The Other Shoe: Part II

Posted by on August 11th, 2010 at 10:44 AM

Another strip that had just launched itself into a story arc when I deserted the keyboard for a few weeks of rest and respite is Tom Batiuk’s Funky Winkerbean. At the end of June, you’ll recall, Funky had just been forced off the road by a woman driver who was so preoccupied with her cell phone that she wasn’t paying attention to driving. The crash sequence is masterfully done:

(If the image is too small to read—which, for most of us, it is—the recommended procedure is to click on the image and it enlarges. For some inexplicable and presumably temporary reason, when you do that here, you and the picture are merely transported to another plane, where the picture resides more-or-less alone; but if you click on it again, there, it’ll get much larger—large enough, usually, to read. Try it: you’ll like it.)

Funky leaves his ditched car and walks into town where he encounters numerous strange things—most of which can be explained if you assume he’s somehow been flipped back in time to the era of his own adolescence.

He runs into some teenagers, one of whom says his name is Funky. Now the clues begin to pile up: it looks as if Funky, the portly middle-aged Funky who’s recovering from a auto accident, is back in his own past. Then we get this one:

Looks like Funky’s car didn’t just go off the road into the ditch: it’s wrecked. And despite the second panel’s reassuring image of middle-aged Funky talking to teen Funky, the middle-aged Funky is in the hospital, as we discover in this exquisitely timed sequence:

About this strip, Brian Steinberg at says: “Worth noting, perhaps, is what will likely be the last drawing of a comic-strip character picking up a pay phone and making a call with it. We think it’s cartoonist Batiuk’s last swipe at the cell-phone industry in this storyline. After all, the car crash that sent Funky into this pattern was caused by a woman talking on a cell, and after the crash, we found Funky unable to get any signal on his own cell phone. Now we find that it’s good old Ma Bell that brings Funky back from his dream state into a hospital bed next to his wife.”

By the end of the arc (so far), Funky is back home, bandaged a little and wearing a neck brace—but alive and philosophical.

By the time you read this, Batiuk has moved on to other matters, leaving Funky recuperating at home. But this may be just an intermission before the next act.

“Is his suffering over?” Steinberg asks. Then answers: “We doubt it. Funky Winkerbean isn’t a place where good things happen, for the most part. So we fully expect Funky’s healing to take months, and for any number of horrendous catastrophes to befall him on the way to recovery.

“Is he paralyzed? Did the woman who caused the accident that got him to this point die as a result, and will her relatives sue Funky? And what’s with that reference to prostate cancer Funky made during his reveries? This one ain’t over by a long shot, folks.”

I agree. That Batiuk just can’t leave well enough alone: he’s always beating up on his characters. What, by way of example, are we to make of this li’l cliffhanger?

Batiuk has handled this entire story arc thus far with great skill. The first few days as Funky the Elder wanders his old haunts, baffled by scenes that look vaguely familiar (as if he’s remembering them from his youth—which is what the scenes are), we are kept completely in the dark, as puzzled by what Funky witnesses as he is himself.

Then Batiuk begins to dribble out clues—the auto, wrecked in the ditch, paramedics carting Funky off; Funky in the hospital—and we quickly get the drift: Funky is “dreaming” about his youth as he recovers from surgery in the hospital following his auto accident.

Well done, a dramatic demonstration of the ways the comic strip medium can be deployed for unusual effects. And much of the success of the sequence depends upon the narrative clarity of Batiuk’s pictures. Well done indeed.

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