The comments over the course of the last few weeks have been magnificent, and there’s not a whole lot I can add here. It is indeed disappointing that, whatever the circumstances behind Batiuk retiring his flagship, he chose to go out this way. Instead of even trying to put a neat bow on things, he pulls out this dreary, mysterious “Custodian” to explain how he “gently nudged” events over four decades, to ensure that Summer writes a book that, it turns out, she would have written anyway.
Once again, I’d like to sincerely thank all of our fantastic SoSF guest hosts, both past and present. The effort you all put into it didn’t not go unnoticed, no matter how awful the arc you got stuck with might have been. You were all anchors, lynch pins, vital cogs in the daily SoSF machine, and I’m going to miss dealing with all of you.
Sniff. The fact that Harley, which isn’t even his name, easily found work in a public school says plenty about the Westview Board Of Ed’s hiring practices, especially in the 1970s.
“Welcome to WHS, Mr. Gacy. Would you care to tell me a little something about yourself?”
“Well, I really like clowns.”
“Terrific! You’re hired! The mop and bucket are over there, and the children are that way!”
Some guy tells me his name is “Harley Davidson” and I’d be all like “yeah, and I’m Lamborghini Ferrari, nice to meet you”. The guy was literally running around “nudging” high school students for the purpose of having them breed. That aspect of this story is really downright creepy when you think about it. “I NEED to make the geek and the nebbish fornicate…but how??”. Shudder.
Great Moments In FW Arc Recap History
Sept. 15-27, 2014 Scapegoats Football! The team endure Bull’s haranguing on team picture day. Owen is pressed into service when the first the team mascot and then the ‘Goats’ wide receiver succumb to the flu, and scores a winning Westview touchdown in the unlikeliest of fashions.
Good ol’ Owen. At the time, it seemed highly, highly unlikely, but I’ve actually grown just a little nostalgic about Chullo Boy and his oily sidekick, Cody. I mean hey, at least they weren’t in their nineties, and had discernible personalities. Owen was kind of a dumb, greasy scumbag, and Cody was something of a pitiful pervert, which is a hell of a lot more than I could say about Flash or Phil or Ruby or Batton aka The Geriatric Patrol. It’s kind of hard to believe it was all that long ago. I don’t believe we ever saw Owen and Cody again after graduation, unless they popped up in the background of a Komix Korner arc or something. I wonder what became of them? I assume Owen is employed at a vape shop, while Cody is probably heavily into crypto and meme stocks. And Alex is surely employed at a seedy tattoo shop, somewhere on the edge of town, next to a massage parlor and, well, another vape shop. These are best-case scenarios, of course.
Comic Book Harriet here! Taking the wheel one final time while this strip is still running, gently guiding it as it peacefully coasts to its final resting place.
As everyone has been saying in the comments, this arc has been monumentally bad. The sort of Aldo Keltrast, dog-in-the-corner while Margo smiles, Rey Skywalker, bad that will stand the test of time. Even if, for the last couple weeks, we get an abbreviated version of the kind of treacly Funky and Crew ending we all pretty much expected, the chance to make that ending a real story with a beginning, middle, end, goals, stakes, and conflict is pretty much over. It could have been as easy as Funky losing the keys to Montoni’s, or Les getting locked in the high school after dark. Any of us could pitch an ending more keeping with what this strip tried to be. Many of us HAVE pitched sci-fi endings more interesting than this.
But naw. Why don’t we have three weeks of emotionless, conflictless, exposition instead. Talk about what HAS happened and what WILL HAPPEN without any chance of it changing. Have two characters, one we definitely don’t care about and another we barely even know anymore, spout tensionless word zeppelins into the air, placidly; describing time travel and mind rape with the sort of bemused detachment I expect from people talking about a drizzly day.
I’ve heard more interesting descriptions on how to order from the Secret McDonalds Menu.
