What’s Going On In Dick Tracy? August – November 2017


Thanks for asking! If you read Dick Tracy, by Joe Staton and Mike Curtis, with (I think) art support from Shelley Pleger and Shane Fisher on Sundays, you know how often events happen these days. This is an attempt to keep track of what’s been going on. If it’s much later than early November 2017 when you read this, events might have gotten much more progressed. This essay might be too out of date to be useful. If that’s happened then please try out this link. If I’ve written a later story summary, it should be at or near the top of that page.

And if you’re intersted in comic strips generally please try out my mathematics blog. I talk some about the mathematically-themed comics of the week, each week, and this week was one of them.

Dick Tracy.

14 August – 4 November 2017.

Crime had promised to pay last time I checked in on Dick Tracy. (Spoiler: it didn’t.) Movie-forgers Silver and Sprocket Nitrate were sprung from jail by the quite ellipsoidal Public Domain. Domain’s hired them to forge a recording that legend says Édouard-Léon Scott de Martinville made on his experimental phonautograph of Abraham Lincoln. The work goes well: Silver discovers a new thrill that he wasn’t getting from film fraud anymore and hopes to do more work with Domain. Sprocket thought this was their last scam before getting out of the business. Domain thought this was a good way to get money from the matronly Bea Thorndike before leaving the Nitrates to take the rap. Bea Thorndike thought she was paying basically-good-but-emotionally-cowardly money for a recording of Abraham Lincoln asking “Is this on?” and reciting the Gettysburg Address. And Tracy thought that Silver and Sprocket Nitrate were relatives, what with their being siblings.

Thorndike Mansion. Bea Thorndike: 'Hello, Mr Domain, Mr Femstock [Silver Nitrate]. It's a pleasure to meet you.' Domain: 'Likewise, Ms Thorndike. We thank you for agreeing to help us.' Thorndike: 'Mr Femstock, I've seen the images of your phonautogram and all its documentation. Can you tell me more?' Nitrate, as Femstock: 'I have some great news from the university. They were able to PLAY OUR PHONAUTOGRAM! I have the recording right here. Would you like to hear it?' Thorndike: 'YES, PLEASE!'
Joe Staton, Mike Curtis, Shelley Pleger, and Shane Fisher’s Dick Tracy for the 17th of September, 2017. Yeah, I know, I’m being mean on Bea Thorndike for falling for this scam. It’s easy for me, when I got to see the scam from plan to completion. If all you had was the artefact and the evidence of a provenance that would explain how this legendary thing might come to be at this place at this time? Harder, especially if the fraud’s done by someone like the Nitrates who have a good history of creating fake antique recordings.

Then came a revelation whose significance I still don’t quite grasp. Lizz discovered that Silver and Sprocket were adopted, separately, by their film-production-scammer parents. I think the point of that revelation was to explain the Nitrates’ history. And that they grew up moving from town to town, camping out in the local theater of each mark. I guess that explains Silver knowing where to find a hidey-hole in a city theater. But I admit when I list crime-detection plot points I need justified, “villain knows a secret place to hide out a couple days” isn’t usually among them. So I don’t get why Lizz figures it’s a big revelation that they’re “merely” siblings by adoption. Or any of the backstory, really. Team Tracy understands the Nitrates’ scam pretty well, and the reader does too. The extra background is nice and interesting and humanizing. But it seems of marginal relevance to the investigation. Maybe she figured it might be something to get inside either Nitrate’s head during an interrogation. I don’t know.

Domain’s doing a good enough job getting in Sprocket Nitrate’s head anyway. He insists on her staying behind when they close the scam with Bea Thorndike. His argument: Sprocket’s hippie-ish Mother Earth stylings are too ridiculous to show to real money. These are meetings in which real grown-up people with names like “Public Domain” who look like Moai statues do serious deals. Silver Sprocket at least looks normal. He means normal for a Dick Tracy universe character. That means he could be slipped into the backglass for the 1991 Williams pinball machine The Party Zone without drawing attention. But Sprocket? Why, she goes barefoot. Silver sticks with Domain, and the promise of money. And shatters Sprocket, who spends a whole Sunday strip singing the Carpenters’ “Another Song”.

But Silver does have his skills. He talks Thorndike into paying a half-million for the recording, when Domain had been hoping for only $50,000. And I’m surprised Domain went to so much trouble when he was figuring to net at most $50,000. You know, you always hear about people leaving money on the table in business negotiations. I should see if he’ll represent me when I pick up some freelance work, in case I ever get some freelance work. (Does anyone need a lance freed? Send me a note.) And yet he only wants $20,000 of that extra, he says. He tells Sprocket how they’ll use that money to vanish.

