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Religion purposefully omited in Funky Winkerbean death

Jeffrey Weiss, the religion reporter for the Dallas Morning News, wondered why Tom Batuik made no mention of religion, prayers, god or faith in the story-line of Funky Winkerbean character Lisa Moore’s death.

End-of-life is when people and their loved ones often confront their spiritual beliefs. But not a single strip mentioned God, clergy or prayers. All we know about her memorial service is that it included a poem by Thomas Moore, a secular Irish poet.

Maybe Mr. Batiuk didn’t want to tag her with a particular religion? But surely he could have hinted that Lisa (or her friends and family) had considered the ideas of a supreme being, soul or meaning beyond the material world.

Yes, Mr. Batiuk told me this week, the absence of faith talk was no accident. Basically, he was afraid that any hint of religion would offend some readers.

“I didn’t want to step on any toes,” he said. “I wanted to make it as open as possible for as many people as possible.”

Ahem. He’s killing off one of his most popular characters, and he didn’t want to step on any toes?

I find it telling that an artist who frequently pushes the envelope of his medium â?? he’s also taken on such hot buttons as alcoholism, the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan, and adult illiteracy â?? flinched when it came to religion.

It’s still a third rail in American culture.

To those ready to comment on this topic, this is not an open invitation to bash religion. Try to keep the topic respectful and on topic: the use (or avoiding of use) of religion in the comics.

Community Comments

#1 Andrew Shuping
October/15/2007
@ 3:13 pm

I don’t think he flinched. He wanted to make it a story that anyone could relate too. How can you refer to a higher power and not let people know what religion it is? What Jerry seems to want is for Tom to have made all of the characters God fearing Christians. But cancer ignores religion, it ignores age, race and anything else we want it too. Tom created a story line that anyone could identify with. He created a strip that we don’t have to think oh she was Catholic or Muslim, instead we see Lisa as what she was. A human being.

#2 Danny Burleson
October/15/2007
@ 4:18 pm

Wow, so the lack of perfunctorily mentioning a random religion is offensive now? Interesting. I don’t think Batuik should have had to force some kind of religious angle on the story, just “because”. If he wanted to express a particular religious viewpoint, he had every right to, but he was correct that it made the story accessible to anyone. So I applaud his decision.

And for the record, I’m saying that as a Christian who has certain beliefs about the afterlife. But it did make it much more accessible to see Lisa go off to the nondescript nether-world, than to have, say, the matters of heaven, hell, limbo, purgatory or even reincarnation presented as filler.

Religion A people didn’t have read past the overtones of Religion B, and vice versa, and those with no religion at all… well, technically, that viewpoint was presented I guess.

What’s next? Will the Political Columnist question why it was never made clear on her death bed if she was Democrat or Republican?

Lisa, “Vote for…*sigh*———”

Les, “What’d she say?”

Nurse, “She said, ‘Vote for: (insert politician of choice here)’.”

I know that’s an exaggeration, but the point is, unless it wasn’t in Batuik’s heart to do it, it would have been fake and may even likely have been offensive to the very religious crowd he may have catered to, much less everyone else.

I rarely use religion (or politics) in my own comics (in fact, a yet to be published comic about the degradation of holidays, namely Christmas, is one of few I’ve EVER done.) That’s not out of fear of being offensive to non-religious folks, or even fear of mis-representing my own religion…

It’s because I’m here to entertain people with humor and drama, not deliver a sermon telling them WHAT to think instead of HOW.

And a side note, I skip politics cause I’m a stinking Moderate so I would have to pick on both sides, which I don’t have the energy for.

Yeah, next year’s election is going to be very fun for me. :(

#3 Josh McDonald
October/15/2007
@ 4:22 pm

And there was actually a sense of spirituality to her death — at least a kind of a nonthreatening after life — as she is led away by a dapper-looking masked figure into the great white unknown. I’d say it was optimistically agnostic.

And I don’t think Jeffrey Weiss is being fair; a “hot-button” topic like religion would have been a distraction.

#4 Dave K.
October/15/2007
@ 4:42 pm

I am personally not troubled by the lack of religion involving Lisa’s death. Except for the occassional strips involving Christmas (which has become way too secular) religion has never been a large part of the story lines in Funky. I thought that by not addressing religion, Mr. Batuik allowed all of us to have our own take on death and the afterlife. I am a doctor, and was a hospice medical director for years. My experience has been that a belief in a higher power (no matter what the name) gives comfort to some, but fear to others. I agree with Andrew that Mr. Batuik did not flinch. Rather, as he has done often since revamping his cartoon in 1992, he has allowed us readers to have our own take on the unfolding story.

