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Bio - Tom Batiuk

November 27, 2006

Okay, here we go, gang, biography lite. I was born in Akron, Ohio, in 1947. After graduating from Kent State University in 1969 with a bachelor of fine arts degre and a certificate in education I taught art in Elyria, Ohio at Eastern Heights Jr. High.

In 1970, while I was teaching, I began drawing a panel for the teen page of the Elyria Chronicle-Telegram. Those strips led to the creation of Funky Winkerbean in 1972. Funky is syndicated by King Features Syndicate to more than 400 newspapers nationwide. I skipped over a lot of hard work in the middle there, but that's basically the gist of it for those of you doing term papers.

In 1979, I launched John Darling into syndication working with Tom Armstrong, Gerry Shamray, and Bob Vojtko in that order. Great artists all. John Darling was a fictional talk show host who first saw the light of day in Funky, and who was quite literally killed off when his strip ended.

Another character from Funky, Ed Crankshaft, soloed in his own strip in 1987, for which the inimitable and talented Chuck Ayers has been the artist from the get go.

When I'm not working on the strips, which is pretty much a lot of the time, I like to spend time with my family, my wife Cathy, and son Brian. In all the time that's left over, I enjoy reading, listening to music and playing tennis.

Like I said, biography lite. I'm saving the rest for my memoir, If, you just can't live without knowing more, ride the link over to the King Features web site and check it out.


Tom Batiuk talks about Crankshaft, featured in 'Strike Four,' a baseball compilation of the comic strip

July 9, 2014

cleveland.com

by Marc Bona, The Plain Dealer

Strike Four!CLEVELAND, Ohio – Comic strips tend to fall in one of two areas these days: They go for the rarely-subtle yuk-yuk laughs or one-liners, or they pull on heartstrings in serious story lines.

"Crankshaft," created and drawn by Tom Batiuk and illustrated by Chuck Ayers, does both.

Black Squirrel Books, an imprint of Kent State University Press, has issued "Strike Four" (231 pages, $24.95), herding the baseball storylines of Ed Crankshaft, Centerville's favorite curmudgeon. Seeing all the strips in one compilation makes a reader almost forget all the other things Crankshaft is known for: Driving a bus (badly), interacting with neighbors (grumpily) and grilling out (explosively).

Batiuk and Ayers take us through Crankshaft's life in and around baseball: A special baseball memory helps him pull through a hospital stay. He fights City Hall's proposal to replace a beloved ball field with a strip mall. He builds a scaled-down Fenway Park in his yard.

Most of all he retells a story, about how he struck out three great Detroit Tigers in a 1940 exhibition game. Following time-honored rules of embellishment, Crankshaft alters the story a bit each time he tells it, often to his grandson.

Batiuk deftly intertwines baseball history and one-liners throughout story lines. He touches on race and baseball in the 1940s, but shifts easily into Crankshaft's malaprops and one-liners (his mother-in-law pitch "would drop in when you least expected it.")

Real players and places form the backdrop in the strip: Cleveland Municipal Stadium, Jacobs Field and Canal Park are all shown with pretty accurate depictions. Crankshaft catches a foul ball hit by Jim ThomeOmar Vizquel faces Crankshaft in Wiffleball. Matt Williams hits a home run while Crankshaft watches.

Batiuk allows himself one fun vicarious reference: In one of the story lines, the Indians win the World Series.

Batiuk spoke with us about Crankshaft:

You describe yourself as a bit of a nominal fan while Chuck Ayers is a bigger fan – is that accurate?

"He is a big baseball fan. He actually played, until his knees gave out, in old-time base ball games. It's just one of those things. ... I was probably traumatized by seeing a no-hitter the first time." (In the book's introduction, Batiuk talks about seeing a tremendous pitchers' duel as a boy, with the Indians' Bob Feller on the mound. To "a clueless and bored young kid" it was a challenge to appreciate what was happening.)

How did the character come about?

"It's not often you can pinpoint a time, but I was on a book tour in Atlanta and leaving a TV station. ... a phone call from a viewer came in. She said she liked (Batiuk's other strip) "Funky Winkerbean" and said 'There are two characters you need – a school secretary and a school-bus bus driver.' "

Batiuk said he often "will take someone I know" and thought back to growing up. When he lived in in Akron he did not ride a school bus but later, in Grafton, he did – and he recalled the driver, as well as the times kids lugged everything from science projects to trombones onto the bus.

"I ended up basing the character on him. ... He was just this grumpy old guy. I actually had to tone him down a little bit."

How much research do you have to do – like with the references regarding the players from the 1940 lineup?

"As a caveat as to not being a huge baseball fan, I do get baseball. I particularly get the romance of the game. I understand what's going on. But I needed to get my facts straight. I knew I wanted to have Ed pitch for a minor-league team, where he was going to have a great summer, where he would strike out some big names and the Major League team would go on to the World Series and he wouldn't. It sort of crystallized his career for the rest of his life.

"I had a friend who pulled out his Baseball Encyclopedia and said 'Here, you need this.' That's how I came up with the Mud Hens and the Tigers, right before World War II, and of course I had heard of (Hank) Greenberg and (Charlie) Gehringer. They were all there. That's the type of story I enjoy writing. These stories are really fun to do."

Story arcs – who comes up with them? Take me through the creative process.

"I grew up reading Marvel Comics. My dream was to work in the Marvel bullpen. It's just me writing everything and getting it to the artist and he takes it from there. Chuck is really great. Once I get him the ideas and explain what I am doing and what is going on, he takes the ball and runs with it."

What's the future for Ed Crankshaft?

"There's still going to be baseball storylines. I have him playing senior ball; that's always an opening. I will be doing a story next year because the Toledo Mud Hens are going to retire Ed's jersey. The baseball story line is going to continue. It's just such a big part of his life."


Tom Batiuk Talks "Funky Winkerbean"

Alex Dueben, Staff Writer Comic Book Resources

Tue, March 19th, 2013

Funky Winkerbean comic graphic

For more than four decades, Tom Batiuk's "Funky Winkerbean" has been a fixture in the comics page of newspapers nationwide. Initially set in high school centered around a group of students and a handful of teachers and employees -- including the secretary who actually ran the school and Harry L. Dinkle, the self-proclaimed "world's greatest band director." In 1992, Batiuk relaunched the strip, jumping forward in time, something he did again in 2007.

