I don’t figure to publish nothing but Funky Winkerbean updates until the strip ends later this month. But why not keep people up to date on the strip’s turn to bonkers? Only in an inferior way to the Son of Stuck Funky blog, which has a depth of knowledge and a community that can’t be matched by me? Still, there’s people who’d like a brief recap of what’s going on and that’s what I can serve.
Last time everyone was mad at Funky Winkerbean we’d learned the school janitor was a time traveller there to make sure Summer Moore wrote her book. Since then Time Janitor Harley Davidson has been explaining how he used his super-powers of nudging people’s minds. This all with the mission to make sure Summer Moore gets born. This brought up a sequence of snapshots of the Relationship of Les and Lisa, told in such brevity as to become cryptic.
For example. Last Sunday Harley explained how “when Susan Smith’s actions threatened the possibility of your parents getting back together before they were married … ” he gave “a gentle push to an already guilty conscience”. We see, in the recap, Les Moore consoling Susan Smith, who’s in the hospital. The reader who doesn’t remember the mid-90s well can understand there was a suicide attempt, but not how this fit together. So.
Story from the mid-90s. Susan Smith, one of Les Moore’s students, has a crush on him somehow. And she’s mistaking routine, supportive comments from her teacher as signals that he’s interested too. This was deftly done, at the time. Like, you could see where Smith got the wrong idea, and where Moore had no reason to think he was giving her signals. And was all funny in that I’m-glad-I’m-not-in-this-imminent-disaster way.
This turned to disaster when Smith learned that Moore did not, in fact, have any interest in her. And, particularly, had a girlfriend, Lisa, who was tromping around Europe for the summer. Most particularly when Les asked Smith to mail out the audio tape he was sending Lisa, with his wedding proposal to her. She destroyed the tape, and tried to destroy herself. The thing that Smith confessed was that she had destroyed the tape and that’s why Lisa wasn’t answering the proposal.
The revelation set Les off to Europe to chase Lisa down, incidentally the first time I ragequit Funky Winkerbean. The thing he kept missing her, getting to tourist sites ever closer to when she left, down to where he was missing her by seconds and the story wasn’t over yet. Anyway, he finally caught up to her in Elea, Greece, at Zeno’s world-famous escape room (it’s a tunnel one stadia long, empty apart from a tortoise and an arrow at the midpoint). As you’d think, Summer Moore got born and all.
I don’t remember, why Les couldn’t send another tape, or a letter, or call like a normal human being might. But I do remember that “intercepted proposal” is a story Tom Batiuk would use again, in Crankshaft. There, Lillian, who I bet has a last name, revealed to her comatose sister Lucy that she was why Lucy’s Eugene stopped writing while deployed overseas. Eugene wrote a proposal letter and promised if Lucy didn’t reply he’d stop trying to communicate with her. Jealous, Lillian hid the letter, and so her sister never married. The story premise might not work for you but it seems there’s something that appeals to Batiuk in it. Also now you understand why Lillian — who’s become a little old lady writing cozy mysteries about bookstore-related murders while running a tiny used bookshop herself — draws hatred from a streak of Crankshaft readers.
Other miscellaneous stuff. There’s a reference to the post office bombing storyline, a 1996 story detailed well on Son Of Stuck Funky for people who want the details. (The story was a loose take on the 1995 bombing of an Oklahoma City federal building by white supremacists.) Harley revealed it was his mental influence that got the band and the football team to donate blood. We should have seen that coming. Why would community leaders come together in a crisis like that of their own free will?
Finally Summer asks whether Harley’s ever ‘nudged’ her mind, a question that can only be believed if answered ‘yes’. Harley says ‘no’ and unloads a double- and then a triple-decker word zeppelin. Its goal: to explain how Crankshaft and Funky Winkerbean both happened in the present but were ten years out of synch with one another. Immediately after Lisa Moore’s death Funky Winkerbean jumped ahead ten years. This allowed Tom Batiuk to skip the sadness of Les Moore getting over Lisa’s death and jump right into the sadness of Les Moore’s inability to get over Lisa’s death. But there was no reason for Crankshaft to jump like that. So, for a long while, when Crankshaft characters appeared in Funky Winkerbean they were a decade older and vice-versa.
