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.
Before we dive into the horrors that November had to offer, a quick word of warning. I've been doing this column for, what, three years now? It's been a long time, and I've seen a lot of pretty grim stuff from Batiuk and Ayers, but this month... This month is quite possibly the single most depressing month of theFunkyverse that I have ever seen. It is unceasing, unstoppable, wall to wall hate, bitterness and misfortune. Even more than it usually is, I mean. Don't say I didn't warn you.
Funky Winkerbean, November 13
Before we dive into the real horror of the human condition, let's check in on the single most punchable man in comics, Les Moore! You may recall from a few months back that Les has been hard at work on his magnum opus, a made-for-cable movie based on his book about his first wife dying of cancer. The last time we checked in with this monumentally uninteresting saga, Les was smug over having written the most hack line of dialogue ever, but now it seems that the bloom is off the self-congratulatory rose. Turns out that writing an entire movie is a little more difficult than coming up with one bad line! Who knew?
Les, who is writing about a thing that literally happened to him and that he has already written an entire book about, has decided that he's probably just going to give up and wallow in failure, because what the hell else are you supposed to do when you're living in the world of Funky Winkerbean? Cayla, however, has other plans. It seems that she has finally realized that there's just no getting out of the all-consuming shadow that Lisa casts even from beyond the grave, and is fully giving in to being dragged down on the shipwreck that is the Moore household. "Here," she says, "just read your dead wife's diary that has now been at the center of three straight storylines. I'll be laying in a bathtub full of ice cubes to lower my body temperature for our date night."
Funky Winkerbean, November 15
Really, though, it's easy to see why Cayla just can't compete: Les and Lisa had an incredible connection, a connection that manifests itself in the fact that they share a truly awful sense of humor. I mean, look, I know Lisa was going through a pretty rough situation and trying to make the best of it, but she was also an imaginary character in a comic strip, so I don't feel that bad about saying that her joke about buckets of uranium was pretty awful. There's only one person I can really identify with in this comic, and it's the people at the hospital with their dead-eyed blank stares at the anti-comedy being placed before them.
Also, real quick question for my editors, can I bill ComicsAlliance for the monitor I cracked when I punched Les's dumb smirking face in that last panel?
Funky Winkerbean, November 18
Moving on to this month's major storyline, it's time for Darrin and Jess to have their baby, and, just like Les and Lisa before them, it's starting at Montoni's, the inescapable black hole of sadness and hatred that sits at the heart of Westview.
I try not to cover the same things that Josh writes about at the Comics Curmudgeon, but this strip is basically amazing. Jess and Darrin live above Montoni's -- they're in the same building, and if they're not in earshot of each other, they definitely have phones. But rather than using one, or just giving a shout, Jess realized she was going into labor, picked up her suitcase, and silently walked down a flight of stairs and into the restaurant where she stood with a look of pure disdain on her face and waited for a setup line so that she could essentially call her husband an idiot.
That's going to be a real happy family.
Funky Winkerbean, November 21
Hey look, Tom Batiuk has seen any sitcom.
Funky Winkerbean, November 25
Okay, so this one may not actually be that depressing in the traditional sense, but a) it's a sign of the level of baby-related comedy that we're going to be in for over the next few years, which is great because I always thought what Marvin was missing was to occasionally dip into abject despair, and b) it is super f**king gross.
Funky Winkerbean, November 26
Speaking of super gross, here's that bizarre comic strip that is literally about the Oedipal complex that you were looking for on a gray Tuesday afternoon. Enjoy!
Normally, I joke about looking for the lighter side of things in Crankshaft, the "funnier" sister strip of the Funkyverse, but this month, there's no stopping the pain train. Case in point, here's a strip that is literally about a child attempting to murder a man by throwing him under the wheels of a school bus. This is pretty depressing for three reasons.
First is the obvious, that this is a pun based on a kid committing an act of violence against an adult. If you stop to think about it for even a second rather than just allowing the smirking halfassed wordplay to wash over you and be gone, it conjures up a litany of harrowing scenarios built around justifying this premise. The best case scenario -- the best case, mind you -- is that we're just dealing with a deeply disturbed child who tried to kill someone.
Second: This is the second attempted bus murder in this strip in as three months. Part of me hopes that Crankshaft is just going to become an all vehicular homicide version of Law & Order and that 'Shaft and his dumb relatives are going to be phased out in favor a brutal crime story, but the rest of me knows that if the trend continues, it's just going to lead to cranky old people sitting around talking about how they're probably just going to end up as smears on the concrete.
Third, and most depressing: It wasn't Crankshaft who died under the bus.
Funky Winkerbean, November 5
All right, now we're really getting into dark territory. As you may recall, Funky and Holly's son Cory decided to celebrate his 18th birthday by signing up for a hitch in the Army, following in his cousin Wally's footsteps. Hopefully he won't follow in the part where he's caught by an IED, taken prisoner, and held hostage so long that he's declared legally dead before returning with PTSD, but, you know, this is Funky Winkerbean. Odds are not looking good.
Anyway, turns out that Cory has made a friend who's giving him a copy of a comic book -- and it's the same comic book that Funky used to read when he was a kid. Something they could've bonded over, but never did. Cue music.
Funky Winkerbean, November 23
While we're on the subject of children that were born just the other day, here's how the Funkyverse welcomes new life into the world: A panel that moves from happiness at new life right to Darrin's father, who never once told his son he loved him before a stroke robbed him of his ability to speak in anything but halting, garbled and mostly incomprehensible messages.
I'm not sure who actually colors this comic, whether it's Batiuk himself or if there's someone at the syndicate tasked with the job, but whoever added that gradient moving from the bright and sunny outside to the dark, shadowy spectre of death haunting the living deserves an Eisner.
Okay. So there was a minor plot in Crankshaft this month about Crankshaft and his similarly dyspeptic cronies deciding to try their luck at the lottery. There's a discussion of the astronomical odds, and then they give Crankshaft $75 -- money that I would assume they would otherwise spend on medication, though that's just me projecting -- and tell him to buy a big lot of tickets.
One more time, just we're all on the same page here, they send CRANKSHAFT, who until recently COULD NOT READ, to buy their lottery tickets.
If you guessed that this would not turn out well, congratulations, you are correct. But it will turn out even worse than you imagine.
See, CRANKSHAFT ACTUALLY WINS THE LOTTERY, but he forgets the tickets at the store, and so the clerk working the register, rather than tell this doddering old man who's pinning both his hopes and dreams and those of his only two remaining friends on this gamble that he forgot his ticket, HE KEEPS IT AND IS REWARDED BY THE UNIVERSE WITH $60,000,000.
So what's more depressing than that? I'm glad you asked! Well, not "glad," but I have to share this misery with someone, and since you've elected to keep reading despite all good sense, so you've been drafted.
Anyway, remember Mary, the new bus driver that Crankshaft tried to murder because she's happy, nice to others and seems to possess a soul? Well, here she is ON THANKSGIVING DAY, eating alone at a diner, isolated even at a time of togetherness while Crankshaft, miserable prick that he is, is surrounded by his loved tolerated ones.
It's worth mentioning that Crankshaft sees this, and while the usual formula would be for him to begrudgingly invite her to share in his Thanksgiving dinner, he -- and I swear to God this is what happens, you can go read it yourself -- avoids eye contact and ducks out. He does, however, think about it later, and it makes him sad.
Happy f**king holidays, everybody.