During this time Batiuk has received both praise and criticism for combining dramatic and comedic elements and tackling issues ranging from bullying to teen pregnancy to cancer and death. In 2007, Batiuk was a Pulitzer Prize finalist for ""Lisa's Story"," a story arc in which the character succumbed to cancer. In addition to his work on "Funky," from 1979-1990 Batiuk wrote the strip "John Darling" and since 1987 has been writing "Crankshaft" for his former classmate Chuck Ayers to draw.

Kent State University Press just released the second volume of "The Complete Funky Winkerbean" and CBR News took the opportunity to speak with Batiuk, who will be a Special Guest at Comic-Con International in San Diego this July.

CBR News: Tom, thanks for taking the time. I know you're a big comic book fan from way back.


Cartoonist Tom Batiuk just released the second volume of "The Complete Funky Winkerbean" from Kent State Press.

Tom Batiuk: If you could see my drawing board now. I've got a project that's going to come up starting the end of the year and it's really cool. It involves Funky's wife Holly. Her son Cory is in Afghanistan and she's looking to complete his comic book collection for him as a way of staying in touch. So she's going to complete his collection of Starbuck Jones comics, which is a character I made up when I was in the fifth grade. I have seven covers that I've had guys create for me and it's such a kick. I feel like a small comic book company right now. It's very cool.

Who are the seven artists creating work for you? Can you say?

Joe Staton, Terry Austin, Mike Gilbert, Neil Vokes, Bob Layton, Mike Golden and Norm Breyfogle. It's incredibly cool.

Anyone who reads "Funky" knows you're a big comic guy and it was interesting to read the introductions to the collected editions and learn how you flew to New York and took your portfolio around to Marvel and DC when you were younger.

It was probably the best break of my life, not getting a job at Marvel. [Laughs] I just finished the book that just came out, "Marvel Comics: The Untold Story," and it's horrifying.

I've read "Funky" on and off for my whole life and I know that the strip has changed, but reading the first few years, I'm not sure I was prepared for just how much it's changed.

It has been quite a journey.

You were in your mid twenties when strip started.

I was 25. I was 24 when I started working on the strip. I had gone to New York and the publisher who was going to bring it out was moving to Chicago and it took them a year to complete that process to launch "Funky." Which was actually a really good thing because I knew for a year that the strip was coming out so I could work and write and do all kinds of stuff and learn how to letter. [Laughs] It really helped me immensely.

At the time you sold the strip you were teaching, correct?

I was teaching at a Junior High School in Elyria, Ohio. I was doing some cartoons for a local paper and it was for their teen page. I got hired based on some sketches that were in my sketchbook. I would do sketches while I was teaching and put captions on them and have fun with it. I had done that for about two and a half years. That's what I took to New York and that's why I focused on a teen strip. I thought, I'll write about a milieu that I understood. I was just got out of school and I was still connected with school through my teaching and it was perfect for me. If I had sat down to try to calculate what would be a good idea for a comic strip, I don't think I would have picked that, but I accidentally landed at a time when that particular genre was ready for an update.

Around that time you were one of a number of new voices that came into comics.

Maybe it was just one of those generational things where it was time for things to be updated across the board. I mean I went to Kent State from '65 to '69 and the changes were just phenomenal that were going on in the country and in youth culture at that point. I think "Funky" picked up a lot of that stuff.

I know that you've gotten complaints about the dramatic stories, and though I love them, I can see how from a certain point of view, all the elements might sit uneasily with some readers.

Well first of all you always fight this culture that thinks the comics are supposed to be funny. I keep making the argument every chance I get that they were called "the comics" by accident, but people take it as a Webster's definition in terms of how you're supposed to handle things. And then of course I really think of it as a plus. People identify so strongly with these characters that when you do something to those characters, they feel it too and that's a good thing. In some ways more than any other art form comics are better suited to this because they're in people's homes every day. Or on their computers every day now. They're there with them on a daily basis and you build a closer relationship with the characters that somebody creates.


While Batiuk was originally rejected by Marvel Comics when he was starting out, "Funky" celebrated its 40th anniversary last year

And high school is so dramatic.

Melodramatic is more like it. [Laughs]

[Laughs] There's so much that's not funny about high school and you've touched on this in the strip especially in recent years. The contrast between, say, how once you might have played bullying for laughs but today you make a point of what was underneath that.

Even when I was doing it for laughs I always looked on Funky and bullying from the get go. It wasn't funny in the sense that Les is getting beat up. [Laughs] I was looking for the trauma inside of Les and even though I was making it humorous it was about what it's like to be in school knowing that somebody's going to be waiting for you at the end of the day who wants to beat you up makes it difficult and how that affects your life. It was never thinking that bullying is humorous but I was always trying to pull humor from how Les had to deal with it.

I always thought of Les as central character of the strip.

He became the central character of the strip early on. It just evolved that way. He became the straight man for everybody and so Crazy Harry and all of the other characters could bounce off of him and Les seemed to get invested in all of the emotions of high school and what kids were going through. He and the Band Director were probably the first two characters to separate themselves and become really strong characters in the strip.

How much of Les is you?

[Laughs] There's a lot. Any cartoonist takes things from their life to put into the strip and Funky is so close to real life. I'm only a quarter inch removed from real life so I pull everything. There's a ton of me in Les. There's also a lot of me in the other characters as well, but yeah, I really draw on a lot of experiences I had in high school, like climbing the rope in gym class. [Laughs] That was terrifying. I just couldn't see the point.

I have to admit that one of my great reliefs in middle and high school was learning that they no longer did that.

I'm happy to hear that. [Laughs] But they probably do something worse like climbing a rock wall or something.

When you jumped forward in time the first time it became a little more dramatic and less comedic a strip. Do you think that's fair to say?

That occurred right after I did a specific storyline. When I did the teen pregnancy storyline it pushed everything forward a little bit and it made it difficult. Les obviously wasn't the father of Lisa's baby, but he was her best friend and her confidant and even her lamaze partner during the birth. After the character has done that it makes it difficult to walk back and have him get stuck on the gym class rope again. It just didn't feel right. It felt like these characters were starting to grow up and I was obviously older at that point and I think that particular storyline helped me begin to find my adult voice.

Once I made the time jump I was able to deal with things that were more pertinent to being an adult. For example in high school the romantic relationships are very simplistic and naive and most of it's about trying to get a date. But adult relationships are much more complicated, much more nuanced and much more fun to write about. The great gift that my readers have given me is allowing me to continue to write the strip as I've continued to write about my adult experiences in the strip. I've been very fortunate to have that happen.

Lisa was the focus of a second jump in time as well. I'm curious why you decided to jump as opposed to aging characters over course of the strip?


