Friday, January 9, 2009

Play That Funky Music, Old Boy

The demon Wikipedia* tells us that Tom Batiuk first started publishing Funky Winkerbean in 1972. Many have remarked that the early Funky was a funny, irreverent comic dealing with the trials and tribulations of several high-school students and their teachers. I believe each strip ended with an actual punchline. The comic also contained larger-than-life elements that added to its humour. The characters did not age; they remained eternally in high school.

In 1992, Batiuk jumped the comic forward ten years, now portraying the same characters in adulthood. The characters started to age. At the same time, the story began to get more serious as the comic fell victim to Cerebus Syndrome.** The demon Wikipedia mentions the following issues as prevalent in the strip during these years: teen pregnancy, suicide, censorship, dyslexia, gun violence, steroids, capital punishment, bullying, child abuse, teacher-student relationships, alcoholism, breast cancer, and land mines in Afghanistan. Wikipedia forgets to include hearing loss and amputation in this list, but I think you probably get the picture.

In 2007, the strip jumped forward another ten years. Now the original high-school students are fat, balding failures with rebellious teenage children, and the Cerebusity of the strip is more apparent than ever. It is not a terrible comic--I would choose it in an instant over some of its more stagnant little friends--but Batiuk really does seem to have forgotten the meaning of the word "comic." Funky Winkerbean has evolved from an enjoyable gag-a-day comic to a seething cauldron of soul-deadening despair. If you enjoy witnessing a world from which all hope has been erased, read Funky Winkerbean.

This view of life as difficult and rife with the fickleness of Fortune is, of course, quite medieval. The comic does an admirable job of portraying the bleak day-to-day life that one must bear if one wishes to float happily up to Heaven in the end. Note today's strip: even just in the first panel, we have a one-armed woman watching as a man who has lost quite a lot of his hearing while conducting a high-school band lectures a bunch of teenagers on earplugs. In the Funkyverse, it is important to crush the younger generation as quickly as possible; Harry Dinkle here hastens to disabuse his audience of the notion that playing music in a large group can be fun. We must not have fun! We must save the fun for Heaven, which probably isn't fun at all! This makes perfect sense! Despair, little Funkies...despair!



*May it be cast forever into a fiery pit of perdition, obviously.
**Click on this link at your own risk. It is safe for work, but it is not safe if you want to work; TV Tropes is the sort of site on which one can happily spend hours and hours and freaking hours.

8 comments:

Michael said...

You gave a link to TV Tropes and I was foolish enough to follow it. That's a website where I can get lost for hours. But I was strong, I only spent 20 minutes there this time.

john said...

Oh God, what have you done, Kem!? Linking poor innocents to TV Tropes is like handing out heroin to...well, to Winkerbeaners. Just last weekend I actually spent a solid six hours on that site in one sitting.

Also, it's always amusing to see the academic reaction to Wikipedia. Enlighten me: is this because of some high-minded ivory-tower revulsion to the idea of an encyclopedia for the masses (shades of Luther!) or because you have to correct papers where students have confused a handy but less than perfectly accurate quick reference for a definitive and completely 100% correct source?

Angry Kem said...

John: Bwa-ha-ha-ha-ha-ha-ha!

Also: I have no problem with encyclopedias (though we do eventually try to wean our students off them, not because we are elitist Ivory Tower academics but because there are way better sources out there). However, students tend to go straight to Wikipedia when they need information, and they regard the material therein as gospel truth. I generally tell them to use Wikipedia only for the "References" section.

There are also the little darlings who borrow from Wikipedia without mentioning that they have done so. Oh, the plagiarism meetings! Oh, the screaming and the crying! Oh, the protestations that "all that stuff is common knowledge"! Grr...

Wikipedia is a great innovation, but it sometimes makes markers' lives very, very difficult. I am therefore unable to mention it without calling it names. I'm sure you understand.

CrackerLilo said...

Forget TV Tropes and Wikipedia...

Funky Winkerbean was actually *funny* once? I almost fell out of my chair reading that.

Angry Kem said...

CrackerLilo: I have never actually read a funny FW strip. However, I have heard of the legendary pre-jump FW, which was supposedly (relatively) hilarity-inducing. Cerebus took over eventually, but once upon a time, people read Funky Winkerbean...and laughed.

Izeas GT said...

Off-topic, I challenge ANYONE to name ANY syndicated strip funnier than Narbonic.

Brian said...

(raises hand)

Yes, it's true. I remember reading Funky Winkerbean once or twice as a child, and laughing. Unfortunately that was long ago, and I no longer remember the actual punchlines. (I know that one involved a mainframe computer being hilariously anthropomorphic, as they were wont to do back in the day. Or at least it was being hilarious by my childish standards.)

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