Today’s strip is both stupid and gross. I have nothing else to say about it.
Here are some better comic strips, read them instead…
Link to another boring nonsensical strip that I still kind of understood because I’m always asking my housemate and best friend if she wants to go to the store with me but man was this week awful with maybe one almost joke and five days of pointless observation and yes this was supposed to be one long run-on sentence for comedic effect.
Full disclosure: Until I read through the Vintage Funky Winkerbean, I assumed Roland was black. I realized my mistake when Derek popped up, asking Les about why ‘brothers and sisters’ weren’t being covered by the school paper, looking like the lost sixth Jackson brother from the Jackson Five cartoon.
So Roland’s poofy hair was just an Art Garfunkel style jewfro, and Derek is the strip’s first black character. Which other characters seem to only notice and comment on occasionally.
In all of his appearances, there’s only a handful of strips where Derek’s overtly concerned about racism. And it always comes across cringy af. Now-a-days this is the sort of material that gets you twitter cancelled.
Other than these cases, Derek is written as ‘one of the guys’. Sometimes he spouts off Roland-esqe general activist talking points for a laugh.
His main character trait is this sort of weary detachment. In the four years of strips released, I think I’ve seen him smile twice. It’s like, somehow he knows. He knows that he’s stuck in Funky Winkerbean. And the best he can hope for is to feel slightly less than dead inside.
Like Livinia, unspoken identity politics hamstring his range. Because Batiuk wants Derek to be a positive portrayal of a black student, he’s never shown getting into trouble with the principal or being ignorant. He never asks the dumb question. He is the one Funky Winkerbean character that is never the wacky one spouting off inanity. He is all grimace and side-eye.
When Derek delivers the punchlines, they’re clever observations that reveal intelligence, not obliviousness like Batiuk will use for Les or even Funky.
Derek is still showing up in Vintage Funky Winkerbean through 1976. Most recently watching TV with Crazy Harry on 4-10-76.
I doubt he’s going to completely disappear for a while, since he fulfils an important diversity position. He’ll keep showing up until a more gimmicky black boy is introduced, or until Batiuk forgets to remind his audience he’s not racist. In September of 1975 a black female student was introduced, Junebug Jones. She and Derek are dating, and she becomes a cheerleader. Her ‘unorthodox’ cheering strategy is another running gag.
I’m of two conflicting minds on Junebug. On the one hand I wonder if she plays into the lazy stereotype of black girls as loud, aggressive, and tactless. On the other hand, I love seeing a lady with some backbone.
Derek and Junebug, one of the first couples in Funky Winkerbean. She might not have liked the odds, but she should have placed her bets. By the 1998 class reunion arc, they are confirmed to be married.
And by the 2008 reunion they have grandkids!
Junebug shows up again in 2015, as part of The Upcoming Reunion planning committee.
So, really, despite all his grumbling, it seems like Derek and Junebug had it pretty good for Funky Winkerbean characters. They escaped the plot before the Act II drama hit, and every subsequent cameo appearance has only reinforced their happy ending.
Link to the first almost passable strip of the week.
If Livinia lost her main character status due to being too bland, Roland had the opposite problem. In the very first year of Funky Winkerbean, Roland Mathews had the strongest characterization of anyone. It’s apparent from the second strip he appears in.
He’s an ‘activist’. But unlike Livinia, his activism is vague and almost always played for laughs. The joke is usually Roland’s underlying hypocrisy, or the way he uses his ostensive political stances to ego trip and divert responsibility.
In the first couple years of FW, when he isn’t just rounding out the trio of guys, he has three recurring gags/storylines:
First is his rivalry with ‘Wicked’ Wanda, a student who is a women’s lib activist. These strips invariably lead to a sign smashing gag.
Second is his underground newspaper that Funky often helps with.
And third is his antagonistic relationship with his unnamed father, who is always shown sitting in front of the TV like he is some kind of bald chair-human hybrid.
As was shown in my spreadsheet yesterday, Roland shows up quite a bit in that first year, with 57 appearances. A distant third behind Les and Funky, but handily beating Livinia. He continues to show up regularly in 1973, though it’s clear that Crazy Harry has supplanted him. By 1974, Roland is on his way out. He shows up 10 times that year, 5 times in relation to his dad.
There’s the last mentions of his underground paper.
And, on September 3, 1974, his last appearance at school.