The book has employed several time jumps rather than gradually aging the characters

Because I forgot to do that. [Laughs] I have a vague remembrance of when the strip started out thinking -- I mean, I really like the strips that age, I like that concept and I enjoy it and I didn't want to get locked into doing a teen strip forever and ever, but I didn't do it for a long time. And I think part of that was due to the fact that I was doing another strip, "John Darling," and then "Crankshaft" came along, so I had an outlet for all kinds of ideas for more adult things. I think that retarded the process a little bit too, but again, like I said, after the teen pregnancy story I thought, I can't keep repeating the same things over and over again. It seemed to be something that let the strip grow and move forward. And so that's why I did that. It necessitated the time jump because, as I say, I forgot to do it gradually. And I don't even know if I know how to do that. I look at Frank King's work on "Gasoline Alley" and I'm just in awe of how those characters age right before your eyes. Each strip is like a day passing and it's just totally amazing. But the time jumps have their own benefit because they're fun because all of a sudden you see the characters older and it's uncomfortable and disconcerting but it's also interesting.

It's interesting to look at the new ones and there's a shock of how things have changed. It gives a different dynamic to the strip and would have been a different feeling if it had happened slowly.

There are some advantages that pop out of that. Another which was an advantage at the time when Lisa died, I didn't want to go through two years of mourning. It allowed me to skip over that and Lisa dies and then you see Summer talking about Lisa's race, her legacy race, and that was real nice because you could have something positive coming out of that right away. It helped me over that hump as well.

Garry Trudeau came to comics around the same time, around same age as you, and it's interesting he was writing a college strip while you were writing a high school one but you both reached a point where you wanted to change the dynamics and do something more dramatic and more adult.

You realize that those possibilities are there. And I know why a lot of strips don't change. They're afraid of ruining the mystique or whatever it was that got them syndicated in the first place or whatever people were interested in in the first place. After the fact I got more nervous about it because from time to time because people would say, "I saw that time jump and I thought this is going to be awful but I really liked it." You don't pay any attention to that. I mean, I knew what was coming. I'm a year ahead on the strip so when I made that time jump, I was already a year down the road and I saw what was going to be happening with these characters and I saw where they were going which gives you a feeling of comfort. You can say, hang in there, it'll be okay.

You're a year ahead? I've never met a cartoonist that far ahead.

It's an incredible luxury. It was done because of just existential things like my folks getting older and I could see things coming down the road that were going to be problematic for me time wise and so I made the effort to get a year ahead so that if something popped up I could deal with it and it wouldn't bring everything to a screeching halt. But once I got a year ahead I found out that I could think long thoughts. I didn't have to come up with something for Friday. I could have an idea like "Lisa's Story" and let it gestate for a long time. In fact "Lisa's Story" was written a long, long time before I ever put it into the strip. And I think being a year ahead has made the work so much better because I have a better perspective on it and can coordinate it. You're not just going from incident to incident and hoping for the best. You can interlock things. Like this big long story I described to you at the beginning where Holly goes on this comic book hunt. It runs over quite a few months and I'm able to coordinate it with the activities I have going on and the covers that I've got and it also crosses over with "Crankshaft" at one point and if I wasn't so far ahead, I couldn't do that.

We talked a little about Les, but Lisa was a key character for you.

When Lisa was first created, none of this was on the table. I had no idea that she was going to become THE character, such a major character and a key focal point of the strip. That's one of the fun things about doing something like this because even you're surprised at how they evolve from time to time.

She's really been the dramatic heart of the strip.


The strip has never shied away from heavier issues or more dramatic stories, exemplified by "Lisa's Story"

With that first storyline, the teen pregnancy storyline she opened the door for me and showed me that there was not only an audience for this type of work but there was more interesting work and more substantial work that could be done. And she kicked it down with "Lisa's Story," taking the characters to wholly different places.

When you killed her, you had to know that killing her would get a response. There was an outcry when "For Better or Worse" cartoonist Lynn Johnston had Farley the dog die.

I knew it was coming and so did the syndicate so we tried to do as much as we could to prepare for it. Again, the work was pretty much finished by the time people were seeing it so I thought it was resolved in a good way and that gives you some confidence. There was a huge outpouring of affection, both pro and con. There were people who just hated to see Lisa die, but there were people who understood. There were people who liked it because they related what was happening in "Funky" to what was happening in their lives and that was the whole reason for doing that. When I was starting out at twenty-five, cancer wasn't even on the horizon. You don't think about it as a twenty-five year old. It was a great outpouring across the board in all manners. Mostly positive but there were a lot of people that were really upset about it.

I loved the very end of it and you concluded it beautifully. Did you have that in mind from beginning?

Thank you. I was at that point in the writing and Cathy, my wife, and I had gone to a concert at Oberlin College. It was a baroque group called Apollo's Fire and at one point they had dancers come out in baroque costume and I saw the mask on the one and I said, that's it, that's my death. Except I put him in a tuxedo. It's very rare that you can point to one instance and say, that's exactly where that happened. I was sitting there that night. That story was in my head and it was with me all the time; I took it everywhere and as I saw it that night, I thought, that's how I'm going to do it. I'm going to do a little bit of magical realism and it allowed me to confront death directly without it being gruesome.

You must have felt some satisfaction being named a Pulitzer finalist that year.

Yes, absolutely. That was incredible. "Lisa's Story" was that rare, rare story and it doesn't happen to cartoonists very often because we're a very insecure bunch. [Laughs] I'm pretty sure I can speak for all of us. With "Lisa's Story" as I started rolling towards the end I thought, really for the [first] time in my career, I thought I don't care if everybody on the planet thinks it's a bad idea, I really like this story. I feel good about it. The Pulitzer finalist was a real nice affirmation of that.

Lisa was such a big character, and she still has a presence in the strip, but do you ever think of a story for her or something else you could do with the character?

That's interesting. I've done a few little flashback items but not a great deal. I seem to complete everything I had to do with Lisa at that point. Having said that, let me now contradict myself completely. [Laughs] I've got a storyline coming up and it's sort of a Lisa story. It's interesting. A couple of summers ago I felt compelled to go back to Elyria and take some pictures around my old apartment and the alley across the street from us. I don't know why but I took all those pictures and I ended up writing a story where Frankie -- he's been mentioned a couple times and has actually appeared in the strip very briefly, the guy who got Lisa pregnant -- returns. In the return of that story we deepen the teen pregnancy story and say that it was a little more than just youthful indiscretion on Lisa's part. There was some coercion involved and it's like a coda to "Lisa's Story." This character was always hanging there. Whatever happened to him he comes back into their lives, disrupts them completely and then everything gets resolved, so in a way I guess that does involve Lisa. We find a journal of hers and we're reading her journal so she kind of speaks to us from the grave.

