Funky Winkerbean Cancer Story Still Creating Heart Ache for Some Readers (UPDATED)

Bobby Bryant, a reporter for The State (SC), has been tracking some of the anger that Funky Winkerbean readers have expressed on blogs such as this one and

Writes one grandmother:

“[Tom Batiuk is] a man who seems to be without any idea of the pain you are inflicting,” she wrote on, a cancer-support Web site. “You do not have the right to put this horror in a family paper.”

Some “Funky Winkerbean” readers are upset, especially those with a personal stake in the cancer storyline. The grandmother who blasted Batiuk on wrote that her daughter was fighting cancer: “Every morning, (my grandchildren) read your work and get the message that their mother will die.”

Another woman on the same Web site wrote: “I just can’t stand (this) storyline… . Comics are supposed to be interesting, funny and relieve some sadness… It is really awful that you would take up such a story in (the) ‘comics’ section.”

I suspect that until this story line comes to a conclusion it will be a continued struggle for those who have had to deal with cancer in their own lives or those that they love. Certainly this demonstrates the impact that comics can have on readers lives.

UPDATE: Bobby Bryant, the writer of the article that I reference above, writes in to point out an online poll that ran with the story. The question posed: “What do you think? Should “Funky Winkerbean” be addressing death?” At the time of this writing, 292 votes have been cast with an even 50% for and against.

29 thoughts on “Funky Winkerbean Cancer Story Still Creating Heart Ache for Some Readers (UPDATED)

  1. There are only two entertainment/media events which have ever caused me to sit down and take the time to write, this being the second one. While I appreciate the sensitivity with which Lisa’s battle with cancer is being portrayed in the Winkerbean strip, the fact remains that it does not belong in the one section of the paper to which I turn in order to get a smile or chuckle in the midst of all the OTHER dreadful news I’ve just read through. It’s called the COMIC section, not the “You don’t have enough sensitivity, so here it is in your face” section. I freely admit I’ve never been a big fan of the Winkerbean strip…it’s actually rather bland in it’s content and delivery; I believe this may be more than a little bit of the reason Batiuk decided to jump on the “cancer wagon”. He’s in the middle of a controversy now, and more people than ever are reading the strip. I would say to Mr. Batiuk that he hasn’t bravely taken his comic strip in a bold new direction, rather, he’s taken a depressing subject and forced it on a public who wanted nothing more than to turn to a page in the paper where they could get a smile. There is more cancer awareness now than ever before, I don’t need to read about it in the comics. Fear not reading public, this will be over in time and Winkerbean will fade back into the obscurity it so rightly deserves.

    Robert Hartley

  2. Contact you newpaper editors and ask them to replace this tasteless comic strip with something that is entertaining. I did, and hopefully my newspaper’s editor will listen.

  3. Tasteless? Do you have a heart? Do you understand the pain that comes with having a chronic disease? If you do not like it, do not deny others the chance to learn from this.

  4. Anyone who is “learning” about cancer from a comic strip has a lot more problems than living with a chronic disease Mikhaela. The problem isn’t the topic or how it is written, the problem is the location. Do the words comics, cartoon, entertainment section or funny pages really conjure up visions of a young woman dying of cancer for you? This work may be beautiful and brave but it shouldn’t be a comic strip. I guess I will look in on Lisa’s last breath tomorrow after I get back from yet another cancer procedure.

  5. I’ll concede that Tom Batiuk has often taken Funky Winkerbean too far in the direction of the “tragic strip,” but I cannot agree with people who think it should be taken out of the papers, or that daily newspaper strips should only deal with lighthearted subjects. The current “Lisa’s story” run is upsetting, gut-wrenching stuff. But it’s also emotionally honest and I wouldn’t want Batiuk to change a bit of it. I believe it’s fallacious to argue that we cannot be honest about the ravages of cancer without somehow depriving cancer patients of “hope.” Hope is made of stronger stuff than that, I believe. If you don’t like Funky Winkerbean, skip ahead to Garfield. Please allow the rest of us continue to find meaning in this challenging, powerful serial.

  6. Those who yearn for the simple days of “The Yellow Kid” and “Dogpatch” were violated years ago by “Doonesbury” and similar ilk. As a long term reader of “Funky..” and its close cousin “Crankshaft” I can asssure you they are the most enjoyable comics available today. His incorporation of Lisa’s journey has been done with respect and in fully harmony of the themes the series embodies.

  7. I find it interesting that both Lisa (from FW) and Grandpa Jim from FBOFW are dying this week.

    Both of them are passing after a very long illness which afflicts millions of people.

    Only one of these deaths is being sensationalized, hawked, and openly promoted.

    This is why Lynn Johnston is an artist, and Tom Batiuk is a shameless self promoter.

  8. >..This is why Lynn Johnston is an artist, and Tom Batiuk is a shameless self promoter.

    And what evidence of this can you point to?

  9. I don’t understand people who object to the storyline of this strip and ask their newspapers to stop carrying Funky Winkerbean. Lisa’a story deals with an issue (cancer) that is not morally reprehensible. If people have a problem with cancer and death, well, they need to find emotionally healthy and mature ways of dealing with them, not get angry about what one person is putting in a paper. If you don’t like the strip, THEN DON’T READ IT.

