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FunkyWatch: February’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.

While other people were screwing around with stuff like romance in February, Batiuk and Crankshaft artist Chuck Ayers have continued on their merry path of plumbing the depths of the human condition. To be fair, Funky has more or less moved out of depression and into outright hostility between the characters, but believe me: This month’s Crankshaft strips more than make up for it.Funky Winkerbean, February 3:

This month’s Funky Winkerbean strips kicked off with a few days of the eminently hateable Les Moore berating one of his students for cheating on an essay. That’s nothing all that out of the ordinary for a strip that revolves around a high school — I think the same thing came up a few months ago, in fact — but it’s notable for two reasons.

For one, Owen explains to a friend in a later strip that he “shanked the excuse,” adding yet another entry to the list of phrases used in Batiuk’s cartoons that have never actually been said by a human being. Then again, maybe I’m in the wrong on this one and the latest trend for teenagers up north has been peppering their slang with golf terms. There are worse things for kids to be influenced by than Caddyshack, I suppose. Like, say, Caddyshack 2.

But the other thing is that Owen is actually not even smart enough to delete the word “Wikipedia” from his paper. Bad enough that this strip is usually full of dread for the present, now he’s got us weeping for the future, too.

Funky Winkerbean, February 8:

Remember how I said that there was less depression and more outright hostility this month? Well feast your eyes on Linda Lopez in Panel 1 as she braces herself for Cayla’s awful pun. Aside from his endless supply of miseries, facial expressions are a definite strong point for Batiuk, and there is no mistaking that look for anything but the deepest loathing.

Fortunately, she was spared actually hearing it when she was killed by Joker toxin in Panel 3. We’ll miss you, Linda.

Funky Winkerbean, February 12:

If you’re a regular Funky reader, you’re probably already aware that Batiuk is a lifelong super-hero comics fan who occasionally uses his Sunday strips to recreate classic DC comics covers. It’s been a while, but if memory serves, the last time he went to that particular well was with a truly bizarre Rex the Wonder Dog reference that tied into the story of a man with Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder so severe that he couldn’t walk around a corner without someone to assure him that he wouldn’t get blown up and taken prisoner.

It’s… kind of an odd device.

Anyway, this version is at least based on a happier occasion, as Crazy Harry celebrates a birthday with his oldest friends. Until, of course, you realize that this strip is basically about how every birthday you get to is the equivalent of sand running out in the hourglass deathtrap that is life. Enjoy the pizza party!

Funky Winkerbean, February 29:

Ah. Now we’re talking.

Over the past two months, things have been going relatively well for the cast of Funky Winkerbean. After a rocky start to the season, a new basketball coach has revitalized Westview High’s team, and with it, Summer Moore’s hopes of landing a college scholarship. Now, as the team is literally on the bus to the State Finals, Summer has apparently contracted some kind of irony-seeking plague.

I gotta say, I’m excited. Will she have to play through the illness to illustrate that even a small victory must be won through suffering? Or will she be forced to sit it out, illustrating that no matter how hard you work, the cruelty of fate can destroy you even at your highest moment? I cannot wait ’til next month.

Crankshaft, February 14:

Of course, in the Funkyverse, having your dreams shattered by an unexpected illness is nothing. Ed Crankshaft, the hateful semi-literate bus driver who stars in Funky‘s (allegedly) more lighthearted spin-off, is here to show you how it’s done. Not only was he playing on the far grander stage of major league baseball, but his hopes were dashed by Adolf Hitler himself.

And as a bonus, this is the strip that ran on Valentine’s Day.

Crankshaft, Februrary 12:

Crankshaft is structured more or less like a sitcom, with a family (husband, wife, her father, his mother) and a roof under which hijinx are expected to ensue. What sets it apart from its televised cousins, however, is that everyone in Crankshaft seems to absolutely hate each other, and no one is more full of bile than the elderly Rose.

Usually this manifests itself in traumatized recollections of how she ruined her son’s childhood or the occasional haint. Here, though, it boils right up to the surface as she berates her son — who just spent a ton of money building an additional room on his house so that she can maintain her independence without being sent to a nursing home — for not loving her enough to develop telepathy.

This is what passes for a punchline, presumably because it’s a line of dialogue actually makes you want to punch a fictional character.

Crankshaft, February 8:

In other news, Rose thinks Crankshaft is on his way upstairs to f*** that shovel.

Crankshaft, February 4:

This is a comic that refers to the process of being alive as “spectacular degeneration.” That is legitimately amazing, and there is nothing I can possibly add to it to make it more horrifying than it already is.

Crankshaft, February 22:

Okay, true story: When I was 15, my dad died. It happened on the last day of school, so as you might expect, it ruined that summer pretty hard. The worst part was that since it was early June, every time we turned on the radio during the eight-hour car ride from South Carolina to Ohio — a home state I share with Batiuk, incidentally — we’d hear a commercial for some Father’s Day promotion. There was one particularly annoying one for Outback Steakhouse that would’ve gotten on my nerves even without the added emotional gut-punch that I can remember clear as a bell to this day. In short, it was a pretty rough time.

But then I got to the funeral, and I don’t know if this is a standard practice (I’m lucky enough that I haven’t been to too many of those in my life), but they gave out laminated copies of my dad’s obituary, sort of like an extremely morbid trading card. I didn’t really have much to do at the funeral, so I eventually looked down and read it, and I got to the part where it talked about his children: Me, my sister, and his other son Sam.

Here’s the thing: There is no Sam. He doesn’t exist.

You might think it would be infuriating, but for me, the fact that they didn’t even get the number of kids right in the obituary was hilarious. It cracked me up right there in the funeral parlor, especially once I put my serious face back on and asked my mother if she had anything she wanted to share with the rest of us.

So believe it or not, the story where Crankshaft takes utter glee in having a friend read his own obituary that was printed by mistake is actually something I find both hilarious and relatable. And I assure you, that’s a pretty weird feeling.

Find more inappropriate laughs 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 Oregon Live or your local newspaper

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