I don’t know how I feel about it. Because the part of me that is the nicest to Batiuk of our general crew. The part of me who confessed on a video chat with at least 10 other Batiuk haters, that a Crankshaft strip had made me cry. The part of me that chuckled at Vintage FW. That sappy part of me wants something better for the end, something to put a penlight (not a spotlight) on the B+ material this strip was occasionally capable of.
But the part of me that sat with a grin on my face through all of Rise of Skywalker. The part of me that laughed with glee when Phil Holt came back from the dead, and when Skyler blithely played with his grandfather’s murder weapon. The part of me brimming with self-righteous artistic indignation at every missed opportunity of this entire fictional universe. That nasty little gremlin inside is like…YES! THIS! LET IT END LIKE THIS! NOT IN GOODNESS! NOT IN THE GLORY OF A DUMPTER BLAZE! BUT IN THE REFINED PLATONIC IDEAL OF EVERY ONE OF BATIUK’S SINS! HIS DULLNESS! HIS LONGWINDEDNESS! HIS BLAND CHARACTERS! HIS AVATARS! HIS EGO! HIS NOSTALGIA! HIS OBTUSE LOGIC! THIIIIIISSSSSSSSSS
Great Moments in FW Arc Recap History: May 8, 1985. Les and Lisa on the bleachers.
Hannibal’s Lectern went off on a great tangent yesterday, talking about Harley Davidson motorcycles, and how the company wildly lies about the past to sell the present.
For those who are not familiar, H-D (the motorcycle company) trades heavily in “heritage,” its position as the world’s oldest motorcycle company. And they retcon that “heritage” like the old Soviet Union. How they do it is a lesson for Batiuk: they just do it. If the factual history doesn’t match the narrative they want to sell to their current customers, they just recite the narrative as if it were factual. No explanations. No acknowledgment of any inconvenient facts. No discussion.
Hannibal’s Lectern. Published author, gentleman (?), and motorcycle enthusiast.
Hannibal suggests that Batiuk should have done that kind of retcon when bringing the timelines together. I disagree, I think he should have explained it with a single strip at the end of the Crazy-Harry-Time Travel arc. ( Crazy: “I guess it was all an off-gassing mind trip, if I had gone back in time…things would have changed in the present!” *Crankshaft walks by*)
Hannibal and I are united in our assessment that three weeks in a janitor’s closet is NOT the way to do it.
But Batiuk is no stranger to Stalinist revisionism, with disappearing children edited out of families like murdered Politburo members from photos. Batiuk describes Les and Lisa’s year long Act I relationship like this on the blurb to Lisa’s Stoy: Prelude:
Introduced to readers of Funky Winkerbean in late 1984 as she experiences SAT test anxiety, Lisa becomes Les Moore’s best friend and a pivotal character. Les and Lisa go to the prom, begin steady dating, and then break up. Over the summer, Les realizes how much he misses Lisa.
In his Match to Flame, he’s even more vague about the nature of their dating relationship.
While all of this was going on, that girl from my sketchbook had begun little by little to insinuate herself into the strip. In my mind, the students in the strip had reached their junior year and as such the junior/senior prom was looming. Les needed a date for the prom, and this new girl seemed to be the perfect candidate. Along with Les I learned her name—Lisa. They went to the prom together and continued to date. They followed the typical bell curve of a high school relationship and eventually broke up with Lisa transferring to another school. Nice story, that. The problem, however, is that I had really grown to like Lisa and I missed having her in the strip almost as much as Les seemed to. It turned out that my journey with Lisa was only starting. Twice I would banish her from the strip and twice she would return with a new story to tell.
From The Complete Funky Winkerbean Volume Five
What did that ‘typical bell curve’ relationship really look like?
Well, in early May 1985, Les Moore is busy litigiously harassing women while on his love quest.
He is as charming and suave as ever.
In our sanitized, censored, edited Act III, Batiuk presents Les getting up the guts to ask Lisa out, as if he already admired her.
When in reality, he didn’t even know her name. Like Billy The Skink pointed out in 2017, he was asking her because she was the last girl he hadn’t asked…and he had to psych himself up because he’d been rejected all day.
