Yeah, I’ve used that title before, but so what? Another single paneler…this thing isn’t just running out of momentum, it’s actually rolling backwards now. As much as it pains me to admit this, Les’ barely-veiled disgust is probably the funniest moment of this arc so far. I’ve always wanted to see Dick Facey go in that direction and become a full-time, no-holds-barred asshole, all the time, instead of just occasionally. But alas, the bearded dick with ears can’t even do that right.
Two things really stand out here. First you have Summer, who’s becoming less and less recognizable by the day. Please, just ship her back to KSU and let her prepare for her triple junior year already. And then there’s Holly’s “muscatel memory” gag, which has to be one of the bottom ten all-time FW gags ever. I mean yikes, man, that’s just awful.
And what a shitty wedding. Awful, awful pop-culture gags, no one taking it seriously at all, Summer lurching around making wisecracks and a pile of shitty pizza…if I was a guest I’d seriously consider stealing my gift back.
Good God, man. While this may seem like a typically stupid and innocuous FW gag, it’s not innocuous at all. It’s actually one of the worst gags ever written by anyone, ever, and BatYam ought to be ashamed of himself for having dreamed it up in the first place.
First, you have the joke itself, which (as far as I can tell) is that the minister the happy couple found online speaks only in technology references, because he’s an “online” minister. But the thing is, he isn’t “online”, he’s right there. You can go online without becoming “online”, which seems like something you shouldn’t have to point out to anyone, regardless of how rooted in the past they are. It’s just a TERRIBLE joke on that level alone.
But then, on top of this already-abysmal gag, he uses “Bill Gates” and “Twitter” as his “online” references, as they both have something to do with “internet” and “computers”. And I mean yeah, they do and all, but it’s REALLY a weak, weak reach. If he said “by the powers vested in me by my local ISP, Megalith Cable” or something like that, it’d be a little closer to being a joke, albeit barely.
Then, the icing on the cake. It’s Summer, the young, with-it child of technology explaining the reference to Cayla, the old, out-of-touch fogey who always struggles with this internet thingie. And then there’s Boy Lisa’s absolutely baffling presence, too. Seriously? HE’S Cory’s best friend? He couldn’t even draw up some random anon-o-army guy to be Cory’s best man?
This one stinks on ice on every possible level. In fact, I’d go as far as to say this one, right here, is one of the one hundred worst FW strips of all time, maybe even bottom fifty. Just look at that terrible post title I resorted to using today, I am NOT a man who shies away from a terrible, lousy, no-good gag every now and again. But this strip is aggressively bad, the kind of bad that just grabs you by the shoulders and screams “LOOK HOW SHITTY I AM!’ right in your face, and in my opinion there’s just no call for that.
Oh yay, comic books, it’s been so long since they’ve been mentioned in this strip that I really missed it. And of course Rocky is a massive comic nerd, since that’s the other personality trait she has other than “was in the army”. If someone told Batiuk he had to write a character, story or even just a strip or just a single wedding that didn’t have anything to do with comics, I’m pretty sure you’d hear the sound of several fuses in his head blow and smoke would start pouring out his ears, because I do not think he’s capable of even considering that anymore.
I just Googled “‘unification display’+wedding” because I’d never heard of them before and wondered if this was something common that I just hadn’t heard of, but I really don’t think so. It only returned three results and none are remotely like what’s being portrayed here. Even less restrictive searches returned nothing close, so I really don’t think this is a thing. What I think happened is Batiuk thought it was hilarious/touching to have two people merge their comic collections and made up the concept of a “unification display” because I guess he couldn’t just have someone point and say “hey look, they combined their comic books!”. (And have them sitting out in the open in the sun where anyone can swipe one).
Is that supposed to be Summer on the right? I can’t really imagine who else it would be, even though it doesn’t look at all like Summer, and she’s not wearing a hoodie.
