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Funky Winkerbean’s cancer arc getting mixed reviews (UPDATED)

I’m seeing more search engine traffic going to my previous story about the Funky Winkerbean story arc about the impending death of the Lisa Moore character. When I see this kind of traffic, it usually tells me that the strip is causing a stir amongst general comic readers (as opposed to most of us Daily Cartoonists who are always astir about the comics). Newspaper media has picked up on the stir as well. The New Jersey Star-Ledger reports on various reactions from readers who are upset, hospice workers who thinks it’s great and Funky creator Tom Batuik who defends the arc as a love story.

From Tom’s blog:

To those of you who still feel that I’m breaking some immutable rule of the cartooning profession by striving to do something of substance, I’d like to say that while trying to entertain is certainly a worthwhile goal, sometimes you have to go a little further and try to get at the heart of things. The expectations that some readers have for modern comic strips is rather limited. They feel that the artist owes them only a certain narrowly defined style of work. In actuality, what I owe them is the very best work I can do. I think that as an artist I owe it to my readers to challenge my expectations of myself and those of my readers as well, even at the risk of offending some. I don’t believe anyone should harbor the expectation of going through life without being offended by something. On a really good day, I’m offended a half dozen time before breakfast. Expression, even when we disagree with what’s being expressed, remains our best and sanest method of understanding one another.

For those of you who want a miracle, here’s the real miracle in this story. At it’s core, this is a love story. Grief is the price we pay for love, and this is a story about how you do that. We live in a world where most love stories focus on the initial burst of emotion, and not so much on how that emotion endures after time and fate have had their say. In a rather cold and indifferent universe, the triumph this sort of loving relationship is to me one of the great miracles of our existance. Lisa’s Story is celebration of that miracle and how even death can’t diminish it.

The number of stories dealing with Lisa’s cancer is more than I can read and comment on. Here’s a list of stories that Google is finding.

UPDATED: The Akron Beacon Journal has a good write up on the current story line as well as a historical perspective of dealing with death on the funny pages.

Community Comments

#1 Anne
@ 8:09 am

As someone who lost my very dearest friend to breast cancer this year and am poised to lose another probably within 2 more years, I have to comment. The only readers who are going to truly “get” this story arc are those who have dealt with a loved one being diagnosed too late. While there are many terrific survivor stories out there – they mostly deal with people who caught their cancer early. For those of us in the vicinity of someone whose diagnosis is stage 3 or 4 (metastatic) the picture is much less rosy. I watched my friend struggle so hard to come to terms with her situation, and beleive me, if there was any treatment that offered hope, she tried it. Near the end she was on a waiting list for a clinical trial.
But ultimately she had to make her peace with what was coming so that she could have some joy in life in her final days. She came to the conclusion, as Lisa has, that once treatment took more quality of life than it gave back, she could no longer bear that trade off. As difficult as it was for us, her friends and family to accept, it was her right to make that decision and we supported her.
This story arc is for all those people who share that burden and I appaud Batuik for the nerve to present an actual reality of cancer rather than the fairy tale ending we would all be so comfortable with.

#2 Rich
@ 9:17 am

My mom and sister-in-law have “survived” stage 3 ovarian cancer (they are currently cancer free anyway) and I agree all those issues are valid. I also I think anyone reading the strip can understand it at some level and Batuik’s expressed intent is all well and good.

I’m not sure it’s all that revolutionary for the comics pages … from a Mary Worth, Rex Morgan or Apartment 3G strip, but what makes is stand out is that it is from a strip called “Funky Winkerbean” … not a place where mellowdrama is normally expected (although he’s done it before). So for me, I don’t care for it nor find it socially redeeming. That being said, it’s Batuik’s strip so he can take it where he wants. I’m sure he’ll get lots of recognition and awards for it.

For me, I want the comics to be comics. I can get enough drama out of real life, or read a novel, or watch Oprah (okay, okay, I don’t read or watch Oprah).

