FunkyWatch: September’s Most Depressing ‘Funky Winkerbean’ And ‘Crankshaft’ Strips
Thanks to Josh Fruhlinger at the Comics Curmudgeon, I started reading Tom Batiuk’s long-running newspaper comic strips, Funky Winkerbean and Crankshaft. 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.
Over the past month, my obsession has been fully rewarded. Not only did September’s strips see Batiuk taking former He-Man writer J. Michael Straczynski to task for bailing on his Superman run, but we also got the promise of future tragedy and Funky Winkerbean characters literally longing for death! Truly, it was the start of the Winkerbeaniest season of all.Funky Winkerbean, September 12:
I covered this one back when the strip first hit, but the unquestionable highlight of the month — not just in comics, but in my actual life — for me was seeing Tom Batiuk vent his frustration with J. Michael Straczynski bailing on “Grounded.” I mean, it’s one thing to see Batiuk’s occasional nods to his life-long love of super-hero comics,, but to see him get all mad about it a year after everyone else? It’s truly amazing.
Of course, even this little bit of cross-platform sniping is still filtered through the usual Winkerbeanian miseries. In this case, the sad sack in question is Pete Roberts, who was established a while back as the writer of Superman, and who is only ever seen when he’s desperately trying to keep from being crushed by deadlines. As far as I can tell, that sick burn up there about JMS ditching Superman after a mere four months is actually a fantasy that Pete’s having in order to talk himself out of giving a crap about this script he’s trying to write. But to his credit, Pete takes things way more seriously than his predecessor.
Of course, considering that his hard work resulted in a story about “The Cloud” (as in, the actual concept of online file storage) being defended from a supervillain by a new hero named “The Silver Lining,” maybe he shouldn’t have bothered.
Funky Winkerbean, September 6:
Aside from Batiuk’s continued frustration with DC Comics — and we could bond on that one all day, bro — the major source of drama in this month’s strips came from Funky’s son, Cory, revealing that he actually knows a lot of big words that don’t quite make sense when you use them all in a sentence, and that Funky isn’t quite clear on how college applications work. Oh, and that Cory is opting to enlist in the military. And really, it makes complete sense that he would. I mean, he grew up with his cousin Wally who served in Iraq, and that worked out okay.
Well, except for that time he was captured and held prisoner by enemy forces for years, declared dead, and came home to find that his wife had moved on to a new marriage, after which he suffered from debilitating post-traumatic stress disorder that found him unable to interact with anyone other than a dog that he got from a prison. But other than that…
What I’m getting at here is that if you’re a fan of Cory Winkerbean — and I can’t even begin to imagine that you are, but just in case — you may want to go ahead and say your goodbyes. It’s been too long since Batiuk’s killed anybody off, and Cory just jumped to the top of the hit list.
Funky Winkerbean, September 9:
I am absolutely convinced that this strip was originally intended to have a drastically different ending.
Seriously, look at panel four. That is not the pop that you get from an inflatable football helmet being punctured by the cleats. That is the explosion that you get from Bull Bushka accidentally filling it up with propane gas and then leaning against it for a smoke break at the start of the game. There is nothing you can say that will convince me that Batiuk didn’t finish lovingly inking Funky’s horrorstruck reaction to the Westview High Scapegoats being scattered all over the field in a fine red mist and only then deciding that it probably wouldn’t be worth the hassle he’d get from running that strip right under Garfield in the Sunday Herald.
Crankshaft, September 9:
For those of you who may be new readers, Crankshaft is a lighthearted comedy about a hateful old man that thrives on causing misery to everyone around him. For most of the year, he gets his kicks as the biggest a-hole to ever drive a schoolbus, and if it’s September, it must be time for stories about new and different ways to torment parents trying to get their kids safely to school!
In this case, Crankshaft has decided to test a mother’s devotion to her child by casually ignoring her desperate shouts and refusing to stop so that she can give lunch to her kid. What’s it going to be, lady? Will you choose to run alongside the bus, trying to keep pace and choking on its fumes as it nears the next stop, or will you give up and return home, knowing that your child will go hungry today? These are the choices you get when you live on Crankshaft’s route! It’s a real laugh riot!
Crankshaft, September 2:
The fact that Crankshaft’s dumb son-in-law (whose name I can never remember and cannot be bothered to look up even after two years of doing this column) hears an Emergency Broadcast System alert and immediately thinks “oh, this must be nuclear armageddon” is the least surprising thing that has ever happened in a comic strip. Having the threat of the actual apocalypse be the one thing that actually motivates him to get up and say something nice to his wife, though? That’s the Tom Batiuk Touch.
Funky Winkerbean, September 10:
Speaking of what passes for romance in the Funkyverse, Les and Cayla’s wedding is finally on the horizon, and promises to be a truly joyous event. So joyous, in fact, that now that nothing’s distracting her from the cold reality of being about to enter has passed and she’s faced with the prospect of marriage to the mopiest dude in town, Cayla is literally asking for someone to murder her with a gun.
This, incidentally, is definitely the appropriate response when you’re faced with having to spend the rest of your life with Les Moore.
Funky Winkerbean, September 3:
For his part, Les continues to prove himself too cowardly to even hope for death, unsure of whether he’ll be welcomed to Heaven by the spirit of his dead first wife, or whether she will cast him into the most bitter circle of Hell for his betrayal in turning to the arms of another woman. Instead, he seeks the sweet oblivion that only chemicals can bring, a dreamless living death where his body will continue to act as a prison to keep a vengeful spirit from sinking its claws into his very soul.
You might thing I’m reading a little too much into this, but consider that even if I am, this is still a strip where the punchline is someone saying the words words “medically induced coma.”
Crankshaft, September 4:
This strip is amazing.
I’ll admit that I’ve developed a certain kind of affection for the strips where Batiuk and Ayers put the misery and hatefulness of their characters on display, but this one… Man. It’s almost subtle — at least, by Crankshaft standards — in that you’re on your way to a “joke” about how politicians try to create voting districts that oppress minorities and holy sh*t did she just say that Crankshaft got someone’s mother put in “an institution” last year?!
Where is THAT comic?! Seriously, I’ve read every single Crankshaft strip for the past two years and I’m pretty sure I would remember reading about that. At the same time, even without seeing it, I have no trouble believing that Crankshaft is fully capable of driving someone quite literally insane with rage to the point where their life is effectively ruined, and that they would swear revenge. But it’s just the way Lena says it, dropping it so casually in panel 2 as though this is something that happens at everyone’s job. Ha ha, people that you get committed and their wacky homicidal revenge plans, am I right? It’s not even the punchline!
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