Ask Chris #231: Fixing Funky/Dick
Q: How would you have written the Funky/Dick crossover? -- @damnyouwillis
A: You know, Dave, it's been a long time since I've been as mad at a comic as I was at the soggy lump of anticlimax that was the Funky Winkerbean/Dick Tracy crossover last month. I mean, I'd call it a disaster, but disasters are usually exciting and have consequences. Funky/Dick was not, and did not.
But at the same time, everyone involved is a successful veteran of the comics industry. Tom Batiuk alone has been doing Funky Winkerbean for over forty years, so really, who am I to tell him how to do his job? I mean, I'd have to have an unbelievable amount of arrogance to dahahahahaha, oh man. I almost got through that. Of course I'm going to tell you how I'd do it, and it's really simple. The setup's already there, you just have to do literally anything with it.
Before I get around to that, though, here's a caveat in the interest of fairness: I have no idea how complicated it is to orchestrate a crossover -- or at least, the kind of crossover that we're used to in the world of superhero comics, where two characters team up in a story with an actual plot and conflict rather than just sort of lingering in each other's strips for a few days -- between two different, long-running newspaper strips, especially when they're published by different syndicates.
I imagine that it's a little more complicated than it seems at first glance, if only because you have to do it within the constraints of that daily format. When superhero comics offer up something like, say, Archie Meets the Punisher, they can afford to make it an event of its own that exists outside of the normal publishing schedule. Newspaper comics don't really have that luxury. If nothing else, they're limited in terms of pure space. They're not exactly going to bump Apartment 3-G for two months so that we can get the dedicated Funky/Dick strip this world so desperately needs.
Of course, that doesn't mean that we can't just get it in the two ongoing strips. At first glance, it seems like that wouldn't be that hard to do, especially given that Dick Tracy is coming off of that completely bonkers crossover with Little Orphan Annie that I wrote about a few weeks ago. But then, the obvious response to that is that Annie was no longer a going concern, which gave Joe Staton and Mike Curtis the kind of freedom that working with a continuing strip lacks. Given that the crossover was the result of a chance meeting between the creators and not part of the long-term planning that goes into these strips, maybe this was the best we could hope for. Heck, it could be that the two competing syndicates only let 'em have a week to work with, which isn't a whole lot of space to actually get anything done.
At the end of the day though, it's still pretty terrible.
And the thing is, that's especially frustrating because the setup is there for something that's actually pretty easy to hammer into shape as an entertaining story. You've got a cast of shady characters and a valuable McGuffin -- in this case, a collection of rare Silver Age comics -- with ties to the criminal underworld. You've got one strip about an unstoppable policeman, and another strip that is built almost entirely around dishing out pain and suffering to its cast of smirking louts, where a weirdo named "Plantman" who thinks he's a supervillain showed up last year to mock the daughter of the man he killed. How did this thing end without somebody getting murdered!?
So basically, my solution is 100% more murders. The Victim: Chester the Chiseler.
That's him in the brown suit with the winning bid. Originally, I thought Nick the Geek (the guy with the handlebar moustache sitting next to him) might be a solid victim, but from his only appearance in the strip so far, we know that he's a veteran with combat training, which makes him a much more interesting suspect. Chester, however, has everything you want in a murder victim, particularly that he seems to be ridiculously egomaniacal and almost universally despised.
In case you've forgotten, he was a central figure (as was Nick) in the 59-year story of Holly Winkerbean trying to track down the final issue of Starbuck Jones that she needed to complete her son's collection, and honestly, it's kind of amazing that he made it through that story last June without getting a pair of scissors rammed into his neck:
So rather than just having Holly waltz into the story over the phone and win the auction by outbidding Chester -- and raising the question of just where the hell she got over fifty thousand dollars to spend on comics when the Winkerbean Family assets amount to exactly one pizzeria -- I'd have him win the auction and then go on a hubris-fueled rant about how he's going to use those comics to destroy NIck the Geek, John (the dope who runs the comic book store above Funky's pizzeria), and anyone else who gets in his way.
Next thing you know, he's found dead in his hotel room, splayed across a pile of comics that have been downgraded from Near Mint to Fine+ on account of all the blood.
From there, the story would split. Dick Tracy would follow Dick and Sam Catchem as they tried to help Westview's woefully understaffed police department solve the murders. I imagine you could get a lot of mileage out of the fact that Westview is populated entirely by miserable people who communicate entirely through smirking at each other and gritting their teeth through laborious puns that almost sound like something a human being would say. It's the kind of place where everyone would seem like they were hiding something behind the dead-eyed rictus that they'd offer in response to even the simplest question, but eventually Dick would figure out that's just what people are like there.
For its part, Funky would follow Les. Sensing the opportunity to find material for a new book -- and desperately wanting to recover from the utter failure of his attempt to break into Hollywood -- he'd start investigating the crime himself, just like he did years before with the murder of John Darling. His initial suspect would be Nick the Geek, reasoning that a man in a Punisher t-shirt would be the most likely candidate to gun down a miserable louse like Chester. That investigation would go nowhere, until it was revealed that all the comics had been recovered from Chester's collection except one: A rare issue of Starbuck Jones, casting suspicion on Les's oldest friends, Funky and Holly.
Before turning them in, Les would check Holly's collection and, to his relief, find that she actually had the missing issue already, and that the reason it was so rare was because the pages were printed in the wrong order -- which is why the collection was initially targeted in the first place, by the real murderer, the crook who stole them back in 2013: The Jumbler!
Yes: The Jumbler. Because this story is, honest to God, a sequel to a story where Dick Tracy did a crossover with the Jumble.
Unfortunately for Les -- because what isn't unfortunate for Les? -- the Jumbler's copy of the comic would be rendered worthless by the amount of blood from the murder, and he'd show up to steal Holly's, holding Les and the Winkerbeans at gunpoint. The good news, though, is that Tracy would make the same connection thanks to Sam remembering that the pages were in the wrong order when he tried to read the comics before they were auctioned off (something that was seeded in the actual strips above), and arrive at Montoni's just in time to take the Jumbler into custody.
And that's pretty much that. It's pretty simple, really, and while I'll admit that my idea might not be thebest way to go about the crossover, at least it would've used all the stuff they set up. I mean, really...
When even characters in the strip are talking about how boring everything is, maybe it's time to do a second draft.