I mean, sure, why not? Why not, apropos of nothing, have a Atomik Komix cover on a random Sunday. No lead in. No follow up (spoiler warning.) Just a one-off cover.
I can’t help but wonder if this was supposed to be part of an Atomik Komix storyline that Batiuk cancelled or moved in order to squeeze in some of the pandemic arcs we’ve gotten this year. He first teased these covers more than two years ago, back in April 2019.
“Here’s a rather deep dive into the pipeline for a premature peek at a preliminary sketch for a Rip Tide comic book cover done by Bob Wiacek. Let me caution that this will eventually appear in Funky, but it’s going to be awhile.”
“I know I already showed these cover sketches once, but the actual cover/Sunday kept getting pushed back further and further on the schedule. It’s a beautiful Bob Wiacek cover, and I wanted to reconnect with what led up to it as the actual piece is about to see print on Sunday October 24th.”
October 12, 2021
So, after putting off this commissioned cover for months, all we get from it is a fairly obtuse and hard to spot Transformers joke. Transformers, an IP that peaked around 2010, and has been gradually on the way down ever since. Bumblebee Tuna is a name brand, so if used, he might have been sued by a fishmonger. And the ‘Octopus Prime’ joke is going to go over people’s heads because the villain name is in a bland looking text box, and the aquatic robot is a uniform grey. Make him look like this, then there would be no mistake!
As one of the Transformer collecting masses of Hasbro devotees, I can inform you that we have yet to see a Transformer with an octopus alternative mode. But we’ve had our share of cephalopods. Many of were even released under multiple colors and names.
Those of you who DIDN’T guess that Phil and Flash would be asked to take The Subterranean to Atomik Komix, please report to the front desk for your free brain scan.
And really, Phil Holt is accusing Flash of grandstanding? Isn’t Phil the man who loudly crashed a ComicCon panel to come back from the dead, then stormed the stage to have a reunion with his former partner that ended with both of them in tears.
Since when have we ever seen Flash Freeman grandstanding? We’ve all been treating Mr. Freeman as the stand-in for Stan Lee, but he’s even less like Stan Lee than Phil Holt is like Jack Kirby.
Visually, Flash is drawn as an old guy with a weirdly long face and a receding hairline, kinda like an elderly Stan Lee. And on the surface they’ve done similar things: being a head writer, giving the writers and artists in their employ pet nick names, making up behind the scenes stories, and being blamed for stealing credit from others.
Chester’s wailing about the ‘Batty Batom Bullpen Boasts’ is an obvious reference to things Stan Lee did to drum up enthusiasm and company loyalty in kidsoomers. Things like the Marvel Bullpen Bulletins and the Merry Marvel Marching Society, which put out a record that has been BURNED INTO MY MIND.
But in personality? Flash Freeman has been presented as an affable, laid-back guy. Down to earth, level-headed, and even reserved. He’s usually drawn with a slight smile and relaxed face, like he’s bemused about everything around him.
That is not Stan Lee.
Stan Lee was a man who treated every conversation as a performance. A man who only stopped flashing his toothy grin when he was posing or playacting a ‘serious’ moment. A man who rearranged his life into entertaining stories, and if he had to sacrifice the facts to do it, so be it. This is not Flash getting wrong the street address of a diner he last visited 60 years ago. Lee was a man who told a story to a convention about how he’d gotten hired, then called a former coworker who could expose the fib, and tried to convince him to go along with the ‘enhanced version’ of the truth.
Here’s an excerpt from the transcript of that coworker’s panel at ComicCon in 1998.
Stan Lee; is Stan here? No? (laughter) Stan Lee called me about two or three years ago, and says, “Joe, I opened my convention with the story that I answered an ad in the newspaper to get my job. I answered an ad in the newspaper for a job in comic books and then I went. You hired me and I was walking in the hall and I ran into Martin.” Well, I knew Martin was his uncle; well, his relative. Actually it was Stan’s mother’s cousin, something like that.