Silver and Sprocket make plans. Silver: 'And then I added $20,000 to the price Domain asked for!' Sprocket: 'Hmmph! Was Domain pleased?' Silver: 'Cheer up, sister dear, THAT'S OUR BONUS! As I see it, Domain won't need either one of us much longer. If you can find us a car, Sprocket, WE'LL GO VISIT MS THORNDIKE, collect our 20 grand and vanish. I've done all the work. Domain can finish the deal himself.' Sprocket: 'I'll get started right now, Silver! I think you'll need me to go out for cigarettes right?' Silver: 'Heh, heh!'
Joe Staton, Mike Curtis, Shelley Pleger, and Shane Fisher’s Dick Tracy for the 24th of September, 2017. I’m hoping someone asked McMansion Hell about that Olympic-class ski slope of a roof that Domain’s lair has in the middle tier there. Also I don’t know whether it’s architecturally sound to have one of those little arched doorway things on top of another little arched doorway thing but my gut says no, really, no.

Ace crime-fighting scientific detective Dick Tracy figures out who the Nitrates are trying to scam and how they’re doing it when his granddaughter comes in and tells him who they’re scamming and how they’re doing it. With that tip he heads to Bea Thorndike’s. So does Silver Nitrate, who’s shaken his Domain bodyguard with a phony tale of emergency dental needs. (I so expected the dentist would be the guy from Little Shop of Horrors, either version, but no. He’s just a dentist.) Silver offers Thorndike a “genuine 1857 phonautograph machine” for a mere quarter-million. She’s thrilled at the chance to fall for this, and the Nitrates get out just ahead of Dick Tracy’s arrival. Fearing they were spotted, the Nitrates make for the Lyric (movie) Theater. Silver’s got a hideout under the seats somewhere.

Tracy, having had enough of this, arrests Domain and refers to Silver Nitrate as a bunko artist, just like he was on an old-time radio detective program. I mean, he was, but it’s still delightful. Domain takes three panels to go from “I’ll never talk” to “I talked”. Tracy is soon hanging around waiting for someone to come in and tell him where the Nitrates are.

Silver Nitrate hides out, looking for some way to pass the time waiting for the new movie to start its run. The movie is Midnite Mirror. It’s based on a fictional series-within-the-strip based on Dick Tracy that isn’t Fearless Fosdick. Silver takes up “making the theater staff think the place is haunted”. It’s a fun pastime, but carries a high risk of attracting meddling kids. But he fools some human-form cameos from Mike Curtis’s longrunning Shanda the Panda comic book.

On a coffee run, Sprocket Nitrate cute-meets Adam Austin. He’s the renowned author of the Midnite Mirror book. And he’s what might happen if Funky Winkerbean‘s Les Moore were ever to deserve not getting that smirk knocked off his silly face. She is full-on smitten. They make a date to the premiere of Midnite Mirror: The Motion Picture. She agrees to wear shoes for the event. The most open shoes ever, basically a couple of straps looped around each other, but still, shoes. Silver is aghast.

Having a cup at The Coffee Pot. Austin: 'Susan, I truly enjoy these meetings with you. I wonder ... might I escort you to the Halloween premiere of MIDNITE MIRROR?' Sprocket ['Susan']: 'I'd LOVE to go, Adam. Could I meet you here before the movie?' Austin: 'Certainly! The premiere begins at 7. Shall we meet here at 6?' Sprocket: 'Sounds perfect!'
Joe Staton, Mike Curtis, Shelley Pleger, and Shane Fisher’s Dick Tracy for the 29th of October, 2017. Hey, in the background of the first panel, center row there: it’s the guy who runs the pinball league! Ask him what he thinks of the new Stern Star Wars. (He thinks it’s got some neat shots and the art and sound packages are fantastic but the ruleset is just too crazy complicated to follow.)

Tracy takes a moment to reassure Bea Thorndike that many people have fallen for even dumber scams than this one. Ace crime-fighting scientific detective Dick Tracy figures out where Silver Nitrate is hiding, when the guy Silver Nitrate contacted for help fleeing the country tells Tracy where Silver Nitrate is hiding. The squad closes in on the Lyric Theater and makes ready to nab the bunko artist. And that takes us to this week’s action.

As you see, it’s been a straightforward plot. There’s no baffling motivations or deeply confusing networks of double-crossing to turn the story to chaos. Well, Silver Nitrate keeps changing his story about what he’s doing. But it makes sense he’d tell whoever he’s talking to what they were hoping to hear. Note how he told Sprocket he planned to do more scams with Domain and, after she didn’t want to do that, how he was going to take the $20,000 and vanish.

Tracy hasn’t really done much detecting on-screen. I suppose there’s something to having a good net of informants and identifying relevant gossip quickly. But that does mean the two big driving revelations were things he learned by not covering his ears and shouting “LA LA LA LA I CAN NOT HEAR YOU” is all.

