I haven't followed Tom Batiuk's Funky Winkerbean in years. (Though for some reason, I do read his Winkerbean spin-off, Crankshaft, every week in the Sunday paper.) I grew up reading Funky in the '80s because it was the local guy making good and the comic was set in Northeast Ohio. But then I moved out of the area for 10 years, stopped reading the funny pages regularly, and lost track of the characters. But I'm always up for an interesting talk and supporting our fantastic local library, so I went to hear Batiuk speak Wednesday night.
The talk mainly focused on Lisa's Story, Batiuk's comics page epic of one of his main character's battle with breast cancer. Batiuk comes off as self-depreciating and self-assured in the same breath (a compliment). His half-hour talk and half-hour audience Q&A was engaging and entertaining. And I learned a few things along the way.
Of the most interest to me -- especially as I am currently immersed in the comic book culture while working to turn my Deus ex Comica series into a self-published book -- was finding out that Batiuk is friends with John Byrne, and that Byrne even drew the strip for ten weeks back in 2003 while Batiuk recovered from foot surgery. After the talk I came home and did some digging, finding Byrne's work on the Funky strip online. Very cool, indeed.
Batiuk is a fan of sequential art. So it makes sense he relishes those moments when he's been able to incorporate super heroes in his own medium. He has drawn Superman, Wonder Woman, and She-Hulk in his strip over the years. He has pictures of the boyhood Cleveland home of Jerry Siegel, creator of Superman, on his web site. And earlier this year he did a Sunday strip that was an homage to Tales of Suspense #80.
I really enjoyed Batiuk's talk and appreciate what he's done with his talent, stretching his influence beyond the funny pages. And I might have to give reading Funky Winkerbean another go, twenty years later, because it sounds like Batiuk's still doing some bold things with the strip (like the recent time jump), and it seems like it just might still be relevant.