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FunkyWatch: June’s Most Depressing ‘Funky Winkerbean’ Comic 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.

This month, Funky Winkerbean got dark — and when I say that, I mean that it got dark even by the standards of a comic strip that is completely defined by suffering and death. Seriously, Tommy B is working some rough chuckles this month. You might want to go ahead and take a stiff drink before we get started. Seriously, folks: If you thought it was bad when Lisa was just a grim spectre whose shadow loomed over the cast long after her death, wait’ll you see what happens when they start reading her diary.

Crankshaft, June 22:

If you’re a regular FunkyWatch reader, you’ll probably recall that I usually go to Crankshaft, the spin-off strip that Batiuk does with artist Chuck Ayers, when I need to take a break from what’s going on in the main strip. This month, though, there’s no looking away from the slow motion car crash that is Funky Winkerbean. Besides, there is actually a crossover coming up later on, so we might as well get Crankshaft out of the way now.

With the end of the school year, the strip has turned its attention to giving Crankshaft a summer adventure in the form of a flight to New York City, and if you thought that would lead to a week’s worth of strips full of interminable airplane humor that would get you kicked out of a comedy club’s open-mic night in 1992, you are wrong. It actually went for two weeks. Here, we see Pam and Jeff barely managing to contain their glee at finally getting away from one of the two withered old cankers on their lives. Pam even goes as far as feigning concern for Cankshaft, which lasts all of two panels before his smug hatefulness causes her to just give up on it. “Whatever,” she says, not bothering to hide her disdain, and that is how she bids her father farewell on his journey.

I mentioned that this was the happier strip, right?

Crankshaft, June 27:

RIP Ed Crankshaft, 1895 – 2013. He will not be missed.

Funky Winkerbean, June 2:

Before we get into the meat of this month’s story arc, here’s a strip where Tom Batiuk attempts to break the world record for Number Of Panels That Will Make The Reader Say “F**k You” In A Single Comic Strip. It’s a pretty noble effort, too, with two tooth-grinding puns dropped into the first two panels, a terrible gag that rounds out the flashback, and a closer of two self-righteous nitwits complaining to each other. I got a full five out of it!

What’s really notable about this one, though, is that it contains the first of many strips this month in which Jess refers to her father, John Darling, as “my father John Darling.” I don’t necessarily mind this since it’s the nature of a newspaper strip to have people miss an installment here and there, but a) Batiuk rarely bothers to actually name characters in strips, which is why this is the first time in three years that I’ve been able to remember that Crankshaft’s dumb son-in-law is called “Jeff,” and b) Jess is saying this to her husband, who is presumably aware of who her father is. It’s John Darling, in case you missed that.

Funky Winkerbean, June 3:

Okay. There’s no looking back from this point on, and for those of you who may be new, we’re getting started with this handy recap strip. Now, an amateur might just use this as an opportunity to catch everyone up on all the miseries that have occurred up to this point, but Tom Batiuk is no amateur. That’s why he ratchets things up just a bit by casually dropping a line about how this storyline might just kill his unborn baby, too!

People. We are only halfway through the countdown.

Funky Winkerbean, June 12:

And there’s the crossover! That’s right, folks, this just became a capital-S, capital-E Summer Event for the Funkyverse. Here we have Jeff from Crankshaft swinging by to give us a first-hand account of the night of Darrin’s conception.

The more sharp-eyed readers among you may have noticed that Jeff seems to have aged quite a bit since that first Crankshaft strip above. This is because Funky Winkerbean, due to a series of “time jumps” Batiuk has done so that the characters age in real time, actually takes place about ten years after the events of Crankshaft. That’s why Jeff is yammering on about how Ed is currently locked up in the maximum security wing of the (sigh) Bedside Manor retirement home. Then again, that’s kind of weird in itself, since we all know that Crankshaft dies in the stands while watching a Little League baseball game, not in a peaceful retirement home, leaving his corpse to be found by children.

That’s not a joke. Batiuk and Ayers showed it on-panel as a flash-forward a few years back.

Funky Winkerbean, June 13:

Anyway, back to Jeff’s testimony, and here’s something fun to have on the comics page right there next  to Garfield, a teenage girl about to get punched in the face by her boyfriend.

It gets worse from here.

Funky Winkerbean, June 17:

Unfortunately for all concerned — particularly us — Jeff was only able to remember the part of the night where he kept Lisa from being physically abused by her boyfriend, so they have to go digging through her personal effects for the whole story.

What’s interesting here is that it’s not Les, who is still so hung up on his dead first wife that he had to go sit alone in a park until her ghost showed up so that he could ask her if he could get married again, who knows where to find it. It’s Cayla, the second Mrs. Moore, who knows right where it is, presumably because Les left it laying around where she could see it as a subtle hint on how she should modify her behavior.

Funky Winkerbean, June 18:

Equally interesting: The fact that Les, whose only success in the world of writing to date has been a book about Lisa called Lisa’s Story, never actually bothered to read Lisa’s story. And that he seems to be begging off here with a face that’s a little less “sad” and a little more “not all that into it.”

But if Les won’t read the diary, who will? Who will learn all the tragic secrets that Lisa never told anyone?

Funky Winkerbean, June 25:

Oh, no worries, they’re just going to give the book to her daughter so that she can read it and let them all know what’s up. Not quite enough trauma in Summer’s life already, I guess.

Okay, so the big reveal here is as follows: As I understood it, Lisa’s pregnancy up until this point has always been thought of as the result of a one-night stand in high school, where she got drunk at a party and the father — the guy shopping around the reality show — took advantage of her in the back of his van. This month, however, we learned that Lisa actually had a brief relationship with Frankie, during which he abused her and then raped her when she broke up with him.

Funky Winkerbean, June 26:

The end result of all this? Summer reads about her mother being raped on camera so that Darrin and Jess can blackmail the rapist into not producing his reality show.

And the worst part? Batiuk drops all of this onto the page, and then still ends it with a Goddamn stupid pun.

I don’t think I can take any more of this strip. I’m tapping out.

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