Saturday, October 06, 2007

Death in Comics -- the passing of Lisa Moore

I've previously discussed the concept of death in the daily comics, albeit as part of an examination of the success of "For Better or Worse." This past week Lisa Moore, a major character in "Funky Winkerbean" died of cancer in a particularly well-thought out sequence.

Some folks I know (and I suspect the majority of newpaper comics readers) just don't understand the appeal of a contining story strip. If it doesn't setup and deliver a gag in three panels, then what's the point? They preceive such strips as boring, and cannot comprehend why death is even in the comics at all.

I'll concede that to someone who's used to a comic to begin and end a story in three panels might think a story arc running over several weeks to be moving at a glacial pace. And yes, death is unpleasant, but (used properly) very necessary.

The reward of reading a continuing strip is that increasing familiarity with the characters and thier backgrounds adds depth to the story and greater impact to the conflict. And when one of those characters that you've read about and become attached to over the years shuffles off this mortal coil, it can be a very moving experience.

Lisa's life and death are a good example of those rewards.

We first met Lisa in high school. Fellow student Les Moore had a crush on her. He was one of the few to stand by her when she became pregnant (by someone else). We read on as Lisa put her baby up for adoption, and dealt with the emotional fallout of teen pregnancy.

In adulthood, we saw Lisa battle breast cancer. We read about the courtship of Les and Lisa, and her struggle to finish law school and make something of herself. We saw them purchase their home, and watched them raise their daughter.

So when Lisa's cancer returned, the emotional impact was greater for the long-time reader. It wasn't fair -- this shouldn't be happening to Lisa, who's lived through so much. Knowing how hard she had worked to set up a practice, it meant something to us when her deteriorating health forced her to take down her shingle.

When Darin Fairgood recently discovered Lisa was his natural mother and reunited with her, our knowledge of her guilt over giving up her baby made it a poignent moment indeed.

Even her final wish to see the leaves again resonated with long-time readers. For years, Batiuk ran an autumn sequence about leaves falling off the trees. For the leaves, dropping off the branch was death. For those who caught the reference, Lisa's last wish had added meaning.

We forget sometimes that "entertainment" isn't always synomemous with laff riots. Any story that elicits an emotional response -- be it joy, sadness, fright, nostalgia, or whatever -- is entertaining. By that definition, the passing of this comic strip character on Thursday, October 4, 2007, was very entertaining -- moreso for me than that day's episode of "Garfield."

- Ralph

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