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FunkyWatch: July’s Most Depressing (And Infuriating) ‘Funky Winkerbean’ 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.

This month, though, Funky changed things up a bit by shifting the focus from unrelenting tragedy to a look at exactly why I have a genuine, personal hate for Les Moore, the character who has more or less taken over the strip as its title character. Admittedly, I’ve had an entire year of writing this column to develop that loathing, but trust me, after this month’s strips, you’ll hate him too.#10. July 31

Don’t worry, folks: This month just has less abject depression than average, which for Funky Winkerbean still means it’s like mainlining a Morrissey album every Sunday after Garfield. This time, it focuses on Wally Winkerbean, Funky’s nephew, a former prisoner of war who was left traumatized with PTSD after his experiences in the Middle East.

This strip finds him happily giving his dog a bath and talking about how having a service animal in his life helped him re-learn how to function in society. For Funky, that’s downright sunshine and rainbows, except for that last panel and its amazing super-villain dialogue. Seriously, if there’s anything that undercuts a guy reaffirming his sanity, it’s having a conversation with a dog while staring at it like he’s about to snap its neck and leave its body as a grisly clue for the Batman.

#9. July 29

But hey, here’s quick reminder that the horros of war leave psychological and physical scars!

This one seems at first to have your standard AchewoodLie Bot, what is the saddest thing?” setup, but it’s that last panel that really sells it. In my experience, the smirking “it’s nice to have goals” is usually sarcasm directed at someone who actually means what they’re saying, meaning that the punchline here is that Wally wants to make sure this guy doesn’t think he can actually enter the Olympics. Wally, in other words, is a dick.

#8. July 10

In another bright, friendly Sunday strip, Batiuk once again takes us to a source of comedy that never fails to deliver the laffs: alcoholism!

You may also notice that this strip features not one, but two puns. Like all puns that appear in Funky Winkerbean — and the others that make up the punchlines in almost every installment of his other strip, Crankshaft — these are absolutely terrible. But at the same time, they’re also amazing examples of Batiuk’s incredible craftsmanship! I mean, any writer can have a character talk about how they want a drink, but writing a pun so awful that it makes the reader want one just to get through the next four panels? That’s master level.

#7. July 12

Did I mention the puns were terrible? I did? Good.

It’s also worth noting that in the strip, Les is on a book tour promoting Lisa’s Story, his incredibly successful memoir of his wife’s struggle with cancer and eventual death. Incidentally, the strips from that arc were also collected into a real book called Lisa’s Story, which I’m sure has nothing to do with the strip portraying the author of a book with that name as a dashing, beloved literary success who has two women inexplicably fighting over his affections. Pure coincidence.

#6. July 2

Speaking of Les’s Lovelies — and you have no idea how much I hate myself for having coined that name — this strip marks what certainly feels like the final appearance of Susan, the losing party in the campaign to become Les’s girlfriend, or para-moore. God, I am so sorry.

Anyway, a little background might be in order here: Susan used to be a student of Les’s, during which time she had a crush on him. This, of course, led her to attempt suicide after she was rejected for being far too young, but the flame persisted and when she returned to the strip as an adult and a teacher, she attempted to romance Les away from would-be girlfriend Cayla by getting a divorce and changing her name. Now, thanks to an ill-fated attempt to express her feelings by kissing Les, which was captured in a photograph and spread around the school by one of Westview’s junior malcontents. Now, she is walking away from her job, her friends and her life, passing by representations of her younger self, her current self, and the garbage can that represents what her life has become because she dared to show affection. This is not subtext. This is actually happening.

So long, Susan! At least you made it out alive!

#5. July 13

Thus do we return to the man who ruined her life purely by existing. Here, we see him at a book signing where a fan’s attempt to make conversation — lame and trite as it may be — is met by a guy who doesn’t even bother to make eye contact while telling her to shut up with the jokes about her dumb friend. She swallows her pride, eyes downcast, mustering a weak grin in response.

This is Les Moore. He is the strip’s de facto protagonist. I hate him more than anything.

#4. July 18

Les gets to his most hatable once he returns home and starts recounting his exploits to his girlfriend Cayla — who gets exactly one piece of dialogue in the entire five-day sequence — focusing on the events that inflated his already massive sense of superiority and tested even his prodigious self-satisfied smirk muscles.

For those of you who haven’t done the research necessary to nurture an intense contempt for a fictional character, Lisa’s Story was his first success, but not his first book. That was a memoir about the murder of his friend John Darling, who was killed when his self-titled strip got canceled. So for those of you keeping score at home, Les has two entries into the surprisingly lucrative genre of capitalizing on the deaths of people he knows in order to get back at haters. Class act, this guy.

#3. July 19

Some comics characters respond to personal tragedies by vowing to elminate crime and help those in need.

Others respond to minor inconveniences by vowing to write books so that they can lord it over a teacher they had twenty years ago.

#2. July 20

And of course, it turns out that Les totally punked out on his “vow,” and of course he plays it off as something that allows him to set himself firmly on the moral high ground. Seriously, his labored “crossed my mind” as the dark clouds roll in from the East is all but coming right out and equating “not rubbing a guy’s nose in my dubious success” with “showing mercy to an enemy during wartime.”

I, however, will stick to the belief that even Les, thick as he is, realized that “hey, you said I wouldn’t be a writer, but guess what, buddy: my wife died!” doesn’t quite have the ring of triumph that he’d hoped.

#1. July 21

And finally, we have the most hate-inspiring moment of Les’s recap. We’ve already touched on the sheer ego of the conclusion he comes to here — The forces of Fate itself engineered this chance for revenge, but I, the superior man, declined — but it’s actually even better than that.

I actually got emails about this one this month, based purely on the astonishing last panel, where Les talks about not wanting things while you get him while sittng right next to the woman who just became his girlfriend after spending the better part of a year pursuing him. And after quite literally running another woman out of town in shame that she dared to show affection to another human being. And just for the level of bonus existentialism, this all happens while they’re both rendered in stark silhouette. If this comic had a fourth panel, it would be a close-up of Cayla’s face while she said “I’ve made a huge mistake.”

Les Moore, you are the worst.

And with that, we come to the end of another month of Funky Winkerbean, and — hang on. I got so caught up in hating Les (which as you can probably tell is pretty easy for me) that I forgot to do my monthly check in with the other strip Batiuk writes, Crankshaft! Maybe there’ll be something in that lighthearted chronicle of a hateful old man that’ll be worth of a few chuckles!

Crankshaft, July 7

Oh.

So it’s like that, huh? Well you asked for it, buddy. Now it’s on.

Lose yourself in the past 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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