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 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.
A few days ago, I wrote a little about how there aren't a lot of characters that I hate as though they were actual people, but let me tell you: After October's Funky Winkerbean strips, There is not an amount of money in my possession that I would not give for a chance to punch Les Moore right in his stupid, smirking face. I've been doing this column long enough that even the most harrowing depths of the Funkyverse don't really depress me, but last month, I learned that his self-satisfied smirk can still provoke a white-hot rage. Join me, won't you?
Before we get to Les and how my knuckles start aching every time he shows up, let's get Crankshaft out of the way. Aside from a strip about chopping firewood that ended with Crankshaft literally standing in his yard shouting at an openly hateful God to do his worst, which amazingly did not lead directly into Ed's death by lightning bolt, this was by far the most interesting storyline: The local paper, which is literally called The Paper, is cutting back to publishing only three days per week.
This, obviously, is a significantly more depressing subject if you're a person who makes their living in the world of print media, like, say, a syndicated comic strip creator, but just in case you weren't all that bothered by the death of print media, Batiuk and Ayers are going to go ahead and go straight to what we're all thinking: NUCLEAR ANNIHILATION.
I'm not sure what's better about this: The idea that Crankshaft (who has a television and access to the Internet) is afraid of the world ending without him knowing about it, or that he thinks the utter extinction of the human race could happen and he just wouldn't notice without the newspaper to tell him so.
Funky Winkerbean, October 29
Hey, remember how there was a long-running storyline about Wally Winkerbean, who was held prisoner in the Middle East long enough to be declared legally dead, and then returned with crippling PTSD that kept him isolated from everyone else in the strip for years?
Well, it's a good thing that's over, because now we get to make terrible, sarcastic puns about it! Ha ha!
Funky Winkerbean, October 6
Say what you will about Tom Batiuk's art and how he tends to lean pretty heavily on characters who are smirking so hard at their own awful puns that they appear to be having a stroke every time a third panel rolls around, but there is one place where he shines: He can draw the hell out of a person in mourning.
Between Keisha's downcast eyes and Summer's deathly pallor, I was genuinely expecting it to be revealed that Keisha wasn't speaking metaphorically, and that their college education had literally resulted in the death of one of the Williams-Moore daughters, which would be revealed on Halloween.
Instead, the storyline took an infinitely punchable turn.
Funky Winkerbean, October 7
So! It turns out that Les forgot his wedding anniversary last year. His first wedding anniversary. Which he forgot because he was too busy writing a movie about his dead first wife, whose ghost he had to petition for permission to get married again, a movie that he ultimately tanked on purpose so that it would not sully her saintly memory. My favorite part? This has never been mentioned in the strip before, meaning that Cayla has been sitting on this information, just biding her time, ready to break it out at just the right moment.
Funky Winkerbean, October 9
And that's not just me creating a headcanon where everyone is increasingly bitter and hateful to each other (and especially Les), either. I mean, I definitely do that and believe that the only way to make sense of this strip is to believe that everyone involved actually hates each other, but this time, it's actually canon.
Once again, we see Batiuk working in pallid reaction shots that make people look as though they've just died, and that she waited all night to set this up so that she could savor the reaction. "Your fear is delicious," says Cayla as she climbs into bed wearing a set of pastel pink undergarments from the Victorian era.
Funky Winkerbean, October 10
As it turns out, the only reason that it didn't turn into a bigger fight last year was that Cayla found Les's fear and panic to be amusing. His pathetic, shocked silence and shame over his betrayal of the living with his continued obsession with the perfect, angelic and doornail-dead Lisa is, apparently, one of the things his current wife finds most endearing. Well, that and the fact that it gave her the opportunity to produce a truly terrible pun, which is the only force in the Funkyverse more potent than barely restrained hatred.
Don't let any of that stop you from noticing that Cayla is activating her mutant weather control powers in Panel 2, though.
Funky Winkerbean, October 13
And this is where my hatred hits critical mass.
Seriously, Les's strategy for covering his ass over being too busy writing a 400-page paean to the perfect and deceased Lisa is to give her a script for a comic that he wrote. This could not be more of the very definition of a present that's about you but is actually about me -- specifically about Les and how great he is for being able to get past such a soul-shredding event as losing the flawless Lisa and being able to somehow work hard enough to find love with another.
And this is what I mean by hating Les as though he is an actual person and not a fictional character: Tom Batiuk makes comics for a living and fills them with references to superhero comics, so I know for a fact that he is a dude who respects the medium. And yet I cannot see Les as anything other than one of those dudes who has failed at books (his first one, the one that isn't about Lisa, was a flop) and at movies (specifically a movie that he insisted that he be allowed to write and which he is sure only failed because of the interference of professional moviemakers) and is now turning to comics, because heck, anybody can do those.I hate him so much, and this anniversary is only getting started.
Funky Winkerbean, October 15
And here's a joke for all the racist grandparents out there.
Funky Winkerbean, October 17
Truly, there is nothing more romantic than visiting a Chinese printing company to watch your masturbatory autobio comic be printed. Truly, the most romantic part of the process.
Also, good job having a character literally stand in the background talking about how great Les is for doing this. Very convincing. Not at all infuriating.
This, however, is more depressing for me than anyone else, since this means that I will inevitably have to sit through weeks of increasingly labored puns about China. I will be shocked if there's not a strip coming up in a few months where a tour guide talks about the determination required to build one of the country's most famous landmarks, and Les's head creaks open to smirk out "I guess it was the great will of China," and I'll be even more surprised if that isn't immediately followed by me putting my fist straight through my laptop.