Walk us through your process on putting together "Funky."

I try to write every day because you never know what the day holds for you and I hate to miss what's going on in that particular day. I have one book where I just write down ideas. Things that are funny, puns, whatever. I have notebooks by my bed, in the car. I pull all those together and then write them down in a book and it gives me a source of material there. My other thinking is, like I said, the thinking of a long broad storyline and then when I sit down to write I combine those two things so that I can inject humor into the storyline as it moves forward and I can create new material that's part and parcel of that storyline. It gets completely written out and then the pencilling begins. I used to describe it as the Henry Ford method. Writing is finished and then I'll do batches of the drawing then the inking the lettering. Finally these days adding tone on the computer.

Being so far ahead, do you have a set routine or do you mix things up?


Batiuk is currently a year ahead on strips and doesn't have an end in mind

I can mix things up. Today I've got fifteen weeks that need to be scanned into the computer for "Funky." I could have been inking some strips. I could do some writing. I chose to just write today. My favorite days are when I'm just sitting writing and I thought I'd give myself a nice day. The day is relatively clear and after I go to the doctor later, I'll do some more writing. It's nice to immerse yourself in it. Even inking, it's not a technical challenge so much anymore but it does help to do a lot of them at one time, I think.

Do you still do everything by hand?

Yes. I do have a program on my computer, Manga Workshop, and I have done a few weeks where it's been done on a computer. I just wanted to learn that in case one day they call me up and say, we're not making paper anymore. [Laughs] I have my font on the computer and it's beautiful. I would defy anybody to tell me whether I hand lettered it or it's the font. But my favorite place to be is sitting in front of a board so even though I have the option [of drawing it on the computer], I like working on the board.

How do you write "Crankshaft?"

I just work up the scripts and every two weeks Chuck and I get together. I give him the next two weeks of "Crankshaft." We go over them. He's very polite. [Laughs] We cover everything we need to cover and then I don't see him again for two weeks. That works so well because Chuck is simply an amazing artist and he'll take the most average idea and he'll send it to the moon and back. It's wonderful. I don't worry about that and it gives me tremendous freedom. We were at Kent State at the same time and have a very similar background so there's not a lot of back and forth that has to go on.

You mentioned in one of the books that the two of you were at college together.

We were even in kindergarten together. We didn't realize that, though [at the time]. We were having dinner one night and somehow we got to talking about going to elementary school in Akron and I was like, "Wait a minute, when were you there?" We were in the same school in Mrs. Peters' kindergarten class. I should have recognized him. He would have been the little kid with the tie-dyed t-shirt and the peace symbol and the long beard.

"The Collected Funky Winkerbean" is coming out through Kent State Press. How did that end up happening?

What happened was that Penguin brought a book out of "Lisa's Story" and basically after it didn't make the morning talk shows, nothing else was done with it. It was out just a few months when I got a call asking if I wanted to buy some copies before it was remaindered. It was too bad because they did a beautiful job with it.

I was able to go to the Kent State University Press and it's a much smaller press but I know the editors and I wanted was to keep the book in print. I went to them with that in mind and it turned out so much better than I expected. They just put out a beautiful hardcover copy. It was just an amazing book and they did a terrific job with it and they have become my publisher. They're great to work with. It's a good relationship and again it's just wonderful. They put out beautiful books. And they'd never done comic books before. They do more academic books.

Did the idea for collecting "Funky" come from you or them?

It's funny. A couple years ago I went in and I had a couple of book ideas. The first one was something like "Lisa's Story." In "Crankshaft" there was an Alzheimer's storyline and there was a book put out, which is now out of print. I've done quite a bit [with that] since then so I thought we could do a book along the same lines as "Lisa's Story" where we take the first book and include the material done since then and have a complete story. I got the rights to the first book back and they thought that was a good idea.

I had all the baseball stories that I've done in "Crankshaft." "Crankshaft" had been optioned for a movie and they wanted it to be baseball-themed so they asked to see all those. I had gone through and pulled all those things and I thought it would make a nice book so I presented that. They liked that idea and we were just talking about it yesterday; it'll be coming out next spring.

And then I had e-mails from people who wanted to know if there was going to be a complete "Funky" collection. That one I figured was the one that they probably wouldn't want to commit to. It had two things going for it. It's certainly a golden age for those kinds of reprint books right now. I think baby boomers have reached a certain age and they've got a certain amount of disposable cash and they're feeling nostalgic so those books are doing well. I thought they may not want to commit to this project but they did and it surprised the heck out of me. The other things was that last year, when the first volume came out, was Funky's 40th anniversary and I think they saw the synergy that could come from bringing out Volume 1 of the complete "Funky" on its 40th anniversary.

I hate to ask, but I know that the second part of "Lisa's Story" was partially a response to your own health issues. How are you doing?

I'm doing great. I had prostate cancer but I had surgery, it's doing fine. All is good. I'm feeling well.

Good.

You're darn right. [Laughs]

I know that you don't have any plans to end the strip, but have you given any thought to how you might go about ending it?

You know, it's funny. You think about that sort of thing once you reach this stage. I've thought about different ways at times of how to end the strip and what I'd like to do. What I suspect will happen is it'll be just like life. It'll just end. You don't get to plan things in life like that very often either, but I really don't know. It depends how things are going. If I get a call one day about how I have one more year in my contract and by the way there won't be any newspapers in a year I would definitely tie a bow on things and wrap it up. Like I say, right now I'm feeling good, I'm healthy and that's obviously a factor. You have to feel good to do this but I'm enjoying it. I just signed a new contract. Hopefully everything will keep going for a long time. In terms of health I think the newspaper industry has more problems right now than I do. I mean, watch, I'll go out and get hit by a car this afternoon. [Laughs] You should never say things like that. Luckily my studio is lead-lined just for that reason. [Laughs]

As a kid you were a letter hack on "The Flash" writing to Julie Schwartz and drawing comics, and here you are writing and drawing one comic strip, writing another. Looking back do you think, "I did okay"?

