Over the past few months, I've become increasingly obsessed with Tom Batiuk's "Funky Winkerbean,"
thanks largely to the tireless coverage of Josh Fruhlinger over at The Comics Curmudgeon
What started in the '70s as a lighthearted high school comedy has slowly evolved -- through a series of time-jumps, spin-offs and character deaths -- into an unrelenting parade of suffering and despair, and I'll confess: I find it absolutely fascinating
. That's why I've devoted myself to chronicling the depths of the inescapable sinkhole of depression that shows up right next to the Junior Jumble, and while I've only been at this for a few months
, I can tell you with no uncertainty that August is one for the record books.
#10. August 3rd
After spending a few weeks with Funky himself traveling through time and learning the futility of his own existence (yes, really), the strip kicks off a new month by introducing a storyline for Wally
(Funky's nephew) and Rachel
, who works at Funky's pizza parlor. And like all interactions in "Funky Winkerbean," this charming look at young love starts with someone getting extremely excited at the prospect of genuine human contact, only to have her face slip back into the death-mask of ennui once she realizes it's just the niceties of society being observed.
You guys might want to settle in. This is actually one of the cheerier strips this month.
#9. August 4
As Rachel and Wally's conversation continues (which includes her bringing him a slice of pizza, literally the smallest possible kindness you could show to someone when you both work at a pizza parlor), we get a look at how conversation works in the world of Funky Winkerbean: It starts, of course, with someone awkwardly revealing a piece of their horrible depression, then quickly rescinding it while the other person pretends to ignore it, lest the cruel arbiter of their fate exploit their tragedy for the schadenfruede of the comics page reader. Too late, kids: You're already in the strip.
#8. August 5
Another thing you're going to notice about conversations in "Funky Winkerbean": People tend to refer to their lives in the same terms that people in prison use, except that working at Montoni's Pizza doesn't even have the promise of the sweet release provided by the electric chair.
#7. August 6
As you might've guessed from Wally's talk of loneliness and Rachel showing him exactly one milihug of concern (the milihug being a unit I've just invented to represent the smallest possible act of kindness that Rachel shows by giving him a piece of pizza instead of just, say, throwing it on the floor and asking him to clean it up), theirs is going to be a story of... well, I wouldn't go so far as to call it "romance," but "two people finding low-level comfort in a world that is actively working against them" is a little too wordy, so let's just go with "courtship."
And the first step in Courtship? Comparing lives to see who has it worse. Rachel's off to a pretty strong start here with a story of a doomed marriage that combines FW's two favorite themes, futility and regret...
#6. August 7
...but Wally brings out the big guns. That's right, everybody, buckle up for laughs, because we've got a story about Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder.
#5. August 9
We'll return to our doomed lovebirds in a moment, but first, this month's other major storyline, which involved Tony Montoni heading down to Florida to help clean up after the Gulf Coast oil spill. Admittedly, that's not all that bad (and it's actually kind of uplifting to see Tony volunteering for a good cause), but it's also
a comic strip in which someone's idea of a pleasant vacation is getting away from the constant tragedy of his friends to see some new, more tropical suffering.
#4. August 10
See, it's funny because after struggling through jobs they hate for their entire lives, their retirements have been ruined both aesthetically and
Okay, that's it. I can't take anymore. I need something to cheer me up a little or else I'm just going to go lay down in traffic. Oh, I know! I'll check in with "Crankshaft,"
Tom Batiuk's other strip, which is usually considered to be a more lighthearted spin-off of "Funky Winkerbean!"
Special Bonus Depression: Crankshaft, August 27
Aaaaaaaaaaand yep, that's a strip where an old man dies on-panel.
Okay, okay, let's be fair here: He's not actually
dead. Crankshaft just thinks
he's dead, which is a punchline so hilarious that Batiuk used it twice in three days
as the follow-up to a story about how the pseudo-corpse in question used to be really super racist.
Yeah. Back to Funky.
#3 and #2. TIE: August 18 & 19
"Hey, what's going on in the comics today?"
"Oh, you know. Garfield hates Mondays, Dilbert got his tie caught in the copier, and Funky Winkerbean's son went on a date to the county fair and the noise, lights and crowd prompted a flashback to his time in Iraq, where he almost shot a child."
"What about Marmaduke?"
"Still really big."
So what beats that?
#1. August 12
Last month, I said that Batiuk had hit his masterpiece with a strip involving Funky's incomprehensible ramblings about Elvis dying on the toilet, but this... This
is the entirety of the strip in a nutshell: The utter futility of trying to better the world because of its innate desire to ruin itself no matter what you do reduced to a three-panel gag strip. This is the Ur-Winkerbean
, the Platonic ideal of Winkerness from which all others spring.
And as a bonus, it ran on my birthday.
Well-played, Tom Batiuk. Well-played