The dance goes well. He asks her to prom. Prom goes well. They kiss. Les crashes his car on the way home.
I guess they start dating. Though in the summer of ’85, Les is still openly oogling other women.
There is an entire week in August of ’85 dedicated to Les getting his braces stuck on Lisa’s sweater while they were necking. But that’s all we see of Lisa for the summer.
When school starts again, as a show of devotion, Les gives her a his pocket protector. Then he gets a horrible perm for the Homecoming Dance and freezes Lisa’s corsage…which does…something to her… off panel…
As a couple, Les and Lisa barely show up from Prom of ’85 through to about March of 1986. Much much much much more time is dedicated to Dinkle fundraising, Coach Stropp losing, people smirking at puns on TV. In all those months, I could find only a strip or two other than this. I think Batiuk didn’t know how to handle hapless Act I punching bag Les in a normal relationship. But then, in March, things take a turn.
The relationship goes toxic. And it goes toxic because LISA becomes jealous, crazy, manipulative, clingy, and physically abusive.
Les, being his extremely flawed Act I self, is no pure victim in this. But his forgetfulness and distance almost could be read as dissociation from the moment, as he tries desperately to cling to the validation of having a girlfriend even if that same girlfriend becomes someone he can’t handle.
Les finally gets up the nerve to break up with Lisa. By standing in a place both public AND where she can’t physically reach him without breaking taboos.
And their first round of dating ends like it began. With a creep threatening legal action.
Les pines for Lisa all summer long. And it is so typical of Funky Winkerbean that more strips are dedicated to Les moping around whining for Lisa after they broke up, than were spent on the what I assume were the happy times in their early relationship. And we have no clue what Les liked about Lisa in particular. He’s not missing Lisa, he’s missing the idea of being pair-bonded.
When school starts, he is determined to ask her out again. But…
I know that was a LONG archive dive. Even for me. But I wanted all of you to see this. Glorious Dead St. Lisa was not immaculately conceived sinless from the author’s pen. For a short while there, she was WORSE THAN LES. Batiuk has built up Les and Lisa’s relationship as a lynchpin to his universe. But the couple he puts up on a pedestal as the parents of the savior of humanity, had an utterly toxic beginning. That first year, they were two desperate, awful people that clung to each other for a while not out of any real deeper attraction or connection, but out of the self-centered desperation to be in some kind of relationship with anyone.
And now we know, it was Harley the Timeline Custodian who made it happen.
During the group chat last night (which was SO FUN,) it was announced that we will be doing a 2022 Funky Awards in January. I am currently accepting nominations for Best Strip, Worst Strip, Punchable Les, Panel of the Year, Storyline of the Year, and also suggestions for additional categories. Please email me at sgkhuk (AT) live (DOT) com.
Greetings, Funkynauts! Banana Jr. 6000 here. In today’s strip, Summer asks the obvious question of whether Harley ever “nudged” her mind. It’s a valid question: he clearly has no qualms about nudging every person in town over the tiniest thing that might make Lisa hook up with Les faster. He’s basically a guardian angel for incels.
It reminds me of a moment in the first Men in Black movie, where Will Smith angrily asks Tommy Lee Jones if he ever used the memory-erasing “neuralizer” tool on him:
Agent “K” denies it, but we saw him do it earlier in the movie. It’s a fun little moment that fits the movie’s goofy tone, and underscores the MIB’s hilarious disregard for the safety of other human beings.
But fun and continuity have no place in Funky Winkerbean. No no no noooooo, Girl Les’ book about friggin’ Westview is of such grand importance that the time-traveling janitor couldn’t possibly influence it in any way! Because only Summer’s pure, uninfluenced mind could… do something, I guess. After 16 days of talking in a janitor’s office, we still don’t know why only Summer could write this book. This setup was dying to be a joke, like “yeah, I had to nudge your lazy ass out of going back for your 12th year at Kent State.” But like I said when this started, Summer is now officially a writer. Jokes at her expense are no longer permissible.
