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September 30, 2007

The Funnies


So… Is Tom Batiuk responding to criticism of his comic strip’s storyline showing a major character slowly wasting away from a terrible disease (in which case it’s clumsy and really, really isn’t working), is this intended as irony (and the Catch-22 of irony is that it’s very difficult to say it’s not working), or is he just completely clueless?

By the way, in case there’s anybody who hasn’t seen Funky Cancercancer



  1. This strip has a mention in the Funky Winterbean article on Wikipedia:
    “A ‘Crankshaft’ strip from May 23, 2007, sarcastically addresses the more recent controversies from Batiuk’s perspective,[8] an act which led to even more complaints. In the ‘Funky Winkerbean’ strip published on September 30, 2007 [9], Les essentially echoes the ‘Crankshaft’ comment.”

    It wasn’t me – I’ve never even heard of Funky Winterbean until now.

    Comment by Pete — October 1, 2007 @ 7:23 am

  2. I assumed this was Batiuk’s way of addressing the critics. He probably thinks it’s profound and will make everyone say, “Oh, I see!”, but it just underlines how clueless he is!

    Comment by Laurie Wylie — October 1, 2007 @ 8:22 am

  3. Speaking of Crankshaft – my mother stopped it because of the long-term Alzheimer’s storyline. Not too funny when your husband comes downstairs in the morning and asks you who you are and where his wife is.

    I get the feeling that Batiuk thinks it’s a great idea to give people storylines they can relate to or trying to raise awareness of certain conditions – probably shooting for some award. But if you ARE in one of those situations, you may be able to keep a great sense of humor about it but the LAST thing you want to do is wallow in it 24/7.

    If Batiuk MUST write these depressing story arcs, he could instead sell them in little mini-books – because maybe the 3 people who thinks it’s great could buy them without alienating everyone else who reads the FUNNY pages.

    Comment by Laurie Wylie — October 1, 2007 @ 8:37 am

  4. DRAMA is okay in my funnies. MELODRAMA, not so ok. Most of this stuff (also including the recent FBOFW storylines) reek of the latter.

    Comment by John DiFool — October 1, 2007 @ 12:00 pm

  5. I think it’s intended to be bittersweet, which never works, and self-referential, which only works when there’s something worth self-referring.

    Comment by DPWally — October 1, 2007 @ 1:08 pm

  6. This isn’t melodrama, it’s tragedy.

    Conversely, I haven’t detected any melodrama in FBOFW, mostly true (if a little trite due to being a comic strip) drama.

    Of course, where the line is is not always clear, so I could be wrong.

    Comment by Powers — October 2, 2007 @ 7:34 am

  7. Comics, like the rest of the newspaper, are the same as the radio and TV. If you don’t like what’s on, change the channel. No one is making any of you read this strip, something I find both heartbreaking and uplifting (the love shining through) after watching my mother and sister die of cancer. What you get out is what you put in, and you whiners strike me as shallow. No one is making you read it and I find your complaints the offense, not an artist’s efforts to make real life a part of a comic strip.

    Comment by Ellen — October 2, 2007 @ 5:59 pm

  8. Ellen, you make an interesting point. I’m wondering, though… graphic sex and full nudity are part of real life. Should they be in the funnies as well? And what about diarrhea, which is not only part of real life, but a topic many people do find funny. I’m not talking about the suggestive Argyle Sweater poo jokes, but really “up close and personal.” Nobody’s making you look at it, after all.

    Comment by Cidu Bill — October 2, 2007 @ 6:54 pm

  9. Well the only time I see Funky and FBOFW is when I see them here (took the latter off my queue this summer, have avoided the former like the plague since the characters left high school ages ago). YMMV and all that; I am certainly glad I can go back and read my Calvin & Hobbes collection without little Suzie going into the hospital with leukemia and Calvin visiting the school district psychiatrist every month…

    Comment by John DiFool — October 2, 2007 @ 8:27 pm

  10. Of course graphic sex and full nudity should be in the funnies!
    The only reason they aren’t is because of the censors.
    But that’s OK, because you can find plenty on the webcomics! SexyLosers, for example, was one of the funniest comics ever.

    Comment by Pete — October 2, 2007 @ 8:40 pm

  11. Dear Ellen,
    I am neither shallow nor a whiner. I was there every day while my father was eaten up by cancer 2 years ago. The worst part lasted “only” 25 days, but it nearly killed Mom and me to sit by and watch a man we loved so much get eaten up from the inside. It was heart-breaking – he remained so strong, so sweet, so noble until the last 2 days when they finally had to knock him out with morphine.