There have been threads of other stories. Let me see if I’ve got all the major ones.

  1. Blackjack asked Dick Tracy to make sure the Tracy collectibles he got Sparkle Plenty to sign last story are safe while he’s in jail. (the 28th and 29th of August)
  2. Undercover detective Lee Emory, as “T-Bolt”, has met Sawtooth, hired by Mister Bribery to kill Tracy. (the 4th through 9th of September)
  3. Speaking of Mister Bribery, the crime boss has checked in on his niece Ugly Crystal at finishing school. She’s learned much. She can cover her eyes so as to make her nostrils and lips look like a very tiny face, and she can blow out multiple precisely-aligned candles using a slug from a slingshot. So she’s ready for a life of super-crime. (the 4th and 5th of October).
  4. And most intriguingly: the person you get by making Buster Crabbe and Alley Oop share a transporter pod has landed a Space Coupe in a derelict farm outside the city. He’s taken out a box of “old currency” and hopes to find “our errant moonling”. (the 18th through 20th of October)

Also there was a strange moment where Sam Catchem got the giggles about an ancient bag of shredded cheese cleaned out of the staff fridge. I don’t know what that was all about. It seems to have been playfulness and/or hijinkery.

Nothing’s been said about the suspected haunting of the B O Plenty residence. Crime Boss Posie Ermine hasn’t apparently done anything about recovering his daughter, brainwashed into the Second Moon Maid. I will count the appearance of Buster Oop as an update on the Lunarian who visited an Antarctic valley in investigation of the Second Moon Maid.

I’ll keep you updated in case anything breaks on these plots. Meanwhile, I encourage you to find someone who will call you “my errant moonling”. You deserve such luxuries in your life.

Next Week!

Has Rufus managed to commit an act of successful woo-pitching with The Widow Emma Sue and Scruffy’s Mom? Or has he lost her affections to an unbearded Elam? We’ll check in with Jim Scancarelli’s Gasoline Alley where we meet, of course, Dick Tracy. I swear Comic Strip Master Command is messing with my head.

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Is This Funky Winkerbean Supposed To Make Sense?


So a little something roiled the normally calm world of ridiculing Tom Batiuk’s Funky Winkerbean. Last week the strip did one of its occasional grab-bag weeks, with just spot gags and no storyline or attempt at one. Before I get into that, let me share this link to my mathematics blog, since I did my usual Sunday comic-strip review over there. Thank you.

So. Snark-reading Tom Batiuk strips is usually pretty easy. The comic presents a couple of the lumpy, sad main characters talking about one of their ongoing problems, with something involving words used in slightly unusual ways in the last panel, while everyone smirks and waits for the death of joy. The snarky reader looks over this, points out the joke barely parses, and that the problem as presented could not happen because something or other does not work like that, or because he’s confused parts of the continuity. Then the snark readers wait for the next day. I’m not ruling myself out of this group, by the way. Rolling eyes at Tom Batiuk strips is one of the joys of being a comics fan who never gets enough chances to showcase learning what “bathos” meant for that vocabulary quiz in eighth grade. (Hi, Mrs Furey!)

Then this came in on Tuesday.

Donna, to Crazy Harry: 'Crazy, this bottle was with the stuff you picked up in town ... and I just wanted to let you know ... that you can only get two or three shampoos out of a bottle of this head-cleaning solution.
Tom Batiuk’s Funky Winkerbean for the 23rd of May, 2017. Surely not intentional but in the first panel Crazy Harry looks like he’s upset Donna walked in on him googling adult images for the tiny modernist yacht he’s got a model of in the second panel there.

So, the question: what the heck?

More specifically, who are we supposed to be laughing at here? The Comics Curmudgeon laid out how it’s either a joke that Crazy Harry can’t shampoo correctly, or else it’s a joke that … Mrs Crazy Harry who probably has a name … imagines that head-cleaning solution would be an exotic name for shampoo. (It’s Donna.) Son Of Stuck Funky guest author Billy the Skink thought it more likely that Donna didn’t know what head cleaner was, and identified this as dumb given that she ought to know something about Crazy Harry, whose days are filled with transferring stuff from VHS and moping. Comic book superstar author Kurt Busiek tried to autopsy this mess:

And now I’d like to make my argument. Please feel free to disagree. Busiek’s right, by the way, that the deadly problem is the comic timing. The first two panels are nothing. Trying to make the punchline also carry the load of setting up the strip is a mess.

But I think the snark-blogging interpretation, that Donna or Crazy Harry has to be too stupid to be plausible, wrong here. I think that Donna’s supposed to be facetious. To say with a straight face the obviously ridiculous is so important to comedy that if we’re to rule it out then I can’t comment in any web forums or Usenet anymore. I think there are line readings that would make the joke work. At least work as well as it can given the attempt at jamming all the setup into the punchline.

