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Kent State unveils mural by Funky Winkerbean creators

By Carol Biliczky
Beacon Journal staff writer

funky28cut_03
Comic strip artists Tom Batiuk (left) and Chuck Ayers on hand for the official opening of the new Kent State University student lounge called The Nest. (Phil Masturzo/Akron Beacon Journal)

Kent State students can literally look up to two alumni who have forged careers in comic strips.

Tom Batiuk of Medina and Chuck Ayers of Akron on Tuesday unveiled a comic border mural in a new student lounge in the KSU Student Center.

The event marked the 40th anniversary of the duo’s Funky Winkerbean strip and debut of the first volume of Batiuk’s book, The Complete Funky Winkerbean, by KSU’s Black Squirrel Books.

The artwork transformed the room, said Greg Jarvie, KSU vice president of enrollment management and student affairs.

“It was dark, dim,” he recalled. “This will be a special place, there’s no doubt.”

The Student Center’s former music appreciation room now has blue and gold seating that flanks wall-to-floor windows.

The 96-foot, full-color mural depicts comic-strip characters and KSU students at every stage of their college experience, from moving into dorms to graduation.

Timeka Rashid, assistant dean of students, said the university was “thrilled at the opportunity to offer our students another space where they can unwind.”

Batiuk and Ayers have long relationships with Kent State. Batiuk graduated from KSU in 1969 and Ayers in 1971.

Ayers went on to work for the Akron Beacon Journal for 25 years, more than 13 as the editorial cartoonist. Batiuk parlayed his experiences as a junior high art teacher into the Funky Winkerbean strip that debuted March 27, 1972; Ayers joined him as illustrator in 1994.

Since 1987, they have collaborated on the Winkerbean spin-off Crankshaft. Batiuk writes and Ayers draws.

Along the way, Funky Winkerbean has soared in popularity, now appearing in 600 newspapers around the world. Batiuk’s books about a character’s battle against breast cancer were published by Penguin Press and then by KSU as Lisa’s Story: The Other Shoe in 2007.

The new book should keep Funky fans happy for years. The first volume now out includes an introduction by Batiuk and the first three years of the comic strip. Subsequent yearly volumes will include three years of Funky strips.

In the meantime, Batiuk said it was Ayers who made the “herculean” effort to develop the mural. Ayers said it took “forever” — in reality, about four weeks — to create such a big piece of art in half scale.

For their work, they received relatively little — $500 each, which they donated back to the university. Riot Creative Imaging of Cleveland installed the artwork at no cost.

For details about the new Funky book, contact KSU’s Black Squirrel Books at 330-672-7913 or www.kentstate
universitypress.com.

Black Squirrel Books is the popular imprint of KSU’s academic press, which publishes 35 books a year.

Carol Biliczky can be reached at cbiliczky@thebeaconjournal.com or 330-996-3729.