    I have no need to relive anyone else’s experience with cancer – especially a fictional one – because I’m still plenty full of my own. For a while during Dad’s final days, I wasn’t even sure that Mom and I could both survive the agony of watching him go through it. The only thing that got Mom and me through it was being able to get out of that world for a bit, watch a little TV, read the comics, relax and laugh before plunging back in. Certain subjects just aren’t funny to me, and I believe would be best appreciated in some different forum. I’m allowed to have my opinion, and I never said that Batiuk wasn’t entitled to his. I just don’t have to listen.

    By the way, if we “whiners” were indeed “shallow”, then we wouldn’t give a darn about some cartoon character, would we? But I have strong feelings which I don’t need a comic strip to validate. And when I do feel like commiserating with someone about cancer, I can always find someone to talk to because nearly everyone I know has been touched by it – and that helps both of us. That’s more valuable to me than getting put through the emotional wringer by a cartoon.

    Comment by Laurie Wylie — October 2, 2007 @ 10:27 pm

  12. I deeply sympathize with those of you who have gone through the tragedy depicted in FB, but I do agree with Ellen and with Laurie. I haven’t enjoyed the daily reminder of the scourge of cancer from FB, so I’ve stopped reading it. I realize that it’s trying to heighten awareness about breast cancer, but whether it’s been done successfully or no is totally up to the individual reader. For me, not so much. Like Laurie, breast cancer has hit too close to home for me to enjoy the daily reminder. For others, though, it may have helped them understand the pain and suffering that accompanies this disease.

    What I would be interested in knowing, though, is how this dark storyline has affected FB syndication. Anybody had it dropped from their newspapers?

    Comment by Chris — October 2, 2007 @ 11:23 pm

  13. Chris, I can’t imagine that any newspaper would announce that it was dropping the strip based on the existence of a breast cancer storyline, unless they were a glutton for bad publicity. The general long-term threat to the strip is that if readers consistently don’t enjoy it, it will get dropped in the long run (well, maybe), but that probably won’t result from a single storyline.

    Comment by Autumn Harvest — October 3, 2007 @ 12:30 am

  14. I used to read every comic published by my newspaper. I stopped many years ago and went with the serials. Other than Rex Morgan, one I picked up in HS and dropped around menopause, they got better than worse, picking up real life, having dogs die when they got old, elderly sisters with one get Aszheimer’s, a young man go to Afghanistan, another young woman lose her arm in an auto accident, and now Lisa dies. Funny how many of those are in Funky W. I stand by my original statement, no one is making you read it. It’s a free world. I WATCHED MY MOTHER AND MY SISTER, NEARLY 20 YEARS LATER, DIE FROM CANCER. I HELD MY SISTER’S HAND WHEN SHE TOOK HER LAST BREATH. Crying as Lisa’ dies is cathartic, and brings to the surface memories usually buried. Death IS a part of life and it isn’t hidden behind the censorship of full nudity, graphic sex, and body functions gone wrong, a gratuitous bit of frivolity thrown into a serious “discussion”. I’ve never written to a blog in my life and never expected to yesterday, but my fundamental gripe who criticize people who don’t see the world the same way you do and who want to take that away because you’re too lazy to skip over the parts you want to avoid, but the hell out of me. I WANT TO READ FUNKY WINKERBEAN AND CRY WHEN LISA DIES. You don’t? Simple. Skip the strip. You’ve no right to judge the artist or the readers who’ve hung in there throughout this story line because it means something to them. In contrast, I was bored silly when Wally was in Afghanistan and I hardly ever read the strip. It’s called freedom, something a whole lot of people are ready to throw away in the country. Move to France, or better yet, move to Iran. Someone else can decide what you can read. Or, you can stay here and utilize your own common sense about what you want to read and don’t. Don’t blame the artist. He put forth his best work to “entertain” those who want it. You can skip a strip with the best of them. Try it. You’ll make it through the day and stupid blogs like this, debating whether someone ought to be able to die in a comic strip don’t have to exist. Talk about a waste of space. A newspaper that would drop a strip for addressing death isn’t worth the paper published on it and the owners had too much money with which to play. Newspapers make money, first and foremost. It’s a capitalist society. I still say you’re whiners (those who bemoan death in a comic strip). Perhaps writing you’re shallow is a jump I can’t make. I do know this strip has pushed buttons and that’s a good thing. People talking about something beside Paris Hilton? SHE is a waste of space. AT least this is a higher plane of universe than the one she inhabits. Find out what is important and you’ll discover facing death is the most important moment in your OWN life, not just watching someone else die. Only in this country do we have trouble facing our own mortality. How did that happen? Death is a celebration of life in most religions, since believing in life after death means we go to a better place. What is there NOT to celebrate in that?