Which is still a structural problem in the comic. Written comedy has limited powers to direct how a line should be read. A comic strip has a bit more power, since it can show characters reacting. But the Funky Winkerbean standard is to draw people moping, smirking, or despairing and that doesn’t offer much support for whimsy. A comic strip also has more power to suggest timing and where to pause a line and what to emphasize in it. But those tools aren’t used here.

So that’s my best attempt at making this Funky Winkerbean make sense: Donna is being silly and playful, and we don’t know how to react to that anymore. I’m curious what you kindly readers make it out to be.

Another Blog, Meanwhile Index

The index rose two points as the market digested reports that the Earth has an extra layer of tectonic plates within the mantle, which should be reassuring to everyone worrying about whether we had enough. It might have pushed the index higher still if we were sure we understood why it doesn’t look like any other planets or moons have tectonic plates, which seems like a weird oversight. Are we maybe looking for theirs in the wrong places or something?

212

Why Do Crankshaft and Funky Winkerbean Look Different?


They have some new artists. Tom Batiuk recently announced that Chuck Ayers, who’d done the art for Crankshaft and pencils for Funky Winkerbean, is leaving to do “other things”. I haven’t seen anyone say what those things are; I hope they’re personally rewarding things. Also, I had no idea that Ayers was doing the pencils for Funky Winkerbean. I had thought that Batiuk drew the whole strip, except for well-publicized guest-artist events or when he’s had to focus on medical care instead.

Dan Davis, who’s worked on a bunch of comic books and pencils for Garfield, took over the art on Crankshaft starting with this Sunday, the 2nd of April. Rick Burchett, who’s won two Eisner awards, is to take over penciling for Funky Winkerbean starting with the Sunday, the 25th of May.

Ayers is, according to Batiuk, not leaving the Crankshaft world altogether: “Chuck and I will still be working on selected story arcs down the line. This is one of those rare examples in life of being able to have your cake and eat it too, and I couldn’t be happier as I move forward on Funky and Crankshaft with these titanically talented artists.”

King Features’s press release about this consistently spells Ayers’s name “Ayres”, which seems like the kind of joke we’d make about Crankshaft and Funky Winkerbean.

'Tom Batiuk Picks New Artists for His Comics', announcing the retirement of Chuck Ayres [sic], whose name has been spelled 'Ayers' on the comics page for years now.
King Features’s press release on the new artists for Crankshaft and Funky Winkerbean. I know this wasn’t the snappiest title I’ve ever given a piece, but I know what people look to me for, and it’s explaining that sometimes a comic strip gets a new artist.

In still more comic strip talk, my mathematics blog etc you know the rest. Thank you, won’t you?

Another Blog, Meanwhile Index

The index rose eight points which some analysts are crediting to the traders remembering for once to say “rabbit, rabbit” first thing the 1st of the month. Some even said “rabbit, rabbit” the first thing Monday as the start of the working month, which started the usual squabble about what they’re doing on the weekends, then. Good question. It fully deserves an answer.

129

Rather Than Asking Funky Winkerbean What The HECK Is Wrong With You


I mean, I want to. Tom Batiuk’s Funky Winkerbean is somehow in the second week of a story in which Funky Winkerbean tries to renew an expired driver’s license. And if that seems like not much of a storyline consider that Batiuk has decided to see just how big a jerk Funky can possibly be during it. Or possibly how big an idiot. Anyway it’s left me seething with rage and so I’m going to turn to more productive stuff like the mathematically-themed comics on my other blog and, oh, I don’t know. Here’s a screen grab from the Star Trek: The Next Generation episode “Heart of Glory”, known as “that one from the first season where we started thinking maybe the show could be good after all”.

Worf and two guest Klingons of the week standing in sickbay over the body of a dead guest Klingon of the week. All but the dead one are howling at the boom mike.
Boy, I feel bad for the extra caught in this shot leaning against the water cooler. Awkward!

o/` Be-el-ze-bub has a devil put aside!
For me …
For Meeee …
FOR MEEEEEEEEEE! o/`

If you want to put in your own different caption here, please, go ahead.

Thanks, all. Boy am I angry at Funky Winkerbean.

Another Blog, Meanwhile Index

The index rose one point in trading described as “partly cloudy” and with “smatterings of applause”. We have no explanation for what this should mean.

106

What Is Going On With Dick Tracy?


So something weird has happened with story strips lately. I suppose it’s coincidence, properly. But something’s happened to them since last year’s Apartment 3-Gocalypse. I figured to take some time and write about them. I’m going to start with the strip that had the most dramatic and first big change of the lot, one going back far before the end of that comic.