This is also yet another example of Batiuk’s need to have an extra line after the “punchline” of the strip. Nothing is added by having maybe-Summer tell us it’s cool and sweet. It’s like Batiuk doesn’t think the readers will be able to tell how they’re supposed to react to or feel about a joke without literally being told.
So Cayla states, AND I QUOTE, “He told me that one thing that gave him some solace…was reminding himself that he wasn’t like them.”
And so, I am willing to rest my case, and conclude that in an arc about racial profiling Batiuk and his team got two black characters confused because they looked too much alike.
There remains the outside chance that I am wrong, that the ‘wisdom’ Cayla spouts is also something her father, Smokey Williams, will be shown saying in his original arc. I will let you know my findings in the comments section when my copy of Strike Four! arrives. And I will add a retraction statement to this post if I was wrong.
But for now, lets look a little closer at the Jefferson Jacks arc. In truth, it was the first thing that came to my mind when I saw last Saturday’s strip, because it was the most significant arc I could think of that tackled racism. The storyline ran in Crankshaft from September 15 to October 12 in 2008. The following are some highlight strips, to give you all an abridged rundown.
First things first. I tried digging through the Toledo Mud Hens rosters to see if they ever integrated before the team moved to West Virginia in ’52. I couldn’t find any black players, though many didn’t have easily googleable pictures. But the Mud Hens integrating in ’47 is a bit of fictional license.
This feels so oddly well researched for Batiuk work, doesn’t it?
Finally, in a bit of Crankshaft news, the Crankshaft story dealing with the black baseball player Jefferson Jacks has been nominated for a Glyph Award in the Best Comic Strip category by the East Coast Black Age of Comics Convention which takes place on May 16th at the Crowne Plaza Hotel in Philadelphia. Just a bit of backstory here… a good friend, Tony Isabella, had suggested I write a story about a black minor league ballplayer who would have played with Ed Crankshaft on the Toledo Mud Hens. I was out of pocket on the Lisa’s Story book tour around that time, so I suggested to Tony, a fine comics writer in his own “write”, that he do it… and he did. Later, when Tony’s scripts came in, I wrote the Sunday strips to wrap around the story and they were then beautifully illustrated by Chuck Ayers. If I say so myself, it’s a fine story and I’m very pleased that it was nominated by the judges.
Finally, part two… the current Jefferson Jacks story was written by me as I recuperated after my accident last year, but Tony and I had such a good time with J.J., that we’re working on some new stuff for down the road.
He had a ghost writer for the story! Tony Isabella is a fellow Ohio native who’s written for Marvel and DC. He’s best known as the creator of Black Lighting.
The ‘current Jefferson Jacks story’ referenced in the blog post was, of course when Jacks played ball in pre-revolution Cuba. Since it was penned by Batiuk, I’m sure was just as well researched and substantiated as the arc Isabella wrote.
Tomorrow is the last day of my shift. I can continue the saga of Jefferson Jacks for you all, if you’d like. Show you the conclusion to another Funkyverse story of prejudice.
Or, it’s not to late to learn all the exciting facts about Styrofoam and linoleum.
When I first read today’s strip, it seemed to make sense. (Except for the last panel, of course.) I remembered Cayla’s dad.
I remembered that Smokey Williams had been friends with Crankshaft.
And I remembered, from my very earliest comic strip snark fandom days, that Crankshaft had a flashback prestige arc about Cranky befriending his black teammate during the early integration era.
And I chuckled to myself over how it was just PEAK Batiuk to reference by name an obscure character that has only been seen in Funky Winkerbean once, who further references an awards bait arc he wrote in Crankshaft back in 2008. Are any readers, even among the dedicated snarkers on SOSF, CK, Curmudgeon, and elsewhere, going to remember who Smokey Williams was?
I tried to do a little mental math, if it would work if Cayla’s dad was a young man in ’47. But I just chocked it up to time skip weirdness. Then, I went back to the archives for Crankshaft to reread the Diet Jackie Robinson arc.