  10. Why yes, Mikhaela, I do have a heart. And I do know the pain of losing loved ones to cancer. I also know how it feels to have it be inevitable to one day have this terrible disease because I’ve lost 3 out of 4 grandparents to it (my grandmother had breast cancer which was surgically removed). But most of all, I know that THERE IS NO PLACE FOR THIS ON THE FUNNIES PAGES!!!!!! A book or movie etc… yes, but not on a funnies page between long running successfully funny comics.

  11. life is full of good and bad times.i look to the funnies for a good time of a break from the rat race.i no longer will read funky. i want to enjoy my 5 mins away from the real world. go odie……. put it this way… i can always find depressing stories without having to read them in the so called FUNNIES. look at the front page………….

  12. Count me among the converts.

    I was against the storyline at first. I was annoyed that a “funny” oomic had taken a more serious tone.

    In early July I found that I have Kidney cancer. The kidney was removed, but the cancer had already spread to my lower left lung. I will be getting surgery on the 11th of October to remove the lower lobe.

    The comic took on new meaning. One evening, my wife and I discussed what happens in the end for the unlucky ones. What is the actual cause of death? The other kidney? Heart?

    The next morning the same question was posed in the Winkerbean comic. When told that Lisa’s systems are slowly shutting down. He asks the nurse, “From your experience, what is the last thing to go? The nurse answers, “Love”.

    It is near impossible not to cry as I write.

    There are numerous comics out ther to choose from. I don’t read Gil, Rex, Mary or many other serious strips. I don’t read many strips that are supposed to be funny.

    Anyway, the storyline is coming to an end soon, and we can go back to band turkeys.


    Sometimes serious and funny can mix…

    How come everyone spends so much time focusing on how to prolong their lives and so little time on how to actually LIVE their lives?

    It’s so strange… It’s like obsessing about the amount of gas left in your tank while speeding down the highway to nowhere… Wouldn’t you like to know why people do that?

    – Pearls Before Swine

  13. “What’s the last thing to go?” “Love.”

    Ooo, how fitting. Lisa’s last words as she is walking away with death are to Les, “Wait! I love you.”

  14. I appreciate the saga of Lisa’s cancer. Let’s face it: most comics aren’t particularly funny to adults. Those comics that are funny seem not to seek humor as an end in itself, but to make a point. Examples are Doonsbury, Dilbert, Get Fuzzy, Sally Forth, and For Better or For Worse. The point is well taken that certain comics would be better suited to an “adult” section; But that is true for several of them, as well as for many of the advice columns. That’s an editorial decision, though, and not an artistic decision.

  15. You know, this whole storyline brings to mind a scene from the movie “Tootsie”. The character played by Dustin Hoffman is telling his agent that he needs a job to finance his play. The agent tells him that no one wants to see a play about a family that moved back to the Love Canal. Hoffman’s character tells the agent, “But it really happened!”, and the agent answers back, “Who gives a $$$$! It’s a downer!”

    That is how I feel about the “Lisa” storyline. I really don’t care how sensitive, or how true-to-life, or how challenging or powerful it is. It is still a colossal DOWNER, and it is robbing hope from people who are fighting this dreaded disease every day. It doesn’t need to be in a forum where people go to take a light-hearted break from the daily routine. If Tom Batiuk wants to take his own phobias and pawn them off to the public as art, let him put in a book and sell it. David Bale and the others are right, this type of stuff doesn’t belong in the funny pages.

  16. Thank you Tom Batiuk for a powerful piece that does have a place in the daily comics. You gave me something to look forward to every morning at 6am, when my daily routine begins…prepare for work, take the dog out, and grab that newspaper so I could check on Lisa, Les, and Summer.

    I am a three year cancer survivor…I’m still receiving treatment. Please “Mr. Sandman”, don’t speak for me and other survivors that Tom is robbing us of hope. The strip reminded me daily how beautiful and important my family and friends have been to me during my journey, and makes me even more hopeful that they will be there for me, my husband and my daughter if I begin to lose this battle.

    And “Mr. Sandman”, you call it a dreaded disease. It’s not all dreadful. Cancer has introduced me to some of the most amazing beautiful people…I can’t imagine my life without them.

    My husband, who never read the comics, started reading Funky daily. It was therapy for both of us.

    I still get my chuckles from Dennis, Dagwood,Charlie,Family Circle, and Marmaduke. And I know that I will again get a few chuckles from Funky.

  17. Francie –

    I’m very glad that you and your family have gained a measure of comfort from the “Lisa” storyline. I just hope you realize that there are a lot of people out there who didn’t have the same appreciation for it that you did.

    I also hope that you are around for your husband and daughter for a long time, and that you will win the battle that my mother didn’t.