Dick Tracy.

I’m not sure when I started reading Dick Tracy as an adult. I know it was in the 2000s, and that it was encouraged by partners in Usenet newsgroup rec.arts.comics.strips. And that’s because the strip was awful. Not just bad, mind you, but awful in a super-spectacular fashion. The kind the most punishing yet hilarious Mystery Science Theater 3000 episodes are based on. In the last years of his tenure on the comic Dick Locher’s storytelling had collapsed into something like a structuralist parody of comics. Nothing would happen, at great length, endlessly repeated. I observed that if you put together a week’s worth of the daily strips — which the Houston Chronicle web site used to make easy to do — you could read the panels top down, first panel of each day of the week, then second panel, then third panel, and have exactly as coherent a story. It was compelling in its outsider-art insanity.

Several slightly connected panels in which in a major storm Tracy's wrist-wradio finally starts working but the building he's in is threatened with collapse and Sam Catchem finds things going on and the story was over within a week.
Dick Locher and Jim Brozman’s Dick Tracy for the 27th of February, 2011. The lurching end of a long, long storyline in which the masked villain Mordred has lured Tracy to a crumbling house and there’s rats and a storm. It’s not just the hurried, clip-show nature of the Sunday installment. The panels really don’t quite make anything that happens relate to anything anyone’s doing.

That came to an end (and I’m shocked to realize this) over five years ago. From the 14th of March, 2011, the team of Joe Staton and Mike Curtis took over. The change was immediately obvious: the art alone was much more controlled, more precise, and easier to read than Locher’s had been. And the stories had stuff happen. My understanding is Staton and Curtis were under editorial direction to have no story last more than a month; Locher’s last years had averaged about three to four months per storyline.

So finally we had a story strip with pacing. You know, the way they had in the old days. There were drawbacks to this. Four or five weeks at three panels a day — more can’t really fit — plus the long Sunday installments still doesn’t give much space. To introduce a villain, work out a scheme, have Tracy do something about it, and wrap it up? Challenging work. The first several stories I came out thinking that I didn’t know precisely what had happened, but I’d enjoyed the ride.

They’ve had several years now, and are still going strong. They’re allowed longer stories now. They’ve gotten to be astoundingly good at planting stuff for future stories. They’re quite comfortable dropping in a panel that doesn’t seem to mean anything — sometimes with the promise that it will be returned to — so they have the plot point on the record when they need it a year or more later. And they’ve brought a fannish glee to the stories. I still don’t understand exactly what’s going on, but the pace and the art and the glee are too good to pass up.

Staton and Curtis show all signs of knowing everything that has ever appeared in pop culture, ever. And they’re happy to bring it in to their comic. Some of this is great. They brought [ Little Orphan ] Annie into the strip, resolving the cliffhanger that that long-running-yet-cancelled story strip ended on. And has brought her back a couple times after. They’ve called in Brenda Starr — another long-running-yet-cancelled story strip — for research. They spent a week with Funky Winkerbean for some reason, which might be how Sam Catchem’s wife got cancer.

And they’ve dug through the deep, bizarre canon of Dick Tracy. I mean, they brought back The Pouch, a minor criminal who after losing hundreds of pounds of weight sewed snap-tight pouches into his acres of flesh, the better to be an informer and courier when not selling balloons to kids. I love everything about how daft that is.

Back in the 60s the comic’s creator, Chester Gould, went a little mad and threw in a bunch of nonsense about Moon People and magnetic spaceships and all that and wrote funny stuff about how this was just as grounded in fact as the scientific investigation methods of Tracy. One might snicker and respectfully not disagree with that. But it was a lot of silly Space Race goofiness, fun but probably wisely not mentioned after the mid-70s.

Diet Smith, Dick Tracy, and Sparkle Plenty voyage in the Space Coupe to the Moon. Tracy reflects on Apollo 8's Christmas 1968 message, blessing all of you on the good Earth.
Joe Staton and Mike Curtis’s Dick Tracy for the 23rd of December, 2012. Something of a quiet, Christmas-time interlude in the story that brought the Moon Maid back from the dead. Well, the Orignal Moon Maid is dead and there’s a replacement created by super-surgery and it’s all complicated but it’s also related to the current ongoing plotline of this actual month, which looks like it’s going to see a guy get eaten by a hyena.

So they brought this back, and mentioned it. Not just in passing; a major theme in the comic the past five years have been struggles for Diet Smith’s Space Coupe technologies and the mystery of whatever happened to the Moon Valley and the making of new, cloned-or-whatever Moon Maid with electric superpowers and everything. I suppose it’s plausible if we grant this silliness happened that it would become big stuff, certainly for Tracy’s circles. But could we have let the silliness alone? Space-opera antics are fun, and there’s no other comic strip that can even try at them, but Dick Tracy is supposed to be a procedural-detective strip about deformed people committing crimes and dying by their own, if detective-assisted, hands.

