FunkyWatch: October’s Most Depressing ‘Funky Winkerbean’ Strips
Over the past few months, I’ve become increasingly obsessed with Tom Batiuk’s Funky Winkerbean, thanks largely to the tireless coverage of Josh Fruhlinger over at The Comics Curmudgeon.
What started in the ’70s as a lighthearted high school comedy has slowly evolved — through a series of time-jumps, spin-offs and character deaths — into an unrelenting parade of suffering and despair, and I’ll confess: I find it absolutely fascinating. That’s why I’ve devoted myself to chronicling the depths of the inescapable sinkhole of depression that shows up right next to the Junior Jumble. I’ve been at this for a few months now, and the amazing thing I noticed in October is that the longer one reads this strip, the more depressing it gets. It just keeps building on itself like some kind of perfect tower made of human misery.
So let’s jump right in our selections for October’s nine grimmest Funky Winkerbean strips!
#9. October 9:
When I was going through last month’s strips to pick out the ones that were especially depressing, I had a real hard time trying to figuring out if this one, in which Becky and Rachel discuss the permanent, debilitating scars left on a man’s mind by the horrors of war, was actually depressing enough to make the cut. Then I realized that really, this one says it all. In any other strip, it would be the most despair-filled three panels to ever hit the comics page, but in Funky Winkerbean, it’s just Thursday.#8: October 4
The reason Becky’s as busy as a one-armed band director is of course that she is a one-armed band director, which you can tell from the brilliant bit of layout Batiuk pulled off in Panel 3, where he positioned Becky so that both her missing arm and the Westview Band logo were displayed prominently. That’s the craftsmanship of despair right there.
Of course, by Winkerbeanean standards, this is another one that’s actually pretty cheery — I certainly know plenty of people (myself included) who joke about their various injuries. I just get the feeling that in Funky Winkerbean, this is the only way people communicate, by listing off their tragedies to people who smile, smug in the knowledge that they have it worse.
It does do a good job of setting up the wrecking ball that hits four days later.
#7. October 8
In case you’re not familiar with it — or don’t have the necessary supply of antidepressants to go look it up — the backstory here is that Wally and Becky got drunk at a party and after,wards Wally was driving drunk, they were in an accident that resulted in Becky having her arm amputated. They were later married — they spent their honeymoon, I swear to God, in Afghanistan dealing with land mines — and split up before Wally went back to Iraq where he was taken prisoner by insurgents for several years, thus freeing him up for a relationship with Rachel, but I think the point that Batiuk’s trying to make here has less to do with all that and more with the fact that Wally literally took away her ability to hug.
Of course, that was back before he was so traumatized by his experiences in the war that he can barely leave his apartment during the daytime. I can see why Rachel’s so interested in pursuing a relationship with him!
#6. October 12
The other major plot this month involves the Lisa’s Legacy Race, a charity set up in the name of Les’s late wife, who died of breast cancer. It’s timed to mirror the real-life version organized by Batiuk to benefit cancer research, and seriously, as much as I might rip on Funky for being depressing, Batiuk himself seems like a pretty stand-up dude who does a lot for a very worthy cause.
In the strip, however, the event is conducted under the usual pall of despair so common among Westview’s citizens, where even the slightest attempt at humor (and that is a slight attempt) is met with apathetic disapproval from Les, and what I can only describe as dyspeptic sorrow from Funky. He won’t even look at her.
#5. October 17
In the strip that coincided with the date of the real-life running of the race, Funky is so consumed by pride that he orders his wife to slap the food out of an infant’s mouth. I’m pretty sure this is the first step towards Funky going mad with the power that came from running Montoni’s and declaring himself God-Emperor of Westview.
#4. October 28
Also coming to a head this month, the thrill-a-minute plot involving Les holding the signing for his new book at Funky’s restaurant. It thought it was interesting that he references This Is Spinal Tap, as it implies that at some point in the past, Les watched a comedy and probably laughed.
Then again, considering how morose he is when he brings it up — and the fact that I don’t recall anything quite as despondent as someone making a “mercy buy” to help Nigel St. Hubbins feel better about his failures — gives me the idea that maybe he straight up doesn’t know it was a comedy. I can picture him in the theater, taking it in as a completely unironic documentary, nodding to himself when Tiny Stonehenge is lowered to the stage and reflecting on his own deficiencies.
#3. October 21
Lady, if there’s one thing you don’t need to remind a cast member of Funky Winkerbean to do, it’s look sad.
#2. October 20
I haven’t been a dedicated reader all that long, but I’m going to go ahead and say that Les referring to himself as a whore is quite possibly the high point of the entire series.
I mean, really, even putting aside the fact that Les’s sudden realization that his good intentions of telling his wife’s story have led him to the hell of selling out on drive-time radio is so utterly despondent that it actually loops back around to being hilarious, “Blurb Whore” is just straight up fun to say.
I do think Batiuk could’ve done a little better with the punchline. “Blurb Paramour” is strong, but for my money, he could’ve gotten a little more mileage out of “Blurb Courtesan,” “Blurb Strumpet,” or my personal favorite, “Midnight Blurb Cowboy.”
#1. October 7
Admittedly, this one doesn’t have quite the soul-crushing zing of, say, #7 above, but for me, this one takes the cake this month. This is, after all, a strip where we learn that the world of Funky Winkerbean is one in which the characters live in such a constant miasma of despair that they need to cross-reference histories of personal tragedy just so they can tell who has post-traumatic stress disorder from the war, and who’s just operating on the normal levels of despondency.
It’s a better summary of the strip than pretty much anything since the seagull diving headlong into an oil slick back in August.
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