Then, Tom Batiuk tries to flashy-thing us all. He tries to handwave fifteen years of continuity problems with one panel of sci-fi mumbo-jumbo. Apparently, nudging (which is just influencing people) causes localized out-of-sync time bubbles (huh?), which means that Westview “sped ahead of other localities for a bit.” But now that Harley is sure Summer’s book will be written (something he has no more reason to be sure of then when he started), he’ll “see to it that the bubble is absorbed back into the timestream.”
And this man wonders why he never got hired to write comic books. This wouldn’t pass muster in the dopiest issue of Fantastic Four.
Yes, this is the only explanation we’re ever going to get for the massive timeline problems in the Funkyverse. Yes, “timestream” is one word. Yes, there is going to be a newspaper story where today’s strip will be described as “Batiuk deftly tied up loose ends.”
Here’s my choice for Great Moments in FW Arc Recap History: September 16-21, 2019: Linda Bushka spends a week opening an envelope.
Mind you, this was Funky Winkerbean‘s final “prestige arc”, about the death of Bull Bushka from football-induced CTE. A too-minor and yet too-major subplot was about Linda seeking payment under the NFL’s real-life settlement plan for CTE sufferers, without Bull ever knowing about it. It was never explained why she needed this money; we saw the Bushkas do things like travel long distance for health care they could have gotten locally. Nor was it spoken of again after this.
Besides, everybody knows that receiving a letter for something you’ve applied for isn’t good news. Did she think there was going to be a check in there? Did Batiuk think he was building drama by revealing this obvious outcome so slowly, and then making it moot later in the story anyway? Abysmal. Just abysmal.
The CTE arc was an absolute disgrace. It played Bull’s dementia for laughs, killed him a way that made no sense, mocked him at his funeral, and then made it all about Les. Someday, when people are remembering Funky Winkerbean and what was so bad about it, this arc is going to be front and center. Tom Batiuk simply cannot write drama, or any realistic human characters or emotion. And this arc proves it. It’s aged badly in the three years since it happened, and it’s only going to get uglier.
This may be my last guest blog post, so I have some final thoughts about it all.
Since Funky Winkerbean announced its end, I haven’t had much to say about it. That’s because the strip is very loudly speaking for itself. The end of the strip came out of nowhere; most of us have concluded that it was not Batiuk’s decision or timeframe. Presented with only a few weeks to wrap up a 50-year comic strip, what does he do? He doubles down on all the worst aspects of Act III.
Another book publishing story. Another deification of Les by proxy. Another unnecessary character introduced. Another revisiting of that dumb space helmet. Another three weeks of needless exposition. Another plot ripped off from more competent works. Another comic book angle. Another tacky, demeaning usage of a real person in the story. Another clunky, pointless idiot plot. Another rat’s nest of loose ends, plot holes, and sloppy retcons. And above all else, another way to escalate Les and Lisa’s importance to the world. Apparently giving them an Oscar wasn’t nearly big enough.
If the current story is to be believed – that Summer’s amateur book about Westview will “create a science that allows us to recognize humanity as our nation”, to the point where interdimensional time travelers watch over her and make sure it was created – then Summer Moore is the most important person who ever lived. And despite that, she seems incidental to Harley’s story. He’s far more concerned with making sure Les and Lisa hook up, isn’t he?
So it ends up checking off two more boxes on the list of tired Act III tropes. It’s another phony female-empowerment story that’s really just Batiuk’s hateful sexism bubbling to the surface. And we all know Summer’s book is just a stand-in for Funky Winkerbean itself. We’re seeing how important Batiuk wishes it was, and/or thinks it should be. The strip’s last act was to indulge its author’s self-importance. I just wonder how any genuine fans, who probably wanted some kind of resolution or at least a few happy flashbacks, feel about how the strip ended.
I’m sad to see this community coming to an end, as it became a daily source of fun for me. I consider it an honor to have had a turn in the lead snarking chair. I thank TFH and ED for adding me to the team. And I thank the entire community for accepting me when I was a new and not-so-clever commenter. I hope I made everyone’s visits to this blog as bright as you made mine. This is one of the most knowledgeable and positive communities I’ve ever been involved with, and a shining example of how Bile Fascination can be a good thing.