#3 gail saffell
@ 12:21 pm

Having watched Mother go through uterine cancer, then enclapsuled kidey cancer then finally, at 80, died of non smoking lung cancer, I think Lisa’s story is perfect. My Mother made the same decision.

#4 sal
@ 8:36 am

It’s hard to find someone whose life has not been touched by the tragedy of cancer. Funky Winkerbean has always been a source of comedy and tragedy, just like life. I admire what Mr. Batiuk has done and only regret that it takes so long to tell the story. That he seems to be wrapping up an almost 20 year old adoption arc at the same time only shows that he is able to deftly handle such sensitive topics. He is also making cancer a part of his strip as it has become a part of his life and does not seem to be using it as a mere dramatic tool. I continue to admire his work

#5 Laurie West Doan
@ 8:33 am

Tom Was my student teacher at Eastern Heights Junior High School in Elyria so I have always been an avid reader of his comics.

I am a 10 year survivor of breast cancer. I have been so upset that Lisa is going to die, but know that he is touching on an issue that is so much a part of our society. I run for the comic strips each day to see how they are handling this sensitive issue. Throughout the summer, I have been impressed with watching how Lisa has been so strong in order to live the last days of her life with dignity and as much fullfillment as she can muster. I do wish for a miracle for her in this instance, but I also know the reality of her situation.

YOu have handled it with grace Tom.

#6 Katte Bradley-Miner
@ 6:59 pm

Saturday I read Funky Winkerbean. Lisa was released! I cried — for my mother, father, husband, deaths of recent years. By releasing them I believe I made their passings easier. But never cried. I wanted to. At last I have. Thank you so much, Tom Batuik. And a tardy thank you for handling Funky’s alcoholism years ago. You speak from the heart for those of us who need that understanding, that release. Yes, real life does belong in the comic pages.

#7 Kathy Stevens
@ 3:56 pm

Life does belong on the comic pages. My mother died three years ago from ovarian cancer. Funky Winkerbean was one of her favorite comics. My mother’s last months were very similar to Lisa’s. Like Lisa, my mother held her head high and died with dignity. My sister and I, like Les, had trouble admitting she was dying. As Les did the other day, we let her know it was ok to go. Although this brings back memories, it allows those who have not gone through this experience to see and feel what many of us have experienced.

#8 Lacy
@ 6:53 pm

Each morning I purchase the Toledo Blade and the first thing I read is “Funky” to make sure Lisa survived another night. My husband and I have been following the story closely. (We have always enjoyed “Funky” and the gang.) I feel silly feeling so sad about a fictional character, but the story has been handled so very, very real it is difficult to believe Lisa, Les and the rest are not. Thank you for educating those who have not yet been touched this very real part of life. It would not surprise me to read Lisa’s obituary in the Blade when that day comes.

#9 Elizabeth
@ 11:41 am

I lost my best friend, my husband, 5 years ago to multiple myeloma. As the cancer progressed, there is a time when you do have to say, enough is enough.
Lisa’s story just brings back memories of that time, and I think that Tom does a very good representation of what our loved ones go through, as well as their families.
I went to visit my mom yesterday…you never know when you will see people for the last time.
Lisa’s story belongs in the comics. That is the first section of the paper I read every day. That is what my mom taught me, by watching her read the comics first every day.
Thank you for your very touching story.

#10 R Pyle
@ 12:53 pm

I agree. This takes me back to my Dad’s final days in his battle with prostate cancer. The “caregiver mambo” strip made me cry. It’s very accurate.

This is an important story that might not have reached a certain audience had it not been told in comics form. It will upset some, yes. But it will cause others to do self-exams and check their health more closely.

I can see the story arcing from Lisa’s death through about a month of afterlife, culminating with Lisa seeing her teenage daughter, and a frame of her face coming around to the tape she made for the now 16-year-old Summer. And story continues from there.

Just like life.

