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.
After last month's strips involved an intervention from the Almighty Himself voicing his disapproval for even the slightest bit of happiness, you might think that Tommy B would take a few weeks to ease off the pressure a little bit, but you would be a fool. A fool. Things never actually get any better in the Batiukverse, and never is that more evident than this month, when the strip heads to that most nightmarish of all places: San Diego Comic-Con. Seriously.
Before we get to San Diego, there's another West Coast adventure going on in Funky Winkerbean this summer, as Les continues to try to help a TV network called "Cable Movie Entertainment" hammer his terrible book about his dead wife into a screenplay that people would actually watch. Or, you know, at least into something that they'd leave on in the background while they microwaved whatever sad meals you eat when you're the kind of person who watches made-for-cable movies about people dying in Ohio. Anyway, to that end, Les has been brought out to LA so that he can rewrite his movie, and now he's settling in to get the job done.
You know, in virtually any other situation, I would say that watching a man turn away from the physical manifestation of his depression to ask someone to bring him poison so that he can commit suicide would probably be something of a warning sign, but here, it's pretty much just business as usual.
So it turns out that Les isn't the only one taking a crack at rewriting Lisa's Story, and the biggest change the studio has made is that in their version, Lisa doesn't die. It turns out that apparently people actually want to watch made-for-cable movies where people live in Ohio. For the record, this assertion makes less sense than literally anything that has ever happened in Garfield, up to and including that one week of stories where Garfield woke up in a strange and horrifying dystopia where Jon and Odie were dead.
Needless to say, Les is pretty upset about all this, and I'm actually kind of surprised by that. I'd think that he might find exploring a world where things worked out differently and Lisa survived. But on the other hand, a) I might just be so bored by this plot that I'm fantasizing about mashing it up with the series finale of Roseanne, and b) that would probably be an affront to Les's entire being, since he defines himself purely by his association with his dead first wife.
Over in Crankshaft, this month has been disappointingly dull, with the majority of the time taken up with a story where one of Ed's idiot neighbors decides to trust him with the well-being of her possessions while she's off on vacation, only for Ed to end up destroying her entire house and then having to pressure the crew of a television show to rebuild it in two days. It was completely bananas, but not really in an entertaining way. It was more like going over to your grandparents' house and listening to them describe the plot of a show they saw on HGTV, which, I suppose, is almost exactly what it was.
After that, though, things really picked up, when Batiuk and Ayers turned their comedic laser to what has to be one of the last untapped sources of comedy available to the American humorist: Jury Duty! Seriously, has anyone ever made jokes about this? It's such a hassle! There are so many fresh, new and funny situtations that you could build a comic around Jury Duty, especially if you're using a character who seems so unlikely as Crankshaft! I don't think he takes his civic responsibilities very seriously at all! Ha ha!
Anyway, enjoy this comic where Crankshaft goes hard on the NSA's domestic surveillance scandal.
It is rare that I get angry with Funky Winkerbean -- I've been doing this for like four years now and the constant parade of misery has worn down every emotion I have that isn't schadenfreude -- but man oh man, I was angry at this one. I know at least four people who would be stoked to read "Frosty the Snowman vs. Frankenstein." I mean, I'm sure it wouldn't quite hit the heights of Santa Claus vs. Dracula, but still, that is a comic book that I want to read right now.
Instead, we are entering the 947th year of the storyline about Holly trying to track down the final issue of Starbuck Jones so that she can complete her son's collection and then presumably bury it with him immediately thereafter.
Funky Winkerbean, July 16
In order to find the last issue of Starbuck Jones that she needs, Holly decides to swap one nightmarish hellscape of endless suffering for another by leaving Westview and joining John and Crazy Harry on their trip to San Diego for Comic-Con. This is, to say the least, a pretty dubious plan, since it operates on the assumption that you can actually buy back issues at San Diego. I was there for four days this year and I think I saw like two booths with dollar books. For comparison, I saw twice that many stars of hour-long CBS dramas, so good luck finding that comic you need, Holly.
Anyway, aside from trying to wedge comics back into Comic-Con and not just having Holly spend 48 hours in line for the Lust For Lisa panel in Hall H, this is actually a pretty accurate portrayal of Comic-Con. It's all costumes and spending too much money and speculation about upcoming movies and people with no concept of the social contract. It's just not usually all of that at the same time.
Also, these strips ran the week before Comic-Con, so it was like I had to experience it twice this year.
Funky Winkerbean, July 20
Most of the time, I think that Funky tends to be horrifyingly depressing by accident rather than by design, but this is one strip where I think it actually works in reverse. On the surface, we have Holly, abandoned by her friends, left alone and hopeless in an empty convention center, having failed to complete the simple act of kindness that she traveled over 2,000 miles for the sole purpose of accomplishing, letting down both herself and her son, who is risking his life in service to his country.
On the other hand, an empty San Diego convention center with all the crowds and most of the booths gone? That's basically the ideal way to experience Comic-Con!
Funky Winkerbean, July 26
Believe it or not, though, there is a such thing as a happy ending, even in Funky Winkerbean. Well, sort of. Even happy endings have to rely on the Law of Conservation of Misery.
Case in point: It seems that while Holly herself was a miserable failure, John managed to track down the elusive Starbuck Jones #115. Rather than let her know about this while they were actually at the convention so that she could celebrate and wouldn't have to, oh, I don't know, waste her time wandering around an empty convention center, John decided that the best way to give it to her would be through an elaborate deception that involved planting it in a 25¢ box at Tony's "Garage Con."
Tony, incidentally, is based at least visually on comics veteran Tony Isabella. The twist is that while Tony was instructed to act shocked when Holly found it, he's not acting at all when she finds the ultra-rare ashcan issue that he actually did put in there by mistake. In other words, while Holly actually did find the comic she was looking for, the creator of Black Lightning is legit having a heart attack in this panel while his pals from Ohio smirk about the whole situation. Great job, Holly!