I'm James Maxey, the author of numerous novels of fantasy and science fiction. I use this site to discuss a wide range of topics, with a heavy emphasis on cranky, uninformed rants about politics and religion and other topics that polite people attempt to avoid. For anyone just wanting to read about my books, I maintain a second blog, The Prophet and the Dragon, where I keep the focus solely on my fiction. I also have a webpage where both blogs stream, with more information about all my books, at jamesmaxey.net.


Wednesday, October 03, 2007

Cancer on the Comics Page

For the last several months, the comic strip "Funky Winkerbean" has been treading into territory that arguably doesn't belong on the comics page. "Funky Winkerbean" is a soap opera strip where the characters age and change, and, as of tomorrow, where one of the character's dies. The character of Lisa Moore battled breast cancer back in 1999; she survived the disease then, but her cancer returned and the series has chronicled her long slow decline.

It's been a tough series for me to follow. The way he draws Lisa Moore as the disease steals her away is disturbingly accurate, and it's impossible for me to turn to the comics pages these days without suddenly finding myself plunged into memories of Laura's losing battle with cancer.

Ironically, Laura herself faithfully read Funky Winkerbean, and thought that Tom Batiuk, the cartoonist, had a sadistic streak a mile long. Over the years, he's dumped every imaginable trauma onto his characters. When Lisa's cancer returned in the months before Laura died, Laura predicted that Lisa was doomed. She read the strip due to the same morbid force that makes people stare at car wrecks.

I find myself wondering if this strip is appropriate for the comic pages. In a graphic novel, sure, this storyline would be fine. But, in the Raleigh paper, this thing is sitting right there with Get Fuzzy, Dilbert, Jump Start, and Garfield. Do readers looking for their daily lagsana joke deserve to be shown the ravages of cancer a quarter inch away? I'm usually reading the strip at lunch. It's tough to be faced with these memories and emotions when I'm really just trying to chill out and catch a little peace before plunging back into work again.

Still, on the whole, I admire the artist for having the courage to follow the story to its grim conclusion. He's not shied away from the horror of dying, but he's not been completely one sided with it either. Lisa made jokes and found moments of joy and happiness in recent weeks, and there was one strip in particular that resonated with me--when they have to put a hospital bed in the living room because she can't walk up the stair any more, she says, "So. This is the new normal." I felt that often as Laura got sicker. We'd reach these little plateau's where she'd dipped into a life threatening condition, only to recover to a less endangered state, though still always having lost a little more strength, a little more hope.

So, tomorrow I'll read the strip, and I'll think of Laura. Mr. Batiuk will have told an important story, and I salute him for the skill and sensitivity he's shown with the story. Still, I hope he refrains from inflicting further disease and death upon his characters going forth. I won't complain if he does a whole year of lasagna jokes.

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