#5 Rick Stromoski
October/15/2007
@ 4:49 pm

>>>>And there was actually a sense of spirituality to her death â?? at least a kind of a nonthreatening after life â?? as she is led away by a dapper-looking masked figure into the great white unknown.

Wasn’t that the Phantom of the Opera?

#6 Josh McDonald
October/15/2007
@ 7:09 pm

>>>>>>And there was actually a sense of spirituality to her death â?? at least a kind of a nonthreatening after life â?? as she is led away by a dapper-looking masked figure into the great white unknown.

Wasnâ??t that the Phantom of the Opera?

#7 Josh McDonald
October/15/2007
@ 7:10 pm

Was it? I thought it was Tom Cruise from “Eyes Wide Shut” …

#8 Dawn Douglass
October/15/2007
@ 7:20 pm

“My experience has been that a belief in a higher power (no matter what the name) gives comfort to some, but fear to others.”

It’s called death-bed conversions. :)

#9 Dawn Douglass
October/15/2007
@ 7:28 pm

I can see why Batuik avoided the subject, but then again, he didn’t. Just separating and scattering the ashes is against my religion. But I’m not one of these people who goes out of their way looking to be offended. Too many people are these days. I’m sure Batuik didn’t want religion to cloud the issue of the cancer death.

One controversy at a time.

#10 Jeff Stanson
October/15/2007
@ 10:11 pm

Of course, since he’s the strip’s creator, it’s totally up to Batiuk whether or not to have brought religion in to the picture surrounding Lisa’s death. And I’m bothered by someone who feels that they should point out the fact that he didn’t. Now personally, I think it would have made it a stronger story to have included it. But what strikes me hardest is Batiuk’s response that “he was afraid that any hint of religion would offend some readers.” Has it come to this? Is every cartoonist in the US now afraid they’ll have to deal with the same ridicule that was relentlessly tossed at Johnny Hart for expressing his religion on the comic page? After taking on some of the boldest topics in comics over the years, we find that Batiuk’s greatest fear is his readers’ potential reaction to some form of faith? This is not what this country’s founding fathers had in mind when establishing such freedoms as free press and religious expression.

#11 Rich Diesslin
October/16/2007
@ 12:31 am

It does seem odd that the person who doesn’t care about offending people by killing off a character to cancer in the funny pages (from a formerly funny cartoon) is concerned about offending people with religion. Thank goodness he didn’t bring politics into it too! Man, there could have been a firestorm. Imagine if Hillary brought the ashes … So much concern for a cartoon is rather amusing.

#12 Rick Stromoski
October/16/2007
@ 5:13 am

>>>Is every cartoonist in the US now afraid theyâ??ll have to deal with the same ridicule that was relentlessly tossed at Johnny Hart for expressing his religion on the comic page?

I think the objection to Hart’s religious references were less about injecting religious subject matter into his work, (which he had every right to do) and more related to his comparisons of Christianity being superior to other faiths( which he still, had every right to do.) On several occasions, his strip could be interpreted as being critical of Islam and Judaism in particular as well as lack of belief in a deity altogether. I’m a firm believer that the creator of a feature has every right to chose the content of his work but should expect strong reactions from readers when they chose content that could be controversial. Personally, I prefer cartoonists to take risks whether I agree with their positions or not. It always makes for more interesting reading.

#13 Rich Diesslin
October/16/2007
@ 8:19 am

Well said Rick and an interesting position. So in the case of TB, would you say a) he’s ducking the issue, b) doesn’t feel strongly enough to include it as a issue, c) feels he’s stirring the pot enough already, or d) a jar of almonds? ;)

#14 Dawn Douglass
October/16/2007
@ 8:53 am

Here’s a good story:
http://abcnews.go.com/Health/OnCallPlus/story?id=3722447&page=1

#15 Rick Stromoski
October/16/2007
@ 12:31 pm

I have no idea what motivates Tom Batiuk on this story line other than what’s already been published.
Personally, I think this entire thing is being milked to death and has become quite boring. So here’s a link to Soup to Nutz.

http://www.comics.com/comics/soup2nutz/index.html

#16 Danny Burleson
October/16/2007
@ 2:34 pm

“So hereâ??s a link to Soup to Nutz…”

Hmm, add a “The Doctor is IN” sign, and today’s comic looks really familiar. ;)

#17 Mary McNeil
October/22/2007
@ 3:59 pm

Until I read over these cmments, I had missed the fact that religion was “omitted.” Since I think of myself as a moderately religious person, I guess this means he handled it with respect.

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