#11 MAG Backus
@ 9:29 pm

It is often said that a crisis of this magnitude can either make or break a relationship. The diagnosis of breast cancer shook me to my core and blessed me to my core at the same time. I have two wonderful children and I wanted to see them grow and follow their dreams. My husband of 19 years and I had a “routine” relationship when I was diagnosed…we argued and took each other for granted. During the six months of treatment my children kept me grounded and my husband was my “ROCK” He emptied my drains, changed my dressings through 2 surgeries, and came with me to all of my appointments (2 hrs from home by train). As my hair began to fall out, he came with me as I chose to have my head shaved. Our relationship deepened at many levels, we truly fell in LOVE with each other all over again! We are truly BLESSED! To watch Lisa and Les be there for each other is comforting. To see Lisa make a tape for her daughter, have the “Wonder Women” at her bedside, and have Hospice come into her home brought a “human side” to this life-altering event. (I became a weekend Hospice nurse a year and a half after diagnosis)…Through it all Tom Batiuk helps us to realize that you have to laugh or all you will do is cry and it is the crisis and turmoil of life that shows a person’s TRUE character!

#12 F.B. White
@ 6:19 pm

When I first noticed this comic strip had stopped being comical, I made many phone calls to try to find out what was going on. I thought the creator of the strip was writing this as a catharsis for something he was going through. I felt sorry for the suffering I imagined he was feeling for a wife, mother, sister, or friend that was going through cancer treatments. I now know this is not the case. When I sit down with my paper and cup of tea in the morning, I turn to the “entertainment” section. I want to start my day out with something amusing before I have to start thinking about the six new tumors that I have. Yea, thanks a lot for the “entertainment”. I’m one less victim you can exploit. If you really think you have something to say, write an article or a book, don’t put it in the comics.

#13 Dawn Douglass
@ 10:52 pm

Why is it that we can absorb so much violence in movies and television, but we can’t handle a fictitious character dying of cancer in a comic strip???

I think the answer is that it’s so real. The character is well known and we’re subjected to her decline and imminent demise day after day after day.

I think this is a good illustration of the power of comics. And why we NEED to have serious comics and not just light and fluffy gags of no consequence. Why? Because our culture is becoming alarmingly weak, IMO. We don’t even want to tolerate a headache for 5 minutes…fast action pain reliever is no longer fast enough, now we have “instant” pain relief and will pay 25% more for those few minutes’ difference.

We can’t be offended, we can’t be made uncomfortable, we certainly can’t be expected to suffer.

The reality is, joy and suffering are just two sides of the same thing: love. As long as we suffer shallowly, we’ll love shallowly. It’s no wonder that divorce is through the roof, for example.

I fully agree with the author that this is a love story. If you are determined to shield yourself from it, then you might want to ask yourself how capable you are of loving deeply.

#14 Eric Burke
@ 8:51 am

Methinks Tom Batuik created this Sunday Funny for those that are criticizing his Sunday Funny:

And on a purely creative note…Funky Winkerbean has been around since 1972, yet Tom Batuik is till striving to create a really well drawn comic that features fresh, engaging stories. Impressive. A true professional.

Whether you like this current storyline or not, for all the venom spit the way of legacy strips or “dinosaur” strips like Funky Winkerbean, here’s an old strip that is exceling where many of today’s newer strips aren’t showcasing even a quarter the work ethic that Mr. Batuik is putting into Lisa’s story.

Reading this storyline makes me wish I’d been reading Funky Winkerbean all these years…

#15 R Pyle
@ 9:42 am

I think today’s Funky (Sept. 30, 2007) is brilliant.

#16 Dennis S
@ 4:07 pm

I can understand most of these comments on Lisa’s story. Pros and cons aside, however, the bottom line for me is simply that Mr. Batuik’s strip has completely engaged me, and has done so with excellence over the years. I love comics and FW is always the first one I read. We really have the priviledge of seeing a master at work, IMHO.

#17 Chris H.
@ 6:03 pm

Yes, regardless of whether you agree or disagree with his portrayal of cancer in his comic strip, you have to admit that Batiuk has engaged everyone and kept them following the story. Correct me if I’m wrong, but I don’t think anyone here has said that they stopped reading “Funky” due to the content of the story.

