If you like your newspaper’s comic strips locally sourced along with your produce, you’re in luck.
Starting this week, The Times-Gazette is picking up “Crankshaft,” written and drawn by Ohio natives Tom Batiuk and Dan Davis. The King Features comic strip replaces “Retail,” which was retired by its creator on Feb. 23.
“‘Crankshaft’ is a very Ohio-centric strip,” said Akron-born and Kent State-graduated Batiuk, who in 1987 spun “Crankshaft” off from the popular “Funky Winkerbean” strip he created in 1972. “It would probably have a greater relatability to people who live here in Ohio because I’m writing about my roots.”
Davis, who lives in Celina and took over drawing the strip from Chuck Ayers in 2016, agrees that “Crankshaft” is infused with Ohio-ness, “a good Midwestern sensibility.”
“We’ve got a lot of good common sense out here. I try to use that whenever I can,” Davis said.
Davis has drawn Batman for DC Comics, “Blondie” and “Alley Oop” and continues to draw “Garfield.”
For those unfamiliar with “Crankshaft,” the strip’s title character is school bus driver Ed Crankshaft Sr. “It’s kind of all there in the title,” Davis said. “Crankshaft is a crank.”
Batiuk described one of the peak moments of Crankshaft’s life as “the day he showed up … at the school with not only the longest line of cars behind the bus, but he also had two police cars and an ambulance.”
“Crankshaft” won our recent comic strip readers’ poll, with one voter casting nine votes for “Crankshaft” to replace “Retail.” Batiuk appreciates the zealous fan.
“Hopefully it means you’re touching their lives. You’re doing that kind of ‘Oh, yeah’ humor where they go ‘Oh, yeah, I’ve seen that,’ or ‘I know that, I know what’s going on.”
“I think they see themselves in Crankshaft. He’s a working man, kind of an ordinary guy,” Davis said. “There’s a lot of people, hard workers, that like to finish the day with their newspaper and have a laugh. I think they’ll relate to him.”
Batiuk doesn’t take credit for adding Crankshaft to “Funky Winkerbean.”
“I’d been on a book tour and was leaving a television station, and they said there was a call for me. It was from a fan, and she said she liked the strip and had two suggestions: that I should have a school secretary and a school bus driver.
“I immediately did a dope slap because I thought, ‘Why didn’t I think of that?’ He was so popular. Next to the band director and Funky he became the next biggest character.”
Batiuk lets real life play out in both of his strips with serialized stories, drama and time jumps mixed in with the gags. A Batiuk character can live, laugh and die in the world he’s created. He says both his strips are “about a quarter inch removed from real life.”
“When I started, I was brought in to speak to my generation. Because I’ve done strips where I’ve allowed the characters to grow, I’ve been allowed to continue doing that.”
“I like telling stories,” he said, although instead of a gag a day in the final panel, “you’re doing more of a behavioral humor. I like that, it sort of comes out of the interaction between the characters and it grows out of the stories.”
Batiuk describes the story unfolding as “Crankshaft” joins our comics page: “Crankshaft’s grandson and his fiance took over an old theater and they show vintage movies. She’s pregnant. Crankshaft and Mary, who he’s dating, show up to see a movie, and there’s a blizzard and they’re trapped in the theater.
“And we’re starting to get an indication that the baby is going to be coming.”
Batiuk and Davis know how it turns out, because they work about a year ahead writing and drawing Crankshaft. The rest of us will just have to read the strip to find out.
Read more about Tom Batiuk at FunkyWinkerbean.com and about Dan Davis at DanDavisArt.com.
Gary Presley is pagination director for AIM Media Midwest. You can reach him at [email protected]