[Laughs] It feels good. The most fortunate thing is that I've been able to do something that I really really love and again it has just worked out perfectly for me. I fell into the right type of strip, the kind of strip that could endure over the years like we've been talking about. I didn't get the job at Marvel because I'd be out of work right now. [Laughs] I would have been pushed aside years ago. I'm very fortunate to have gotten a chance to do this. You do feel good. It's fun to write the strip now with the history that it has. When I first started out it was very difficult to do. Look at Charles Schulz. He had all this rich history to draw on in the strip even at that point and I didn't have any of that. Now I can go back and play with things a little bit. I just did a strip where Funky was cleaning the attic and he found his old I Chong book which was a takeoff on the I Ching and I used to do those from time to time. Having him sitting in the attic reading this book again just brought a smile to my face. It probably means more to me personally than anyone else. It was just a silly idea but I felt, "Wow, he's come a long way." That feels good.

"The Complete Funky Winkerbean" Vol. 2 is on sale now from Kent State Press.


Drawing Funky for 40

Published March 2013

Heart of Ohio Magazine

By Mike Greene

heart-of-ohio-th
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CBS This Morning

Aired May 25th, 2012

Comics and Commentary


Tom Batiuk is 2008 Pulitzer Prize Finalist

Published April 07, 2008

The Daily Cartoonist

By Alan Gardner

Tom Batiuk creator of the comic feature Funky Winkerbean is one of the three finalists for this year's Pulitzer Prize. This is the fourth time a comic strip has been considered for American journalism's top prize. Two previous comic strippers have won the prize Garry Trudeau (1975) and Berkeley Breathed (1987).

According to the judges, Tom's work was deserving "for a sequence in his cartoon strip "Funky Winkerbean" that portrays a woman's poignant battle with breast cancer."

"Lisa's Story" was the biggest story in syndicated comic strips last year as many readers wrestled with reading a story-arc regarding breast cancer in the "funny pages." Worse yet, the story ended with the death of the strip's main character spurring more debate on the comic's appropriateness.

Funny page appropriateness debate aside, Tom's work certainly raised the profile for breast cancer and funds as well. Proceeds from Tom's book "Lisa's Story, The Other Shoe" go to a new fund called Lisa's Legacy Fund that helps fund cancer cure research.

Today's announcement places him in a very select crowd. It is not entirely unusual for a comic strip cartoonist to be a finalist or even win the Pulitzer. As mentioned above Trudeau won the Pulitzer for editorial cartooning in 1975 for his dealing with Watergate and has been nominated three more times (1990, 2004 and 2005). Breathed won the prize in 1987 for his social satire in Bloom County and Lynn Johnston was nominated in 1994 for her strip, For Better or For Worse which dealt with the coming out of a gay character.

Tom, humbly added that this honor isn't completely his, that he had the help of a great editor, Jay Kennedy at King Features. Tom calls Jay a great "referee" who "had the ability to get the best out of me." Jay had read and reviewed the entire "Lisa's Story" script prior to his untimely death last spring off the coast of Costa Rica.

Funky Turns 40

Published January 2012

Ohio Magazine

By John Gladden


WKYC Channel 3, Cleveland

Aired September 28th, 2011

Lisa's Legacy: Walk to benefit breast cancer research

JW Player goes here


Tom Batiuk: Still Funky After All These Years

Published: September 20, 2011

The Trades

by R.J. Carter

Tom Batiuk photoBridging the gap between Archie and Zits, a comic strip was introduced about high school kids, which spoke to the modern events, issues, and styles of the seventies (and later, the eighties). Funky Winkerbean, the creation of cartoonist Tom Batiuk, has grown over the years from the joke-a-day strip around a central cast of students and teachers at the beleaguered Westview High (home of the Fighting Scapegoats) to a serial dramedy where the kids are now grown adults with teenagers of their own, dealing with heavy topics like cancer, the Iraq war, and school administration ethics.

As the strip approaches its fortieth anniversary, we spoke at length with Batiuk about Funky's origins and evolutions.

I was reading the strip in 1972. I was five. The earliest strip I remember is the one where teachers from different schools were comparing students' "funny names" and it punched with "You think that's something? We've got a student named Funky Winkerbean." What was the inspiration for setting the strip in a modern high school setting?

I really was very fortunate and fell into it. Just taking it back a step further, when I graduated from college in New York, I tried to get a job working for Marvel and DC, and visited both of them. I got turned down at both places. Marvel was nice -- I talked to Roy Thomas there, and I left with an invitation to come back with more work and show him more stuff.

When I came back home, I was teaching art at a junior high school in Elyria, Ohio. I went into our local paper, and I took my sketchbook in, and I thought I'd maybe get a job doing some kind of spot art, or something like that. The editor there liked what he saw -- and what he saw was that I had sketches of the kids in the classroom, but I would put little word balloons on them or funny captions. They were just starting a thing called the "Teen Page" -- it was their "Tuesday Teen Page" -- and they wanted a cartoon for it. So they asked, "Would you want to do a cartoon for this once a week?" And I said, "Absolutely!"

So I started to work on that, and all thoughts of DC and Marvel went out the window. And this probably worked out a heck of a lot better for me. My subject matter sort of chose me, and it worked out great.

I think one of the differences between Funky and a lot of the teen type strips that had preceded it, or at least were existing at that point, was that it was an inside job. Not only was I just out of school, but I was teaching so it was all inside info, and I think that made a difference.

Sort of the way Scott Adams did with Dilbert, making jokes about the corporate structure from working within the corporate structure.

Exactly. And Funky got off to such a great launch, I think, because we came just at the cusp... the culture and environment had changed tremendously at that point, and I know there was one teen strip where they were still driving around with letter-sweaters and jalopies. I came at a point when they needed updating, and that was good.

Were you a band geek in high school?

Absolutely! (laughs)

So much of the strip was focused on the school band -- in fact, I had it driven into my head from my own high school that "Football fields are for band practice!"

That comes as part of the inside job. Strips prior to that, the biggest problem would be the football player deciding which cheerleader he wants to date. But with mine, it was like, that wasn't the high school that I knew. I was in the band, and everything came out of that perspective. So instead of being about the traditional characters, you would see, it was more of everybody else.

Was your high school football team not that great?

No, they actually weren't at that time.

In 1992, you decided to push the strip forward ten years in time. I'm guessing you wanted to update the characters, but you also changed the tone of the strip from being a relatively standalone comic to more of a dramedy serial. Why the change in direction in a strip that was working?

When I first started on a strip, for all the reasons I just mentioned I wanted it to be different from the other teen strips. That's why you never saw parents in Funky. I always wanted to avoid a lot of the cliches -- I didn't want to do strips about kids cleaning their rooms. And as part of that, I thought, "I'm going to make them grow up one day and follow them along."