A matter of taste. There’s something to be said for embracing, as far as plausible, the implications of world-breaking stuff the comic did in the 60s.

Less disputable, though: everything in the strip is a freaking reference to something else anymore. Everything. There’s less referential seasons of Mystery Science Theater 3000. Not just to Dick Tracy‘s long history, or even to other story strips. They made the Jumble word game part of a storyline. Last year they went to a theatrical production of A Christmas Carol with Mister Magoo for crying out loud. Think about that. Earlier this year villain Abner Kadaver lured Tracy to the Reichenbach Falls with just a reference to meet him at “the fearful place”, because of course Tracy would pick up on that reference. And yes, they struggled at the falls and went over the side. I don’t think we’ve seen his body, although Kadavner’s even more immune to death than normal for compelling villains in this sort of story.

Tracy got rescued, of course. By an obsessed fan. Not of Tracy; he’s already been through that story in the Staton-Curtis regime. An obsessed fan of Sherlock Holmes, who insists on thinking Tracy is actually Holmes and won’t listen to anything contradicting him. An obsessed fan named Dr Bulwer Lytton. Good grief.

Tracy wakes in the care and custody of Dr Bulwer Lytton, a Sherlock Holmes superfan.
Joe Staton and Mike Curtis’s Dick Tracy for the 1st of September, 2016. Tracy would get out of this with nothing more than autographing some of Dr Bulwer Lytton’s first-edition prints of Sherlock Holmes adventures, which should create a heck of a problem for the signature-collection and forgery industry.

I was set for a little Misery-style knockoff, but Staton and Curtis faked me out. They do that often, must say, and with ease and in ways that don’t feel like cheats. That’s one of the things that keeps me enthusiastic about the strip. Instead of an intense psychological thriller about how to make his escape, Tracy just stands up and declares he’s had enough of this. Mercifully sane. But part of me just knows, Staton and Curtis were trying to think of a way to have Graham Champan wearing a colonel’s uniform step on panel and declare this had all got very silly and they were to go on to the next thing now. I figure they’re going to manage that within the next two years.

It’s quite worth reading, if you can take the strangeness of advancing a complicated story in a few moments a day and that not everything will quite hang together. But the more attention you pay the more you realize how deftly crafted everything about it is.

Another Blog, Meanwhile Index

The alternate Another Blog, Meanwhile index rose five points. Trading was hurried as everyone had forgotten to do anything until market analysts came in just before deadline to ask how things had turned out so they could say why that happened instead of something else entirely. Now analysts are trying to figure out if any of this happened for a reason or if traders were just throwing any old nonsense together. They’re suspicious.

98

What The Flipping Heck Is *Wrong* With You, Funky Winkerbean?


If you’ve ever entered “funky winkerbean” into Google for some reason you’ve probably noticed the autocompletes are “misery porn” or “depressing” or “cancer cancer cancer cancer death die cancer death”. I haven’t checked recently but that’s all right. The strip made a staggering reputation for itself in the 90s and 2000s when Tom Batiuk decided to make it a serious issue-addressing strip by making everybody in it miserable and giving lead character Les Moore’s wife Lisa the traits of (a) being Les Moore’s wife and (b) having plot cancer. It’s an especially pernicious kind of cancer, what with how it can reappear years after a heartwarming conclusion just when the author thinks the readers least expect it, even though the readers have been saying in the comments section how they expect it ever since it went into remission.

So. Funky’s Ambiguous Relative (I think he’s a nephew maybe?) Wally had it particularly hard during the Misery Porn years. He went from troubled youth to soldier in Afghanistan, where he was captured by Enemy Forces and held captive for years. He was freed, though, and went home, but it turned out he still had a day of service left and so was called back to duty and shipped to Iraq. And by this point the readers’ relationship with Funky Winkerbean was so bad that even if this were based on something that actually happened to somebody it didn’t matter. None of us were buying it. And then he got captured by More Enemy Forces and held for … a very long time.

It’s hard to say how long. While Wally Winkerbean was off in Enemy Forces hands the strip did its second big “time jump”. This was a half-considered flash-forward after the Death Of Lisa Moore, Who Somehow Keeps Appearing In The Comics A Lot Considering How Dead She Is. The purpose of this was to allow Les Moore to transition from being a widower traumatized by his wife’s recent death from plot cancer into being a widower who’s somehow not even remotely over his wife’s death ten years before. I mean, to an extent I’m sympathetic. Should I outlive my love by a decade-plus I know there will be days I will be miserable, like anniversaries and my love’s birthday and some other special days. “Special days” does not mean, as it does to Moore, “weekdays, plus Sundays, and Saturdays too”. My love understands: a decade on, there will be days I smile even without having a reason.