[Stan continues:] “So, Martin said to me, “Stan, what are you doing here?” And I said, ‘I work here.’ And Martin says, “Is that right? I didn’t know.””
I said, “Stan, that story can’t be true. We only had three offices and a bunch of relatives in the building. We didn’t even have a hall.” (laughter) So Stan says, “Is that right? My memory is going.” (laughter) I thought it was a pretty good story. (laughter) I figured at that time, he’d stop doing it. He’s still doing it. A month later I read the same story in Newsday. But, God bless Stan, he’s got a good story and he’s sticking with it. (laughter) He did a wonderful job. He did a miraculous job. I’m proud of him.
Who was that coworker? Why Joe Simon, the man who hired Stan Lee. The first editor of Timely (later Marvel) comics. And Jack Kirby’s creative partner for the first 15 years of his career. Theirs was truly a partnership where credit can’t be sorted. They both wrote, they both drew, and scripted, and inked. There are covers and pages with both their names on them, where not even experts can parse out who did what.
They first met working for Fox Features Syndicate, an early comics publisher run by Victor Fox who Joe Simon characterized more clearly than any Act III Funky Winkerbean character could hope to be:
It was at Fox Comics. I guess you all know about Victor Fox. He was a little chubby guy. He was an accountant for DC Comics. He was doing the sales figures and he liked what he saw. So, he moved downstairs and started his own company called Fox Comics, Fox Publications, Fox Features Syndicate, Fox Radio, Fox this, Fox that… He was a very strange character. He had kind of a British accent; he was like 5’2″–told us he was a former ballroom dancer. He was very loud, menacing, and really a scary little guy. (laughter) He used to say, “I’m the King of the Comics. I’m the King of the Comics. I’m the King of the Comics.” (laughter) We couldn’t stop him. So that’s the task I had when I went in to start that job.
When Joe Simon left Fox comics for Timely, he took Jack Kirby with him, and there they created Captain America. Then when they felt they were getting the short stick by Timely, Joe began negotiations for both of them to move on to National Comics (now DC.) There they wrote Boy Commandos and the Newsboy Legion, both very popular at the time, even if they’re mostly forgotten now.
After the War, they worked freelance, basically creating the Romance Comic genre. All the while, they were living across the street from each other with their young families.
Their partnership more or less ended in the mid-fifties, after comics hit a huge slump. The self-imposed censorship and moral panic in the wake of The Seduction of the Innocent and the Senate hearings made it an uncertain financial field. So Jack and Joe parted ways amiably. Jack stuck it out with comics, and Joe moved on to advertising and magazine publishing; though he would occasionally dip his toes back into the comics business. In 1974 he and Kirby worked together on a relaunch of ‘The Sandman’ for DC. They remained on friendly terms for the rest of their lives.
I’ll say this for Jack–Jack went back to Marvel, he switched to Marvel from DC. We got together a couple of times in-between. But every time I called Jack I’d say, “Jack, I’ve got a project to do; come do it with me.” He was there the next day–and in those days, we were always together when we had to be, when we wanted to be. He always came back to me. I never paid him the way I’d pay the other artists; I always split with him, everything we had. We had kind of a nice relationship.
Is Flash Freeman a poorly written Stan Lee? Or is he intentionally tempered with the soul of Joe Simon?
The prosecution presents the following evidence.
Now we needed a villain for inside the comic, too. … Even sitting at lunch, I was always thinking about heroes and villains, with all sorts of ideas swimming around in my head. Next thing I know, I had a hot fudge sundae sitting in front of me, with the vanilla ice cream, and the hot fudge is running down the side. It was intriguing.
The hot fudge looked like limbs—legs, feet, and hands—and I’m thinking to myself.
Gee, this’d make an interesting villain, I mused. We’ll call him Hot Fudge … Just put a face on him, and have him ooze all over the place.
You have to be stupid to be in this business. Nevertheless, I did some sketches, right then and there. And I Iooked at them.
Nah, I thought. Who would believe anything like that?
But I looked again at the sundae, and I saw the big cherry on top. The cherry looked like a skull.