And that part got lost a little bit. You get involved in this, and it's a lot of fun, but my first few years were spent in on-the-job training -- just figuring out everything I could do with this. I would still go out to my high school and sketch; I still do that to this day. And I remember one of the times I was out there sketching, I sketched a girl who was pregnant. That led to a storyline about a girl being pregnant in high school. Les, one of my main characters, was her best friend, and they had dated at one point -- he wasn't the father, but he was her best friend. And he became her birthing partner and all of this stuff, and all of a sudden I realized it was going to be very difficult to take him through a story like that and then have Les go back to hanging from the gym class rope during the homecoming dance. My characters had started to grow up on me.

That was good for me, because I had grown beyond where I was when I started the strip. So I wanted to sort of "catch up" and bring my characters along with me, and continue to follow their lives that way. So that's what prompted the change.

Some of the memorable storylines of that era, at least for me, were Lisa's cancer and the comic book store obscenity trial that was mirroring the Jesus Castillo case. (I still have Crazy's witness stand testimony of how, when he was in high school, "...superheroes did what they did best... they saved me." tacked up on my wall.) What were your personal connections, if any, to the issues addressed in the strip in these and other instances?

Lisa's story was sort of done in two parts. In the first part, I had reached an age where you're starting to hear from friends about this kind of thing, and from relatives who are dealing with it. It wasn't a personal experience with my wife and I at that point, so I took all that stuff and internalized it, and created this internal landscape that I could draw from to do the first part of Lisa's story arc.

The second part came about... I had been diagnosed with prostate cancer. That was about eight years ago. And so far, so good. But it gave me insight that the earlier work didn't have. I went back to it, and I found that this time when I went back to this internal landscape, it was a lot deeper -- the emotions were a lot stronger. There was more to be said. So that's what prompted the second part of the storyline. Lisa's dying was, in part, a writer's thing, because I had told her story the first time, and now I needed to take my characters to a new place.

Lisa's not the first character to die in the strip. You sent shockwaves through the funny pages prior to that when John Darling was shot.

Oh, yeah. I forgot about John. You know what that was? I didn't really mean to do that -- I mean, it wasn't my intent from the beginning of the strip. At that point, I was in a lawsuit with my syndicate trying to get back ownership of Funky. And I was also doing Crankshaft. So between the lawsuit and doing Funky and doing Crankshaft, and doing John Darling, something had to give. So I decided to end John Darling, but I didn't want someone else to pick up and do the strip.

I didn't have ownership of Funky or John Darling at that point, and so I thought, "Well, if somebody else is going to come on and do the strip, I'm going to make it really hard for them." (laughs)

Will you ever go back and explore some of the intervening years that were skipped over?

Yeah, I think I will. And that's happening for a couple of reasons. I've already gone back a couple of times where Les has gone back and is reflecting on some things that happened to him while he was in college. And the college is now identified -- it was just sort of a vague thing, before, but now it's Kent State. That's because Kent State brought out Lisa's Story, and brought me back in contact with the campus and it just started dredging up a lot of old memories. I'm sure there will be more of that. I've had him, when he was doing the book tour recently, he met a women that he had known at college, and we flashed back to a week of sequences dealing with that.

So, yes, I will be going back and filling in, because it's kind of fun. Not only do I have a backstory to fall back on and a history with the strip, but I also have some gaps that were never filled in. And filling them in is fun.

If the 1992 flashforward set the strip to current time, is the current incarnation set sometime in the near future, given that there was a second jump of several years?

You know... (laughs) I'm just laughing because it was sort of like a comic book thing I did there. The first time we made the jump, it was "now." I calculated to do that. And I sort of did the same thing with the second jump. Ostensibly it was like moving down the road about ten years, but I'm just letting it devolve to being "right now." The only remaining difference is that Crankshaft and Funky are no longer on the same time plane.

I was wondering if Crankshaft was still kicking around in the Funky strip.

There's a series coming up next summer where we actually see Crankshaft and Funky. He's got a caregiver, he's in a wheelchair. And I just did a crossover with Funky and Crankshaft, and I was able to do it because I told the story in Crankshaft of when Les's fiancee, Cayla, was in college, and then it ends up on the last day of that week where Crankshaft takes a picture of Cayla -- and then we see Les and Cayla looking at that picture in her home over Labor Day weekend.

So Crankshaft is still around in Funky. Then where is Jessica Darling?

Jessica Darling is married to Lisa's birth-son, Darin. I haven't made any secret of that. In Lisa's Story, where Darin begins his search for his birth mother, it's prompted by Jessica, and she talks about the fact that her dad was killed when she was young and that she never got to know him -- so she encourages Darin to get to know his birth mother.

Since you are telling longer story arcs, have you ever considered doing something more like a graphic novel -- not a strip anthology, but more of a comic book layout?

Yeah, I think about that. It's just that the time constraints are just too much to deal with. Between doing the two strips, and then this year I also was working on a big book collection -- and between trying to juggle all those projects, there's really no time to get involved with something like that. I think it's an intriguing idea, and it would certainly allow you to just finally make that last break and go totally cinematic with it. I liken it to... I started out doing stand-up, just telling jokes, and then I evolved to sort of a sitcom where situations would kind of carry the narrative for a while. And now I'm kind of making movies.

Since so many other strips are getting the adaptive treatment by Hollywood, is there any opportunity for Funky to make the leap from metaphorically making movies to literally being a movie? Maybe built around the John Darling murder/resolution? And if one were made, who do you see playing whom?

Funky and Crankshaft have both been under option, for going on more than a decade now, at one time or another. It's Hollywood being what it is. Nothing ever came to fruition. Funky was even under option from Walt Disney at one point. But none of that ever solidified.

However, during that sort of middle interregnum, when Funky was a young adult, I always thought Ed Norton would have made a great Funky.

The series' focus seems to be on Les more than any other person. Does the strip retain the Funky Winkerbean title simply for marketability and licensing?

Funky is a very, very unusual strip. None of my other strips, even my stuff, was like that. Crankshaft was very focused -- a smaller cast of characters and really focused on the main character.

When Funky started out, just because of the style I was writing, and the way I was doing it, he became sort of the center of the wheel that everybody kind of radiated from. As a result, his personality never developed like, say, the band director's or Les's or Crazy Harry's. And frankly, since I made the time jump, his personality has come more into play as an adult, which is kind of fun. I'm doing stuff where he just had to put his father into a nursing home, and dealing with these situations -- and actually, that's the first time we've seen one of the character's parents in the strip. So he's coming more to life.