I want to leave you with something that I found comforting, and you might too. It’s Episode 500 of the Dysfunctional Family Circus. The DFC was an early web feature with a simple premise: a blank Family Circus panel was displayed, and readers were invited to submit their own alternate captions. Which were hilarious, and not all in keeping with the family-friendly vibe of the original comic strip. As such, it was probably the only other community like this one that has ever existed: a long-running snark community devoted to a single newspaper comic.
Interestingly, creator Greg Galcik and cartoonist Bil Keane came to see each other’s points of view, and the party ended after the 500th such strip had been posted. A lot of fans wrote final captions that said goodbye, or celebrated what the DFC was, or talked about how much this silly community meant to them. A lot of them hit the same notes we have: the St. Elsewhere finale; variations on “it was all a dream”; ways to keep it going; retrospective haiku; jokes based on long-running memes. If I only have one thing left to say here, I will borrow this caption from DFC #500 (who borrowed it from Carol Burnett):
I’m so glad we had this time together, just to tell a joke or sing a song. Seems we just got started and before you know it, comes the time we have to say, “so long”.
It’s great to be back here for one last time (maybe, unless Batiuk is just tricking everyone). I really, really do not understand the point of this arc, unless it’s Batiuk kind of giving a middle finger to his critics and trying to say that actually he did have a plan all along, and every insignificant thing was part of the beautiful tapestry that led to Summer. But even just a really casual reading makes things super baffling, since:
Harley did nothing to prevent the bombing, which I’m pretty sure injured and killed people other than Lisa.
If Lisa hadn’t been at the post office, I guess Harley wouldn’t have given a crap.
Harley had to somehow alter dozens of people’s minds in order to get them to help after a tragedy.
Could he not have “nudged the mind” of the bomber to prevent the bombing?
I’m also curious how he “made sure” the physician was in charge of Summer’s care. Did he have a second job as a hospital director, or did he bribe someone? Did he kill Westview’s previous lousy neonatal physician, ensure the top neonatal physician (in the entire world, I guess) lost his job in such disgrace that he had no choice but to come to Westview? And if he cared so much to get involved in Moore family health care, could he not have done something to help Lisa? I’m seriously waiting for the strip where he reveals he intentionally messed up Lisa’s paperwork and nudged her mind so she’d die in order for Summer to write her book.
Great Moments in FW Arc Recap History
I totally forgot this classic part of one of the lamer bombing related storylines in fiction:
Les was going to go to the post office instead of Lisa, but she forced him to get back to work, because she existed to make him happy. And apparently she didn’t have anything to do that day, nothing as important as whatever stories Les was writing.
I just love Les’s expression in the second panel. I’m not entirely sure if I prefer CBJ’s ponytail or skunk hair, but they’re both awful.
The “USA!” panel is definitely in my top five favorite FW panels. (Especially know that you know that somewhere, the high school janitor is smiling to himself and thinking “Yes, all is proceeding according to the grand design”.)
And here we have a strip where Bull appears to be a decent and selfless guy, which he did for most of Act II, but know we know it was actually Harley who nudged his mind, I guess, which takes away from Bull’s character and is totally in line with how he’s been treated in this strip for all of Act III.
Oh, and in strips like this, where a medical professional is mocking someone who is literally helping save lives for being fat.
I’ll just end with this strip, because it’s extra funny now. Your fate was not in your own hands, actually, it was in the hands of the janitor who probably stared at you and Lisa an awful awful lot.
The rest of the arc recap is totally worth reading. It’s one of the weirder arcs Batiuk has done. Even so, after reading it again now, I was struck by how much better Act II was compared to the last five to ten years of this strip. It definitely had a lot of flaws, but things happened. If Batiuk did this kind of story now, it would’ve just been a week of Les and Tony listening to the radio and then back to an Atomik Komix arc.