Is This Funky Winkerbean Supposed To Make Sense?


So a little something roiled the normally calm world of ridiculing Tom Batiuk’s Funky Winkerbean. Last week the strip did one of its occasional grab-bag weeks, with just spot gags and no storyline or attempt at one. Before I get into that, let me share this link to my mathematics blog, since I did my usual Sunday comic-strip review over there. Thank you.

So. Snark-reading Tom Batiuk strips is usually pretty easy. The comic presents a couple of the lumpy, sad main characters talking about one of their ongoing problems, with something involving words used in slightly unusual ways in the last panel, while everyone smirks and waits for the death of joy. The snarky reader looks over this, points out the joke barely parses, and that the problem as presented could not happen because something or other does not work like that, or because he’s confused parts of the continuity. Then the snark readers wait for the next day. I’m not ruling myself out of this group, by the way. Rolling eyes at Tom Batiuk strips is one of the joys of being a comics fan who never gets enough chances to showcase learning what “bathos” meant for that vocabulary quiz in eighth grade. (Hi, Mrs Furey!)

Then this came in on Tuesday.

Donna, to Crazy Harry: 'Crazy, this bottle was with the stuff you picked up in town ... and I just wanted to let you know ... that you can only get two or three shampoos out of a bottle of this head-cleaning solution.
Tom Batiuk’s Funky Winkerbean for the 23rd of May, 2017. Surely not intentional but in the first panel Crazy Harry looks like he’s upset Donna walked in on him googling adult images for the tiny modernist yacht he’s got a model of in the second panel there.

So, the question: what the heck?

More specifically, who are we supposed to be laughing at here? The Comics Curmudgeon laid out how it’s either a joke that Crazy Harry can’t shampoo correctly, or else it’s a joke that … Mrs Crazy Harry who probably has a name … imagines that head-cleaning solution would be an exotic name for shampoo. (It’s Donna.) Son Of Stuck Funky guest author Billy the Skink thought it more likely that Donna didn’t know what head cleaner was, and identified this as dumb given that she ought to know something about Crazy Harry, whose days are filled with transferring stuff from VHS and moping. Comic book superstar author Kurt Busiek tried to autopsy this mess:

And now I’d like to make my argument. Please feel free to disagree. Busiek’s right, by the way, that the deadly problem is the comic timing. The first two panels are nothing. Trying to make the punchline also carry the load of setting up the strip is a mess.

But I think the snark-blogging interpretation, that Donna or Crazy Harry has to be too stupid to be plausible, wrong here. I think that Donna’s supposed to be facetious. To say with a straight face the obviously ridiculous is so important to comedy that if we’re to rule it out then I can’t comment in any web forums or Usenet anymore. I think there are line readings that would make the joke work. At least work as well as it can given the attempt at jamming all the setup into the punchline.

Which is still a structural problem in the comic. Written comedy has limited powers to direct how a line should be read. A comic strip has a bit more power, since it can show characters reacting. But the Funky Winkerbean standard is to draw people moping, smirking, or despairing and that doesn’t offer much support for whimsy. A comic strip also has more power to suggest timing and where to pause a line and what to emphasize in it. But those tools aren’t used here.

So that’s my best attempt at making this Funky Winkerbean make sense: Donna is being silly and playful, and we don’t know how to react to that anymore. I’m curious what you kindly readers make it out to be.

Another Blog, Meanwhile Index

The index rose two points as the market digested reports that the Earth has an extra layer of tectonic plates within the mantle, which should be reassuring to everyone worrying about whether we had enough. It might have pushed the index higher still if we were sure we understood why it doesn’t look like any other planets or moons have tectonic plates, which seems like a weird oversight. Are we maybe looking for theirs in the wrong places or something?

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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.

2 thoughts on “Is This Funky Winkerbean Supposed To Make Sense?”

  1. Interesting theory. Admittedly, I hadn’t thought that Donna might be playing deadpan joker here. That, of course, is largely because this strip specifically and the past several years of Funky Winkerbean in general don’t really give the reader a reason to interpret it that, or any other way. Dopey, corny jokes like this one have been a part of Funky since the strip’s beginning, but with the strip’s tone and characters striving to be viewed in a serious manner for over a decade, we are left adrift when jokes like this are delivered with limited reaction from either party.

    Donna being facetious is as good an explanation as Donna actually believing that “head cleaner” is some sort of shampoo, probably a better one in fact, because she’s a middle-aged adult married to an established AV geek (which is kind of what I was going for in my Son Of Stuck Funky post, trying to paint the strip as ridiculous by incredulously taking it at face value). But Donna and Crazy’s reactions, Donna’s established character traits (such as they are), and the general tone of Funky Winkerbean give us little indication as to whether we are supposed to find this funny because Donna is being facetious or dopey.

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    1. Thanks for writing in. And you’re right that one of the problems with the joke is we can’t really tell if Donna is supposed to be doing a deadpan joke. I had read it like that mostly because it seems like the sort of joke I might toss off, and that’s how I’d play it. And would take delight in however many people thought I was saying something that dumb. (My love can not understand why I like this, but it’s the base of about two-thirds of my online social joking.) But the facial expressions don’t give a lot of evidence to support this, I’ll agree.

      I feel like there might be something slightly deeper here. I haven’t gathered evidence to support it, though, and I think it might be fed by a spurious link. But: does anyone in Funky Winkerbean laugh at a woman’s joke? Or at least, are men shown laughing at women’s jokes? What might be spurious about this is I’m not sure anyone’s shown laughing at the jokes of anybody but Les Moore. And the default facial expression is a smirk or a wince of pain anyway, so it might just be coincidence.

      All told, this particular strip does an astounding job at not making clear what’s supposed to be funny about the punch line.

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