Cover of one of the Crankshaft paperback collections. Artist: Chuck Ayers.


Medium: Newspaper comics
Distributed by: Creators Syndicate
First Appeared: 1987
Creator: Tom Batiuk
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Two characters from the Funky Winkerbean newspaper comic, by Tom Batiuk (rhymes with "static"), have been spun off into successful comic strips of their own. The …

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… first, John Darling, made comics history by being murdered in full view of the readers — and actually staying dead! The second, Ed Crankshaft, has survived so far — but that doesn't mean none of his supporting characters have ever had murderous thoughts about him. Crankshaft stars a curmudgeonly old coot with a heart of gold, that his associates sometimes want to hug but more often want to strangle.

Crankshaft started out as Funky Winkerbean's neighborhood schoolbus driver — the kind every parent hates because he likes to run over mailboxes and make U-turns on the front lawn, and every kid hates because he likes to peel out just before they can get on and stop right by the biggest available puddle when they're getting off. Back then, if anyone had said he had that "heart of gold" they'd have thought that meant it was made of cold metal.

It was only after he got his own strip, on June 8, 1987, that he began to show his nicer side — and even then, he didn't show it very often, or very willingly. His demeanor continued to range from cantankerous to angry, and his greatest pleasure continued to come from acting ornery.

Batiuk chose Creators Syndicate, home of B.C., Heathcliff, Momma and several other top strips, to distribute the new series. He switched to United Media early on, however, and later to King Features, which handles it today. The strip has been collected into several books, starting in 1992 with one titled simply Crankshaft.

Batiuk writes the strip, but it's drawn by former editorial cartoonist Chuck Ayers. In rounding out Ed's character, Batiuk gave him a little back-story (he was a professional minor league baseball player in his youth) and a supporting cast. He lives with his daughter and son-in-law, Pam and Jeff Murdoch; their kids, Max and Mindy; and a cat named Pickles (no relation). Their neighbors make frequent appearances, as do Ed's co-workers at the bus garage. Several of Ed's unfortunate passengers appear regularly. He also, amazingly enough, has a girlfriend, named Lois.

Batiuk has a long history, in all his strips, of mixing weighty themes with the funny stuff. The first in Crankshaft came in the strip's second year, when Ed's family was surprised to find out he'd never learned to read. Like many adult illiterates, he'd learned to fake it so well, nobody ever suspected. When Pam expressed amazement that he managed to pull it off, he replied, "What's so amazing? I'm not stupid … I just can't read!" For the next several weeks, the gags revolved around his efforts to remedy the lack, which, needless to say, were ultimately successful.

Since then, the Crankshaft strip has tackled school violence, generational conflicts, death-threatening diseases and many other issues — all with grace and humor. A 1995 sequence about Alzheimer's Disease won accolades from advocacy groups, and led to the publication of Safe Return Home, an inspirational book on the subject.

Crankshaft currently runs in more than 300 papers, and its title character threatens to grump along for many years to come.


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