“Wow,” I said to myself. “Red Skull … that sounds good.” And it made a lot more sense.
Let me see if I’ve got this straight, Phil. You faked your own death so you could work without being bothered, and in the literal years since you’ve managed to draw and layout a single issue? Seriously? GRRM works faster than you! I swear to Galactus, if there isn’t Berserk levels of detail to every single panel of this book…
Jack Kirby would be ashamed! You know, the guy you’re supposed to be based on? Jack Kirby was a legend for his output and work ethic. He could complete multiple pages a DAY. The man was a machine. If Jack Kirby faked his death to work on a project for four years, the final output would rival Henry Darger.
But how close are you really to Jack Kirby? I took the time this week to watch a few documentaries, read a few articles and interviews. Let’s see how close Phil Holt stacks up to The King. The glorious co-creator of Captain America, The Fantastic Four, The Hulk, Mr. Miracle, The New Gods and so many more.
First of all, the physical resemblance is as close an approximation as the art style allows, especially in the earliest appearances. The poofy, swept back hair, the cigar, the squarish head and round face, all look like a caricature of Kirby. Even more, they look close to how Kirby depicted himself in comic form. The strip even goes out of it’s way to show that Phil is shorter, just like Kirby who was 5’6″.
The only difference is the glasses, and even then, the glasses seem to serve the function of giving him the boxed off square brow and deep set eyes he had naturally.
But does Phil resemble Jack in personality?
Not really. Phil is prickly, he snips and snaps at everyone. He might have depths of generosity, and hidden warmth, but twice he is described as someone whose resting state was antagonistic.
The Jack Kirby described by others, and I saw in interviews was not this person. Yeah, he was a pugnacious guy, who could hold a wicked grudge against people who he thought slighted him. He even lashed out at people he was frustrated with by creating comic villains to RESEMBLE those people.
But to anyone else, he was warm and welcoming. He had a wide circle of friends. People liked working with him. The documentary I watched talked about how random people would show up at his house and he would let them in, show them his studio, and his wife would feed them sandwiches.
Did you know he had a wife? And kids too! People he was financially supporting. Relationships that drove him to look for work and and fight for contracts that paid him his fair share of the profits he was creating, and get rights to royalties that would allow him to continue to provide for his family in the future.
And Jack Kirby never disavowed comics. Sure, in the 80’s he moved on to animation for Hanna-Barbara, but he created comics intermittently through the 80’s and early 90’s. He continued attending conventions and meeting with fans right up until the year he died. He was proud of his work, and went through a legal slugfest with Marvel trying to get his artwork back.
I might think it was petty to draw a sniveling caricature of poor Roy Thomas, and print it in the pages of DC; but I’ll give Jack Kirby this, he didn’t stomp out of an entire industry in a huff and never work again. Jack Kirby worked hard his entire life. He fought hard for his credit, and switched comics companies multiple times, because he wanted that hard work to be recognized. Not just for himself, but for his wife and kids.
Is Phil Holt meant to be Jack Kirby? Probably. But he’s a Jack Kirby that existed in a world where he had nothing to fight for but his own ego.
This was my favorite of the documentaries I watched. It’s probably more hagiography than strict history, but peeling back the veneer of eulogy you can still see that the truth of the man beneath. If you’ve got the time, and the inclination, I’d recommend.
DID YOU KNOW? Despite being drawn 24 times, Mindy has only been allowed to speak twice this entire month?
Okay. I know that most of you have had a stab at trying to parse out the logic here, but I really want to get my own corkboard and string out and see if I can make a clearer picture. So let us follow the sequence of events.
1.) A few years ago Phil Holt was living alone in obscurity in California. He drew caricatures for the birthday parties of rich brats. He considered his old comics work junk despite the fact he hung pictures of it on the walls of his apartment. And wasn’t working on comics anymore despite the fact he had a drawing board and supplies out in a prominent place so must have been working on something (Fine art? Advertising?).
