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FunkyWatch: May’s 11 Most Depressing ‘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.

That’s why today, I’ve rounded up another month’s worth of absolute sorrow in handy comic strip form to bring you May’s Most Depressing installments of Funky Winkerbean and its spin-off, Crankshaft! It’s a pretty momentous occasion for me, too — not just because of Les’s growing insanity and the amazing strip at #1, but because with the end of this column, I’ll have been doing this roundup for a full year.

I know, I’m surprised I made it this far too.#11. May 13

May’s first major plot revolved around Les’s book, Lisa’s Story — which for those of you who are new to the strip was a memoir about his wife dying of cancer — getting optioned by a Hollywood movie producer. This is what most people would consider to be good news, so of course it sends Les into a spiral of doubt, fear and shame. As long-time Funky Winkerbean readers/survivors know by this point, these are generally the only emotions anyone in Westview ever feels.

Summer, on the other hand, has been rocketed straight to the other end of the scale. Not only is she totally stoked about this shred of actual success (and the sweet, sweet option money that she needs to pay for her painful and humiliating knee injury), she has taken to loudly debating with herself about whether her mother’s agonizing death should be rendered in 3-D.

I should note, this question has made her the happiest person I have ever seen in this comic.

#10. May 14

At this point, the strip has completely descended into self-parody. Faced with the harrowing news that someone wants to give him a lot of money to maybe make a movie out of what is undoubtedly a smarmy tearjerker, Les has decided to seek guidance from others.

Of course, he doesn’t discuss it with Funky (his oldest friend and the title character of the strip, who isn’t seen at all this month so that we can revel in Les’s misery), he doesn’t discuss it with Susan and Cayla (the two women who are inexplicably attracted to him), and he definitely doesn’t discuss it with his daughter, who is the only other person who will actually be affected by his decision. Instead, he does what he always does, which is that he goes to sit alone and have a conversation with a hallucination of his dead wife, while everyone else does there best to pretend that Les is not dangerously insane.

Seriously, this happens all the time. Lisa’s been dead since 2007 and she’s still been in this strip more than Funky this year.

#9. May 17

Okay everyone, brace yourselves for a shock: It turns out that Les is being really pessimistic about something! I know. I was surprised too.

What’s interesting here, though, is that Les apparently has this vision of Hollywood — as run by Spider Jerusalem and Morticia Addams — that doesn’t routinely produce movies about people dying from cancer. Apparently, he has never seen an awards show in his life. Now that I think of it, though, that actually makes me a little envious of him.

Or maybe he’s worried that they’ll change the ending so that when Lisa dies, she isn’t escorted into a blank white void by a waiter in a drama mask. Seriously. That’s what happened in the strip. Look it up.

#8. May 18

Okay, first of all, Tom Batiuk makes a classic blunder in panel two by telling the audience that they could be reading a better comic than the one they have. Seriously, Les and Lisa as vampires might be Batiuk’s idea of a worst-case scenario, but I’m pretty sure it’s the one thing that could turn this strip around. Mopey, self-loathing bloodsuckers are all the rage with the kids today, and since Les already qualifies for two out of three, why not just go all the way with it? If nothing else, it’d give Lisa an excuse to be hanging around years after she died. And the crossovers! Ed Crankshaft: Vampire Hunter!

But for our purposes — cataloguing this strip’s never-ending descent into an inescapable sinkhole of despair — the real action is in Panel 3, where Les is told that his imagination is getting away from him by a figment of his imagination. In other words, Figment Lisa is so depressed from sitting as far away from Les on that park bench as she can and listening to him that she is attempting to engineer her own release into sweet oblivion by tricking him into not imagining things.

Imaginary Friend Suicide, everybody. This is what this strip has come to.

#7. May 21

And of course, the punchline to this little psychodrama: All of Les’s tortured indecision is ultimately pointless. Because of course it is.

It’s worth noting, though, that this is likely setting up a story where the movie will actually get made, forcing Les to relive the tragedy yet again. If that is what happens, and if Jess continues with her desire to make a documentary about her father’s murder (as seen last month), then this strip will be indulging in two separate plot lines about movies being made of dead cast members at the same time.

I’m calling it now: This will be where Les straight up snaps, probably after he falls in love with the woman playing Lisa and watches her pretend to die over and over until they get the right take.

Either way, it’s going to be pretty rough to get through for all of us. So before we move on to this month’s other plot, why not see what else is going on in the Funkyverse with a quick look over at Batiuk’s other strip, Crankshaft?

#6. Crankshaft – May 11

NO. NO NO NO NO NONONONONONONONO. MOVING ON. MOVING ON!

#5. Crankshaft – May 27

Whuff. You know you’re reading a Tom Batiuk comic where a strip about a guy telling his wife about the constant living Hell that was his childhood is the less horrifying option, especially if his abject terror snaps right back into a smirk for the punchline.

I never thought I’d say this, but this is so depressing that I need to go back to Funky Winkerbean.

#4. May 7

So in this month’s second plot, Les and Cayla finally had sex, and believe it or not, that‘s not the depressing part.

The depressing (and genuinely amazing) part is that immediately after, Cayla talks about looking into his eyes and seeing his dead wife. There is nothing I could possibly say to make that sound worse than it already is. This is how romantic relationships work in Funky Winkerbean: The living quite literally envy the dead.

#3. May 24

One would think that Les and Cayla — or “Layla,” for those of you “shipping” them on what would have to be the saddest Tumblrs ever — would be able to build a lasting relationship on their mutual obsession with Les’s dead wife, but it seems that all is not right in their romance. It seems that against her will, Cayla has inadvertently expressed a positive emotion, which means that it is time for the Funkyverse to strike her down like the fist of God. And the worst part is, she knows it’s coming even as she says it.

#2. May 25

Annnnnnnd there it is. I swear to you, this is followed by two days of Les and Cayla sitting in silence in the dark, each realizing that they have made a terrible mistake.

On the bright side, though, it’s nice to see that Bryan Lee O’Malley has finally decided to follow up Scott Pilgrim by filing in for Batiuk on art for this strip, and I’m sure his fans appreciate throwing in the glowing heads so that we’d know it was him.

And finally…

#1. May 6

This is quite possibly my favorite Funky Winkerbean strip ever.

It works on multiple levels. If this strip was the first time you ever read Funky Winkerbean, then you would have an immediate understanding of the hilarious dreariness that permeates every single panel. The drama in this one, the slow zoom through the rain towards the darkened window — there is no better description of this strip and the knowledge that something absolutely tragic is happening within.

And if you’re a long-time reader it’s even better, because this is the strip where Les and Cayla have sex.

I’m not kidding. This is what sex looks like in the world of Funky Winkerbean. And that pretty much says it all.

Still not depressed? Check out the 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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