What is really really weird is that his chair!dad has continued to show up a few times since then, most ‘recently’ on 1/10/76. He seems to be taking a protoCrankshaft role.
Did Batiuk intend to write the topical and tragic story of a passionate teen with an uncaring and emotionally abusive parent lashing out against society, acting out at school, and eventually dropping out? Presumably leaving home with an incomplete education and no support structure, and disappearing into the world like so many hurting and alienated young people of his generation?
I’d put a sizable chunk of change on NO. Batiuk stopped using Roland because he’d decided to stop pulling from the counter-culture so much. On my first read through of 1972, I was shocked at how political it was. Batiuk doesn’t have his characters preaching THE TRUTH from a soapbox, like he does now, but he was constantly referencing politics, social issues, and the environment, usually with a kind of helpless sardonicism. It’s so weird that FW of 2022 feels more ‘hopeful.’ The preachy characters of today are a call to action to fix Batiuk’s pet problem of the week. The 1972 FW characters can’t change anything, and the joke is they try.
FW starts off with this chip on its shoulder, personified in Roland. It references the hippie values and politics because it’s trying to prove that, “It’s not like most strips.”
From the very beginning, I had some definite ideas about how I wanted to approach a teen strip. The crop of teen strips in the early seventies seemed oblivious to the time in which they existed. The enormous changes taking place in the youth culture were quickly making the strips with the jalopies and letter sweaters irrelevant… I decided to avoid the standard teen strip clichés. There would be no teenagers hanging on the phone or parents yelling at them to clean up their rooms; there would be no letter-sweatered football hero trying to decide which cheerleader he wanted to date. Instead, I was going to write about the realities of the school that I knew, from the tedium of being an unheralded and unrecognizable member of the band to the horrors of having to climb the dreaded rope in gym class. Rather than focus on jocks and cheerleaders, I was going to write about everyone else.From the introduction to The Complete Funky Winkerbean Vol. One
Of course, that quote just shows how willfully myopic Batiuk has always been. He wants so badly to be unique, that he builds up a fake version of something to put himself next to. I’ve never read much Archie comics, but I am sure that it’s not a shallow as he wants it to be. And the irony is his strip relatively quickly morphed into something rife with teen cliches. Crazy Harry steps in with his wacky personality, and omnipresent hat, and apolitical non-confrontational weirdness, and Roland disappears. Roland was angry. Crazy is effervescent, his antics just confuse and amuse those around him.
As BillyTheSkink pointed out a few days ago, Roland did show up at the 2008 Reunion. He looks like he’d just gotten off work at the hardware store, and has what BTS calls “the haircut my grandfather was given when he joined the Air Force (and kept for the rest of his life).”
So that’s my headcanon now. After dropping out of school, Roland joined the Air Force, where he worked in logistics and communications. Finally getting the structure and support he needed and working in an organization that he felt got things done, he mellowed out. He became a successful small business owner and votes straight ticket GOP every election.
Link to a strip that is somehow more nonsensical than yesterday’s.
Before we dive into individual characters. I thought we would briefly take a look at 1972 as a whole, just to see the cast of characters at play, and how often they showed up. This list misses out on a few characters that showed up more than once, but didn’t have names, such as an older curly haired teacher, a cashier, and the school librarian. Also, the records on CK are somewhat incomplete, there were strips missing. This is just to give a rough overview.
Below, the trademark CBH nonsense spreadsheet! Funky Winkerbean characters of 1972 listed by number of appearances.
It seems that, from the very beginning, Les and Funky were the main focus. Poor Livinia Swenson never stood a chance.
The second strip she’s in, (which is almost 2 weeks after the launch,) it seems to me that she’s set up as a distaff counterpart to Funky, his equal in averageness. The way their hair is only differentiated by length, like they’re the Wonder Twins or something, only furthers this impression.
But, in the grand scheme, she doesn’t show up that often. Like everyone in the cast, she puts in time as the ‘Person-Who-Asks-Question’ and the ‘Person-Who-Watches-TV-And-Makes-Face.’ Roles anyone and everyone fills, almost always devoid of specific connection between line and speaker that would keep them from being swapped with someone else.
When her personality does manifest itself, she’s opinionated, strong-willed, and socially conscious with a focus on ecology and feminism.
She’s also never afraid to step on someone’s toes or hurt some feelings. She’s got this kind of blunt honesty I really like.
She’s shown to be questioning gender norms, but unlike other political opinions only mined for yuks, hers can be sympathetically presented, where the joke isn’t her question, but the response.
