Normally, we'd leave this sort of thing to the great Josh Fruhlinger of The Comics Curmudgeon, but DC's upcoming "Wednesday Comics" prompted us to take a look at the newspaper comics page and have a few laughs. Instead, we were surprised to find strips so relentlessly soul-crushing that even Chris Ware would be jealous. So pop a few Prozac and get ready as the ISB's Chris Sims looks at 15 Suicidally Depressing Comic Strips!

The fact that "Family Circus" sucks is -- like the speed of light or Batman's awesomeness -- a universal constant. Still, we weren't quite prepared for just how incredibly bleak it could be, whether it's the scene where young Billy faithfully reproduces his parents shouting at each other over increasingly suspicious charges from a "business trip" to Las Vegas...

...or the fact that he spends his time reminiscing about the horrible charnel house hidden beneath the thin veneer of suburban life.

"What's going on in the comics today, son?"

"Same old stuff, dad. Garfield hates Mondays, Dilbert's in a boring meeting, and there's a woman in 'Dick Tracy' being mauled to death by dogs. I hope they show the mangled corpse of the dogs' other victims next!"

Spoiler Warning: They did.

With the recent worldwide economic crisis, many comics have started striving for more topical humor, although they seem to have left out the "humor" part. Especially hard hit were Hi and Lois, Lois having been in the real estate business since 1980. That led to this scene where Hi comes home to tell the children that not only will they not be going to Grandma's this winter, but that there's a pretty good chance they'll all be frozen to death by Christmas.

Worse yet was the fate of Marvin's grandfather, who not only lost everything in the market crash, but discovered that the man he thought was his best friend was only interested in bilking him out of his money, one dollar at a time, and that he is now both destitute and alone.

Even the once-stable Obese Rhinoceros-Man industry was hit pretty hard, leading to this "hilarious" installment of "Pluggers," where a sad man gives up the one thing that brightens up his life, presumably to raise money for another frequent "Pluggers" punch line: surgery.

Worst of all, though, is Cathy, who -- in addition to having to be Cathy -- has to deal with economic woes, her in-laws moving in after they lost all of their money, and vaguely ominous references to her dog vomiting at her job.

Taking a break from the financial crisis, here's "Herb and Jamaal" to remind us that a good night's sleep is little more than a brief touch of the cold embrace of death, which one day we will all know forever.

Then we have "Beetle Bailey"'s General Halftrack, who has apparently seen such horrible things in his time with the Army that he can't even deal with his harridan wife forcing simple human contact on him without the insulation of a stiff drink.

"Judge Parker," as one of the "serious" comics (like "Apartment 3-G" and the meddlesome "Mary Worth"), doesn't really fit in here, but really, a desperate woman lunging at the police with a knife and being shot at least eight times seems a little excessive.

Mell Lazarus's "Momma" is about a tiny, shriveled old woman who hates everything, constantly berates her children in increasingly inappropriate ways and, as seen here, occasionally rejects the grotesque and surprisingly explicit sexual advances of another tiny, shriveled senior citizen.

At 90 years old, "Gasoline Alley" is only slightly younger than the average comic strip reader. In this laugh-a-minute installment, one of the characters considers how much better his life would be if he were dead, rather than in the throes of crippling debt.

The best thing about this installment of "Funky Winkerbean," which started as a high school comedy and evolved into a treatise on aging and mortality, is that writer Tom Batiuk rejects the traditional third-panel punch line in favor of a silent panel of two men thinking about how they and their relatives are going to die soon. Enjoy today's Jumble, kids!

During its 29-year run, "For Better or For Worse" had its characters age in "real-time," which led to the occasional heart attack among both the family dog and the more elderly human characters. But really, that's a fact of life, and it's not like the strip's happier events, like the wedding in the final act that followed the Worst Proposal Ever, weren't marred by any depressing --

Oh, right. The other heart attack. Never mind.

And finally, we have "Crankshaft," one of two spin-offs of "Funky Winkerbean," the other being a strip called "John Darling," featuring a charmingly quirky talk-show host who was murdered on-panel in its penultimate strip. Even that pal
es in comparison to the daily life of "Crankshaft," which, like "Momma," is about a senior citizen who hates everything, but with the added twist that his friends are dying so fast that he doesn't even put away his "funeral shoes" before another one drops.

Also, according to Wikipedia, Crankshaft was illiterate for most of his life, had a son who died in infancy, and...

...became the subject of degree of controversy when Batiuk wrote a cartoon that some readers and editors thought trivialized rape by saying that only young, attractive women need to fear sexual assault, implying that rape was in some sense a compliment. It was pulled from publication in at least one paper.

"Calvin & Hobbes," we miss you more than ever.

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