What The Flipping Heck Is *Wrong* With You, Funky Winkerbean?


If you’ve ever entered “funky winkerbean” into Google for some reason you’ve probably noticed the autocompletes are “misery porn” or “depressing” or “cancer cancer cancer cancer death die cancer death”. I haven’t checked recently but that’s all right. The strip made a staggering reputation for itself in the 90s and 2000s when Tom Batiuk decided to make it a serious issue-addressing strip by making everybody in it miserable and giving lead character Les Moore’s wife Lisa the traits of (a) being Les Moore’s wife and (b) having plot cancer. It’s an especially pernicious kind of cancer, what with how it can reappear years after a heartwarming conclusion just when the author thinks the readers least expect it, even though the readers have been saying in the comments section how they expect it ever since it went into remission.

So. Funky’s Ambiguous Relative (I think he’s a nephew maybe?) Wally had it particularly hard during the Misery Porn years. He went from troubled youth to soldier in Afghanistan, where he was captured by Enemy Forces and held captive for years. He was freed, though, and went home, but it turned out he still had a day of service left and so was called back to duty and shipped to Iraq. And by this point the readers’ relationship with Funky Winkerbean was so bad that even if this were based on something that actually happened to somebody it didn’t matter. None of us were buying it. And then he got captured by More Enemy Forces and held for … a very long time.

It’s hard to say how long. While Wally Winkerbean was off in Enemy Forces hands the strip did its second big “time jump”. This was a half-considered flash-forward after the Death Of Lisa Moore, Who Somehow Keeps Appearing In The Comics A Lot Considering How Dead She Is. The purpose of this was to allow Les Moore to transition from being a widower traumatized by his wife’s recent death from plot cancer into being a widower who’s somehow not even remotely over his wife’s death ten years before. I mean, to an extent I’m sympathetic. Should I outlive my love by a decade-plus I know there will be days I will be miserable, like anniversaries and my love’s birthday and some other special days. “Special days” does not mean, as it does to Moore, “weekdays, plus Sundays, and Saturdays too”. My love understands: a decade on, there will be days I smile even without having a reason.

Anyway, during the time jump, in which Funky Winkerbean got everybody ten years older and more decrepit while sister strip Crankshaft didn’t even though the comics share a universe and sometimes cross over into each other, Wally was held captive. Was he captive for more than ten years? Or was his captivity just retconned into the recent-yet-now-technically-unseen past? Good question and nobody has the faintest idea, Wally included.

As you might imagine Wally came out of this with post-traumatic stress disorder. It’s a terrible case. Its primary trigger is being seen on-panel for his one storyline a year, which is about how he’s totally over his post-traumatic stress disorder unlike when he thought he was last year and now he’s ready to take some classes at Local Community College. And then we got to last week’s iteration of the story, in which Wally’s regularly present female companion of some relationship interrupts Funky’s work on his Tiny Laptop with a plan that can’t in any way possibly go wrong:

'Let me get this straight. You're going to the Monsters Of Metal Show to help Wally get ready for school?' 'Exactly. There's going to be a big crowd with lots of noise and pyrotechnics. It's sort of a final exam for his PTSD.'
Tom Batiuk’s Funky Winkerbean for the 3rd of August, 2016. I know I’ve only taught a few community-college courses. And they’ve been in mathematics, which Wally might not be interested in taking. But we never used pyrotechnics, not for explaining the z-score. We more used the motion-sensor light switch no mortal power could override and that would make the lights cut out when I was sitting down because it was the middle of an exam and I could see everybody was being discreet about their cheating. But the class was at two in the afternoon and there were windows all along the wall so the room would just suddenly go from a little too bright to really quite pleasant instead. The z-score is a mathematics thing in which we subtract one number from another, divide it by a third number, and call the result ‘z’. Not just any numbers; we pick those for special reasons ahead of time and call them x and μ and σ and if they mind they’ve never said so.

OK. Since the second Time Warp (the first one was in the early 90s when original characters finally graduated high school, then came back to work at the high school and suffer for it) Funky Winkerbean has moved away from its Misery Porn incarnation. It’s been much more about aged people sitting around being depressed. Also about praising this imaginary comic-book franchise named Starbuck Jones that’s produced some nice looking Silver Age-style covers and no actual stories. And the occasional halfhearted attempt to bring back the pre-1992 era’s flights of fancy and even whimsy. And yet I keep looking back on this strip and, well, see the subject line here.

If you have any explanation you’re doing better than Tom Batiuk.

SPOILER: Nothing went wrong and Wally is totally over his post-traumatic stress disorder unlike when he thought he was last year and now he’s ready to take some classes at Local Community College!

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Author: Joseph Nebus

I was born 198 years to the day after Johnny Appleseed. The differences between us do not end there.

5 thoughts on “What The Flipping Heck Is *Wrong* With You, Funky Winkerbean?”

    1. Your decision is wise and I have no quarrel with it.

      You will however not believe what is going on in Brooke McEldowney’s 9 Chickweed Lane. (I don’t myself, as I quit reading the comic a few years ago in the midst of a particularly evil storyline.)

      Liked by 1 person

  1. 2 comments: Didnt Wally have at one point a therapy dog? And I like to believe, although I don’t believe it’s been officially conferred that the computer said to co-star in Starbucks Jones The Motionsick Picture is the very same school computer that organized Star Trek conventions during ” The Whimsey Years” So maybe whimsy will return to Westville someday.

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    1. Yes, Wally did at one point have a therapy dog. I believe the last time we saw the therapy dog, he had become somewhat neurotic and terribly afraid of loud noises, such as (oh) big crowds with loud music and pyrotechnics.

      Hm. Maybe I’m mistaken; looking at the end of that week’s storyline, while Wally uses his dog’s nerves as a reason to leave, it’s possible he was using the dog as pretext for what he wanted to do, or maybe was even being whimsical. The strip has tried whimsy a couple of times lately and it hasn’t been well-received.

      I do believe you’re right that the Holtron Computer for the Starbuck Jones Belated Movie is supposed to be the computer that used to be in the comic strip when it was just trying to be funny, the one that was a fan of Star Trek and would do silly jokes and all that. Which makes its return a little weird, and that bit where it was interviewed at the premiere really confusing.

      I don’t want to be too cranky, because I like silliness and absurdity and I even believe it helps the drama work better. Real life is mostly a mix of silly stuff and melodramatic stuff. I just need better clarity about what’s supposed to be whimsical. It’s confusing otherwise.

      (It’s crossed my mind that maybe the whimsical parts work better when read a whole week or month at a time, they way they might be written. Getting into a mood provides the context that avoids confusion. But as a daily strip there’s not much time to get into a mood. The writing has to more strongly signal what the tone is.)

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