When I put all of Livinia’s strips together, it seems obvious why Batiuk never could muster up much interest in her. She’s built to sit on this intersection between average and activist, and that severely limits her range. Batiuk doesn’t want too many of the jokes to come at her expense. He wants her to be a more or less positive representation of a ‘modern’ free-thinking teen girl. So the only gimmick he gave her can’t be exaggerated too much. And in order to survive Act I FW, if you’re not Funky himself, you have to have a solid gimmick to mine for humor. Despite what Les said above, Livinia was subtle, too subtle to last as a main character once Holly and Cindy were introduced.
Which is too bad. Because she was unrelentingly cruel to Les, and it was beautiful.
Currently on Comics Kingdom Vintage Funky Winkerbean is up to May of 1976, and Livinia hasn’t completely disappeared, showing up on April 21, taking a test.
Her appearances have become few and far between, however. I don’t know when the last time she shows up alive is, but I’m wondering if it’ll be soon. I couldn’t see any sign of her in the strips I found of the Act II class reunions of 1992 and 1998, though what I had to look at via scanned microfiche was pretty blurry. By the reunion of 2008, she was dead.
Farewell Livinia. You were too good for this strip.
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Funky in today’s strip has, once again, gone full Crankshaft on us.
This Sunday, many of you pointed out that poor Funky in the final panel was looking like He-Who-Shall-Usually-Not-Be-Named-In-This-Strip.
But when I really thought about it. Funky has been Crankshaft every single time he appeared this week.
Sunday. He complains while watching football.
Wednesday. He fails to find something he’s looking for in the basement.
Thursday. He wears stripey old man pajamas and gets up in the middle of the night to use the bathroom.
Friday. He refuses to lose weight with the power of wordplay.
Today. He sneers and ‘corrects’ a beloved family member who was attempting humor or encouragement.
And you know what? I like Crankshaft better. Crankshaft has always been a cantankerous old coot. It was what he was designed for by his creator, and he works hard at it. Funky has fallen and decayed to this state due to neglect and indifference.
Today’s strip stands out to me as especially mean spirited, even for Crankshaft. It is approaching Lockhorns levels of snippy. This is a strip that needs some smirks. But instead Funky looks offended as he slaps down his wife’s futile attempts at wordplay and spoons up another dripping cotton ball to eat.
As Banana Jr. 6000 put it yesterday.
FW makes no distinction between groan-inducing but harmless dad jokes, and hurtful remarks poorly disguised as humor. I’m sure you’ve known people whose idea of a “joke” is really just backhanded, passive-aggressive insults about people. Then when you don’t like it, they accuse you of having no sense of humor. Westview is full of that guy.
As Professor Fate said, “It felt mean spirited and a substitute for confronting the deeper conflicts that nobody wanted to face.”
Duck of Death put it more bluntly. “But this type of humor, Snappy Answers to Perfectly Normal Requests, is just assholery.”
This week of pathetic non-humor felt like it was cobbled together from stuff they dug out of the trash. They just put all this out here to fill some time, to take up space. It reminded me of an old running gag from one of my favorite YouTube channels, RedLetterMedia, making fun of how January and February are used by movie studios as a dumping ground for movies they’ve lost all hope for.
Did you want entertainment? Did you want quality? F**k you, it’s January!
(This video has foul language. Obviously. Viewer Discretion Advised.)
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How appropriate in today’s strip that Funky is reaching for some leftovers. Because we seem to have reached the end of the leftover strips that Batiuk’s been serving up to us all week, without even having the decency to warm them over to make them fit.
True, today is just another stolen joke told better a million times before. But Holly is back on her crutches, and we’ve nary an out-of-season fall leaf in sight. And ruining a promised New Year’s Resolution diet is a time honored January tradition.
Whatever congealed horrors await Funky’s appetite in that teal Tupperware aren’t the only relics pulled from the deep past today. In panel three Holly is giving us some vintage Winkerbean final-panel side-eye.
The final-panel side-eye was a staple in the old glory days of Funky Winkerbean. Back when my parents were wearing brown leisure suits and paisley patterned bell sleeves to the senior prom.
It used to be that every third or fourth Funky Winkerbean strip would end with some character staring glumly out at the audience, letting you know that THEY were playing the suffering straight man to whatever dumb thing the other character had just said or done. But there was usually a weird resignation to the stare. Like the staring character also acknowledged that by engaging with the zany character earlier, they had brought this upon themselves.
