Pulitzer nominated cartoonist to speak


A Pulitzer Prize nominated author of long-running comic strips will speak at Baldwin Wallace University on Nov. 13 at 7 p.m.

Tom Batiuk, who was nominated for the Pulitzer Prize in 2008, is best known for his comic strips “Funky Winkerbean” and “Crankshaft,” which are carried in more than 400 newspapers worldwide. He will be discuss his graphic novel, “Lisa’s Story: The Other Shoe.”

Batiuk has accumulated an audience over the years, as he started writing his most popular comic, “Funky Winkerbean,” in 1972.

“When the comic started, it was basically just a joke a day,” said Dr. Michael Dolzani, professor of English. “However, as the strip continued, the storylines began to become more mature.”

That evolution followed the characters. When the strip, “Funky Winkerbean” begins, the characters in the strip are in high school. However, rather than choosing to stunt the characters’ growth and continue writing comedic storylines about the misadventures of high school students, Batiuk chose to age his characters and have them grow with the audience.

“If I had simply stayed in high school, I think I would have outgrown that generation and would not be speaking to anyone older,” said Batik. “Since my characters have grown up and my readers have grown up with them, it has allowed me to maintain that contact through the run of the strip.”

Since the strip has been written for so long, the characters have become very complex and the characters are truly the driving force of the story. While Batiuk said he does not use people from his personal life’s names in the novel, some of the characters are based on people from his real life.

The growth within the characters is apparent through the evolution of the storylines. Later storylines tackle issues such as PTSD, alcoholism, cancer, and other more serious topics.

While “Funky Winkerbean” is the main character of the graphic novel, one of the breakout characters of the comic was Les Moore, who later marries Lisa, the main character of “Lisa’s Story.”

Batiuk said that audiences have really related to Les, which led to Batik involving the character in more and more storylines.

One of the most well-received storylines occurred in the graphic novel, “Lisa’s Story: The Other Shoe,” which focuses on the main character, Lisa, and her battle with breast cancer. The graphic novel even contains research material on breast cancer. That distinction helped set it apart, said Dolzani.

“’Lisa’s Story’ was not only well-received in the comic community, but it was well received in the medical community as well. The graphic novel was able to bring awareness to breast cancer,” said Dolzani.

“Lisa’s Story” also led to the creation of “Lisa’s Legacy Runs,” which are real-life charity events in which participants run a race and donate to Lisa’s Legacy Foundation, an organization committed to cancer research and education.

Batiuk said he plans on participating in an upcoming run, which is now called “The Funky Winkerbean 5k,” in Mentor, Ohio.

Before Batiuk was a Pulitzer Prize nominee and wrote a very popular graphic novel, he was born in Akron, Ohio. He currently lives in Medina. Batiuk says that living in Northeast Ohio has influenced his writing and artwork.

“Northeast Ohio is like a microcosm for the country,” said Batiuk. “When I draw gazebos in my strip they often resemble gazebos I have seen in the area.”
Even though Batiuk has been writing his strip since 1972, he is constantly coming up with creative storylines and concepts. Batiuk says he thinks of ideas all throughout the day and does not have a specific creative process.

Batiuk’s speech at BW is free and open to the public. Nineteen people who will be in attendance for Batiuk’s speech are the students from Dolzani’s course, “The Graphic Novel,” though he has arranged for the class to spend time with the author beyond the speech.

“Tom is coming to speak during my class hour,” said Dolzani. “My students will have already read ‘Lisa’s Story’ for class, so Tom will definitely have nineteen young people in the audience to ask him intelligent questions.”

For his part, Batiuk said he is “flattered” that students are reading “Lisa’s Story” as part of a course and that he “hopes to provide insight to the story.”

Batiuk’s lecture, which is part of the 2018 “Voice of Imagination and Innovation” speaker series, begins at 7 p.m. in Sandstone Three in Strosacker Hall. The event is free and open to the public, though entrance tickets required.