#18 Sue D.
@ 10:48 am

I have followed “Funky Winkerbean” for years since they were all in high school. Lisa has always been one of my favorite characters and the Les and Lisa love story was always compelling. This story has happened in “real life” in my family and I am sure other people reading the strip recognize their family history also. Thank you for mirroring what really can happen to women who do get breast cancer and the families who loose their moms, wives, sisters and friends to this terrible illness.

#19 Becky R.
@ 5:47 pm

I am a faithful reader of “Funky Winkerbean” and am grateful for sharing the lives of Lisa, Les and Summer. Thank you for Lisa’s story. Breat cancer is a disease that touches the lives of each and everyone of us in one way or the other. Lisa’s valor in fighting this disease, Les’s encouragement and support, and Summer’s attempt to understand, brings to light just how real breast cancer is and how a family must stay together even through the most difficult of times. I know the comics are meant to be funny, bit I find this one of the most touching, poignant stories I have followed. God Bless you Mr. Batuik as you battle your cancer. Thank you, again, for allowing us to share the lives of your characters. I will continue to follow Les and Summer as they move on without their beloved Lisa and as they continue their lives as she would want them to.

#20 Eddie Van Huffel
@ 6:22 pm

The series about Lisa was touching and accurate. It was delivered with a sensitivity of one who has experienced. I say this because I’ve been there, and through this complete series, I had to cry, as old wounds were re-opened. I only hope that Mr. Batuik will give the proper condolences to Les, as I was given 8 years ago. A little of me died then, and a part of me suffered, hoped, and died with the death of Lisa. I am not complaining, because the whole story was truthful, not sensational, and warm. However, I am sure that more than I have walked in Les’ shoes and have felt the hurt and pain like was depicted in the series.

#21 Mike Dennis
@ 7:14 pm

I would like to salute Tom Batuik for tackling the issue of breast cancer and death. His handling of the subject was both sensative and totally engaging. Each day I eagerly sought Funky Wickerbean to see what had happened to Lisa and Les. I would especially like to compliment Mr. Batuik for the beautiful way he depicted Lisa’s death. I thought it was a masterful stroke which also drove home the theme of love.

#22 Michael
@ 6:19 am

This story has all of the elements that real life has, all of the humor, all of the pathos, all of the happiness, and all of the sadness. That’s why it has had such an effective impact on everyone. Just a few weeks ago, someone I knew passed away after having gone through a battle very similar to that of Lisa’s. Like her, she was blessed with a loving companion who was with her to the end. I have all of the admiration and respect in the world for him. I hope and pray I never have to go through something like this, but if I do, I hope I can face it the same way these two couples did — with grace, courage, faith and love.

#23 Jon Lambert
@ 2:49 pm

I understand trying to grab peoples attention but I dont like putting tragedy into a comic strip. She had cancer.. went into remission and that should have been it.. The last time I was upset about this comic was when the two people got divorsed even though they still cared about each other.. whats next? Are you going to have his daughter get hit by a drunk driver? or the comicbook guy overdose on heroin?

I read the Sunday comics(or even daily) to brighten up my day and if Im pretty sure if I opened up the paper and read family circus and saw Jeffy choke to death on some Halloween candy I would be upset.. I would even be upset if I saw Garfield neutered.

Lets put the ‘Fun’ back into funnys ‘k?

#24 Glenna Skinner
@ 7:20 am

This is a great story line. The realism helps most of us cope and understand that we are not the only one’s in the world who have had to deal with the loss of a loved one. My compliments to Tom for this strip, I grew up with it when the characters were in high school, and I continue to grow with the strip and relate to what’s happening.

3 cheers for Funky Winkerbean………and Les Moore.