    I don’t like he’s going to jump 10 years into the future and he may lose me as a reader. After all this, if she doesn’t get a funeral or memorial service, with all the friends she’s got? Not realistic. And, I’m interested in the current characters; I don’t know that I care about a bunch of toddlers 10 years from now. But, I’ll decide that when it’s in front of me, not in advance. You’re the only people on earth with these freedoms. Why are you wasting time about whether to read a comic strip? And, why am I bothering to waster 20 minutes to ask you why you’re bothering. First and last blog. I don’t find them addictive. A good book is a better use of time. BTW, I’m 56 and have been disabled since I was 50. There have been a lot of days I wished I were dead, with nothing in a long future to anticipate. If I get engrossed in a story line, don’t bitch about it.

    Comment by Ellen — October 3, 2007 @ 10:36 am

  15. Ellen, I appreciate that you feel strongly about this, but no one here is saying that you shouldn’t read or enjoy Funky Winkerbean. They’re just saying that they don’t like it. At the risk of stating the obvious, part of having a free society is that people are free to think about the things they read, and discuss whether or not they like them. It’s true that no one is forced to read Funky Winkerbean and complain about it, but similarly, no one is forcing you to read this blog and complain about it.

    Comment by Autumn Harvest — October 3, 2007 @ 11:57 am

  16. It’s interesting to see Ellen’s comments. I was wondering if other people whose relatives have died of cancer would find the current story line cathartic. I lost my mother and my sister to cancer. While I don’t usually read Funky Winkerbean, I just re-read the past month’s strips and found them very interesting – much more so than most comics. The October 2 strip was particularly affecting. (The Sept. 30 strip, reproduced above, fails on pretty much every level, but it’s an exception.)

    I’m always surprised at people who criticize comics for not being funny, when it’s obvious that that wasn’t what the cartoonist was going for. (At least the soap opera strips like Apt. 3G usually get a pass.) There is more than one way that a strip can be good. Heck, there’s more than one way that a strip can be funny. The current Funky Winkerbean strips may not be perfect (I have no idea why death is being portrayed as the Phantom of the Opera, but so far it seems a questionable decision), but they’re hitting home and capturing at least my attention.

    Comment by John — October 3, 2007 @ 12:19 pm

  17. Topic of this FW aside, even before it came out, I was ready to start agitating for regulations on the comic strip punchlines of “I guess that’s why they call it…”, “Why do you think they call it…”, “Now I know why it’s called…”, and “That’s why it’s called…”. There are certain strips out there that seem to use it for the punchline a couple times a week. I would like to call for a 6-month cooling off period, in which no cartoonist is allowed to use this method, followed by the institution of an annual quota.

    Comment by David — October 3, 2007 @ 12:22 pm

  18. I like that idea!
    All offending comics should have the last panel replaced by a shot of Graham Chapman as the Colonel, denouncing the gag for being “too silly, and just not funny” 🙂

    Back on topic, I’d like to point out that some of the best Calvin and Hobbes strips were poignant rather than funny. I think the problem that most people have with the Lisa’s death storyline isn’t that it’s not funny, it’s that it’s too long for their taste.

    I think the point people want to make isn’t “The funnies should be funny!” It’s “The funnies should be short-attention span material!”

    Comment by Pete — October 3, 2007 @ 8:22 pm

  19. I just want to point out that I never called anyone any names here or judged anyone based on what comic strip they read or like. This is America, and this forum here is where EACH of us can discuss what THEY like or didn’t like about a strip. Just because I don’t agree with someone does NOT necessarily mean that I’m shallow, a whiner, or a terrible human being. I kept my criticism to the strip, and never made any personal attacks or called people names – and I appreciate the same courtesy.

    Anyway, I’m not going to get into a shouting match over who has experienced the most pain in our lives. We’ve all had our fair share of assorted pain, but there’s no way to judge who wins that contest, and there’s no prize to be won. The point of this forum is that we’re all allowed to have and express our own opinions. It’s a only a comic strip, for crying out loud! Why do you even care if I don’t like it? Maybe next time there should be one forum just for “Funky is Great” people and another for “Funky Sucks” people, so nobody gets upset if I don’t like everything they like!

    Comment by Laurie Wylie — October 3, 2007 @ 11:25 pm

  20. Okay. I offer up an apology for describing anyone complaining about a comic strip a whiner. Name calling should be left in the sandbox and I’d like to think I’m more mature than that.

