I’ve mentioned my growing obsession with Tom Batiuk’s “Funky Winkerbean” newspaper strip before, specifically with the way it seems to exist as a bottomless well of tragedy and depression right there between “Dilbert ” and the Junior Jumble. Like a lot of people, I first came to this conclusion reading The Comics Curmudgeon, but I’ve become so fascinated by it that I’ve taken to reading it online every day, and I’ve got to say, June has been a banner month.
Admittedly, no one lost an arm or stepped on a land mine, but what it lacks in the flash of previous story arcs, it more than makes up for with the existential despair of everyday life. So join me now as I take a look back at June’s most depressing “Funky Winkerbean” strips!
#1. June 3
It’s nice to know that in the world of Funky Winkerbean, children have all the optimism of youth beaten out of them by the time they hit 15, to the point where even summer vacation is defined not by opportunities for fun, but by its brief, limited respite from the torture of daily life.
#2. June 9
While most comic strip creators tend to go with a traditional setup-escalation-punchline setup, Batiuk’s talent lies in the way that he starts off by giving his characters a problem and then just keeps making it worse
. Just look at the way the facial expressions change from the first panel to the second, when Funky learns that the comics industry may not have the ability to keep his pizza place going. His tired “we’re gonna make it somehow” half-grin settles right back into the haggard, defeated expression that he’s worn in at least 90% of the strips I’ve read.
#3. June 15
In case you were worried that the slow implosion of the business he’s worked his entire life to build was the only thing Funky had to worry about, don’t fret! He’s also
putting his father who has Alzheimer’s in a nursing home! The best thing about this strip, though, is that Holly (Funky’s wife) is trying to literally explain their problem, and just has to keep restating it for the duration of the strip.
It’s like “That was a hilarious movie!” “I know. I’m dying.” “Yeah, I laughed really hard too!” “No: I went to see that movie to cheer me up. I am literally dying.” And then you move on to Garfield.
#4. June 16
#5. June 18
I will admit, I laugh out loud every time I read this one. It’s just so far over the top: Funky’s life sucks so bad
that he has fewer options than a man with Alzheimer’s who was just brought to an assisted living facility. He is actually jealous
of a man who can slip away quietly on the slow road to death, forgetting all his troubles as others take care of him. That would be a positive step for him.
Man. I need a drink.
#6. June 19
And so, apparently, does Funky. Except that Funky — of course — is a recovering alcoholic.
#7. June 20
And just when you thought things couldn’t get more depressing, Batiuk breaks out the puns. To be honest, it took me forever to get this one, as I didn’t realize there was an actual joke (“lost the opener!”) hiding in a scene of Funky teetering on the edge of throwing away his sobriety in the face of overwhelming depression.
To be fair, Funky doesn’t actually take the drink. He walks away, taking control of his own life, which, all things considered. Is a pretty happy end to that sequence. Things are looking up for ol’ Funky Winkerbean!
#8. June 24
#9. June 27
And that about brings us up to last Sunday. On the surface, this strip’s pretty tame, but there are two pretty notable things about it. First, check out Funky’s face in the title panel:
That dude doesn’t even want to look at his own strip.
Secondly, the fact that Funky actually says he’s lucky — which no one in this strip has been since at least 1981 — has given rise to my current theory: Funky died in the crash, is going to meet up with Lisa (his best friend’s wife who died of cancer) and possibly John Darling (the title character of one of Batiuk’s other strips who was murdered when it ended) and Becky’s arm (lost in a car crash on prom night due to drunk driving), then get revived on the operating table, only to find out later that his insurance company won’t cover the cost of his treatment, leaving him financially broken and literally
better off dead.
The only thing that will surprise me if it actually happens is that Batiuk didn’t come up with something worse.