Batiuk hardly ever does this any more. And in one of his interminable Match to Flame digressions posted to his blog he lets us know his reasoning.
You can use time to more fully resonate with your readers on a real and believable level while you begin to discard the gimmicks that threaten that bond. For example, from the git-go in Funky, I would break the fourth wall on a day-to-day basis by having a character do a side-glance to the reader (a device I unashamedly “borrowed” from Tom K. Ryan’s masterful strip Tumbleweeds . . . I’m done with it now and have since returned it). I stopped doing that because, while it’s funny, you lose the investment and involvement of the audience. They know the characters are going to be just fine, and they don’t really care about their fate. By breaking the fourth wall, I inject myself into the story to wink at the reader as we share the joke. Now, however, I began telling stories where my presence was less intrusive and less needed.From the introduction to The Complete Funky Winkerbean Volume 10
So for the TL:DR summary: He chose to stop breaking the fourth wall because it breaks the immersion and thus lowers the stakes when the story gets serious.
But what I don’t know if Batiuk realizes is that he never has completely gotten away from the gags and zany antics/beleaguered straightman humor that he’d spent decades hammering away at. The rhythms of that humor were beaten into him as a child and he is compelled to continue.
Whenever my mom was doing something and would ask for a hand, my dad would break into applause. My mom never thought that was funny. I, on the other hand, found it endlessly amusing. At other times around the dinner table, my dad, my sister, and I would conduct a conversation consisting of nothing but non sequiturs, with my mom being the odd person out. We all found this to be great fun—again, my mom not so much.From the introduction to The Complete Funky Winkerbean Vol. One
The very foundation of his humor is that someone doesn’t find it funny. The ‘joke’ isn’t the joke. The ‘joke’ is the set up. And the punchline is annoyance. Someone has to be exasperated. Someone has to be his mom in the scenario. What this meant for the long term tenor of the strip, is that when he took away the side eye, all he had left for the final beat of his punchline was either allowing the annoyed person to speak. Which can lead to strangely aggressive strips like this.
Or leaving the baffled or annoyed person(s) staring into the scene in awkward silence, with nothing to defuse the tension.
I’ve seen comments in the past about how mean spirited Funky Winkerbean characters seem to each other. How easy it is to hate these people, because they are always snipping and needling one another. And I think this is the main reason why.
In the context of a real family or friendship habituated to this kind of teasing, there is the unspoken agreement that everything is in jest. It’s playfighting, like puppies or LARPers. Everyone is in on the joke.
In the context of a gag-a-day strip it can be mean spirited because it never seeks to be realistic or uplifting or educational. Everyone is exaggerated because it’s supposed to be funny. No one is being hurt. Everyone reading is in on the joke.
In the context of a strip that’s dealt with cancer death, suicide death, addictions, terrorism, PTSD, gun violence, divorce, mental illness, and comic books, he’s made it too real. And yet, not given us enough information on these relationships to believe that these ‘jokes’ are all in jest.
So, you know, if he wants to give us some more side eye. Wants to poke a few holes in the fourth wall to let the air in. Release the tension. I’d say we let him.
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And now consider this: If this person who had climbed out of the basement were to go back down again and look in the same freezer as before, would he not find in that case, coming suddenly upon the myriad of frozen packages and frost, that his clouded eyes be filled with confusion?
Now if once again, along with his wife, the married person who had looked there had to again engage in the business of digging and searching about the freezer– while his eyes are still weak and before they have readjusted, an adjustment that would require quite a bit of time — would he not then be exposed to ridicule down there? And would she not let him know that he had gone up to say the thing is not there but only in order to come back down into the basement to look with his ruined eyes — and thus it certainly does not pay to go up at all.
And if she get hold of this searched for thing, finding it there all along, and takes it in hand to bring it from their freezer and to carry it up. If she could kill him, will she not actually kill him?
She certainly will.
Today’s strip is pretty inoffensive, as these things go. It might border on “nice” if we liked a single one of these characters.
Not sure why Funky and Holly look so surprised to see Morton playing the trombone. They know Morton is in this band. They know the band is playing at St. Spires. They walk into the Christmas Eve service hearing the strains of “Silent Night”. Put two and two together…
OK, sure, most of the churches I’m familiar with place both the choir and orchestra in front of the congregation rather than behind, but such a slight difference wouldn’t floor me like a character from the late They’ll Do It Every Time.