So, no, it's nothing like that. It's just, with Les, I guess I always kind of gravitated to him. I identify with him a lot. I don't know why I never put him in the band. That would have been so smart.

Without giving too much away, are there any more "big events" planned for the cast, and can you tell us what topics might be touched on through the story?

Sure! There are a bunch of big events, inside and outside of the strip.

Inside the strip -- and I'm looking ahead to next year -- the girls' basketball team is going to be vying for the State Championship. There's going to be a storyline in May when a same-sex couple wants to attend the prom together. In the middle of the year, Les and Summer are going to climb Kilimanjaro. And then at the end of the year is Les and Cayla's wedding. In fact, I just picked out the wedding dress the other night -- I was in a Barnes and Noble going through wedding books and I found the one I want.

So those are the big events within the strip. But also, next March 27 [2012], will be Funky's fortieth anniversary. It's a little hard to believe -- you sit here at the drawing board, and all of a sudden you look up and it's like, "What happened?"

The other thing that's really cool is that Kent State University Press -- the ones that brought out Lisa's Story -- are going to be bringing out Volume One of The Complete Funky Winkerbean in March of next year. The neat thing about this book is that it does have the artist's voice, where with a lot of the older books the artist isn't around to comment. So it has the artist's voice, and a lot of the stuff I was able to find in my attic.

Thanks to Tom Batiuk for sharing with fans an early peek at the upcoming fortieth anniversary strip:

FunkySunday2012-04-01Anniversary graphic

PBB-Funky-Winkerbean graphic

Cartoonist Illustrates Message of Rally for Music Education



MENC Executive Director John Mahlmann, Secretary of Education Arne Duncan, and cartoonist Tom Batiuk at the Rally for Music Education

At the June 18 Rally for Music Education, MENC presented Secretary of Education Arne Duncan with a special cartoon created by Tom Batiuk. The cartoon illustrated the message MENC hoped to convey to Duncan through the rally: that music is a critical part of education. The Petition for Equal Access to Music Education asks that the reauthorization of the Elementary and Secondary Schools Act "not only identify music as a core subject, but also recognize music education as a mandatory component of every public education curriculum in the United States."

A recent Pulitzer finalist for cartooning, Batiuk created and draws the "Funky Winkerbean" comic strip. A longtime supporter of music education, he creates the "Halle Dinkle" comic strip, which explores the life and times of a general music teacher, just for MENC members.

"It was incredibly exciting to be a participant in the Rally," said Batiuk. "MENC had asked if I could create a cartoon using my Funky characters to present to Secretary of Education Duncan, and, of course, I was more than happy to. I heard the Secretary of Education remark on PBS recently regarding the importance of art and music in the curriculum, so it seems the Rally helped reinforce that idea."

"Secretary Duncan seemed very pleased with the cartoon," Batiuk added. "He remarked that it was his first appearance in one."

"Tom Batiuk is one of music education's greatest friends," said John Mahlmann, MENC Executive Director. "MENC and all our members are grateful for his support of our efforts to raise awareness of the importance of music in every child's education."

During Music Education Week, Batiuk was honored by MENC as a Lowell Mason Fellow. "I'm very gratified that the MENC feels my work has done something to raise awareness about music education and its importance," he said. "If that's the case, it's simply been a payment in return for what my music education gave to me."

For information on reprinting this cartoon for music education advocacy, contact advocacy@menc.org

Photo by Becky Spray.
--
Elizabeth Lasko, July 30, 2009. © MENC: The National Association for Music Education


Weekend Edition, NPR

Aired August 16th, 2008

Remembering The Birth Of Superman


The Cartoonist's Cartoonists: Tom Batiuk

Published June 15, 2008

The Daily Cartoonist

By Alan Gardner

Tom Butiuk graphicTom Batiuk began his cartooning career while teaching Jr. High in Elyria Ohio in 1970 when he created a comic panel for the Elyria Chronical-Telegram. The panel was the precursor to what later became his strip Funky Winkerbean that was launched in 1972. In 1979 Tom created a second comic strip called John Darling, which he wrote and Tom Armstrong drew, with one of the infrequent characters of Funky Winkerbean (think comic strip spin-off). The strip ran until 1991 when the lead character was murdered. In 1987, another spin-off, Crankshaft was created involving Funky character Ed Crankshaft which he team creates with Chuck Ayers.

Since its debut in 1972, Funky Winkerbean has been known to delve into sensitive isues such as alcoholism, teen-dating abuse, suicide and rape. The latest issue, the death of the Lisa Moore character again set off a national debate on the appropriateness of such issues on the "funny pages." For his work with the Lisa Moore story-line, Tom was honored as a finalist by this year's Pulitzer Board for "a sequence in his cartoon strip "Funky Winkerbean" that portrays a woman's poignant battle with breast cancer."

Here now are the 10 cartoonist whom Tom admires or has influenced his career.

Frank King - Frank King's gentle magic continually amazes me. His work lives and breathes like real life, reflecting the society in which it was created. I wish I knew his trick of aging his characters right before the reader's eyes.

Stan Lee - I went to Kent State, but while I was there I was attending the college of Stan Lee. Stan's school of story telling taught me so much about getting readers to invest in your characters and keeping them engaged with masterful story telling.

Milton Caniff - I don't know what I could say about Caniff that hasn't been said a hundred times over. Elegant art over elegant story telling. The thing that sometimes gets overlooked is the humanity of his characters. Very emotionally real treatments.

Chet Gould - Allow me to completely contradict myself. Gould's art on Tracy in the fifties was almost abstract (check out the way he drew trees). The characters were beyond belief and the plots were insane. Totally worked for me.

Roger Bollen - His work on Animal Crackers always made me laugh. Plus Rog was just a really nice guy. I went to him as a young cartoonist and he told me the secret of how to get syndicated.

Jim Childress - Jim's strip Conchy was a sadly unheralded masterpiece. It was quite possibly the most brilliant humor strip I've ever seen. I'd give five hundred Krazy Kats for one Conchy.

Mac Raboy - From captain Marvel Jr., to The Green Lama, to Flash Gordon. Some of the most gorgeous art that's ever been laid to bristol board. Thank God we live in the age of great reprint books.

Burne Horgarth - Now some folks swear by Hal Foster's Tarzen, but, for my money, Horgarth takes the gold medal. The sequence where Tarzan is fighting the giant gorilla on the wing of the twin engined plane as it dives through the air pretty much says it all.

Jim Meddic - One of today's cartoonist's who consistently amuses me. It reminds me sometimes of things that I used to do in Funky except that Jim does them better.