#25 Gregory Burris
@ 9:50 am

Beleive this, I buy the newpaper just so I can read “The Funnies” and I tell people that I get my daily education that way. So after reading some of peoples’ comments I beleive it was a great way to get the point across for I love my wife, but she never has the time to get a check-up, I’m afaid that some day the time will be to late, this comic strip has helped my wife, So maybe it might have saved my wife! We what to be the old couple going camping, and taking long walks holding hands togegher not walking alone. Live everyday as it if was your last, you never know what will happen tomorrow….God Bless!! P.S. I lost both Grandpa’s when I was 6 and 8 yrs old never gotta go fishing with them,etc. Now my dad is going down a rough road…but he has always said, “Just take it one day at a time.”

#26 wanderingrose
@ 10:25 am

The day Lisa died I was in the hospital. The Dr. had just told me that the mass they removed was not the harmless little thing that they thought, but was instead a stage IV carcinoma.

I will do everything I can, but the numbers are ugly. I do not want to check out before my children are grown.

I did not need to read about Lisa the same day my world turned upside down.

#27 Dawn Douglass
@ 12:29 pm

Wanderingrose, there will always be negative things around you. You’ve got to learn to focus on the positive. You have control over what your mind thinks about. Even stage IV cancer isn’t always a death sentence these days. Live day to day, hour to hour. Stay hopeful, but know that even if this does kill you, you and your family will be okay. You were frightened to be born, too. Death is just another stage, and a much better one at that. Have faith. I’ll say some prayers for you.

#28 F.B. White
@ 7:47 pm

When did this become a cancer support group? I thought it was a forum to discuss the appropriateness of putting suffering and dying into the comic page. I have enough support groups, what I don’t have enough of is things that are funny

#29 Dawn Douglass
@ 9:36 pm

Oh, grow up.

#30 F.B. White
@ 11:23 pm

Really? Do you think it’s childish to be so sick and tired of having cancer to the point where you don’t want it to see it in the funny papers? Telling someone with stage 4 cancer to be hopeful even if the disease kills them is as sick as this idiotic cartoon!

#31 Dawn Douglass
@ 12:28 am

Look, F.B., if you don’t like reading about other people’s cancer experiences and only want humorous comics, then move on. Nobody is making you come to this thread or to read Funky Winkerbean. It clearly makes you angry and unhappy, so why spend your invaluable time and energy? There are many other ways and places to find humor.

Many people (the majority of those who have commented on this website) have found support and comfort from Funky Winkerbean and from talking about it.

If you don’t want to be hopeful, that’s your choice, but choosing instead despair, misery, bitterness and victimhood is something I wouldn’t wish on my worst enemy.

Finding those “things that are funny” honestly often just takes a change in attitude. Even when my husband was on his death bed last year and I was sick to death from chemo in side-by-side twin hospital beds, my husband and I laughed together. If that makes me “sick,” then I thank God for it.

I sincerely wish you all the best.

#32 F.B. White
@ 6:22 pm

Do you have a learning disability? Can you not comprehend the written word? Again, this is not supposed to be a cancer support group (and by the way, I have just gone thru my 4th cancer), there are plenty of those on the net. It is a discussion of whether or not an entertainment section featuring comics (the Encarta world dictionary’s definition…funny, so amusing it induces smiles or laughter) is the right place for a story line featuring suffering, misery and death.

#33 F.B. White
@ 6:23 pm

P.S. Thanks for your good wishes. The same to you.

#34 Dawn Douglass
@ 6:46 pm

>>Do you have a learning disability? Can you not comprehend the written word?


Thanks and your welcome! :)

#35 M G Backus
@ 6:01 am

…We all have a choice not to read the comics. The majority of feedback for Lisa’s Story/cancer store has been positive. This seems to be more of a debate venue not a support group…

#36 Cathy Scott
@ 4:22 am

MG Backus: How far did you go back to find out the majority of the feedback is positive? Did you read the blog from the grandmother who was outraged because her grandchildren think their mother would die from breast cancer after seeing Funky? Did you? I don’t think so.

