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FunkyWatch: March’s Most Depressing ‘Funky Winkerbean’ And ‘Crankshaft’ Strips

Thanks to Josh Fruhlinger at the Comics Curmudgeon, I started reading Tom Batiuk’s long-running newspaper comic strips, Funky Winkerbean and Crankshaft. For those of you who aren’t familiar with it, what started as a strip full of wacky high-school hijinx has slowly transitioned into being an inescapable quagmire of despair. It is, without question, the single most depressing long-form work in comics history.

And I am completely obsessed with it.

In February, things were switched up a little bit. Instead of heaping tragedies on his characters, Batiuk decided to give them a little break and remind us why they are all horrible people who truly deserve the endless miseries he rains down upon them. It’s hilarious because they’re awful people!Funky Winkerbean, March 11

Those of you who haven’t been driven to drink to forget about it might recall that the major storyline over the past few months involved Darin’s cold, emotionally distant father having a stroke and being reduced to begging for mercy from an uncaring universe. Those of you keeping score at home may have noted that we are now in the third month of jokes about having a stroke, with no particular end in sight. So, you know, welcome to Funky Winkerbean.

This time, though, there’s a twist! Pete, last seen leaving for a new job in New York City, apparently thinks that clawing his way out of the emotional hellpit that is Westview gives him a license to express human emotions like “sympathy” and “concern” without fear of retribution. Darin, of course, knows better, and responds to Pete asking about his dad with a tight-lipped smirk and a sarcastic remark that does all but end with “…you f**king idiot.”

Now, on the surface, this is just one dude straight up being a dick to another, but as always, there’s deeper psychological trauma at work here. Darin, after all, believes (correctly) that he triggered his father’s stroke by experiencing a fleeting moment of happiness. He’s clearly retreating behind an emotional wall, isolating himself even from people who make the herculean effort of loading up Skype, refusing to accept anything but bitterness and hatred in order to keep further tragedy from befalling his loved ones. Or, given his relationship with his father, his barely tolerated ones.

Funky Winkerbean, March 13

Some of you might think that I’ve finally gone off the deep end with that theory, but really, it’s the only way to explain strips like this. At the start of this strip, Pete acknowledges that he believes his own shortcomings are the work of some hateful outside force (more on that later), but he still doesn’t get it. He still insists on offering some kind of courtesy to his friends back in the purgatory that is Funky’s pizza parlor.

It’s not until Panel 2 and Darin’s barely-there “you bet” that Pete finally understands. He rescinds his offer of good tidings, and Darin can barely contain his happiness, twisting his face into a rictus as he confesses that he was going to have to bottle up both his emotions and his friend’s. They finally understand each other, and the looming karmic doom around every corner.

That’s gotta be it, right? Otherwise, they’re just being complete a**holes to each other for no reason.

Funky Winkerbean, March 7

Speaking of potential sociopaths, here’s a strip about how John went on some kind of vision quest that ended with him making a deal with his own conscience so that he can live free of guilt no matter how he harms his own body or others. Seriously, this is like two steps away from carving a tally mark on his body for each of his victims, just so he can have something to remember them by.

Actually, now that I mention it, I kind of hope that’s exactly where this series is going. Wouldn’t it be amazing if Funky Winkerbean turned out to be a forty-year prequel to Arkham Asylum?

Funky Winkerbean, March 9

Ha ha! More stroke humor! Crazy Harry, who now works for pennies selling off his once-precious comic book collection, is in such poor health that the weight of a hardcover combined with the posture he uses for reading — hunched over, too weary from his life to actually hold a book in his hands — cuts off his circulation and terrifies him into thinking he’s dying! His only escape from the dreariness of life has been ruined! Ha ha! Ha!

Funky Winkerbean, March 21

Crazy Harry’s brush with death isn’t the only appearance by Flash Gordon in this month’s strips, much to the regret of everyone who actually read them. Pete, struggling once again to meet his deadline writing comics, passes out and has a dream sequence that turns the strip into Flash Gordon self-insertion fan-fiction for a week and a half.

This may not be “depressing” in the traditional “this is sad” sense, but it definitely fits the bill in a “this was actually published” sort of way.

Funky Winkerbean, March 25,

If you’ve been paying close attention to Funky Winkerbean — a course of action that I do not under any circumstances recommend — you might recall that there was some talk a few months back about teacher layoffs at Westview High. I would’ve bet good money that it would’ve become a driving plot for the strip, but it mostly passed without anything happening.

That said, Tom Batiuk is not one to miss an opportunity for plumbing the depths of the human condition, so please enjoy this strip about the people who educate children for little reward descending on their former friends’ possessions like vultures.

Crankshaft, March 7

Over in Crankshaft, the absence of a holiday that can be used as an excuse to blow up a grill has led to a pretty tenuous story about the evils of government — specifically, the local government that’s going to come chop down a tree in Crankshaft’s yard to keep it from screwing up the power lines. The problem is that this is a special tree, one that was once knocked over by a storm, prompting Ed to wrench it back into place in defiance of God Himself.

What I’m getting at here is that Ed prefers this tree to his own family, which should come as a surprise to no one.

Crankshaft, March 23

You can tell by the dates that this story goes on for a long while, covering a flashback where Crankshaft’s daughter talks about how they were “devastated” when the tree fell over and a strip where they discuss how Crankshaft is going to urinate while chained to a tree. I’m skipping over those and going straight to the end for all our sakes, so… you’re welcome.

The point is, even a moral victory gained by taking a stand for your rights and triumphing over Mayor Smiler here is really just a hollow victory. You will gain nothing from fighting the system. The best you can hope for from all your effort is a dying eyesore of a stump. Hilarious!

Funky Winkerbean, March 24

A month full of reminders about why we hate the entire cast of Funky Winkerbean wouldn’t be complete without a visit with the infinitely punchable Les Moore. Here, we have a strip about how Les never hooked up with his high school crush because he was just too super awesome at doing stuff! Isn’t that always the way?

Amazingly, this is not the smarmiest thing Les did this month. That honor goes to the following:

Funky Winkerbean, March 28

Oh, f**k you.

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