CLEVELAND - If you have ever scrolled through the comic section of the newspaper, you've probably seen Tom Batiuk's work. He is an Akron native and Kent State graduate, best known for creating Funky Winkerbean. The nationally syndicated cartoon has been around for 45 years. His latest work is helping raise money for breast cancer awareness.
He is a man with a passion, living out his childhood dream by putting pen to paper and giving life to characters and storylines followed by millions of readers all across the country.
“I had always wanted to get into cartooning,” Batiuk explained. “I was attracted by the power of what was happening on those pages. I started out, I was just writing about high school kids.”
Everything changed for Batiuk when he introduced a pregnant character.
“That story, that teen pregnancy story, opened a door for me,” he said. “It showed me that the art form I was working in was capable of carrying the weight of more substantial ideas.”
And as his characters aged, the storyline reflected Batiuk’s experiences in adulthood.
“I think that art can not only help us escape our troubles, but I think it can help us understand them,” he said.
Friends and family dealing with breast cancer gave life to Lisa's story.
“I began to wonder how love, the romance that Les and Lisa had, how that endures over time once fate steps in to have a say,” noted Batiuk. “I was basically just trying to write about what it's like to grow up and the cancer story became my vehicle for testing my characters and for doing that.”
Through Lisa, he delivered a message: Early detection saves lives.
“In the strip, when Lisa's diagnosis is terminal, she's making tapes for her family, for Les and her daughter,” explained Batiuk. “And it's for anniversaries, birthdays, proms, things like that but she makes one tape telling them both to remember to get regular check-ups early, because a cancer caught early can be a cancer cured.”
The story becoming even more personal for Batiuk when he got his own cancer diagnosis and later found out his wife had breast cancer.
“I think it was my personal experience that then deepened the work,” he said.
Lisa did not but her legacy lives on. She inspired University Hospitals to create Lisa's Legacy Fund for cancer research and education at Seidman.
“That's just remarkable to think that a character can step off the page and maybe have some impact in the real world,” said Batiuk.
Now, Lisa's Story has turned into Lisa's Legacy Trilogy. It was just published. Part of the proceeds go toward cancer research.
On Sunday, October 15, the Mentor Rotary is holding "Lisa’s Legacy Run," which benefits UH Seidman Cancer Center.