Charles Schulz - As Stan Lee was wont to say: 'nuff said.



Lisa's Story Continues Winning Awards

Published June 09, 2008

The Daily Cartoonist

By Alan Gardner

Funky Winkerbean creator Tom Batiuk's book, "Lisa's Story," has been honored with several awards. The book, which is a compilation of cartoons involving the story-line of Lisa's cancer, was awarded a silver medal from the Nautilus Book Awards in the Aging/Death & Dying category; it was a finalist in the Popular Culture category of ForeWord Magazine's Book of the Year Awards; and the third award is a bronze medal in the Most Life Changing category of the Independent Publisher Book Awards (IPPY's).


Tom Batiuk is 2008 Pulitzer Prize Finalist

Published April 07, 2008

The Daily Cartoonist

By Alan Gardner

Tom Batiuk creator of the comic feature Funky Winkerbean is one of the three finalists for this year's Pulitzer Prize. This is the fourth time a comic strip has been considered for American journalism's top prize. Two previous comic strippers have won the prize Garry Trudeau (1975) and Berkeley Breathed (1987).

According to the judges, Tom's work was deserving "for a sequence in his cartoon strip "Funky Winkerbean" that portrays a woman's poignant battle with breast cancer."

"Lisa's Story" was the biggest story in syndicated comic strips last year as many readers wrestled with reading a story-arc regarding breast cancer in the "funny pages." Worse yet, the story ended with the death of the strip's main character spurring more debate on the comic's appropriateness.

Funny page appropriateness debate aside, Tom's work certainly raised the profile for breast cancer and funds as well. Proceeds from Tom's book "Lisa's Story, The Other Shoe" go to a new fund called Lisa's Legacy Fund that helps fund cancer cure research.

Today's announcement places him in a very select crowd. It is not entirely unusual for a comic strip cartoonist to be a finalist or even win the Pulitzer. As mentioned above Trudeau won the Pulitzer for editorial cartooning in 1975 for his dealing with Watergate and has been nominated three more times (1990, 2004 and 2005). Breathed won the prize in 1987 for his social satire in Bloom County and Lynn Johnston was nominated in 1994 for her strip, For Better or For Worse which dealt with the coming out of a gay character.

Tom, humbly added that this honor isn't completely his, that he had the help of a great editor, Jay Kennedy at King Features. Tom calls Jay a great "referee" who "had the ability to get the best out of me." Jay had read and reviewed the entire "Lisa's Story" script prior to his untimely death last spring off the coast of Costa Rica.


Tom Batiuk Discusses Funky Winkerbean's Pulitzer Nod

Published April 10, 2008

PRINT magazine

By Claire Lui

When the Pulitzer prizes and finalists were announced on Monday, April 7, the name Funky Winkerbean stood out in the sea of investigative reporter bylines. Written by Tom Batiuk, the funny-page staple was named as one of two finalists in Editorial Cartooning, making it only the fourth comic strip to be named as Pulitzer prize winner or finalist. (The other three? "Doonesbury," by Gary Trudeau, which won in 1975, and was also a finalist in 1990, 2004, and 2005; "Bloom County," by Berkeley Breathed, which won in 1987; and "For Better or For Worse," by Lynn Johnston, a finalist in 1984, and which lost to Michael Ramirez, an editorial cartoonist who also won this year.)

Batiuk was recognized for Lisa's Story, a series of strips where Lisa, one of the main characters in the Funky Winkerbean universe, dies of breast cancer. The story was originally introduced in 1999, and Lisa's cancer went into remission. Speaking on the phone from his home in Ohio, Batiuk said that when he had finished Lisa's story the first time, "I thought I had said the last word." After being diagnosed with cancer himself - he is now in remission - Batiuk realized that there was more to tell. "It gave me some insights, and made me realize that there was a deeper story, a more emotional story to tell."

The 2007 conclusion of Lisa's Story was unusually grim for the funny pages. Considering how many readers who had tried to convince Lynn Johnston from having Farley, the family dog, die in "For Better or For Worse" in 1995, Batiuk's decision to have a major character die in a comic strip was risky. The reaction to Lisa's Story was swift and significant - more than 7,000 emails from mostly supportive readers, many of whom had followed the strip since it began in 1972. "I don't think anything I've ever done or will do will match the response that I got," he says.

He received a fair dose of criticism as well. Batiuk groans a little when he recalls how many of his readers felt that comics were, by definition, cheerful. The angry readers "defined comics as only something that's funny on a childish level, and that I was not being faithful to my contract." (These readers were not referring to an unspoken contract between an author and his readers to entertain, but rather to Batiuk's actual contract with King Features Syndicate, which they seemed to believe required Batiuk to remain light in his comic matter.) "I was offended that they were offended because they felt a comic strip couldn't be serious," he said. Others wrote in to ask for a happy ending. "That's when the emails got very intense," he said. "It was probably the toughest strips in the series I had to write, and I had to be as honest as I could," he said.

In the final strips of the series, Batiuk indulged in some "magic realism," as he calls it, placing Lisa in an all-white room, with nothing in the background, allowing Batiuk to show her having conversations with her husband and other characters, even though she was ostensibly in a coma.

It was an ambitious move, one that even the ever-mocking Josh Fruhlinger, of The Comics Curmudgeon, and his commenters, admired. Fruhlinger described the death character as the "Phantom of the Opera/'Puttin' on the Ritz' guy," but on the day of Lisa's death, the final strip of the storyline, he wrote a rare compliment, saying that in Lisa's Story, "This series was undeniably trying at something a little grander."

After Lisa's Story concluded, Batiuk brought Funky Winkerbean into a time warp, fast-forwarding the story ten years into the present day, where the strip has remained. "I always wanted the characters to grow, but I wasn't good enough - like Frank King [who drew "Gasoline Alley"], to get them to the age they needed to be." The artificial jump, which had happened once before in Funky Winkerbean's history, allowed Batiuk to show Lisa in videos and other flashback devices.

Considering that most of the finalists and winners of the editorial cartooning Pulitzer prizes have been overtly political artists whose work is for op-ed pages, Funky Winkerbean's appearance on the Pulitzer list acknowledges the role and impact that the daily funnies have in people's lives. "It came as a very pleasant surprise," Batiuk says of the Pulitzer finalist nod. "I refuse to define newspaper strips so narrowly. I think you can create a work of substance with comic strips."


Cartoonist Tom Batiuk explores everyday life on the funnies page

Published March 2008

Comic Evolution

By Dave Korzon