And then I looked at the Crankshaft-meets-Cayla strip from 2011 a little closer.
Smokey calls Crankshaft an ‘Old-Timer.’ Cranky is a grandfather of adult grandkids at this point, and Cayla is Smokey’s daughter and a college student. Smokey is drawn slightly younger looking than Ed Crankshaft.
Guys. I don’t think that Crankshaft and Smokey Williams played on the same team. I think Smokey Williams is decades younger than Crankshaft. But then, who is he?
In the bedeviled Comics Kingdom hellscape, Crankshaft only goes back to late 2002. When Smokey calls Crankshaft up in 2011, it is the first time he’s mentioned or seen in the archives. But he isn’t treated like a new character. The Toledo Blade didn’t carry Crankshaft. In desperation I started googling madly into the void. And got this little clue from a book review of the Crankshaft baseball collection: Strike Four!
Memorable storylines include the time Ed became a coach and mentor to struggling Aeros pitcher Smokey Williams, and a flashback to Ed’s support for his team’s first black player, who took some harassment from both the public and other players.
Crankshaft is certainly not a coach or mentor to Jefferson Jacks in the integration arc. And Jefferson Jacks isn’t playing for the Aeros, and doesn’t seem to be a pitcher.
So Jefferson Jacks and Smokey Williams…I think…are two different people. Evidence for this supposition is that Jefferson Jacks shows up at the end of the 2008 arc.
And this strip from when Crankshaft was inducted into the Centerville Sports Hall of Fame in 2012.
So my working hypothesis right now is that some time in the first fourteen years of Crankshaft there is an arc where Smokey Williams was introduced. Was he the victim of racism then? I don’t know yet. But my Ebay order for Strike Four is in the mail.
Because one of two things is happening here. And I absolutely must know which it is.
1.) Smokey Williams, Cayla’s father, was also subjected to racism in the arc I haven’t read yet.
2.) Batiuk got his black baseball players confused, probably because he made the older Smokey at Cayla’s wedding look just like Jefferson.
You may think actually purchasing a Crankshaft book is taking my obsession with Funkyverse lore a little too far. To that I have the following two rebuttals.
Whooo boy! Y’all are getting spicy in the comments! Not at each other, which is just a beautiful thing to see. But at Batiuk’s gutless little morality play. Which puts me in a weird spot, because while I think this all is bad and stupid and cheap and self-serving. I don’t find it uniquely infuriating.
Maybe it’s because I grew up in the 90’s, when this sort of cheap pandering to social issues was omnipresent? But I’m guessing that stretches back into the 80’s and earlier. There has never been a time in my life where I haven’t been blandly preached at by media makers looking to mould my young mind and make a few bucks off of the process.
Many of you in the comments are baffled as to why Batiuk had Malcolm move the sweater. This muddles the issue by giving Kashier Klerk Karen a kernel of something to base her suspicion on. Why is Batiuk giving her this out? Epicus thinks this was to keep the K.K. Karen from doing or saying anything overtly racist and thus invite controversy. And he might be right.
I have a different take. When I was poking around doing my ‘shopping while black’ research, I stumbled across a YouTube video. It had been put together by a young black man filming himself in stores to catch cashiers following him around. He walks around the store with his phone held out in front of him loudly talking about the cashiers and where they are. Then he calls out and laughs at the cashiers who are surreptitiously keeping an eye on him.
Most of the comments were people apologizing, commiserating, and laughing. But a few pointed out that, by having his phone out, he was probably raising the suspicions of clerks. Some even pointed out several tiktok memes that had involved filming yourself doing stuff in stores, and wondered if the clerks were on the look out for that.
We saw that Karen deKlerk, (Kudos to William Thompson for that,) was giving these two the stink-eye the second they walked in. Malcolm, angry at being treated like whatever the “…” trail off was supposed to signify, decides to bait her. For the very first time since he’s been introduced he acts like a stupid teenager.
