MEDINA, Ohio — After 50 years in newspapers across America, the journey Tom Batiuk calls a "wonderful odyssey" is coming to an end.
The Northeast Ohio native Batiuk announced he will be retiring his long-running "Funky Winkerbean" comic strip at the conclusion of 2022. The 75-year-old made the news official with a post on his website, writing that "nothing goes on for infinity."
"The carousel isn't stopping," Batiuk further stressed, "just slowing down a little."
According to Batiuk, he will continue to publish "new original Funky stories" on tombatiuk.com. In addition, the comic's spinoff "Crankshaft" will remain, and readers should expect "to see Funky and friends popping up every now and then in that irascible school bus driver's strip."
"Between the blog, the ['Complete Funky Winkerbean Collection'] books and the pop-ups in Crankshaft, it’ll be like the Funky gang never left," Batiuk said. "Which I hope makes you feel as good as it does me."
Born in Akron before attending Kent State University, Batiuk began penning "Funky Winkerbean" while teaching middle school students, and in 1972 it made its first appearance in the "funnies." The strip centered around the title character "Funky" and his friends at the fictional Westview High School, with several references to Northeast Ohio sprinkled in along the way.
The characters underwent two separate "time jumps" that eventually put them in their mid-40s, and both "Crankshaft" and the since-dropped "John Darling" emerged as long-running spinoffs. As "Funky" evolved, it became notable for its willingness to touch upon darker and more serious themes, including teen pregnancy, dating violence, alcoholism, and the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan.
Perhaps the most notable storyline surrounded Lisa Moore's battle with breast cancer, which began in 1999 with the character undergoing chemotherapy and a mastectomy. Seven years later, the disease would return with more force than previously, and Lisa's battle ultimately ended with her death in October of 2007. The strips both preceding and after her passing dealt with the community's grief over her loss, most especially her husband Les.
Batiuk says he was inspired by his own experience with prostate and thyroid cancer. While the decision to bring it to the comics turned out to be somewhat polarizing (he received countless emails asking him to spare the character's life), "Lisa's Story" nonetheless received critical acclaim, and a book chronicling the entire arc was nominated for a Pulitzer Prize. University Hospitals also established the Lisa's Legacy Fund to raise money for cancer research.
Batiuk still lives with his wife Cathy in Medina, where his comic workshop sits. The last "Funky Winkerbean" strip will appear in newspapers (including The Plain Dealer) on Dec. 31.
"A special thanks to all of the Funky faithful for coming along for the ride," Batiuk said Thursday. "Boon companions all."