to sting a little, for a storyteller who likens himself to Charles Schulz and Woody Allen. Despite the considerable success and fame that Batiuk’s earned over nearly a half century, he’s still “never won a medal.”
C’mon man. Even Skyler‘s won a medal.
Jeez, that’s quite a list of ailments. Can you imagine what kind of shape Funky would be in if he didn’t exercise regularly?
Mason walks around with that same stupid smirk all the time, but why must Les look askance at Funky in today’s strip? Could it be that, having been so immersed in Hollywood–even rescuing a starlet from a wildfire!–Les is starting to see his hometown Ohio friends as pathetic, smalltime losers? He can’t wait to get back to whatever’s left of Hollywood, where he’ll get to hang out on the set of Lisa’s Story and ogle Marianne in her Lisa drag.
This year’s Lisa’s Legacy event is taking place rather early. When the Act III curtain rose twelve years ago, Bull Bushka presided over the Lisa’s Legacy Walk while Les and Summer took part in the Making Strides walk in Central Park. Let’s recap events of the years since.
2008: Cory steals the cigar box containing over a grand in registration fees; Funky writes a check to keep his delinquent son out of trouble.
2009: Cayla and Keisha get roped in to volunteering; Cayla’s reward is to get schooled by Les on exactly how Lisa made a peanut butter and jelly sandwich.
2010: Even ten years ago, Funky was complaining of his physical ailments.
2011: It rains.
2012: Instead of a week-long arc, the Run occupies a Sunday strip in fiery autumn hues.
2013: This time Funky needs to be attended to by an EMT.
2014: The 15th annual LLR is noteworthy for the black, not primarily pink, tee shirts worn by the participants, and the black comic border and muted palette; not TB’s usual fall riot o’ color.
The Run wasn’t featured in 2015, and again was a Sunday-only in 2016. The Mentor (Ohio) Rotary took over the event in 2017, in order to allow Les more time for his book tour.
In 2018 and 2019, The Run was apparently pre-empted by prestige arcs: Wally and Adeela and the Death of Bull, respectively. This year’s real-life event doesn’t appear to be happening, no doubt on account of Covid.
Hope everyone’s enjoying a nice Labor Day Weekend!
So Les is back in Westview for the Lisa’s Legacy Run. And Mason, Cindy, and Marianne surprise him by showing up. And “Cindy is shooting footage of us running the race today…” For use in the movie? Will Marianne and Mason be running in character as Lisa and Les? Cindy’s a cinematographer now? Wouldn’t they need permission to shoot? And two movie stars and a former network news anchor are just hanging out, not attracting attention from anyone beside Les. Such disorienting plot “developments” have been Funky Winkerbean‘s stock in trade since mid-Act II. Let’s talk instead about the deteriorating draftsmanship in this comic strip.
The only modification I’ve made to this panel was to remove the dialogue balloons, or “word zeppelins,” in order to allow us to better appreciate this Mount Rushmore of melting faces. Les suffers the least, as his goatee in profile always looks like shit. Mason sports an even goofier than usual expression. Cindy is droopy-eyed, and Marianne’s head is on a stalk.
Tom Batiuk writes and “inks” FW, but for the last two years the strips have been penciled by Batiuk’s ol’ Kent State pal Chuck Ayers. Ayers has partnered with TB in this way since the mid 1990’s, in addition to drawing Crankshaft for 30 years. In March 2017 Ayers gave up both jobs to pursue other interests, but returned following the tenure of Rick Burchett, who turned out some of the most horrendous, slapdash, off-model draughtsmanship since another noted comics artist, John Byrne, was at the drawing board.
Ayer’s Crankshaft strips always seemed to me to be much better and more naturally drawn than Funky Winkerbean. And the aforementioned Messrs. Burchett and Byrne were renowned, more-than-capable comic book artists. I’m bringing all this up because I wonder if a requirement of working as Tom Batiuk’s penciller is having to “dumb down” one’s ability closer to Batiuk’s level. In this way, the guy who got laughed out of New York by Marvel and DC gets to hire real artists, and then
pin clip their wings.
Given the fact that Jeff nearly died during his trip, his reunion with Pam is…sort of lowkey. Very obliging of Pam, though, to feed Jeff his straight line. As promised, here is that neato rock that Batty pictured on his blog. Jeff’s souvenir appears a lot bigger than the one brought back by Batiuk, and this is a good thing, because in unseen Panel 8 Pam will use it to bash in Jeff’s head.
When he came up with today’s strip one year ago, not even Tom Batiuk’s febrile, I mean fertile, imagination could have conceived what we’d be calling “the new normal” today. Unless BatAyers diverge from their famous, self-imposed 12-month lead time, expect Covid to rear its ugly head in Westview sometime in early spring.
It’s late summer in the Hollywood Hills. They are standing in the still-smoldering aftermath of a massive wildfire. And Cindy’s got her arms wrapped around herself like she’s freezing. I guess it’s an attitude of shock and/or grief. Les, to his credit, tries to comfort her. Or, he’s using the opportunity to paw Cindy’s bare shoulders while Mason stares distractedly at a charred bit of paper.