Anyway, during the time jump, in which Funky Winkerbean got everybody ten years older and more decrepit while sister strip Crankshaft didn’t even though the comics share a universe and sometimes cross over into each other, Wally was held captive. Was he captive for more than ten years? Or was his captivity just retconned into the recent-yet-now-technically-unseen past? Good question and nobody has the faintest idea, Wally included.

As you might imagine Wally came out of this with post-traumatic stress disorder. It’s a terrible case. Its primary trigger is being seen on-panel for his one storyline a year, which is about how he’s totally over his post-traumatic stress disorder unlike when he thought he was last year and now he’s ready to take some classes at Local Community College. And then we got to last week’s iteration of the story, in which Wally’s regularly present female companion of some relationship interrupts Funky’s work on his Tiny Laptop with a plan that can’t in any way possibly go wrong:

'Let me get this straight. You're going to the Monsters Of Metal Show to help Wally get ready for school?' 'Exactly. There's going to be a big crowd with lots of noise and pyrotechnics. It's sort of a final exam for his PTSD.'
Tom Batiuk’s Funky Winkerbean for the 3rd of August, 2016. I know I’ve only taught a few community-college courses. And they’ve been in mathematics, which Wally might not be interested in taking. But we never used pyrotechnics, not for explaining the z-score. We more used the motion-sensor light switch no mortal power could override and that would make the lights cut out when I was sitting down because it was the middle of an exam and I could see everybody was being discreet about their cheating. But the class was at two in the afternoon and there were windows all along the wall so the room would just suddenly go from a little too bright to really quite pleasant instead. The z-score is a mathematics thing in which we subtract one number from another, divide it by a third number, and call the result ‘z’. Not just any numbers; we pick those for special reasons ahead of time and call them x and μ and σ and if they mind they’ve never said so.

OK. Since the second Time Warp (the first one was in the early 90s when original characters finally graduated high school, then came back to work at the high school and suffer for it) Funky Winkerbean has moved away from its Misery Porn incarnation. It’s been much more about aged people sitting around being depressed. Also about praising this imaginary comic-book franchise named Starbuck Jones that’s produced some nice looking Silver Age-style covers and no actual stories. And the occasional halfhearted attempt to bring back the pre-1992 era’s flights of fancy and even whimsy. And yet I keep looking back on this strip and, well, see the subject line here.

If you have any explanation you’re doing better than Tom Batiuk.

SPOILER: Nothing went wrong and Wally is totally over his post-traumatic stress disorder unlike when he thought he was last year and now he’s ready to take some classes at Local Community College!

A Funky Discovery


OK, first, I want to alert people to some of my mathematics blog entries. These are the comic strip roundups, and I get to talk a bit about what makes them mathematical and, sometimes, even what makes them funny. There was one back on Tuesday, yes, but it was a busy week and I had another installment on Saturday which I padded out to appear on Sunday too. Though there were more strips than I expected so this split was kind of legitimate after all.


Now, in other news, I’d been quivering with impotent fanboy rage over the past week’s run of Funky Winkerbean, by Tom Batiuk. As you might have noted if you read any comics blog ever, the strip has long been a soap operatic parade of misery and doom, interrupted by confusing “time warps” where the characters suddenly get ten years older and more decrepit while their backstories make slightly less sense. Though since the last time warp Batiuk has been going on a slightly different tack: instead of every character suffering personal injury and professional humiliation, they’re instead being given exactly what they might dream of, only to have it shrivel up and die in their hands. It’s an exciting bathetic direction to take.

Why doesn't Les write something about Lisa? You know Lisa, the only topic of conversation that Les even has!
Tom Batiuk’s Funky Winkerbean for the 20th of June, 2015. Yes, everyone else wants to punch Les too.

This brings us to the past week, in which Boy Lisa — the kid who appears in ever-receding shade in the above strip — finishes illustrating the graphic novel Les whipped up as a belated first and second anniversary present for his wife Cayla last year. And, yes, he forgot his first anniversary. This is because Les is obsessed with his dead first wife Lisa, who died, in-strip, eighteen to twenty years ago. And yet Lisa is ever foremost in his thoughts. He wrote a successful book about how she got breast cancer and died. He does a charity run every autumn. When he was put in charge of the high school reunion he made sure the memorial wall to Lisa was adequate, but failed to actually book a venue to host it. He chats with her ghost on a surprisingly regular basis. He was somehow around when a made-for-TV adaptation of his book collapsed just as he was angst-ridden over how they were disrespecting her story. He says more to and about her than he does to his actual present wife, a woman whom I hope has more to live for than the attention and affection of her defectively-eyebrowed husband.

