Funky Winkerbean and the Dark Side of Comics

There has been a dark side to newspaper comics from the very beginning.

Death and dismemberment from Hogan’s Alley to Terry and The Pirates to Doonesbury.

© Tribune Content Agency

Tom Batiuk’s Funky Winkerbean seems to have become the default fall strip for the present embodiment of tragedy in the “funny” papers. 

To celebrate the 50th anniversary of “Funky Winkerbean,” the strip’s title character attends a golden high school reunion in a story arc [began] Monday.

The reunion arc spotlights aging characters who have weathered so much in “Funky’s” half-century, from enduring love to profound loss — a golden milestone not often achieved by a single syndicated creator. And no modern mainstream comic strip this side of “Doonesbury” has so often dealt with the challenges of mental and physical health, and so sensitively handled the death of a beloved cast member.

Suicide. Abuse. PTSD. CTE. And most poignantly, cancer. Given such subject matter, pain and mortality often lurk in “Funky Winkerbean.”

Batiuk proudly owns this creative space, balancing cheekiness and the bleakness.

© Batom, Inc.

Michael Cavna, at The Washington Post, follows Tom Batiuk through time-jumps and the progression from “doing entertainment and escapism to doing something more grown-up and confrontational.”