Not to brag, but I followed this and even why Tom Batiuk would do that. It’s a riff on DC Comics’s old Earth-1 and Earth-2 and so on worlds. Earth-1 was roughly the Silver Age superheroes, and Earth-2 their 20-year-older Golden Age forebears. Some characters, particularly Superman, appeared in both and so were older or younger when out of their home universe. But it was also confusing to anyone whose brain isn’t eaten up with this nonsense and is why I don’t brag about my brain. And so three percent of the last month of Funky Winkerbean was spent explaining why now Crankshaft won’t be out of synch with it anymore.
A problem endemic to stories about time travellers meddling with history is character autonomy. Add to that Harley’s claimed power to nudge people’s choices — including, we learn, getting Lisa to move back to Westview, and getting Crazy Harry a job with the comic book shop so he wouldn’t move out of town — and Summer has good reason to wonder about her parents. Harley owns up to changing Les and Lisa’s schedules to have the same lunch period. And to set it so nobody else would sit near them. But no, he says, Lisa chose of her own free will to go talk to the only person she could.
Comics Book Harriet, at Son Of Stuck Funky, has an outstanding deep-dive into Les and Lisa’s high school relationship, as it developed in the 1980s. It’s (of course) not this relationship of destiny, but a much more ambiguous and generally funny thing. The element I had completely forgotten is that Lisa started out as a terrible girlfriend. The comic logic is correct: you can preserve Les’s role as a loser if his girlfriend’s a terror. (It does play a bit into a misogynist idea of The Women They Be Crazy Harridans. But when you look at the full cast, with characters like Cindy Summers the Popular But Shallow Girl and Holly Budd the Hot Majorette … uh … well, sometimes you have to go with the cast types that give you scenarios.)
Anyway with that complete lack of reassurance Harley … explains how he got his name? And this was what confirmed I’d need to do another “why is everybody mad at Funky Winkerbean” essay. Because we’re told that when he arrived in Sometime In The Past Westview he needed to establish an identity. He saw a guy on a Harley-Davidson motorcycle and figured, yeah that. I’m not faulting him for choosing a goofy name. He needs to blend in with a community where people have names like “Funky Winkerbean”, “Les Moore”, “Holly Budd”, “Jack Stropp”, “Bob Andray” (cute!) (strip of July 18, 1976), “Mason Jarr”, “Chester Hagglemore”, “Cliff Anger”, and so on. He doesn’t know where to find a level. (I made a version of this crack on Son of Stuck Funky and folks asked why I didn’t list “Harry L Dinkle” among the names. And I don’t know; it just doesn’t strike me as the same sort of goofy as, oh, “Rocky Rhodes” or “Ferris Wheeler” do.) My issue is: he didn’t work that out before leaving his home time? He has a time machine and he couldn’t spend an extra day thinking out his cover? The only way I can see that making sense is if Harley had to leap into the past before he was ready. Since we haven’t seen anyone trying to stop him, this implies some Quantum Leap scenario, where Harley is moving uncontrolled from event to event, forever hoping his next expository lump will be the lump drone.
Oh also, today (the 11th) we learn Summer Moore’s not-yet-written transcendentally important book will also be her only book. As if anyone could live up to that standard. Also that Harley hasn’t messed up the book by telling her this. Why? Because she somehow “figured out” all of this on her own, without sharing any of it with the reader. Good grief.
It is technically too soon to say whether everyone will be mad at Funky Winkerbean next week. [ Added after seeing Monday’s strip: Yes, everyone already is and will still be. ] However, Epicus Doomus promises in a Son of Stuck Funky comment that “this thing is about to take the stupidest possible turn you can imagine” while staying “staggeringly boring too”. I, too, am curious.
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