When nationally syndicated newspaper comic strip writer Tom Batiuk was in grade school, he once saw a girl bullied by his peers and did nothing.
The memory has stuck with him and will be echoed in a “Funky Winkerbean” storyline next year.
“My whole life, I’ve thought what it’s like to be that person,” Batiuk said in an interview at his Medina Township home Wednesday. “I’ve always wondered if by not doing anything, am I equally culpable?
“If I do nothing, have I done something wrong?”
Batiuk said he’s been touching on the issue of bullying since the comic strip’s beginning in 1972 — and that’s why he was asked to contribute to “Bullying Is No Laughing Matter,” a compilation of anti-bullying newspaper comics.
In earlier strips, one of Batiuk’s character was threatened by a bully to fight after school. As the comic grew and matured, he said he was able to touch on more contemporary and serious issues like the 2012 strip he contributed to the book.
The storyline focused on a gay couple wanting to go to prom together only to be harassed by students and staff. In the strip, the school’s principal intervenes and says bullying the couple won’t be tolerated.
Batiuk’s comics have covered other contemporary issues, including teen pregnancy, suicide, alcoholism and cancer.
He said teens and children today have an especially hard time dealing with bullies.
“The Internet has made bullying so much worse,” he said, explaining it’s made teens unable to escape their peers. “I hope this book does something to spread awareness.”
The Medina County community has worked to combat bullying after several teen suicides last year. Efforts have included the county’s chapter of the United Way and District Library working with schools to have every sixth-grader in the county read an anti-bullying novel over the summer.
In addition to contributing his work to the book, Batiuk also wrote a preface to a full-length issue of Kurt Kolka’s “The Cardinal,” a superhero who deals with bullying and other social issues affecting teens.
“Comics today are accused of presenting a dystopian view of the world, but the first dystopian world I ever encountered was called a junior high school,” Batiuk wrote. “Junior high is where social and physical bullying are distilled and refined and turned into an art form.
“It’s where you run smack into the real world and learn that people can do things that are not always nice, not always fair, and which are sometimes downright evil.”
Batiuk said it’s hard for teens because their problems seem very important to them.
“While it’s happening, it’s hard to sort it out,” he said, “but things do get better.”