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FunkyWatch: December’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 strip, Funky Winkerbean. 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.

As 2011 came to a close, it shouldn’t surprise anyone that things got worse for everyone in Funky Winkerbean, who became mired in even more failure than usual. And as for Crankshaft, well… It’s probably best to just get to it. So take a deep breath, everybody, and let’s see how it all came crashing down yet again.Funky Winkerbean, December 31:

Before we get too far into the month, I want to go ahead and say that December 2011 had nothing on December 2010. If you were around last year, you probably remember how Batiuk chose to close out that year, with a New Year’s Eve party that ultimately ended on January 1 with Les Moore’s two would-be lady-friends trying to give him a kiss, only to find him standing in front of a window alone fantasizing about making out with his dead first wife. It is, hands down, one of the single most amazing comic strips ever printed.

And compared to that start, well, 2011 went out with a whimper — or whatever you call it when “whimpering” is the default state — with depression of a less existential nature. Sure, you’ve still got a man sitting alone in an utterly wrecked emotional state while others pretend to have fun around him, but it just doesn’t measure up.

In other words, I’ve actually become depressed because Funky Winkerbean isn’t as depressing as it used to be. I’ll let that sink in for a minute.

Funky Winkerbean, December 30:

As to why Coach Bull Bushka’s sitting alone drowning his sorrows underneath a pretty disturbing Baby New Year decoration, well, it’s a pretty simple story. It turns out that after a month of strips about the community coming together to support Westview High’s athletic programs and all the painful rehab for their star girls’ basketball player Summer Moore after her knee injury, it turns out Westview High actually sucks pretty hard at sports. This has been the status quo for the strip since the ’70s — the team’s called the Scapegoats, after all — but the difference is that now, they’ve failed in front of the entire community after everyone got together to show how much they believed in them.

It’s pretty heavy stuff, but let’s be fair to Bull here: If you were a lumpy potato man who was so bad at his job that Mark Twain apparently came back from the dead to call you an idiot, you’d be pretty glum about it too.

Crankshaft, December 7:

Congratulations, everyone! You are now thinking about Crankshaft’s prostate!

I gotta admit, I’ve been reading Crankshaft daily for 18 months now, and I initially had no idea what was going on in this strip. As it turns out, the “Free PSA Blood test” is a specific kind of test that measures how prostate-specific antigens are moving about freely, rather than being a test that doesn’t cost any money. So, you know, ha ha. Crankshaft has to pay for medical care. It is to laugh.

Personally, I’m planning on sticking with my original interpretation, which was that they had lured Crankshaft to a fake doctor’s office with the promise of free medical care so that they could harvest his organs. There’s an obvious flaw in this, in that it implies the existence of someone who would actually be more decrepit than Crankshaft himself, but the alternative — that she was referencing the human cost of rooting around in the old man’s prostate — was too horrifying to comprehend.

Crankshaft, December 15:

Speaking of horrifying thoughts, here’s a joke about terrorists published just in time for people to be traveling for the holidays! Merry Christmas, everybody!

What really sells this one, aside from the fact that it’s another one of those strips where the only character you really see is sitting silent and unmoving while the “joke” is delivered by some outside force, is how mad Crankshaft looks in panel 3. I can only assume that he has just realized that he’s on both lists, and is seething with resentment that the government will now know about his 63-year streak of getting coal in his stocking.

Funky Winkerbean, December 19:

If memory serves, the last time we saw a sporting event in Funky Winkerbean, it was when Summer had her painful knee injury that put her entire future in jeopardy. Obviously, you’re not going to top that in terms of physical pain, so instead he goes with the emotional route.

Thus, this strip, in which Cayla starts chatting matter-of-factly about how her daughter’s (and future stepdaughter’s!) team is undoubtedly going to fail in front of everyone she knows. And really, with support like that from their mom, how can the Lady Scapegoats lose?

Funky Winkerbean, December 20:

Pretty easily, in fact! And with their loss comes the pain of regret for Cayla. Not from being unable to uncover her face just to give her daughter a reassuring glance to help her under all the pressure she was feeling, or even the regret of actually being seen in public with Les Moore. No, it’s the regret of not seeing WWF Superstar Doink the Clown make a shocking run-in at the finish of a high school basketball game, and not being alerted to it because everyone was watching in stunned silence. I think we’ve all been there, right?

Crankshaft, December 28:

I just want to point out that this strip was published in the year two thousand and f***ing eleven.

Funky Winkerbean, December 28:

About once a month, Batiuk manages to do a strip that is basically the apotheosis of everything he does in Funky Winkerbean. In December, this was it. Not only is it a defeat, but it’s not an absolute shutout, so there had to be a moment when Westview actually thought they could win this one, making the loss even more disheartening than it would’ve been otherwise.

Then, after the defeat, the utter humiliation that comes from their opponents. At first, I was wondering if this might be a metaphor for how Summer and Keisha feel about their loss, like they were mentally replacing the usual “good game” with their own internal doubts, but no. It’s just flat-out cruelty from people who take so much joy in gloating that their leader’s smirk has become a full-on Glasgow smile.

Funky Winkerbean, December 22:

What holiday would be complete without a visit from Funky’s father, suffering silently from Alzheimer’s despite his nurse’s insistence on festive hats.

That said, I’ve gotta give it up one more time to Batiuk: Bedside Manor is still a hilarious name for a nursing home.

Funky Winkerbean, December 26:

This one is one is easily my favorite (if that’s the word I’m looking for) this month, if only because of how many of his signature elements Batiuk’s able to cram into three panels. There’s the impending crushing letdown of the team losing, of course, but you also get Cayla dropping a snide remark that doesn’t really make any sense. Who exactly is a “customer” in this scenario? Has she just given up on trying to make that bumper sticker witticism fit in any of her normal conversations, and just decided to drop it now? Because Tom Batiuk has! Oh, and also, it’s about how much her own daughter’s team sucks.

And to cap it all off, you have Les being insufferable and pretentious, which is about as reliable an occurrence as the tides coming in. This time, he’s comparing his fiancee to Cassandra, the woman in Greek mythology who was cursed to see the future but have no one believe her prophecies until they came true. In other words, he’s admitting that she’s right, but that he’s going to refuse to acknowledge this until it happens — and this entire exchange happens without Les and Cayla actually speaking to each other.

They are seriously on some Lockhorns level marital sniping, and they’re barely even engaged! I cannot wait for the wedding.

Plan your wedding to despair with ComicsAlliance’s FunkyWatch archives!

Much like CliffsNotes, FunkyWatch is an aid to reading Funky Winkerbean and not a replacement. If you can handle the despair, follow along dailiy at the Houston Chronicle, the Seattle Post-Intelligencer or your local newspaper

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