Crankshaft is an eponymous comic strip about an elderly, curmudgeonly school bus driver which debuted on June 8, 1987. Written by Tom Batiuk and drawn by Chuck Ayers, Crankshaft is a spin-off from Batiuk’s comic strip Funky Winkerbean.
Ed (Edward Roger Dale) Crankshaft, Sr. is a widower with two daughters, Pam and Chris (he had a son [Eddie] who died as an infant). Crankshaft is a World War II veteran who, in his youth, was an aspiring baseball player who never made it to the major leagues (he played for the Toledo Mud Hens at his highest level). Pam, who is a major fixture, is married to Jeff and has two children, son Max and daughter Mindy. Chris (who according to the storyline lives in New York City) occasionally appears in the strips. Crankshaft drives a school bus for a living and is part of the company bowling team (though he is not a great bowler). The continuity of the strip is as much as twenty years behind that of Funky Winkerbean; strips in both comics in August and September 2011 show a character in the latter strip, a high school teacher with a daughter of her own, as a college-age student in the former.
Crankshaft is known for recurring running gags, such as:
- all the bus drivers insulting the cooking efforts (especially the brownies and coffee) of Lena, a co-worker. Lena serves as the Drivers supervisor.
- Crankshaft constantly trying to outrun kids (and their mothers) who miss the bus
- Crankshaft's coming up with different labor-saving gadgets (which often don't work or cause more damage)
- pouring too much lighter fluid on the grill, causing it to explode whenever the grill is lit
- neighbor George Keesterman's mailbox getting destroyed on a daily basis by the school bus (although some strips have George Keesterman saving his mail box in time).
- Crankshaft blowing out his back and being laid up and not caring for it (The strip finds humor in somewhat depressing situations.)
- The strip is famous for its flashbacks which include, but are not limited to, Crankshaft's days as a baseball player
Batiuk has tackled many serious issues in the strip, including:
- Adult literacy: When Crankshaft revealed to his family that he could not read, the strip followed his efforts to learn.
- Alzheimer's disease and dementia: One of Crankshaft's friends, Ralph, has a spouse who no longer recognizes him. A neighbor, Lucy McKenzie, also exhibited symptoms and moved to a nursing home. The character died in the March 7th, 2009 strip.
- Access to higher education among the poor: Crankshaft recognized that the students on his bus route would never better themselves if they didn't attend college, yet they were too poor to do so. Therefore, Crankshaft sold an extensive collection of movie posters to set up a fund so they could attend college after graduation. However, he never bothered to invest the money, so the students could only attend one semester. In the June 29, 2011, strip, it is revealed that all the "roughriders" he sent to one semester of college have graduated, and since Crankshaft couldn't attend all their graduations, they brought the graduation to his porch.
- Recent history: The anniversary of the May 4, 1970, shooting and killing of Kent State University students by Ohio National Guard troops was commemorated through flashbacks of Pam and Jeff's involvement. It is also revealed that Crankshaft fought in the Battle of Normandy.
- rape: Crankshaft became the subject of some degree of controversy when Batiuk wrote a cartoon that some readers and editors thought trivialized rape by saying that only young, attractive women need to fear sexual assault, implying that rape was in some sense a compliment. It was pulled from publication in at least one paper.
Crankshaft often features flashback scenes involving Ed (or one of his friends) as a younger individual. Between Thanksgiving and Christmas of 2005, flashback scenes were used extensively in a storyline that had Ed and several of his war buddies visiting the World War II Memorial in Washington.
Daily strips commencing July 20, 2009, appear to show Ed Crankshaft in a state of grave decline, his life flashing before his eyes as he attends a Little League baseball game. This narrative development was immediately preceded by the death of Tom Batiuk's father, Martin. It was later revealed to be a fast forward, and the strip went back to more familiar adventures the next week.
- Biliczky, Carol (March 27, 2012). "Kent State unveils mural by Funky Winkerbean creators". [[wikipedia:Akron Beacon Journal|]] ([[wikipedia:Akron, OH|]]). http://www.ohio.com/news/kent-state-unveils-mural-by-funky-winkerbean-creators-1.285917. Retrieved March 28, 2012.
- E & P staff. (2007). "'Crankshaft' Comic Criticized for Implying Older Women Are in Less Danger of Being Assaulted". Editor & Publisher. Retrieved October 30, 2007.
- Rieckman, Stew. (2007). "Crankshaft crossed the line so we gave him time out". The Oshkosh Northwestern. Retrieved October 30, 2007.
- Elyria Chronicle Telegram obituaries 16 Jul 2009