In 1972, area artist Tom Batiuk debuted syndicated comic Funky Winkerbean in the Elyria Chronicle-Telegram. The comic drew from the community and environment he thrived within, and through real-life situations he encounters, he has developed and matured his characters. Employing a slice-of-life approach, he flawlessly creates a narrative that allows him to tackle sensitive subjects such as teen pregnancy, alcoholism, divorce, and cancer.
“The comic is very much rooted in familiar local places,” chuckles Batiuk, adding, “I’d like to think local readers have recognized the picture-perfect small town square and Gazebo that make Medina so iconic. I like to work off of photos of local places, it provides a sense of realness that makes the story and characters so much more personal.”
Personal characters is an understatement. With a gentle integration of humor, Batiuk navigates his characters through serious situations in memorable ways. For much of its run, the characters have aged in real-time, causing characters like Lisa Moore (née Crawford) to face struggles that moved readers across the country.
“When Lisa was introduced in 1984, she was anxious about her SAT,” explains Batiuk. Soon, though, she would become the best friend and love interest of Les Moore. “They grow together, and the reader finds their interest piqued by the reality of the story.”
Throughout her life, Lisa confronts both teen pregnancy and breast cancer. While she initially fights an conquers the disease in 1999, it reappears in 2006. After she finally succumbed to the disease in 2007, the character was 36. Readers, moved by the story, mourned, and they even initially begged Batiuk to keep the character alive. That same year, the Lisa’s Legacy Fund was established to raise funds for cancer research at the University Hospitals Seidman Cancer Center. Her tale of hardship was immortalized in Lisa’s Story: The Other Shoe, a collection of the 1999 and 2007 comic strips on comic strips on Lisa’s battle.
“Now, ten years later, we will be celebrating her legacy at the Medina Library,” says Batiuk.
On October 3 at 7 p.m., Batiuk will make an appearance at Medina Library where he will celebrate the 10 year anniversary of Lisa’s Story. Plus, he will examine the newly released The Last Leaf: Lisa’s Story Concludes and Prelude: Lisa’s Story Begins. One decade after her death, readers will once again be taken back to Lisa’s youth in Prelude’s collection of early comic strops. In The Last Leaf, Les and the family cope with Lisa’s death, and she is brought back in Les’ imagination.
Batiuk, who himself was diagnosed with prostate cancer in 2003, employs a powerful and personal message to convey empathy and spread awareness. His characters truly come to life, and the love between Les and Lisa continues to move audiences. Though Lisa’s final chapter may seem to have concluded, her engaging legacy continues to inspire today. Especially during the month of October, National Breast Cancer Awareness Month.
Be sure to stop by the library on October 7 to celebrate a tribute to one of Northeast Ohio’s most memorable fictional characters.