Putting the "F-U" in "Funky Winkerbean."

Once upon a time, the comic strip "Funky Winkerbean" was a pleasant little daily funnie about a high school and their band director. Now it has become a veritable "soap opera" strip, akin to such two-panel wonders as "Mary Worth" and "Rex Morgan, MD." In fact, the nature of the comics are so similar that when the dialog is swapped between any given comic strip of the soap opera genre and any given recent "Funky Winkerbean" strip, the change in quality and context is virtually unnoticeable.

In short, I take a strip from something like "Mary Worth" or "Rex Morgan MD" and swap its dialog with the dialog from a "Funky Winkerbean" strip, demonstrating how little difference there is between the two. Observe.

Saturday, August 15, 2009

What Funky Winkerbean Used To Be

"Funky" c. 1980's

Tom Batiuk's comic strip "Funky Winkerbean" used to be a funny little comic strip that, like most comic strips people enjoy reading daily, would show us characters and situations that dispensed humor 7 days a week.

"Funky" c. 1980's

Akin to "Garfield" or "Fox Trot," "Funky" provided likable, easy-going characters going through their daily lives. The story lines were pleasant, not too heavy-handed, and at times made some kind of point; but not at the expense of being entertaining. Batiuk's character's were easy to relate to - you had teachers, nerds, popular girls, and most importantly, band geeks. The band director, Harry Dinkle, had his own set of marching shoes named for him; so ubiquitous with marching band was the comic strip.

"Funky" c. 1980's

Slowly but surely things changed. "Issues" needed discussing. "Controversial" topics needed exploring. Granted, there are comics that do this on a daily basis - not the least of which is Pulitzer-Prize winning "Doonesbury" - and lordy knows "Peanuts" saturated the market for the existential cartoon - but they did so as part of their premise rather than as an incidental.

Batiuk had his characters grow into adults. This isn't seen much in a world where time is so static comic characters often are shown wearing the same outfit every day. But this isn't what created the flaw. Apparently, Batiuk wasn't content to have them simply "be" adults, they had to "deal with" so called "adult issues."

The true turning point for the comic was Lisa Moore getting cancer.

Then Lisa Moore dying of cancer.

Then Lisa Moore dead. From cancer.

For the love of all that is Holy.

Naturally, this attracted all sorts of praise and condemnation, giving the false appearance that FW was something akin to an "edgy" and "enlightening" "work of art" that "goes there." Non-profits dedicated to fighting cancer - especially breast cancer - applauded Batiuk, sang his praises, and made him the king of mildly successful cartoonists that give us cancer storylines in our daily funnies.

Lisa Moore's death tome

And you know, that's all well and good that someone is doing something that gives some proceeds to some organization that fights cancer. Really. It's a great and noble thing. But it doesn't make for good entertainment.

Batiuk changed his artwork from simple effective line drawings to more "artistically" rendered presentations, which apparently left little in the budget for a writing staff, because most strips consist of a sentence and a half of maudlin characters glumly going about their lives.

FW storylines today rival those of soap operas, both televised and in comic form. Wally Winkerbean goes off to war (cue ensuing dramas about the horrors and tribulations experienced by soldiers during wartime), leaving his wife (who has one arm) and two kids behind, only to be blown up in battle. (...Or was he?...) Wally's wife remarried the comic book store owner, John,whom I believe has had a crush on her all this time, and who has become a father to her children. Wally appears out of the blue at an Iraq-U.S. hostage exchange - very NOT dead - and gets home in time to view his own tombstone and walk upon his own grave with his ex-wife. They have a nice quiet, maudlin chat. She declares that "her life is with John now." (...or IS it???) Batiuk is also in the habit of having his artists and colorists create single panel "dramatic shot" strips that give one a panoramic view of the drama that is FW. Cuz, ya know, FW is so "meaningful" and "daring" that a single artfully rendered shot is enough to enrich and further the storyline. Yeah.

Has Batiuk started calling his comic strip book anthologies "graphic novels" yet? I'm sure if he isn't, he's well on his way.

Fortunately for the world, others have taken notice of Batiuk's penchant for angst and "edginess," and someone came up with this gem:

"Shortpacked!" understands

So from all this, I've concluded that the only difference between "Funky Winkerbean" today and "Mary Worth" or "Rex Morgan, MD" is that at least a comic strip like "Mary Worth" knows what it is. I don't think "Funky" knows yet. At least, it doesn't want to acknowledge it.

Also, even "Rex Morgan, MD" has less cancer storylines. And it's a freaking medical drama.


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