Batiuk is actually saying something much more likely to get him in trouble than just having the Karen the Krazy Kleptospotter be overtly loudly racist. He’s saying that provoking a confrontation is wrong. That Malcolm’s anger is justified, but his actions are not. He is opening himself up to a whole army of people calling him out on ‘tone policing’ from his privileged position; people who think that the color of your skin, or your gender, or your place of origin bars you from commentary.
Kommadant Karen is not going to change in this story, she’s just a bitter force of nature ala Roberta Blackburn. Malcolm is going to change through the interventions of wise old Cayla. And Cayla is the mouthpiece of Batiuk.
If people other than us were actually paying attention, Batiuk could get in trouble for daring to preach at young blacks.
Some would say that he shouldn’t do this because he’s white.
I would say he shouldn’t do this because he’s really really bad at it.
Yup, like I said yesterday. Conflict is over. On to the fallout.
And, just like the first strip of my shift where Malcolm asked Logan out, today we’re given a reaction from Cayla that would seem normal, human, and understandable. If this one day existed in a vacuum. Which is in stark contrast to yesterday where, as Banana Jr 6000 pointed out, no one acted like a normal human being.
Today shows realistic empathy, concern, and compassion on Cayla’s part. And also a certain motherly wisdom with ice cream bribes. Offering food activates a primal, bond-building part of every human’s brain. Unfortunately, this is all in service of these three sitting down together so we can spend the rest of the week blandly talking about racism.
This entire arc is a slap in the face. Tim Negoda style. Just as Batiuk was about to shove these two kids he had hardly bothered to name down the memory hole, he realizes he can use them for their race. And then he drags Cayla into this. Cayla who, in the nearly fourteen years since her introduction, has yet to have a single arc to herself that wasn’t about Les Moore. She gets to be here now, because he made Cayla black. Something that, up to this moment, was only used for a single throwaway joke.
People have pointed out, numerous times, how Cayla’s ethic characteristics have been leached from her over the years, leading to the nickname CauCayla. Though, this really was only a visual bleaching.
I call this a visual bleaching, because Cayla herself really hasn’t changed in personality, goals, or interests. She’s black, but she’s never been portrayed as culturally different. Some of you noticed this.
Speaking of Derek, he was one of the guys, but he was cool and had his own style. Junebug, who came along later, had spunk and did things her way. These characters were black, and Batty had the balls to write them that way. They were unique and believable. That brings us to Logan Church and Thatsnought Hewmore. All the black characters in the class of 2022 act exactly like the white characters. Awkward, glasses-wearing, brainy, wimpy white nerds. *Yawn*
be ware of eve hill
I’m going to start throwing around the words culture and race. Of course, the definition of these two words and their very reality as concepts is constantly being changed and bickered over by social scientists trying to earn their paychecks and gatekeep intelligent conversation by changing the rules faster than Calvinball. But for the purpose of this week I’m going to say race derives from the place of origin of your ancestors and culture is the way of life of a group of people.
For the purposes of this discussion. Race is immutable. You cannot change who your biological parents were. Culture is given to you as a child by the people around you. As you get older you can keep what you’re given, or change it by your behavior and who you choose to associate with.
Just like any racial group in America there are all kinds of black cultures, subcultures, and expressions. There are plenty of black people who are just like Cayla, Logan, Malcolm, and Principal Nate. That they exist, and act this way, isn’t a problem.
But there’s not a single non-white character currently in Funky Winkerbean who acts culturally different from the main cast. Even Adeela, a first generation immigrant, doesn’t act appreciably different.
In vintage FW Derek and Junebug were subtly different, both in the way they dressed AND the way they spoke. But nowadays portraying a character of a different culture can be a dangerous game. Where one person sees as an accurate representation, another person will puff up with outrage at a harmful stereotype. There’s the general consensus that some stereotypes are off limits to outsiders. A white person couldn’t, and probably shouldn’t, be writing something like The Boondocks.