Funky is not funny. Neither are the feelings of pain, anxiety, fear, loss, etc. that his comic elicits. The last thing I read about Tom Batiuk (in his own words) is that he believes we live in a cold and uncaring universe. Iâ??m sorry he believes that. Iâ??m sorry that Lisaâ??s husband, who by clinging to past, is not living today. (Honey, itâ??s been 10 years since Lisa died! We donâ??t forget the loved ones weâ??ve lost, but the brave among us, move forward and find love again.) And, Iâ??m even more sorry that Lisaâ??s husband is passing that behavior on to their daughterâ?¦through his actions. Iâ??m not saying we shouldnâ??t rememberâ?¦we should.

With this coming new year, my 75-year-old mother will start her 3rd year of fighting Inflammatory Breast Cancer (stage 4). My younger brother (who was my best friend growing up as Air Force brats and in a chaotic, alcoholic home) will start his 4th year of fighting colon cancer (again, stage 4). I donâ??t know what else the new year will bring. My marriage died years ago. (Can it be resurrected? It can, but it will take 2 peopleâ?¦and God.) Menopause, being a caretaker, loving people whose timeline to meet the Lord appears to be more compressed than mine, job-hunting, etc., take their toll on my mind, body, and spirit some days. (And, Iâ??ll tell ya, estrogen has never been my friend! Someone told me menopause lasts even longer than 7 years. I hope not!)

And speaking of hope, I have hope for the coming year. I believe in miracles with my whole heart. I believe in love…real love. I admit that I am an incurable romantic, but romance fadesâ?¦and a deeper, more spiritual love takes rootâ?¦or the marriage dies. Some people start their marriage with a spiritual connectedness; I didnâ??t. But I have learned that the only abiding love is Godâ??s.

Maybe Tom Batiuk only knows Godâ??s love through other people (perhaps his wife who stood by him during his own battle with cancer). My prayer for him is that God would touch his heart and allow him to see how much He loves himâ??and that this is not a cold and uncaring universe. God brings people into our lives for seasons and earthly lifetimes. But Heaven…itâ??s forever, baby. And actually, we can (and do) have a piece of Heaven on earth.

Today is Christmasâ?¦a day when the majority of us celebrate the birth of our Savior. And, itâ??s okay that others worship differently…or not at all. We still love yaâ?¦we donâ??t have to believe the same thing. This is Americaâ?¦we have that freedom. I normally cry at Christmas (as I have been doing this morning) and I am not even sure why. Itâ??s probably a combination of things. So, I guess Iâ??ll just go with it. Cry, that is. Iâ??ll cry a little for my personal loses (both past and anticipatedâ??a bad habit of mine) and pains; Iâ??ll cry for your loses that youâ??ve shared in this blog; Iâ??ll cry for the wrongs that I want to right in this world, but canâ??t. Then, Iâ??ll stop. And, Iâ??ll have joy in my heart again. Because today is Christmasâ?¦and that gives me hope.

I hope cartoonists will stop spreading pain, death, gloom, doom, despair, real-life suffering, etc., in their strips. Honey, I got enough of that in my real life. (Again, thatâ??s my hopeâ?¦doesnâ??t have to be yours. If you like reliving old hurts, more power to ya!) I read comics to make me smileâ?¦and so many of them donâ??t. Let us get back to the basics if we must and look at the definition of comics. I find nothing funny about cancer, strokes, etc., that are in comics today. (BTW, I do find some political cartoons funny, but they are in the right section of the paperâ??not in the comics!) I think Iâ??ll write my newspaper and tell them I wish theyâ??d stop carrying those. (I can do that because this is America. And if enough people think the same as I, then we can get some of those cartoons that are not funny out of the comic strip. And, that might get the cartoonist to listen since it would impact their pocket books. If not, thatâ??s okay. Iâ??ve only been reading one or two strips out of the whole page in our paper anyway. All it does is waste paper (but, I wonâ??t go there today). This is way too long anyway…if anyone’s still reading. But hey, I’m a writer…that’s what I do. I write. And, I’m doing this for free…it’s not costing you anything. You can read or not…your choice. But, I pay for my newspaper and what’s in it. Do you?

Merry Christmas. To God be the glory and may He bless you, yours, and the USA. Love, Cathy B.

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