    I did a google on “Funky Winkerbean Archives” hoping to find some of the old ones, when they were in high school and stumbled on to this blog. I’ve read lots about blogs; never seen one before. It reminds me of the old fashioned “lists” on various subjects during which people would go off on tangents, get mad at each other, write nasty stuff off line, etc etc. This forum does prevent the off line stuff since one’s e-mail address is protected. And, the exposure to a blog was interesting. I think a fundamental issue here is the notion a comic should be funny. Yes, they’ve been called “the funnies” most of my life, although I’d say the switch to “comics” occurred mainstream a couple of decades ago. So, if the debate is whether a comic should be funny, then that’s a topic. But, I didn’t intend to get involved in this. I just wanted to read old FW comics, see what the characters looked like in HS and that sort of thing. I also hoped to find the original “Lisa Series”, when she had her initial round of breast cancer. So, finding a “blog” or “list” debating at length whether it was in good taste or not really caught me off guard. I still don’t get it, obviously. You don’t have to read anything you don’t want to and I did and do take offense at criticizing the artist for deciding to depict what he thinks is an appropriate issue, or part of life, in a comic strip. It IS his strip, after all, and he probably doesn’t care whether any of us like it or not. He’s got his own issues. I read on several sites that he’s battled and come out on the other side of prostate cancer. October is also breast cancer awareness month. Every women’s magazine to which I subscribe is focused on breast cancer this month. The word is PINK. While this series has lasted for weeks, it ended in October, a fitting end for the topic.

    The artist who does For Better or Worse got tons of flack when she let the old dog Farley die years ago. Pets die and she did a lovely job of honoring the dog’s part in their family life and how to deal with it with a child. I felt the same confusion then I do now. Don’t read it if it bothers you. And, once again I’m spending time writing a response to something I’ve no clue as to why I’m getting myself involved. I don’t like to be offensive or to hurt feelings, so I must have had some big buttons pushed to write “whiners” and “shallow”. It’s out of character. I can’t see in to your souls, so I’ve no idea at all whether you’re shallow or not. It still does seem like a bit of whining to me to complain about a comic strip you don’t like, but if it’s certainly none of my business is that’s what this blog is for. Participation is voluntary and everyone is entitled to their own interests. There are so many comic strips from which to choose, why not just skip what you don’t like? Having said that, I’m getting out of here. I didn’t like the atmosphere on lists and I don’t much care for this, either. I ended up back here again looking for today’s strip to see what he’s doing as an aftermath and found I’d offended and been hurtful. I don’t like that and think it’s important I issue an apology. I’ve done that now and I’m now exiting from a discussion that, freedom of speech and all that, doesn’t really interest me. I don’t think a comic strip has to be funny or interesting or politically correct. It’s an artist’s rendition of what he or she wants to convey the same as a novelist does in a book. There’s plenty of those I skip over. I thought Batiuk did, overall, an excellent job of conveying the sadness of the end of a young life. OTOH, I thought he was too brief and left out real life issues that would have made the strip last a lot more months. Lisa was too cheerful right up to the very end and his time line telescoped to spread out the recurrence of cancer, the back and forth about whether the chemo “got it” or not, etc. Her decision not to extend her life for a few possible weeks that likely would have zero quality for any of them was realistic. I think. But, he had her going to Washington and on her death bed in 2 weeks and that was a bit weird to me. If he wanted to convey what death from cancer is like, he’d have “shared” more of Les’s feelings of loss, among other things, and their daughter simply disappeared. You can’t please all the people all of the time. So, yeah, I thought it was imperfect, but I wasn’t drawing it, either. I admire enormously a cartoonist’s artistic skills combined with the ability to plot out a story line and put it out there with the minimum of words. That’s no easy task. I didn’t like his non-denominational portrayal of “death” as a guy in a tuxedo looking like he was on his way to a black tie dinner. Joe Black handled it better than that. OTOH, in our multi-religious society, and with many people who don’t believe in an after life, I don’t know how he could have had her exit more PC. He could have just let her die, but that would have felt empty. The idea her last thought was of loving Les, however odd it was that she was leaving on the arm of an escort….well, it’s the thought that counts. I cried and, yes, it was cathartic most of the time. But, most of the story lines in FW leave me bored to death; I’m not exactly a dedicated Funky-ite. The only comic to which I’m completely dedicated is For Better or Worse.

    On that note, having extended my apologies for jumping in to a blog with dedicated members, knowing nothing about any of you or what you usually discuss, I’m out of here. I hope you continue to find this outlet for expression of your feelings about…whatever…fulfilling. Mea Culpa.

    Comment by Ellen — October 5, 2007 @ 1:08 am

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