Luann Cartoonist Meets Birth Daughter

Had cartoonist Greg Evans, creator of the comic strip Luann, not been seated while working at his computer on Jan. 19, the e-mail message he received might have knocked him off his feet.

It read: "I think I may be your daughter."

That message came from Rhonda Nabors, 29, of Grand Prairie, Texas, and was the culmination of her search for her birth parents. Evans and his wife, Betty, were unmarried when their daughter was born in 1969 and had given her up for adoption.

Nabors' search had taken a coincidental twist. The oldest of her three children, 12-year-old Jonathan Upchurch, is an aspiring cartoonist, and her first e-mail messages to Evans were under the guise of getting advice for her son. But by the time Nabors had mustered the courage to send the Jan. 19 message, she was virtually certain she had found whom she was looking for.

Like most adoption searches, this story goes back a ways. Greg and Betty - then Betty Ransom - were art students at what is now California State University at Northridge. When Betty got pregnant, Evans says, they decided they were not ready to settle down and chose to give the baby up for adoption. Their daughter was taken from them as soon as she was born. All they knew was that she had been adopted by a couple in the Dallas area.

By the time Nabors was 16, she was married, had a baby and had left school. Living in California in 1987 while her first husband, a Marine, was stationed at Camp Pendleton, she was unaware that her birth parents lived only about 17 miles away. She later returned to Texas and finished high school a year behind her class.

Nabors had known the names of her birth parents since 1990, when she obtained the information from the lawyer who handled the adoption. She also knew where they had attended college and that they had majored in art.

Her search went in fits and starts. Her desire to know more was often overcome by her fears over what she might find. "I would get close, then I would get scared and put it down. But I kept the information in the back of my head," says Nabors, an administrative secretary at Baylor Institute for Rehabilitation.

Enter Luann. The comic strip about a teenage girl played a key role in completing Nabors' search.

The strip itself is a teenager, having been in syndication for 13 years. Evans, 50, usually keeps a "humorous, light touch" in portraying Luann's life with her family and friends, which consists of scattered moments of bliss and early indications of maturity amid the crushing drudgery and intermittent heartache of high school.

Evans has two other children - Karen, 19, and Gary, 23 - whose age difference is about the same as that of Luann and her older brother, Brad. Karen's adolescence provided some ideas, but Evans says much of the material in the strip is universal and recurring.

As a longtime reader of the comics, Nabors followed the events in Luann. She had noticed Evans' name on the strip and wondered whether he might be the Greg Evans she was looking for. After all, he had been an art major . . .

Eventually, she got up the gumption to contact Evans by e-mail via the syndicate which distributes the strip. Her initial messages told of her son's interest in cartooning and asked such seemingly innocuous questions as how he got started in the business. And where he went to college. And what his major was.

The information Evans included in his response was enough to convince Nabors that she had hit the jackpot. She decided to take the plunge and reveal herself to be his daughter.

In the "I think I may be your daughter" e-mail, she laid out everything she had learned to explain why she believed Greg and Betty Evans were her birth parents. She anxiously awaited the reply.

When Nabors received the e-mail message saying that yes, they were her parents, "I backed away from the computer as if it had caught fire," she says, and ran to tell her husband, Landon. In his message, Evans said he and his wife would leave it up to Nabors as to how to proceed on making further contact. In July, she and her family flew to California to visit them, and Betty Evans made a trip to Texas in late September.

Evans says Karen and Gary didn't know they had a sister and were "shocked and surprised" when they were told of her existence. But they're happy about the situation now that they've gotten to know her.

Nabors says she has no regrets about the decision the Evanses made almost 30 years ago. "Look at the era. That was an absolute no-no to be a single mother. I believe they made the best choice for them and for me."

The unexpected beneficiary of this reunion has been Nabors' son Jonathan. His mother says the seventh-grader has always been artistically inclined and likes to draw cartoons so much that he wants to make a living at it when he grows up. Evans says his newfound grandson must have inherited the "cartoon gene."

As his mother was nearing the completion of her adoption search, Jonathan was preparing for his school's "Night of the Notables." Each student was to research a historical or contemporary figure (no athletes) whom they found inspiring, and give a presentation as that person. Jonathan was trying to choose between Calvin and Hobbes cartoonist Bill Watterson and Peanuts creator Charles Schulz. But when he found out he had an "instant grandfather" who was a nationally syndicated cartoonist, Jonathan chose a new subject.

So on the "Night of the Notables," Evans says, "there was Abe Lincoln, Thomas Jefferson . . . and me."