Over at the Comics Curmudgeon, they like to hate the comic strip Funky Winkerbean. I share their sentiments, mostly, and for the same reason, namely that the creator seems so unrelievedly grim in his sensibility since he initially aged the strip past being a fairly ordinary whimsical life-style strip. Characters are alcoholics, they get wounded in war, they suffer all sorts of pain and loss. I wouldn’t mind the drawn-out death of one character from cancer if that was set against a strip that was doing other things with and to its characters.
But I’m kind of interested at the latest turn in the strip since the creator, Tom Batiuk, is for the second time allowing time to pass and his characters to age and change, something that most serial forms of popular culture avoid because of the problems it creates for an ongoing work. I’m interested in part because he’s done something truly weird, and I wonder a bit if he realizes just how weird it is. Following the death of his character Lisa from cancer, he’s aged everyone ten years. But the thing is that Lisa died right now, in 2007. I don’t think that’s been explicit in the last month of strips (no headstone, the character was cremated) but one of the other characters has been stationed in Iraq and Afghanistan since 2001. Batiuk might get away with saying that “ten years ahead” takes us to 2012 rather than 2017, but it’s not right now, at any rate.
So now we’ve got a weirdly science-fictional strip posing as a soap opera on the comics pages. The characters of Funky Winkerbean now live in a world where there is (or has been) a President Clinton or Giuliani or Obama. Where we’ve bombed or not bombed Iran. Where the shows on TV are all different. And so on. I’m kind of wondering how he’s going to write himself out of this situation when he gets around to the character who was in the military–or whether he’s going to embrace it and run with it.