  18. Five years ago my husband of 27 years collapsed unexpectedly. Twenty DAYS later he was dead from adenocarcinoma that was inoperable. I hadn’t read the strip regularly before, but I found myself glued to it as Lisa took to her bed. I stared at it every morning before work, crying as memories of that time got stirred up. Yes, it made me angry and I was surprised how thoroughly it could wreck my day. You can say that I had a choice not to look at the strip during my morning ritual of reading the comics, but I almost felt obsessed by the need to see it through to the end. It took advantage of my grief and my memories. I’ve continued to deal with my loss and so have my kids. I agree completely that this comic would be fine in a separate collection, which people could then purchase. I don’t avoid the subject of death. I just don’t appreciate being ambushed.

  19. I agree that Batiuk should use his creative talents and publish his work. To write a book which expands on the story could be excellent for those who want inspirational stories of hope. My point, and the point of several others who want this strip off the funny page is this: there is a time and place for this story to be enjoyed by his fans. But the newspapers are doing a disservice to those who read the comics for laughs (especially kids). It puts a damper on your mood when inbetween the (always humorous) antics of Blondie and Hagar are pictures of a very sick woman dying.

  20. I found myself rivited to the “comic strip” even though I lost my wife to cancer through a hard fight to live for five years. I agree, the pain that the strip has created is tremendous, it has re-opend old feelings that I was hoping were gone, especially after re-marriage. Those of us who have been through many cancer deaths in a family (I have lost four of five through cancer in my immediate family and over 20 ants and uncles) have been worn out and emotionally drained just surviving as a care giver and now although it has been only six years since her death, I tried to move on and place in to the “surreal” area of my mind. I have no problem with the subject, but the detail and all the “bad moments” came flooding back. I kind of liken it to a combat veteran who saw many of his friends die many different kinds of death and the hell that they went through and after many years get they get thrown right back into the war all over again. Some things are left to be experienced, life is tough enough, we do not need to live the bad parts all over again. If you want to bring out the experience of death and cancer, then become a hospice volunteer, after enough death, you will have memories that you would like to put behind you and keep them there. The “comics” should be a place of respite for those of us who have been through the “hell”.

  21. It takes a special cartoonist to deal with unpleasant subjects. Batiuk showed the human side of what can often be painful, tragic, and seemingly unbearable…and yet, somehow, we endure.

    I’ve read this strip since I was in college, and 30 years later, I find it still speaks to me in an honest voice that allows me to smile, chuckle and cry. Comics should be about eliciting emotion, and crying is one of the most powerful and healing of all emotions.

    Thank you Mr. Batiuk. I read this comic daily, even though my local paper doesn’t carry it (thank goodness for the internet)! I have a number of yellowed and curling strips pinned to a bulletin board!

    Many thanks and be well

    Lynn V.

  22. I am not a regular reader of Funky, but how long has the cancer story been going on?

    I just picked up a copy of Brian Walkers “The Comics since 1945” and it shows a strip from Funky where they are sitting on a park bench and Lisa tells him they found a lump, and the strip is dated from the late 90’s.

    Has it been that long of an ordeal?

  23. The Lisa character went through 2 battles with cancer – the first was back in the late 90’s (I don’t know how long that story-line lasted) and she of course survived. Then Tom brought back the topic this year which started in March and will continue through the end of this month.

  24. I lost my wife over 4 years ago. The cartoon touched a nerve. My wife did not pass away from cancer, it was sudden and we never got a chance to say good-bye after 36 years of marriage. The cartoon expresses many of the feelings I had and still have, smelling her clothes, looking at my empty bed. It hurts but is ok as I will always hurt from her passing.

  25. Do you ever dream about her, Dave? Those are the worst for me. I woke up sobbing this morning. It’s been over a year since my husband’s death, but those dreams make it like it just happened all over again. Luckily, I don’t have them often.

    I don’t know which is worse, knowing for a year and a half that they’re going to die, or them dying suddenly. Either way, it’s tragic.

  26. I’m going clear back to the mention of the deaths of Grampa Jim and Lisa at the same time in FBorFW & Funky. My thought when the two events cropped up closely was “Jim has been wanting to die, and Lisa doesn’t want to.” And, of course, Grampa Jim is old, something most of us hope to become – rather than facing an early and lingering death like Lisa’s (or my Mom’s, or your husband’s, or what Terry fears for himself and his family)- though, as Jim’s story line shows, that kind of death can be lingering too. (And I feel that story line only HINTED at what Iris, as his main care-giver, is going through. But that’s another whole debate. Does THAT belong on the funny pages? )
    The argument that kids shouldn’t see this in the comics is a red herring. By the time they reach 8th grade, most kids HAVE dealt with death somehow, even if it’s a neighbor or an older distant relative. “Funky” dealt with teen suicide, too, don’t forget – though that ended in counseling and recovery, not death.

  27. And I do stand corrected, as the person who pointed out the coincidental timing. It looks like Grandpa Jim is going to hold on longer. I regret the error.

  28. It’s sad that a comic has to evolve nto a soap opera, I quit reading For better or worse when it became nothing but April being victimized by her mean girl ex-friend Becky. Now Funky Winkerbean kills out Lisa, I also hated the trip into the future. I quit reading it after a couple of those.

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