Death Comes to Funky Winkerbean

And yes, I’m aware that sounds like an amusing punchline, but actually it’s been quite moving — or as moving as something in comic strips can be — as the character of Lisa dies after a long struggle against cancer (this impetus for this topic being “Winkerbean”cartoonist Tom Batiuk’s own cancer fight). Above is the penultimate strip in her comic strip mortality; it officially all ends tomorrow.

I’ve been surprised how much I’ve been caught up with it. I really wasn’t a Funky Winkerbean reader when I was younger; it was just another vaguely lame comic strip when I was growing up. But apparently at some point Batuik decided to age his characters like they were in the real world, and also had them deal with some real world problems to go along with the punchlines. It made a difference when I finally started paying attention to the strip a couple of years ago, and now with the Lisa story line I have to say that it’s been the first thing I open the newspaper to when I get it every day. This morning my newspaper was missing, and I was severely annoyed; fortunately the strip is online.

I suspect that the reason this particular storyline has gotten to me is that I’m just now old enough to know people my age who have had cancer or other life-threatening diseases; I’m just now old enough to fear the loss of a spouse. Mortality, while not yet terribly concrete, is neither just an abstract concept anymore, either. Batiuk is doing a good job of pressing my buttons at the moment. It’s a reminder that stories that affect us can come out of anywhere — even out of “Funky Winkerbean.”

23 Comments on “Death Comes to Funky Winkerbean”

  1. Batiuk, i before u. Yeah, I’ve been following the strip for some time now, since I learned that John Byrne had stepped in to cover for him. As much fun as they make of the strip on Comics Curmudgeon, it has been quite moving, But dammit, since Batiuk survived, I honestly thought she was going to live as well.


  2. I’ve been reading Funky Winkerbean more or less since late high school and have grown up alongside many of the characters. In fact, I remember it was one of the favorites of a friend of mine, who liked it specifically because time passed and intense things happened (another favorite of his was “For Better or For Worse”). He has since passed away, which makes the strip more important to me as a link to his memory. Lisa’s story has indeed been very moving, and I’m both looking forward to and dreading tomorrow’s conclusion.

  3. When I had my first child, all of a sudden I thought, “I’m not allowed to die, now.” Watching Lisa’s death has brought those feelings all back, especially the scenes with her kids. It’s been incredibly moving–and not in a gratuitous tear-jerking way.

  4. Wow, thanks for posting this. Reading your background to the comic (which I had never heard of, but now I feel compelled to read the archives) made me all teary-eyed. And I so SO agree with your last paragraph.

  5. The saying goes, “Having a child means allowing your heart to run around outside your body”. Becoming a parent did more than anything to make mortality a concrete concept in my life – and when my 15 month old daughter was nearly electrocuted my fear was many times more intense than anything I experienced in 13 months in RVN.


  6. Dude, I’m reading “Old Man’s War” right now (Having read “The Ghost Brigades” first. Go figure.) Are you sure you’re only just now pondering the loss of a spouse or mortality?

  7. While I found today’s installment touching, I think the Comic Curmudgeon is on to something with regard to how relentlessly negative the strip has been since Batiuk ditched the concept of “Funky Winkerbean, the next generation” and decided to age his characters: Lisa’s Cancer, Funky’s divorce and descent into alcoholism, Harry L. Dingle’s (band director) hearing loss and subsequent retirement, Becky’s loss of her arm in a drunk-driving accident (Wally’s girlfriend, she was accepted into Julliard before the accident), Wally’s deployment to Iraq. I’m not saying it isn’t commendable that the strip hasn’t tackled darker issues, but some balance might be nice.

    BTW: In an odd coincidence, it looks like Jim Patterson (Elly’s dad in For Better or Worse) also died in the comic strips today.

  8. Yup, and the longer you live, the more people you outlive. My first husband died (L.A. traffic) when we were both 34; it was an extremely abrupt lesson in how there are no guarentees on the equipment … I’m 59 now, been to a lot of wakes, and still haven’t really got used to the idea yet.

  9. I have Funky in my daily favorites folder. That and Day By Day are the first things I read every morning.

    This whole arc has had me caught as well.

  10. I could take this much more seriously if every single person in the Winkeruniverse wasn’t dealing with some awful, horrible tragedy. It’s gotten past the point of caring and into the point of hilarity. At least Lisa got to die so she didn’t have to deal with all the destruction and mayhem around her.

  11. The character’s on “For Better or For Worse” have been aging as well. And it appears that a character may have died in the strip this week (we’ll find out more). Wonder if it is some sort of multi-strip theme going on? Any other strips with character’s checking out?

  12. Having watched cancer take my Grandfather over 8 months (and 6 years) and having a lot of it in my family tree, I have seen the humor and tenderness he’s used to address the issue. It’s never fun, but those “Superhero” Sundays of fighting the cancer always brought smiles, because that’s exactly what it’s like.