2.) This single conversation with Darrin (who never brings Pete by to meet him btw,) sparks in Phil a desire to create comics again. He affirms that he will ‘be there for Darrin’.
3.) Despite the fact that no one except Darrin has recognized him in years, Phil Holt is worried about being ‘bothered’ while working out his new inspiration. Phil Holt has a friend/acquaintance/stalker named Mickey. Phil apparently has no one else in his life to confide in. This fat old man with a badly named comic shop somehow knows a fancy lawyer in a high rise office who also loves Phil Holt so much that he’s only too happy to help everyone else on Earth (except, presumably the government,) think he’s dead. Phil Holt thinks this will help him achieve the solitude he needs to work?
NOTE: Mickey, who attended the con and then panel with Phil, phased out of existence the second Phil pulled off his mask. Where is he? Why doesn’t he get to go to the fun and fancy restaurant of reminiscing over retroactively recreated history?
4.) Phil decides to use the lawyer to gift a bunch of original art to Darrin. Art he had ALREADY decided to leave him in his will, and updated the will accordingly. It is worded vaguely enough that I can’t tell if this is the sole mechanism by which he faked his death, or just a nice thing he decided to do to ‘be there for Darrin’ despite planning on disappearing. The fanboy lawyer, who knows that Phil Holt is still alive, still somehow has trouble locating Darin.
NOTE: The auction of the comic covers was advertised, and Phil never moved from the SoCal area it was held in. So he knew that Darrin immediately cashed in the art. He’s shown no ill will toward Darrin so far, so I can only assume he approves of the charity donation.
5.) So, for the last few years, after faking his death quitting, his job as a caricature artist, and giving away valuable possessions, Phil has moved from a tiny apartment in the greater L.A. area to a house in San Diego that couldn’t cost less than 500K?
NOTE: I’m assuming they’re still in San Diego. Unless the ROAD TRIP Pete was so excited about was all of them driving 150 miles to LA after having supper, after a long day at a convention? Ruby is in in the same clothes they wore to the panel. But Pete and Darin politely changed shirt color before dinner. And Mindy hacked off her sleeves again.
6.) All so he can spend LITERAL YEARS working on a comic character he already worked on once before, and had entire folders of preproduction material prepared. And could have been working on constantly in the 40 plus years since he stomped out of Batom. I estimate he should have a Watchmen length graphic novel all penciled up and ready to go by now. Which means he never intended for his faked death to be permanent? I guess? Or he was creating for the sake of creation? Or he was going to release under a pseudonym?
Conclusion: I’m lost. It’s nonsense all the way down. But as I said on Monday, this is the kind of stupid and crazy I joined on for. If Funky Winkerbean was nothing but badly handled social issues, I think I would probably get burned out on the outrage and leave.
But THIS? An elderly man imagining that even more elderly men are still alive so that he can live out his fantasy of all the Silver Age Marvel greats that bickered over credit kissing and making up? I don’t know if I’ve enjoyed an arc this much since Zanzibar. Actually even Zanzibar had the unfortunate implications of being based on a real life murder.
This is *chef’s kiss* peak outsider auteur Neil Breen crazy.
Pete, stop. The fish that clean other fish by eating algae out of gill slits are less pathetic and parasitical. By spouting out constant, enthusiastic, purposeless praise you’ve basically become the annoying junior sidekick that you said you despise.
So, the year was 2015. I was trying on used pants in the cluttered dressing room of a Goodwill, when my phone lit up. It was a friend of mine sending me a text.
Did u c the news?
Harrison Ford crashed his plane.
My heart immediately froze then sank. I sat down on on the bench, pants around my ankles, and frantically typed back.
Yeah, sounds like he’s ok tho.
And then, I could breathe again.
Understand, I don’t think Harrison Ford is a especially admirable person. I mean, he seems decent enough. He’s a Hollywood movie star. I imagine he’s a little egotistical, an ounce more hedonistic and self-serving than I generally like to see, but just a normal guy otherwise. A man I have never met, and will likely never meet, and if I ever did meet him it would just be a cool story for me, and a completely forgettable moment for him.
