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.
This month, things are obviously a little shaky for me, but as is so often the case, I find that it’s pretty easy to take solace in the misery of others, especially when “others” means “Les Moore and his infinitely punchable face,” and I gotta say: Over the past few weeks, this thing has been in rare form. Evil fathers! Memories of cancer! The phrase “he was murdered when I was a baby!” It’s a good one. For certain values of “good.”
Funky Winkerbean, April 12:
For those of you who haven’t been obsessing over this strip for the past two years, Lisa’s Story is the memoir Les wrote about how his first wife died of breast cancer, and is, to date, the only bit of success that he’s had in his career as a writer. The big development in April has been that it’s finally been optioned for a movie — or in this case, a made-for-cable deathstravaganza — and that Les himself has been given the job of writing the screenplay.
This is important information to know, because what you see above is a strip where we find out that Les’s reaction to the prospect of sitting down and reliving his first wife’s slow, painful death is to get horny enough to start straight up pawing at his current wife until she physically shoves him out of the room.
Funky Winkerbean, April 26:
Meanwhile, over in our B-plot, we have what might actually be a happy moment if it wasn’t for literally every single thing going on around it. Jessica and Darrin are announcing to Darrin’s parents — well, his adopted parents, his real parents are the Very Dead Lisa and a guy who will be important in about six paragraphs — that Jessica’s pregnant. That’s good news, right?
Well, except for the part where Darrin’s dad powers through his recent stroke (because of course he had a recent stroke) to reveal that he never once explained to his son how sexual reproduction works, and Darrin responds by brushing off his father in favor of getting a zinger in about how his dad was less caring and informative than an actual inanimate object.
Listen. As my Google history will attest, I’m not a prude by any stretch of the imagination. I literally have a stack of comps from Vivid Video sitting by my desk waiting for me to write reviews nitpicking the continuity. But there is nothing, nothing that has made me more uncomfortable than having Darrin casually chat about internet porn with his mom.
Funky Winkerbean, April 1:
Oh, here’s something a little more wholesome: Bullying!
I can’t decide which would be weirder: Opening up a newspaper and seeing this strip in complete and utter isolation, sitting there between Garfield and Peanuts, with three silent panels of people being genuinely horrible to each other, capped off by a weary face looming, or actually reading Funky every day and watching this strip lead into Owen getting a lecture about the Lone Ranger. Seriously: That is what happens.
Funky Winkerbean, April 30:
Back at the Fairgood place, Jessica is expressing her excitement about pregnancy in about the way you’d expect: By talking about how she really wants to finish the documentary about her father’s murder.
Putting aside for a second that the second panel is one of the finest examples of pure, uncut Winkerbean, this one might require a bit of explanation. See, while there are currently two strips set in the Funkyverse, there was once a third; John Darling, a spinoff that followed the adventures of a dimwitted, self-absorbed talk show host. It ran for about twelve years, but when Batiuk got into a conflict over ownership of the strip in 1991, he solved the problem by having Darling cold murdered on-panel in what had up to that point been a gag strip and then ending the next day. Then he used it as a plot point in Funky.
I might make fun of the dude’s comics, but never forget that Tom Batiuk is a straight up baller.
Crankshaft, April 27:
Speaking of Funky‘s spinoffs, here’s an installment from Crankshaft, the more gag-oriented strip that, according to its official description, “engenders reader loyalty with its engaging storylines and Crankshaft’s muddled aphorisms.” It’s about how the world around us is recognizable only as a series of painful injuries.
Funky Winkerbean, April 18:
If there’s one thing that Funky Winkerbean has been missing all these years — aside from, you know, the concept of joy — it’s honest-to-God actual super-villainy, so you can imagine how giddy I am at this strip. While his identity remains unrevealed, I am all but certain that the dude who appears in Panel 3 here is actually Darrin’s birth father, the jock who got Lisa drunk, took her virginity in the back of a car, knocked her up and never spoke to her again in one of the strip’s earliest flirtations with focusing on the horrors of the human condition.
I mean, who else could it be? Look at that dude! He’s sitting around his house in a wifebeater with his blinds all askew drinking a generic can of “Beer!” The only way he could be more evil is if he turned around and broke the fourth wall by staring at us with an evil smirk.
Funky Winkerbean, April 28:
See? SEE?! This dude might just clock in at above 400 milihitlers. Although knowing Funky Winkerbean and its tendency to disappoint me when I actually want to see these people have their lives ruined, it’s just as likely that he’s coming back to apologize for, you know, ruining pretty much everyone’s life. That generic beer, though… I hate to say it, but I’m holding out hope.
Funky Winkerbean, April 21:
Oh fuck you.
Keep up with Funky Winkerbean in your local paper, or on Chron.com!