I mean, besides the usual?
OK, so, a quick recap. Funky Winkerbean is Tom Batiuk’s long-running semi-serialized, semi-humor comic strip about people who appreciate comic books on a deeper level than you, even if you are Grant Morrison. The important action lately has been with the staff of Atomik Comix, a small-time publisher hoping to revive the spirt of bonky 1950s/60s-era fun. The people in it have been meeting, and often bringing on staff, people from the (in-universe) vanished Batom Comics.
The current story’s based on Flash Freeman, Batom comics writer, and Ruby Lith, illustrator. Pete and Darin, who make most of Atomik’s comics, thought to ask San Diego Comic-Con to induct these old-timers into the Comic-Con Hall of Fame. Comic-Con said yeah, why not? On the way to the con we learned that Flash Freeman and his main artist, Phil Holt, separated on bad terms. My understanding is this is a fictional treatment of some legendary real comic book feud. I don’t know what but I’m going to assume it’s Stan Lee and Anybody Who Drew Stan Lee Stories.
As Freeman was being introduced for this, he said he wished Phil Holt could be there. And a man in the audience, who’d been lurking around wearing a Darth Vader mask, stood up to declare … HE IS! And so Phil Holt was crashing the induction ceremony.
So the reason your friend who pays attention to the comics is angry about this is that Phil Holt died four years ago. This was in a sequence where the Atomik Comix gang met him and found he was doing children’s birthday-party art. Soon after this meeting, Holt died. He willed over to Darin a bunch of his original art, which Darin auctioned off for charity. We-the-readers saw him in ghostly form, looking over the auction, approving.
It’s a storyteller’s right to retcon things. If they realize they have an idea that, revised, could produce more interesting stories, they might even have an obligation to. Batiuk has taken advantage of this. The whole Batom Comics backstory started out with Starbuck Jones, presented as a cult comic from a forgotten minor publisher. It’s been revised into a Captain America-like property. That is, once-hugely-popular, then neglected, then revived to wild acclaim. This retcon gave Batiuk ideas for more and more interesting stories, so, fine. (I mean interesting to him and maybe his editor. Whether you like any of it is your business.)
Thing is, some retcons are harder to swallow than others. The more load-bearing and unambigous an element was, the more the involved audience will resist its retcon. Phil Holt’s death isn’t as important to the comic as, say, Lisa Moore’s. But it was still presented as a clear event without any ambiguity. We learned of it by the executor giving Darin tens of thousands of dollars’ worth of vintage comic book art. Usually if you have to retcon something major, it’s better to make a small deal of the contradiction. Here? We’re reminded that Phil Holt died. Like, the Emcee tells us how amazing it is he’s not dead.
It may be that as Phil Holt’s story unfolds the obvious doubts will be addressed. That we’ll get a story for why a man might fake his death for years until he can disrupt a Comic-Con event honoring his former partner. Your friend who is angry at Funky Winkerbean does not trust that the explanation for all this will be at least superficially plausible.
So that’s what’s going on there. Any more complaints about Funky Winkerbean should appear at an essay under this link. And tomorrow, and every week, I try to recap one of the story strips proper. This week: Gasoline Alley.
Also, I owe thanks to Son of Stuck Funky and to Comics Curmudgeon for their blogging about these past stories. This made it easy for me to find the Funky Winkerbean strips to confirm I wasn’t remembering things wrong.