FunkyWatch: August’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.
As summer (jokes about explosive cookouts) fades into fall (jokes about homework), August finds the Funkyverse in a transitional period. While there are a few storylines going on in this month's strips, they're mostly just getting things in order for the next big stories -- but since this is Funky Winkerbean we're talking about, that just means that instead of horror and depression at what's actually going on, it's horror and depression about what's going to happen.
Funky Winkerbean, August 11:
The major development from last month's strips is that Wally and Rachel are getting married! You remember Wally and Rachel, right? If you don't, he's Funky's nephew who was held prisoner in the Middle East and returned with PTSD so severe that he never spoke to anyone and couldn't walk down the street without being paralyzed with fear that he was about to trigger an IED or be forced to shoot a child. Rachel (who somebody forgot is a redhead and not a blonde) is the single mother who works at a pizzeria who apparently finds that extremely attractive.
Incidentally, I mention that Rachel is a single mother because that's what it says on Wikipedia, but I don't actually know if that's true. I've been reading this strip daily for four years now, and I don't think I've ever seen her kid, and considering the number of strips we've had about Wally's dog, I'm starting to get worried that Batiuk has him working in some kind of spice mine beneath Montoni's. But anyway.
Wally's mental state has recently improved thanks to the support of both Rachel and Buddy, his therapy dog (but mostly Buddy), and now, he's doing exactly what someone who has just recently gained mental stability after a long illness and doesn't have his financial situation in order at all should do: Jumping right into a marriage with the first person to ever speak to him after he was traumatized!
It oughtta be pretty good next month is what I'm getting at here.
Funky Winkerbean, August 26:
Or maybe we'll just get yet another interminable storyline about how the budget's being cut at Westview high. I'm sure there's still a few puns we haven't gotten out of that setup from the past one thousand times it's been used before, right?
What's interesting is that Batiuk has used this so many times that the budget cuts have to be insanely deep to even come close to being a new storyline, so this time, they've gotten around to cutting out lunch. Now, I realize intellectually that this means eliminating the lunch program, laying off the kitchen staff and all that, but given how life in Westview seems to be going, I'm picturing the school board just eliminating the concept of lunch. There is now just a 45-minute section around noon where the students are instructed to sit quietly with the lights off that will continue until the economy improves.
Funky Winkerbean, August 19:
Meanwhile, the victim of last year's budget cut storyline, the football team, is trundling along at a miserable pace befitting a team officially named the Westview High School Scapegoats. The real harrowing thing about this strip, though, is that Batiuk comes to a perfectly reasonable punchline and then crams Funky's reaction in there after it. Why would you do that?! Why would you continue past the point of a punchline and just turn it into a regular conversation between two grumpy lumps of men? It doesn't add anything to the comic! It literally just trails off into nothingness!
Tom Batiuk, you are the Jean-Ralphio of writing jokes.
Funky Winkerbean, August 12:
Oh, I think I've found the problem: Tom Batiuk literally has no idea what the word "humor" means. That... that explains a lot, actually.
Funky Winkerbean, August 14:
As this storyline continued and proved that it's never too early to start doing endless strips about a high school marching band -- unless it's still mid-August, in which case, yes, it is way too early for that -- things eventually got downright weird. Case in point, a reference to the inflatable football helmet (last seen destroyed by an errant cleat, prompting what I assume was an off-panel replacement that caused the current WHS budget crisis) that suddenly swerved into becoming a Heironymous Bosch painting.
No matter how hard I try to forget it, the disembodied head of Harry Dinkle vomiting students onto a football field, emerging from a mouth that's way too small to admit them in an endless stream, eyeless but all-seeing, the sight will remain with me for the rest of my days.
Funky Winkerbean, August 15:
At least it's nice to know that I'm not the only one being driven to Lovecraftian madness by the Band Camp storyline. Well, "nice" isn't really the word, but then we have no words to describe Funky Winkerbean in our modern tongues that have forgotten the touch of the Old Gods, do we?
Best switch over to Crankshaft for a bit.
Crankshaft, August 8:
After a brief early storyline where the neighbors suspected Crankshaft of literally enslaving his elderly neighbors and putting them to work tending to his garden while he reaped the profits (basically a senior citizen version of that one episode of Batman: The Animated Series, "The Forgotten"), this month's Crankshaft kicked off in earnest with a series of strips where Batiuk chronicled a series of bad decisions that led to a fiery disaster of Looneytunsian proportions. It's actually a really good series of gags, but the thing I like most about is that it's perfectly suited for the Funkyverse. There is nothing more Batiukesque than gleefully chronicling the errors and regrets of a person's life and how they all add up to something horrible, and then trying to wring some comedy out of it.
The best part, though? Halfway through the first week -- and this thing goes on for two weeks, in case you were wondering what the worst part was -- Batiuk and Ayers realize that they need to go back in time to add even more bad decisions to Crankshaft's past, prompting this little Mistake Zero. They started chronicling regrets and could not limit themselves to one timeline. That is fantastic.
Crankshaft, August 9:
Oh, and just in case you were wondering, the actual incident involved Ed faceplanting into a bunch of bees while on fire.
This seriously might be my favorite Crankshaft ever, if only because I have been trained to delight in the suffering of the main characters
Crankshaft, August 19:
As Josh Fruhlinger pointed out over at the Comics Curmudgeon, this strip makes one interesting thing about the Funkyverse clear: Despite their constant state of petulant smirking, hatred for those around them is something these characters have to actively practice lest their skills atrophy into quiet tolerance. The strips that follow this one involve Ed actually being disappointed that his scowl can only inspire mild discomfort rather than outright physical pain, but I picked this one to spotlight because his over-the-shoulder practicing and Ayers' grim death-mask of a scowl make him look like he's trying to snap his own neck.
Crankshaft, August 4:
And so we come to this crushing monument to the human condition.
Taken in tandem with that last strip, you get a pretty harrowing picture of Crankshaft: A man who has no friends, who has never had any friends, and who has realized that he is such an unappealing husk of a man that he can only interact with them through hatred and anger. What puts it over the top, though, aside from the fact that this is literally a strip that ends with Ed staring at an empty baseball field and thinking about how everyone he knows is either dying or dead, is the narration, which is done in the style a proverb about how summer afternoons are times of silent isolation.
Is this... is this an actual proverb? I've never heard it before, and aside from the heat, I've always thought summer afternoons were actually kind of pleasant and not at all times to bury your face in your hands and weep from the pain of eternal loneliness. But to be fair, I got out of Ohio pretty early. Could be a regional thing.