When he dies, (given our ages, odds are that it’ll be before me,) it really won’t affect my life. He’s not my dad, my grandpa, my friend, or even that one crazy old guy who used to come into the gas station to buy Mr Pibb and lottery tickets and always had a sassy word.
But when he dies, I’ll still be sad. Not devastated, but sad.
Because somewhere in a box of old school things, there’s a fifth grade note book where I drew hearts around a sticker of Han Solo and wrote, “My favorite actor, Harrisen Ford.” And beneath it, in the same box, is the 1998 People magazine when he was ‘Sexiest Man Alive’. I took that thing to school to keep in my desk. A very weirded out Mr. Dunlap asked me if I knew that Harrison Ford was older than he was. I didn’t care.
Harrison Ford was my first crush that wasn’t 2-D cell shaded, and no matter how much my adult brain understands that he isn’t really a part of my life, the lovesick girl in my heart still remembers. You can think of that as good, bad, or neutral; it is still a fact. His existence impacted mine. It’s the reason we mourn famous people. I don’t think it was unhealthy when I had a moment’s pause and pang of sadness at the passing of Christopher Lee, Johnny Cash, Carrie Fisher, or Hank Aaron. It’s natural to be sad when someone who played a part in your own life experiences passes away. When the world loses a little piece of itself that helped to shape it, it’s okay for all of us to notice.
So say Alan Rickman springs up from the audience of Ellen one day, explaining he really just needed some time away from Potterheads lusting over Snape. Or Terry Pratchett shows up at Dragoncon to accost Neil Gaiman, shouting that he knew he would ruin the legacy of Good Omens and just had to see for himself how he would do it. Or Robin Williams heckles Jerry Seinfeld off the stage and does an impromptu set of impressions of how everyone reacted to his pseudocide.
I wouldn’t be overjoyed they’re still alive.
I would be enraged.
They’d be alive, sure. But they’d be dead to me. The person I hoped they were torn away to reveal a callous, selfish monster who was content, even happy, to cause grief in the millions of people who thought of them fondly. Someone so narcissistic as to be oblivious to everyone elses’ feelings, and to come sauntering back into the spotlight expecting to resume their career and fame.
And if I learned that I, somehow, was the instigator of this decision in the famous person; the catalyst sparking all that grief, and now anger.
Well, if I never did anything else in my life, that would probably be the worst thing I’d ever caused.
Apparently, as long as you aren’t lying to or defrauding the government, or intending to defraud others, or committing some other crime in the process thereof, faking your death to others isn’t illegal.
But that doesn’t mean it’s victimless.
(BTW: Thanks to everyone who enjoyed yesterday’s metaphysical musings. It made digging through all the Les/Lisa ghost porn worth it. )
Comic Book Harriet, back in action. Ready to dig through the comic muck of this Inedible Pulp to, hopefully, stab at the heart of this horrifying nonsense.
First of all, I want to thank Spaceman Spiff for easing us through the shock and awe of the first ‘back from the dead’ soap opera moment I think we’ve had since Wally Winkerbean came home.
While some of you have been frustrated and angry at just how baffling the decision to retcon Phil Holt’s death is, I’ve actually been relishing the absolute stupidity of this arc. Unlike Batiuk’s biffing of Bull’s Suicide, the morally dubious resolution of the Adeela ICE arc, or the callous insensitivity of the LA Fires, the crazy on display here has no offensive real-world victims unless you find it libelous to Jack Kirby, Stan Lee, or Joe Simon.
And today, I finally get the answer to the most pressing question raised by Phil Holt’s ‘resurrection’: did he fake his death, or have a near death experience? Hanging on this question, was the interpretation of this strip from three years ago.
With the retcon, and the knowledge that Phil was completely fine at the time, there is only one explanation for these ghosts. Darin was imagining Phil and Lisa’s spirits having this conversation as they looked on approvingly at the auction. It was a fantasy that he concocted for his own gratification.
