FunkyWatch: May’s Most Depressing ‘Funky Winkerbean’ 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.
I can’t really put my finger on why, but this month seems like a pretty good time for things that you thought were gone to come back in full force, which is exactly what happens in this month’s Funky Winkerbean. The entire month is given over to a story of greed, abandonment and pure, unadulterated rage. Which, now that I think of it, actually makes it pretty pleasant when you compare it to the usual Funky melodrama. Let’s get to it.Funky Winkerbean, May 2:
Before we get on with the main storyline this month, here’s a timely reminder that Les Moore, the strip’s infinitely hateable de facto main character who spends almost all of his time smirking at the shortcomings of others, is himself a miserable failure. Sure, he’s riding high off the success of a poorly written memoir about his wife’s slow death from cancer now, but as longtime readers will recall, his first book was a flop. Which, considering that it was about the sensational on-screen murder of a television personality and involved Les himself actually solving the crime, is pretty surprising. My personal theory is that the people of the Funkyverse are so used to the crushing despair of life that they instinctively reject anything that might provide closure, although judging from what we’ve seen of his screenplay for the Lisa’s Story movie, it might just be that he is literally the worst writer in human history.
What really puts this one over the top, though, is that he’s giving this to John Darling’s daughter Jess while smirking about what a huge failure it was. “Here you go, kid, the story of your father’s brutal murder at the hands of a madman. Don’t worry, nobody cared about it at all.” Classic Batiuk.
Funky Winkerbean, May 4:
Those of you who were paying attention during our brief absence will recall that the gentleman above, Frank Pierce (no relation) has been looming ominously in the background for a few weeks. Now, he’s making his move, and it turns out that he’s Darrin’s real father!
If you’re new, this might require some explaining, so get ready for a flowchart of horrible tragedies: Back in high school, Lisa went to a party hosted by football players from Westview High’s rival school, Big Walnut Tech. She got drunk and lost her virginity to a lunkheaded Big Walnut quarterback in the back of a van and got pregnant in what I assume was the most prominent use of date-rape on the comics page outside of that one Garfield story that never gets reprinted. Lisa gave up the baby for adoption, then married Les and died of cancer, which is a pretty sensible thing to do if you find yourself married to Les Moore. The baby, Darin, was adopted by the Fairgoods, one of whom never spoke to him as a child and recently had a stroke that robbed him of the ability to speak to anyone. The football player was never seen again until now.
Everybody caught up? Good. Now we can get to the really depressing stuff.
Funky Winkerbean, May 7:
Frank decides that the best course of action here is to just roll up into Montoni’s, Darin’s employer and, from what I can tell, the only actual business in the city of Westview. At this point, I think we can all agree that Frank is a bad guy, but no one — no one — deserves to sit down at a restaurant and be blindsided by one of Batiuk’s puns delivered from behind someone’s hollow-eyed rictus smirk.
Seriously. Save the inside jokes for the regulars, Rachel. Their souls have already been crushed.
Funky Winkerbean, May 11:
Way back in February, Darin said that the only way that he’d ever want to meet his birth father was if he was being held at gunpoint. I bring this up because while Darin is seething with years and years of repressed anger finally bubbling up to the surface, Jess could not be happier about this turn of events! Seriously, look at her! She’s delighted at this boiling family trauma about to unfold before her eyes, using whatever passes for feminine wiles in Funky Winkerbean to encourage him to do something that he finds only marginally preferable to death!
I almost wonder if her motivation here is that she and her husband can bond over father issues, since relating through tragedy is really only way that people in this strip can relate to each other. I mean, you’d think Darin would have enough there already, but I guess Jess just figures “deadbeat date-rapist” is a little closer to “murdered on live television” than “emotionally distant.”
Funky Winkerbean, May 14:
If there was any doubt left in your mind that Frank was an honest-to-God supervillain (and considering his name is “Frank Pierce,” there shouldn’t have been), he now has an actual menacing codename. Bio-Dad! You cannot tell me that doesn’t sound like someone that would’ve been throwing cars at the good guys in Youngblood or Bloodshot or Deathmate or whatever back in the ’90s. Personally, I hope that this is just the start of a story where more and more dudes show up claiming to be Darin’s father in a story called Bio-Dad Infinite.
Funky Winkerbean, May 23:
Okay, now this is where the litany of miseries that makes up Funky Winkerbean finally stretches my suspension of disbelief to the breaking point. It’s not that I don’t think Les would fill his cancer memoir with other tragedies to pad out the pages, complete with a bunch of awkward almost-puns to form some kind of textual smirk, but come on. Are we really to believe that Frank was sitting around with his business partner — they’re low-budget movie producers, despite the fact that Frank seems to spend his time drinking generic Beer in an apartment with crooked blinds, a sure sign of deadbeathood — bragging about Lisa? At best, at best, that was a one-night stand that he had in high school, and while I’m sure Frank is the type of fellow to live off his past glory, is that the story he’s going to share?
And how exactly was that connection made to Lisa’s Story? Did Frank’s recounting of boozy van sex include a postscript about how she married a wannabe writer and then died of cancer? I mean, it might’ve, I guess. That seems like the sort of thing these people would keep tabs on, and imagining Frank finishing up his bragging with “it’s really quite sad” is ten times funnier than anything that’s actually happened in this strip.
Funky Winkerbean, May 31:
So it turns out that Frank’s evil master plan is to capitalize on the upcoming Lisa’s Story film — a made-for-TV movie with lines like “I’ll be your friend even if I haven’t got the right words” — by producing and starring in a reality show where he reunites with the bastard son that he has neglected for the past thirty years. I’d go through all the ways that this is stupid, but none of us have that kind of time.
Point being, Darin has rejected this offer so hard that it turned Frank into Muppet Dick Tracy in panel 3. So let’s switch over to Batiuk’s other strip with artist Chuck Ayers and see what’s happening in Crankshaft!
Crankshaft, May 13
An adult wrote this.
Funky Winkerbean, May 13
Finally, we have this month’s winner, and it’s not so much that this is depressing as it’s something IN can relate to. Jess has clearly given up on trying to bat her eyelashes and get her husband to confront the vile machinations of BIO-DAD, and is now just sitting, eyes half-lidded in disgust, telling him to knock off the stupid attempts at smirking wordplay and just get to the painful emotional trauma that we’re all here to see.
It is exactly the same way that I read this strip.