And the strip has given Les the terrible, ingenious idea to have Les write some more about Lisa. (Here’s how they met: they had a class together. Later, she left the school because she was pregnant, but Les ran into her.)

This can’t all be coincidence, right? The ironic reading of Funky Winkerbean is one of the Internet’s largest growth industries — you’re part of it right now — and he’s just decided to give up and write for that readership, hasn’t he?

What Came First? Plus, The Usual


So, Wednesday’s Funky Winkerbean, by noted depression advocate Tom Batiuk. It’s not funny, to start with. It’s less so because a couple months ago Batiuk ran a sequence where the coach was recruited by the head of the Diversity University-Ironton — GET IT? GET IT? BETTER SAY YES — “Fighting Consensus Builders”, which was apparently intended to be the actual literal name of the Diversity University-Ironton DO YOU GET IT YET? [1] football team, and because the team at the high school where all the characters slouch towards death together is literally the “Scapegoats”, so with “Scapegoats” and “Consensus Builders” as actual team names is “Chances” really that inherently implausible?

Mason Jarr, sitting at a teeny-tiny little-bitty dinner table, claims he went to Optimism High, where the team was named the Fighting Chances, and that this was a joke.
Tom Batiuk’s Funky Winkerbean for the 4th of February, 2015. It looks like a joke, until you actually read it.

Anyway, I’m captivated not simply by its general badness, or how everyone is gathered around the world’s itty-bittiest dining table ever, but by wondering what was the topic of conversation which caused the long-faced Optimism High character, whose name, and I swear I am not making this up, was “Mason Jarr”, to decide the logical next thing to say was, “My high school was called `Optimism High’ and the football team was `The Fighting Chances’.” And now that I hopefully have infected you with the problem of worrying what the setup was, I hope that I don’t have to think about it any further. Thank you.

[1] See, the reason this is funny is because the comic strip’s title character is a recovering alcoholic, and another character lost her arm, and her ability to play the flute, and her chance to go to Julliard, to an accident caused by drunk driving. The drunk driver then joined the Army and went to Afghanistan where he was kidnapped and held prisoner for years. After his release he was sent to Iraq where he was kidnapped and held prisoner again, for even more years, after which he came home to find his wife, thinking him dead, had remarried and wanted nothing to do with him, and I am not making up a syllable of this. See how funny a name Diversity University-Ironton is now?


Meanwhile, over on my mathematics blog I had the chance to show off Hagar the Horrible, and to learn that there’s a connection between blackjack and Cervantes, so that’s nice. If you might be interested please go over and give that a little examination. And then another bunch of mathematics-themed comic strips came in, although that one doesn’t have Hagar the Horrible to show. Sorry.

Love Was … (Also: Math Comics, Sadness)


So in all the anticipatory fuss about the comic strip The Better Half coming to its kind of noticed end after 58 years, which is nine years longer than Peanuts, is that another longrunning comic strip you kind of remember seems to be vanishing.

The past week, Bill Asprey’s Love Is…, which is not just a Simpsons joke about two naked eight-year-olds who are married but is actually a thing that exists in the real world, has been rather less obviously existing. It used to appear on gocomics.com, and stopped about a year or so ago; it’d since been appearing on comic sites for newspapers with the right Comics Kingdom subscription, but now that’s gone too. Their official web site still exists, but it’s useless, and if it contains any daily comics I can’t find them.

The comic strip began as a set of love notes that Kim Casali wrote her future husband, Roberto, and it emerged into the newspapers in early 1970. When Roberto was diagnosed with cancer Casali brought in Bill Asprey to work on the strip, and he’s been producing it since 1975, facts which I think add a useful bittersweet touch to a comic strip that’s otherwise very lightweight. Of course, the strip has been running for 44 years now, 17 years longer than Walt Kelly’s Pogo originally ran, and trying to think of something like 13,700 illustratable one-panel expressions of love (the strip doesn’t run Sundays) is a pretty difficult task.

I have no idea what’s happening with it: whether the strip is going out of production, whether its Tribune Media Services syndicate is repositioning it, whether it’s changing syndicates, whether it’s becoming self-syndicated, whether something else is happening.


Crazy Harry reminds the characters: they've barely moved out of high school, just like they dreamed.
Tom Batiuk’s Funky Winkerbean for the 30th of November, 2014, keeps your depression fully stocked with this reminder: every one of his characters had the happiest days of his life in high school.

Since I don’t want to just point you to the lastest roundup of mathematics comics over in my other blog without something that’s also entertaining, let me give you this Sunday’s Funky Winkerbean. Every time you think Tom Batiuk’s produced the most depressing Funky Winkerbean ever, along he comes with the most depressing Funky Winkerbean ever.