But before you get to a Key and Peele sketch on Civil War Reenactors, there is a massive field of grey where a thousand people with ten thousand agendas are scribbling all over trying to make their line the line no one crosses. Apu gets cancelled. Ben gets taken off his box of rice. Everyone has a big old twitter meltdown over if a white woman should have written The Help. They yell if everyone is the same race. They yell if a culture is portrayed wrong. And what ‘wrong’ is is undefinable and ever changing.
And you know what is safe? You know what is easy? Visual diversity with cultural homogeneity. Race without culture.
It’s also boring, unchallenging, and it only tackles one type of prejudice, while potentially leaving the other standing tall.
If you look at this week’s premise it’s easy to come away saying, “Racism is bad because we are all the same inside.” Malcolm and Logan are ‘good kids’ just like any other kids in Westview. They dress the same, act the same, talk the same.
But what happens when people aren’t just the same? When they’re louder or quieter, colder or warmer? When they dress different, act different, talk different? When they value different things? Those are all learned behaviors, but they are also all choices. And so the previous way of thinking can make a person viciously prejudiced. Because these people can choose to believe something else and they don’t deserve respect until they do!
Real diversity isn’t a bunch of people who all look different and think the same. But Batiuk has only very rarely even attempted to tackle a cultural divide.
Whooo boy, today is a parade of crazy, rage eyes. You’d think someone had put a greasy slice of Montoni’s finest atop a priceless Starbuck Jones issue.
Cayla says we all know what is going on… but do we? Why is the cashier still grabbing after Logan’s bag if the sweater is accounted for? Why doesn’t Logan just let her look inside and then skewer the suspicious sourpuss with righteous innocence? Why are all of them risking an assault charge over this? This reedy, prim, Maris Rogers faced clerk doesn’t look like the kind to physically attack or restrain potential shoplifters. It isn’t like they’re being accused of pocketing oxytetracycline from the Farm and Supply and 6-foot Davis from the stock room is gonna tackle and hog-tie them.
Cayla says they can escalate things, but that is such a lie. None of these characters are capable of escalating things. Not only are they Batiuk creations in the Funkyverse, but they are, at best, tertiary characters. This is the most negative emotion we’ve seen any of them ever convey. And now it’s done. Off to fume and muse and pout.
Batiuk burnt himself out on melodrama decades ago and now the precious few strong negative emotional moments he can muster are reserved for his A-tier. If Linda Bushka didn’t get to break down sobbing at her husband’s degenerative disease and suicide, if Adeela stoically faced deportation with nothing more than a concerned look, if Marianne blithely listened to Les blather about his dead wife while Hollywood burned in the background…then you don’t get to escalate this.
Most of you in the comments seemed okay with me at least touching on the subject of this arc.
What Batiuk wants this week to be about is racial profiling and ‘shopping while black’. Which is why Cayla, of all people, has been called in to interfere. (At least her being at the mall fits one of her two known character traits.)
Racial profiling in retail is, of course, a real thing that does happen. Like this case in Missouri in 2018 where cops were called on three black teens shopping for prom because a customer had accused them of shoplifting. The teens calmly let the officers check their bags and receipts and were let go. (The store later formally apologized.) So I’m not going to argue with Batiuk that what he’s depicting today is something that never happens. This isn’t a legal immigrant with a pro-bono lawyer on her side being deported immediately without recourse only to be saved by Bill Clinton.
But today is extremely muddled, because it isn’t clear that the cashier is racially motivated.
When I’m not working on the world’s ugliest tan, I work part time at a gas station to earn fun money for robot conventions and my raging caffeine addiction. During my shift, I am the only cashier in the store, and I have to watch for shoplifters. You know who I watch for? Kids.
