FunkyWatch: January’s Most Depressing ‘Funky Winkerbean’ And ‘Crankshaft’ Strips
Over the past 40 years, Tom Batiuk’s Funky Winkerbean has transitioned from a gag-a-day comic strip about a high school to an ongoing chronicle of pure, abject misery. Thanks to the commentary on Josh Fruhlinger’s Comics Curmudgeon, I am now completely obsessed with it, which is why I spend a little time every month rounding up its finest examples of crushing despair.
I have been writing this column for four and a half years now, and I can tell you with absolutely no uncertainty that I have never been as angry with Funky Winkerbean as I am right now. I mean, don't get me wrong, I've been mad at this thing before, but never before has it been the pure, incandescent rage of betrayal at declaring the crossover of the year, only to have it stink up the joint like a bucket of dead fish. But I think I'm getting ahead of myself. Fortunately, we've got all the usual misery to take my mind off it.
Welp. This one's probably pretty self-explanatory.
If you've been reading FunkyWatch for as long as I've been doing it, a) my condolences, and b) you may recall that one of the first Crankshaft strips that I ever wrote about was one where Ed complained that so many of his friends were dying that he was wasn't even getting a chance to put away his "funeral shoes" before it was time to get them out again.
I mention this for a couple of reasons. First, because it was as amazing to me then as it is to me now that Ed's primary concern while dealing with the death of a friend or loved one is that he's finding something to complain about. Second, judging by the fact that he's rolling up on a casket wearing a bright red windbreaker and a goddamn trucker cap, it seems like he's finally relaxed the dress code that required special shoes.
Oh and someone died and this was never mentioned before or after, we just see the funeral because it's necessary for this hilarious joke. Welcome to a new year of Funkywatch, everybody!
In other news, Crankshaft has learned that even the smallest accomplishment cannot be undone and destroyed by a vengeful God who acts swiftly in the face of man's hubris, a revelation that has left him staring into the sky, terrified and unable to move at the majesty of divine hatred leveled against him. If there had been a third panel, we would have seen him shed a single tear, the weight of knowing that the world was in the hands of an omnipotence actively arrayed against him crushing his spirit.
Actually, wait, no. If there had really been a third panel, it probably would've been some stupid pun about how he was influrryated by the sudden snow.
Speaking of nearly omnipotent forces arrayed against you, Crankshaft has finally caught up with the controversy over the NSA's domestic surveillance program, which is almost as much of a comedy gold mine as complaining at the funeral of some unnamed corpse.
Don't worry, though: Crankshaft has nothing to hide -- ha ha, you don't bury skeletons in attics, silly! -- and if you don't have anything to hide, then you shouldn't worry about it either. You're not some terrorist, are you?
If you want a picture of Ed Crankshaft's America, imagine a red trucker cap on a sour-faced bus driver, forever.
This is a comic strip about an elderly woman getting so turned on by reading low-grade bondage smut that she has to go stand outside in the snow in order to keep from "overheating." That is literally what is going on here, and believe it or not, it's not that Lillian and her septuagenarian book club are apparently getting off on whips and chains, because, y'know, if that's what they're into, more power to 'em. It's more than Lillian has gotten so into it that she has decided that at the moment that she's most turned on, she has to go punish herself in the frigid winters of Ohio and possibly get pneumonia and die.
On the bright side, 50 Shades of Purple implies that the dude in the Funkyverse version of that book is named "Christian Purple," which is delightful.
If you were wondering why I started off with Crankshaft this month, it's because Funky Winkerbean was a hellish grind through the realm of abject misery, and it starts here.
You may recall that one of last year's most notable storylines -- notable mostly for being meandering nonsense that never really went anywhere -- featured Les going to Hollywood to write a screenplay based on his memoir about his dead first wife, during which he became friends with an up-and-coming idiot named Mason Jarr, a relationship based mostly on Les secretly hiding bent nails around a set.
Wait, did I say idiot? I meant "actor." It's kind of funny that I'd make that mistake, since almost every time he's mentioned in the strip, it's as "Mason Jarr, the movie actor," because when human beings speak to each other, they repeatedly refer to someone by their full name and occupation multiple times in the same conversation.
"Mason Jarr." Christ.
Also, congratulations on getting in that reference to the final episode of Lost, which aired five years ago.
You know, it was really my fault for having hope.
I've been legitimately looking forward to the crossover between Funky Winkerbean and Dick Tracy ever since I first heard about it a few months back. I mean, it sounds amazing, right? Joe Staton and Mike Curtis's work on Dick Tracy has actually been fantastic since they took over in 2011 -- there's a collection of their first few storylines available on Comixology for three bucks that's well worth checking out if you haven't been keeping up with it -- and for all its pretensions of being Serious Comics, Funky Winkerbean is still a strip that featured a murderer named Plantman as recently as last year. Given that the last Dick Tracy story before this crossover ended with Tracy in a fistfight with a criminal on top of a burning windmill at a miniature golf course engulfed in flames, I had every reason to believe that this crossover would be amazing.
Every reason except for the last five years of reading Funky Winkerbean, I mean, and the fact that Dick showed up looking as beaten down by a life of endless misery as everyone else in this strip. But even then, I was mainly certain that somebody was going to get murdered. I mean, look at this setup! Thousands of dollars in rare comics! A cast of hateful creeps that come with their supervillain names already in place, and one of 'em even has combat training! There could have been so many murders in this storyline!
There was not even one murder.
I remember when I first wrote about the Funky/Dick crossover, and someone said on Twitter that they'd be furious if it was just that one strip, and I laughed. "No," I said, "This is just the beginning of this crossover! It will go on and be amazing!" I have never learned the lesson of Crankshaft. As always, hubris is my undoing.
Here is what happens in this vaunted crossover: Dick Tracy and Sam Catchem go to Westview to help auction off some comics. The comics are auctioned off. Dick and Sam leave.
THAT'S IT. THAT'S ALL THAT HAPPENS. A CRIMEFIGHTER WHO HAS BEEN TO THE MOON SHOWED UP IN WESTVIEW AND ALL HE DID WAS GET SMIRKED AT BY HOLLY WINKERBEAN.
It's been over a week since I read this and I am still furious about it. And to make matters worse, this strip involves one of the most mind-shattering bits of nonsense I have ever read in my life. No, not the part where Holly just paid FIFTY THOUSAND DOLLARS to buy six long boxes of comics, but, "It's all about what you like... not what you're like."
WHAT DOES THAT MEAN.
NO HUMAN BEING HAS EVER SAID THIS. WHY WOULD YOU SAY THIS. DOES HOLLY THINK IT'S MORE IMPORTANT TO LIKE COMICS THAN TO BE A DECENT PERSON? IS THAT WHY SHE MARRIED THAT LUMPY IDIOT WHO OWNS THE PIZZA PLACE?!
And this... the final insult.
No sooner had the crossover with Dick Tracy ended than Funky launched into another crossover, with Crankshaft, about Ed driving the Westview band to Cleveland.
That's all that happens. They drive the band to Cleveland while vocally hating each other. Even the sudden revelation that band leader Harry Dinkle looks a lot like Tom Batiuk's version of Judge Dredd did nothing for my shattered soul.
You won, Funky Winkerbean. You have broken me at last.