  13. I’m sorry that it’s Lisa…she’s had a hell of alot on her plate, pregnancy in highschool, giving up the baby, one of Les’ students intercepting his letters to her, getting hurt in an mailbomb explosion at the post office, cancer, etc. I’ve always been moved by her determination and that includes her not going through chemo again. I’m sure that there will be people fussing that death shouldn’t enter in to comic strips. Lynn Johnson got all sorts of grief over the death of the family dog Farley and Milt Cannif received death threats after he killed off Raven Sherman in the 40s. However it’s a tribute to the creators who make these characters so real…

    So long Lisa, it’s been good to know you.

  14. I’ll worry when Garry Trudeau offs Zonker.

    God forbid. When Lacey died, I wept. Zonker’s death? Don’t make me go there.

  15. I’ve found the Lisa storyline nicely (and subtly) affecting as well – but I’m even more curious to see where Batiuk takes the strip on Firday, when, from what I understand, he’s jumping ahead 10 years again.

  16. Comics Curmudgeon is one of my first reads every day, but he’s missed the boat with this one. I know it’s unusual (and maybe offputting) to find emotional depth on the comics page, but that just makes it all the more remarkable and engaging… for me anyway.

    Sod it, I was tearing up when I read that strip this morning…

  17. I lost my beautiful daughter Imogen to breast cancer on 23 September. Her funeral was in Australia last Friday.
    Imo had struggled with this disease for over eight years, having her first mastectomy in January 1999 and her second some about three years later. In between she gave birth to my first grandchild, a beautiful little girl, Chloe. Between then and now Imo fought her battle valiantly and with great courage. Even with the realization that she would not win she remained strong and cheerful, and several times beat the “only a few months” prognosis.
    Lisa Moore’s story followed Imo’s closely, and Imogen really appreciated the earlier strips I sent her ~ they gave her some validation in her own fight.
    Today and tomorrow’s panels will bring a chapter in the story to a close; and I have to say that this part of the story has been told with grace and with sincerity. Thank you.
    Anyone who is disturbed by the depiction of Lisa’s final weeks and transition clearly have no understanding of the nature of this terrible disease, and should reflect on why they are disturbed. Life is; and life ends for us all. In Imogen and Lisa’s cases it ended too soon, but so it is. Neither unfair or otherwise. But death can be so cruel, and for that reason, Imo and Lisa’s stories (and those of countless other victims) should be told and heard by the widest audience possible.

  18. ” Zonker’s death? Don’t make me go there.”

    The thing is, any Doonsbury death would kinda pale in comparison to the real-world suicide of Duke’s model, Hunter S. Thompson.

  19. Wow. I haven’t followed Funky et al for a long time, but I loved it back when it started. Death flat-out sucks. I’ve lost too many friends, but mainly to accidents (and one murder, one suicide, heart attack, and stroke). My wife’s father died two years ago, eleven days after our wedding. And just in April, a good friend of mine had a massive stroke and was dead a day and a half later.

    It sucks. That’s all their is to it.

  20. @Richard: My deepest sympathy on the loss of your Imogen. I’m sitting here with tears in my eyes from reading your post. You’re in my prayers.

  21. About 10 years ago I lost a childhood friend to breast cancer. She was 36, about the same age as Lisa Moore. Now the strip fast-forwards 10 years, and lo and behold, these characters I’ve been following for over 30 years are now the same age as me. I guess it’s safe to say I’ve grown up with Funky Winkerbean. Since these characters have always been roughly my age, sometimes older, sometimes younger, I have always found the strip to be relevant. Those who have a hard time accepting death in the comics might want to consider their own mortality and their reasons for not being able to deal with death. Meanwhile, if all you think the funny pages are for is laughs, check out Mary Worth, or Rex Morgan, MD.

  22. Actually, I got to worrying about you the yesterday, John, when I was listening to the Director of the Center for Environmental Oncology at the University of Pittsburgh Cancer Institute on NPR talk about how the aspartame in diet soft drinks is linked to brain cancer (and does so in tests designed to mimic drinking only a few cans per day). She ranted about how the aspartame-makers’ studies that showed no link only followed soda drinkers for a few years, whereas it takes 20-40 for brain cancer to develop.

    All I could think of was you, your Coke Zero addiction and Athena. Gah. It’s a bit weird, but you’ve actually assumed the position in my world of Someone To Lose Sleep Over. I can’t tell if that’s just a normal part of rabid fandom or verging on creepy. (All hail the Internets, exponentially increasing the amount of stuff to stay up until 3am worrying about. :-P)

    Between the evils of aspartame and the hormonal jiggery-pokery wrought on the body by certain hair-care products, it was a squirm-making show. And I’ve been following that “For Better or Worse” cartoon, too, so my whole week’s gone all mortal and shit.

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