And I won’t even be egalitarian about it. I’m especially sharp-eyed, right or wrong, when it’s a group of three or more boys between the ages of 12 and 16 unaccompanied by an adult. The only people I watch closer than a group of unchaperoned adolescents, are the few poor ghost people every town has, no matter how small. Scraggly familiar faces, just coming down off a high, who scrape together cans and change for just enough to self-medicate their demons with high-gravity beer and bargain cigarettes.
Is this kind of profiling wrong? I don’t know. Maybe. I try not to be too harsh with it. I try to joke with the kids, and smile kindly at the tweaked out.
But nothing puts me on guard faster than the kid who is always looking over his shoulder to see if I am watching THEM. That’s when I watch them even closer. And I have seen, many times, that my stare makes the kids act weirder. And I’ve known in the back of my head, that maybe they never were intending to fill their pockets with Twinkies. That maybe they’re acting weirder now simply because I’m watching them.
So what do we have here? Actual racial profiling, or a feedback loop of suspicious stares?
If Batiuk wanted to make this clear, he failed. Big surprise. But I’m guessing in most real cases of this scenario there isn’t someone shouting slurs and saying, “You people!”
But if Batiuk wanted to leave it ambiguous, to tackle the issue as it really is: Where it’s often unclear where racism ends and justified surveillance and suspicion begins… well, that might be a bit too ambitious for old Tom here.
He should just go back to thugs nonsensically hating on Chinese food.
Another story that appeared in 1997 was inspired by a completely different source. A Vietnamese couple had moved to our town and opened a restaurant on the site of a former Red Barn. Cathy and I enjoyed stopping in there, and one time while waiting for an order, I read a yellowed newspaper article that was framed on the wall by the door. It told of the young couple’s escape by boat from Vietnam and the harrowing journey they undertook facing pirates and being stranded and abandoned at sea until finally making it to a hoped-for life of freedom in the United States. I started getting some ideas for a story. One of the advantages of getting ahead on the strip like I had at that juncture was I could take the time to let an idea have a longer gestation period. I could keep rolling it over in my mind, examining all of the facets and considering various possibilities until I felt it was ready. And when it was, a young Chinese couple moved into the space next door to Montoni’s and opened a restaurant called the Jade Dragon West. Zhang Li and his wife Liu Lin were political dissidents from Hong Kong who, fearing a crackdown when Great Britain handed Hong Kong back over to China, made the decision to escape to America. They met their good neighbors Tony Montoni and Funky Winkerbean, but soon the couple also experienced the racism that lurks in the American shadows. In the course of telling their story, I made use of a number of elements of the tale I found in the yellowed newspaper clipping (I seriously doubt if that would have happened with Grubhub, and I’m glad that the nascent internet hadn’t grown big enough to ruin that opportunity for me). Go out to dinner . . . come home with a story. Nice when life works that way.
Today’s strip recalls one of the very last things that ever appeared in Act I… and uses it to mourn the death of print media? Look, I dunno what’s going on in the last panel, but I can tell you what happened in flashback panels.
After bumming everyone out with his awful valedictorian speech, Les just… hung out in the auditorium until everyone left, sulking in the unfulfillment of getting a high school diploma.
Then he headed out to the “Student Council Graduation Party” in the middle school gym, as seen in today’s flashback, finding the place deserted aside from Coach Stropp.
Why was the Student Council Graduation Party a dumb idea? Why was the party deserted?
Yep, Cindy held a huge graduation party at the mall that everybody attended… including MTV VJ Karen “Duff” Duffy and some poor souls who entered an MTV contest to win a free trip to Westview.
Les, however, sat in the middle school gym with his free copy of the yearbook, reminiscing about the good times he had with his friends in high school rather than going and actually spending time with him. After a week’s worth of strips of this, Act II began…
I do not know if next week will time warp us into Act IV or not, but I do know I will be leaving this site in the skilled hands (and mind) of ComicBookHarriet. Godspeed.