FunkyWatch: October’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.
You know those episodes of Buffy about how demons and vampires tend to take Halloween off because they see it as amateur night? It seems Tom Batiuk is the same way. Rather than building up to one single tragedy when we’re all in the mood for horror and hauntings, he spreads the misery out, focusing on different vignettes about the slow death of joy in Westview — and also his strange delusion about how high school marching bands are something a lot of people care about.
Funky Winkerbean, October 11:
It’s that time of year again when Funky Winkerbean turns its attention to the annual Lisa’s Legacy Run, and it’s worth noting that this is also a real-life event that Batiuk has organized to raise money for breast cancer research. That’s not only a pretty respectable thing to do, but it also makes it difficult to make fun of the strips he does about the event every year. Difficult… but not impossible.
Take this strip, for instance, where the run has been interrupted by Funky collapsing from the sheer effort of moving his pizza-leadened bulk at a pace even slightly above “saunter.” This was apparently severe enough that an ambulance was brought in, but the moment someone bothers to express even the slightest amount of concern, Holly is quick to dismiss any concerns by uncorking that zinger about fall leaves she’s been working on. For those of you who may not be aware, Holly is Funky’s wife, and is therefore the single most likely person to have some kind of sympathy for him, but she can barely be bothered to shrug. The only reason she’s not actually rolling her eyes is that newspaper strips have yet to master animated gif technology.
Funky Winkerbean, October 12:
Given that Funky’s actual collapse occurred between strips and wasn’t punctuated by a blacked-out third panel, it was probably a safe assumption that that Funky was going to be fine and this was just going to be categorized under miscellaneous misery, but you wouldn’t know that by this strip. It’s Panel 3 that really does it, with its display of all three Funkyverse’s acceptable emotions.
First, we have Funky, mouth twisted into a hopeful pleading, denying that the Lisa’s Legacy race has done nothing but bring him five kilometers closer to death, the only type of hope that’s allowed in Westview. On Holly, we have the schadenfreude smirk so fueled by judgment over someone else’s misfortune that it has forced her mouth into a tiny corner of her head. And finally, we have Les, who is so cussing smug for no reason that I have never wanted to punch anyone as hard as I want to punch him right now. Ugh. These people.
Funky Winkerbean, October 19:
We’ll get back to the 5K in a little bit, but for now, we turn our attention to the other important annual event in Westview, the Battle of the Bands, a high school marching band competition which of course takes place during a monsoon, because that’s… hilarious? I think it’s meant to be hilarious. I’m not sure.
Anyway, this one is just the latest in a long line of Funky Winkerbean strips built around the premise that to show affection is, at best, foolish, and at worst, actually, physically dangerous. The only way it could be more typical is if someone was getting struck by lightning.
Funky Winkerbean, October 30:
Speaking of Funky’s relatives and dismissive attitudes towards caring about people, here’s an update on Cory, alias Son of Winkerbean. You may recall that he opted to join the military during wartime rather than spend one additional unnecessary second with his parents, and now we’ve found out that he’s been stationed, in true Winkerbean fashion, at a fort named for one of our country’s most memorable defeats.
I’ll be honest: This is one of the few strips in Funky history to actually make me laugh out loud. Not because of the joke about Fort Alamo, but because Funky cuts Rachel off before she can make it. “Yeah,” he says. “We got it. Holly and I have already smirked at each other for a solid minute about it, and then we told Les and he smirked. Next time don’t be late to work.”
Funky Winkerbean, October 21:
Another short storyline that we got this week concerned Wedgeman, the heavily chinned jock, shaking down Alex the Goth Girl for pills that she takes after lunch. Now, I’m pretty sure that taking medication with food is a pretty common instruction when you’re prescribed something and that your chances of getting high off a handful of, say, antibiotics are pretty slim, but the thing you have to remember here is that everyone at Westview High is dumber than a sack of doorknobs.
As it turns out — after the events of this strip are repeated for about three days to fill time — the pills in question were actually Metamucil, a fiber supplement and laxative. You’ll be happy to know that this particular aspect of the story was not followed up on, even to explain why a teenager is taking something that I don’t think anyone under the age of 60 has ever purchased.
Funky Winkerbean, October 25:
But in a genuine shocker, Wedgeman’s misdeeds actually were punished when he was kicked off the football team. This might strike you as strange, since last month someone was punished by having to join the football team, but when your go-to technique for punishing teens is to adjust their football team status, there are really only a couple of options.
Hey, how about we check in with Crankshaft for a second?
Crankshaft, October 29:
Hey, remember last month when Crankshaft literally tried to murder his new coworker by running over her with a bus? Well, now the bus has been repainted into a black engine of mortality. Fun times!
Funky Winkerbean, October 13:
Anyway, back to the Lisa’s Legacy run and this full-color Sunday strip about how Cayla lives in constant fear of being compared to Les’s dead first wife, and how relieved she is when it turns out that his feelings of inadequacy stem from something they can solve by throwing money at it. What a relief that he’s only terrible at organizing a charitable event and not actively pining for his idealized first love, huh?
Honestly, I think Cayla’s being a little paranoid here. I mean, sure, Les consults his imaginary perfect version of Lisa whenever he needs to make major decisions, and even sought Dead Lisa’s approval before he proposed to Cayla, and they’re quite literally standing at an event organized in her memory, while he is taking a break from writing his immensely stupid screenplay about her life and death, but it’s not like she casts a huge shadow over literally everything Les does, right?
Funky Winkerbean, October 8:
Oh right, I forgot they were reading Dead Lisa’s diary this entire time too. But like Summer says, it’s only sad when you get to the end. You know, the part where she dies? And then you remember she’s “not going to be around,” because she’s dead?
Other than that, it’s a laugh riot.