Breast Cancer Takes Life of Cartoon Character

Lisa Moore is dead. She died last week from breast cancer and some people around the country are very angry about it. But there are many others who say they are buoyed by her battle against cancer. Those people claim they have found hope and encouragement in the ending of her life, a life that in fact was not even real.

Lisa Moore, wife, mother and lawyer was a cartoon character and one of the stars of the widely syndicated "Funky Winkerbean" comic strip.

"People have been incredibly kind and generous," said cartoonist Tim Batiuk about the hundreds of e-mails filling his inbox.

But not everyone has had a kind word for Batiuk's story line, especially the decision to to have Lisa stop chemotherapy and then die peacefully in a hospice, with her husband at her side.

"You are a man who seems to be without any idea of the pain [you] are inflicting," wrote one grandmother on TheCancerBlog.com a support Web site for patients and loved ones.

"You do not have the right to put this horror in a family newspaper," she said.

On the same Web site, another woman wrote: "I just can't stand [this] story line. … Comics are suppose to be interesting, funny and relieve some sadness. It is really awful that you would take up such a story in [the] comics section."

The 60-year-old Batiuk (rhymes with "attic") says he understands the ending of Lisa's strip life was not a happy one for some. But he defends the place real-life issues have in our funny papers.

"To readers who feel I owe them a funny strip, I would say I owe them the best work I can do. In order to do that, I have to challenge my expectations of myself and then I challenge my readers' expectations."

Many readers did apparently welcome that challenge.

"Thank you Tom for a powerful piece that does have a place in the daily comics," wrote Francie who describes herself as a three-year cancer survivor.

"The strip reminded me daily how beautiful and important my family and friends have been to me during my journey and makes me even more hopeful," she said in her blog posting to dailycartoonist.com.

"A good cartoonist is one who can make people laugh," said Regina Brett, a breast cancer survivor and president of the National Society of Newspaper Columnists.

"A great cartoonist is one who can make people laugh in the midst of fear, sadness and uncertainty."

Life Imitates Art

Batiuk, a former teacher, says he immersed himself in research for years before starting the story line of Lisa's battle with breast cancer in 1999.

During those early years, the cartoonist walked the character and his readers through diagnosis, treatment, family issues and to what seemed to be victory over the disease.

Then life imitated art.

In 2003 Batiuk was diagnosed with prostate cancer.

"As soon as the diagnosis comes out of your doctor's mouth, you become one of those characters in a 'Peanuts' television special — all you here is this 'waaah, waaah, waaah!'" said the cartoonist.

But he says all preparation for Lisa's story arc helped him see that cancer could be cured and that early detection was really crucial. Batiuk says he was cured of prostate cancer without having to undergo chemotherapy or radiation.

"Sometimes it is helpful to run into things in an imaginary world before you actually have to run into them in the real world," said the cartoonist, whose comic strip runs in more than 400 newspapers.

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