Tom Batiuk’s Funky Winkerbean October strips are the basis for a story line about a longtime Winkerbean character who commits suicide while suffering from the effects of chronic traumatic encephalopathy (or CTE), a degenerative neurological disease caused by repeated head injuries and found in athletes and military veterans. The story line is the focus of a New York Times article published earlier this month.
The comic strip has been a newspaper staple since 1972 and has also run in the Great Bend Tribune for many years. Unlike the characters in the great majority of comic strips, the cast members of “Funky Winkerbean” have aged with time.
Tea Fougner, King Features Comics Editor, offers this the background:
In 2016, Tom Batiuk decided to write a story where Westview High coach and former star football player, Bull Bushka, was diagnosed with CTE, a type of degenerative brain disease that is linked to repeated head injuries and frequently linked to high contact sports, like football. Hailing from football country himself, Tom wanted to raise awareness of this condition that can often affect the lives of former student athletes and their loved ones. Tom decided to return to this story line this autumn to explore how CTE has been related to depression and even suicide in patients after several athlete suicides were discovered to be related to CTE diagnoses. This story line shows Bull, a longtime Funky Winkerbean character, commit suicide as a result of his CTE, the depression he suffered as a result of it, and his insurmountable fears of the burdens he might be placing on his loved ones.
Tom diligently researched this story and included information about Boston University’s CTE Center, one of the leading facilities for CTE research and treatment, as a way to help open up conversations about CTE for those living with CTE and their families, and to support CTE patients in getting the help they need.
In addition to the Times article, Tom will be interviewed for Sports Illustrated.
The story line runs in daily strips into October.