Furthermore, this suggests that every time we see ‘ghosts’ in strip it’s just the daydreaming of a living character, comforting themselves with a lie, roleplaying a no longer possible conversation, or expressing an internal anxiety, sometimes all at the same time.
Like when Lillian was visited by ‘Lucy’ coming back from the grave to lead her on a guilt purging journey of taking an undelivered letter to a demolished building, where Lucy and her old boyfriend Eugene could finally spiritually be together (even though Eugene was still alive at the time.)
Les of course is the worst offender of this. Lisa constantly pops up around him, encouraging him, praising him, agreeing with him, and smiling while watching him make out with his hot new wife.
But even Les seems to realize that this is just him projecting what he imagines Lisa would say. And that Lisa only lives on inside his mind as a fractured reflection of his memory. She sleeps forever, in the oblivion of death.
If I could ask Batiuk a personal question, I would ask if he believes in an afterlife. Because I don’t think he really does. I think he wishes there was something after death, but has been convinced that the only immortality we actually get is the lingering echoes we leave in the hearts and minds of others.
And, in time, those people will pass away, and so then passes even memory. Life has meaning, but only temporarily.
And so all metaphysical experience is really just human consciousness and awareness fractured and reflected back on itself. When we try to conceive of or reach out to God, or dead loved ones, or eternity, the only thing that can reach back is a part of yourself.
Dead St. Lisa was only a part of imagination. She’s no more or less real than that heatstroke robot Funky imagined when running, or Jeff’s Inner Child avatar, or Les’ depression cat.
But, then again, apparently the depression cat is real and crazy old film producers can see it.
And Dead Lisa did call into an airport and talk to customer service, then Les, then called in a phony bomb threat…
Okay, so Ruby drew 45 issues of a comic book. (I can’t be the only one tired of fictional characters bragging about writing fictional comics, can I?) That doesn’t really answer the question of why the other five people with her get to cut in line, too.
When you’re reading something totally fictional, coincidences aren’t really that remarkable. Like, if these were real people and this was something that really happened, then it might be amusing if someone criticized the creator of a character on their t-shirt. But given that Batiuk can write whatever he wants, this really isn’t funny or interesting, at least to me.
I wonder if Batiuk has tried this at conventions he’s spoken at. I’m pretty sure it would have to be all in his imagination though, since I really doubt someone would be wearing a Funky Winkerbean shirt anywhere.
In today’s strip, a little man asks someone what time a panel is, and gets the answer “later”, which is not helpful at all. Also, the little man is somehow smoking through a mask, despite there clearly being no hole or any way for him to do so.
I’m very amused by Flash suddenly recognizing the little man’s cigar smoke. Unless this was what Flash was smelling as his parents were gunned down in an alley after taking him to see a movie, I’m kind of shocked that he would recognize that smell and find it remarkable enough to comment on. “I know we’re at the biggest comic convention in the world where I’m about to receive the biggest honor of my life, but what about that smell, huh?”
I’m excited to get to come back here and cover the next installment of “Comic Books: Batiuk Kind of Likes Them: The Continuing Saga”. In today’s installment, we find out that Comic-Con has lines, and people sometimes refer to it as “line-con” (I thought this was something Batiuk made up, but after a few seconds of Googling I saw that apparently it is a thing). So today’s strip is more of the same: Batiuk makes a reference to a comic book thing without adding any humor or anything interesting, yay!
Also, if people had to get badges last year, how were these six able to get tickets last week? I can understand that Ruby and Flash would get passes, but I don’t think they’d just hand out passes to four coworkers, too.
Meanwhile… *stupid cloud bubble panel border that TB inexplicably thinks should indicate an in-strip shift from one place to another*
Everyone’s 5th favorite Stooge, “Curly-Joe” DeRita, and Darth Vader himself are hanging out at Ye Olde Comic Shoppe. What’s that all about? Spacemanspiff85 is going to be our guide as we find out (provided we do in the next two weeks). Thoughts and prayers, man, thoughts and prayers.