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A Cartooning Accomplishment

One of the sad things about the decline of the newspaper business is the concurrent decline in newspaper comics. As recently as the 1980s, there was a bit of a golden age highlighted by Bloom County, The Far Side, and most of all, the amazing Calvin and Hobbes.

Like The Far Side, Calvin and Hobbes was hugely original and couldn't be replicated anymore than could Pogo or Lil' Abner in earlier times.

Gary Larson's The Far Side, unfortunately, influenced numerous pale imitators, and today's newspapers are littered with single panel cartoons that are just moronic.

But they're not alone; most of the strips are either limping along towards retirement or are just cheap filler.

But there are a few who still take the art seriously, and extend it, and one of the very finest of these is Funky Winkerbean, which is drawn by Tom Batiuk.

This past week, he escorted one of his major characters off stage, as Lisa died of cancer. That sort of thing has been done before in comics, so it's not that he's done something groundbreaking. But he's done it with a touch of grace that reminds us that cartoons can transcend the funny pages - when the newspaper business supports the best artists, that is.

It's not that Funky Winkerbean is on the level of Calvin and Hobbes or The Far Side, much less Pogo or Lil' Abner or the geniuses of an earlier world. But it is an honest and courageous strip, and his handling of Lisa's death was touching. If you didn't see it, you can check the last month of the strip here.

Incidentally, later this month, for the second time, Batiuk is going to fast-forward his strip and age his characters considerably.