FunkyWatch: July’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 ongoing 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.
Incidentally, I just realized that I'm a month into my fourth year of annotating Funky and its various miseries, and if you were wondering if that fact made me sit down and think long and hard about the choices I've made in my life, the answer is yes. Then again, existing in a hell of my own making does give me a unique insight into these characters and the world in which they live, so I guess that makes it a win-win. For everyone except me, I mean.
Oh, by the way, this month's comics are mostly about old men having sex. You may want to prepare for that.
Funky Winkerbean, July 3:
Okay, let's start with the incomprehensible and move on into the horrifying, shall we? This month's strips opened with an extended sequence about Les and Funky, comics' most punchable pair of besties, going for a run. This went on for about a week and, since this is Funky Winkerbean we're talking about, involved multiple strips where they complained about how their aged bodies are falling apart despite their half-hearted attempts at maintaining them, and one reference to Funky's status as a recovering alcoholic. So, you know, the usual kind of baseline depression that just washes over me at this point.
And then there's this one, in which a young lady asked Funky and Les to stand guard while she urinated behind a bush in the middle of a park.
I mean, that's definitely what's going on here, right? There is no other way to interpret what's going on here, and the rest of the strip provides absolutely no context. It's just "ha ha, running is pain, I wish I had a beer" and then three panels of these two idiots looking smug about public urination. How did this even happen? Is this something that happens when you jog outside instead of using an elliptical machine? Did she just walk up and ask for a quick favor? Are there no public restrooms in Westview? Is printed newsmedia so far gone that this one just slipped through without anyone batting an eye? What is going on here?
These are not rhetorical questions. If you've got it figured out, please let me know. I've been losing sleep over it for the past month.
Funky Winkerbean, July 8:
It's probably best to just move on to the main plot this month, which, astonishingly, will turn out to be equally concerned with bodily fluids. The main deal here is that retired band leader Harry Dinkle is throwing a big 50th anniversary party. This might seem like a nice gesture that's sure to delight his lovely wife, except that he's planning to throw it in a pizzeria that's constantly on the edge of bankruptcy, because Westview is a town with only four viable locations and at least one of the others has recently been micturated on.
The key factor here is that Harry is so sure that his wife won't tumble to his secret plans that he's twisted into a Bell's palsied rictus of self-satisfaction in Panel 2. Why? Because life in Westview has robbed her of the ability to even comprehend that someone would do something nice for another person, even someone that they've been married to for half a century. Unless, of course, it involves public urination, in which case everyone's more than happy to stand two feet away and oblige.
Look, I know I'm talking about that first strip a lot. I'll try to stop.
Funky Winkerbean, July 13:
My original plan for this one was to make a joke about how inappropriate it was for Harry to go visit one of Westview's seedy "massage parlors" to relieve the pressure of celebrating 50 years of fidelity with a Happy Ending, but then I realized that actually writing jokes about this strip is a waste of time.
What's really happening here is that caring for someone has quite literally wracked Harry's body with pain. There's nothing to add. Love is pain. Even a gesture as small as purchasing a cake will lead to agony, which will in turn only be smirked at by those around you. Ha ha!
Funky Winkerbean, July 19:
Once he actually gets through the party, though, Harry has finally learned his lesson. There's no hint of affection here, just a dour, condescending frown at his wife's naive suggestion that they should express concern for their friends. "Guys don't do that," says Harry at the suggestion that he should make a token effort of acknowledging other people's wellbeing. "Guys experience emotions only as poison for the soul, an agonizing flame that must be stamped out before it consumes them from within. I have experienced this pain enough for one lifetime from showing affection to you. To care for another would surely destroy me."
Happy anniversary, Harry!
Funky Winkerbean, July 29:
Let's jump ahead a little bit and see if we can't brighten things up with a look at Wally and Rachel. It's been a while since we've seen them, so you might need reminding that Wally is a traumatized veteran who wouldn't even leave his house until he was given a therapy dog that was raised in prison, and Rachel is the single mother who desperately competed with said dog for his affection. At the end of the month, Wally announced that he was going to try to better himself by going back to college, so we can all look forward to that glimmer of hope being stomped into atoms sometime in the future.
For now, though, it's Rachel's reaction that caught my eye. Look at Panel 1. That is not a woman who is relaxed. And when she finally gets the news, yikes. "Wow," she says, with a look that speaks less of excitement at what would seem to be a perfectly fine goal, and more of a manic attempt to convince herself that her life has not gone completely out of control. "Homework!" How exciting!
That's how I read it, anyway. It probably doesn't really help matters that she looks like she's trying to twist her head far enough to snap her own neck like the Joker in The Dark Knight Returns.
Funky Winkerbean, July 16:
Ugh. Look, it's not that I'm disgusted by two old people in love wanting to express that physically. That's fine. That's great, in fact! Rock on, old folks! Get you some while the gettin's good.
What I am disgusted by is that what we thought was Harry acting out of affection and love was actually just him setting things up so that Harriet would be obliged to submit to the tender mercies of his withered claws, and that he felt the need to remind her of that at a party in front of everyone they know. Jesus, that smirk. "Affection is a commodity to be traded for goods and services. You hear that, everyone? This cake is a contract through which I have bought her body for another fifty years!"
This is the worst.
Funky Winkerbean, July 20:
Oh f**k you.
Crankshaft, July 28:
By comparison, this month's Crankshaft strips are downright delightful. Seriously, I kind of love that Ed's reaction to the water being shut off is to loudly assume it's a terrorist attack, even after the event has been explained to him. He's a water department truther!
Crankshaft, July 7:
That said, it's not like things are actually any brighter for Funky's sister strip. This one in particular is a condensed version of every single Funkyverse story ever, starting with unearned smugness, transitioning through depression and finally ending up at the realization that hope is a losing proposition. And as an added bonus, Chuck Ayers manages to work in the only two facial expressions that Batiuk allows: Smirking and slack-jawed horror.
And some kind of blow-up doll mouth in Panel 5 for good measure, I guess.
Crankshaft, July 12:
Finally, we have this one. On the surface, it's pretty standard, with the spiteful crone that is Rose offering a rare moment of concern for others that's really more about how ruining everyone's life makes her feel, and Crankshaft forsaking sympathy to assure her that yes, she is in fact nothing more than a horrible burden that everyone must suffer through. Like I said, standard stuff.
What puts it over the top -- and what seriously cracked me up while reading it, although that might just be the Stockholm Syndrome talking -- is that Ed is reading a newspaper with the headline CRISIS WORSENS.
Batiuk and Ayers could have put anything in that headline, and that's what they went with. It's the perfect summary of these strips, and I am convinced that "The Paper" runs that headline every single day, because every day in this universe is worse than the last.
Also, a crime spree composed entirely of public urination doesn't usually make page 1.