Introducing Crankshaft,

Cartoonists have Ohio roots

Ohio native Tom Batiuk, who made comic strip history by confronting serious real-life issues over the years, is sure to tickle our readers’ fancies with “Crankshaft.”

The series, a spin-off of Batiuk’s popular high school comic “Funky Winkerbean,” will appear daily beginning Tuesday, March 11. It is among four comics joining our new daily lineup.

The main character of “Crankshaft,” Ed Crankshaft, is a cantankerous school bus driver whowas first introduced in “Funky Winkerbean” and later became the lead character in Batiuk’s third comic strip introduced in 1987.

“Most of my work is only about a quarter inch removed from real life so I’m hoping that readers will encounter things in the Crankshaft family that reminds them of their own, and, that in Crankshaft himself, they find someone they may already know,” Batiuk says. “Of course, I’m ably abetted by artist Chuck Ayers whose illustrations breathe life into the characters and brings character to their lives.”

Both Ayers and Batiuk were born in Akron and the two were classmates at Kent State University from 1965 to 1970.

Batiuk first published his cartoons in his elementary school newspaper in Elyria. He won a national scholastic art award in high school, and after graduating from Kent State became a high school art teacher.

It was teaching that inspired him to create Funky Winkerbean in 1972. Over the years he has confronted issues ranging from dyslexia and teen suicide to guns in the classroom, racial discrimination and teen-dating abuse.

Many will remember his touching cartoons about breast cancer, alcoholism and post-traumatic stress disorder.

After graduating from Kent State, Ayers began his cartooning career as a staff artist and editorial cartoonist for the Akron Beacon Journal. He taught cartooning at both his alma mater, Kent State, and the University of Akron and received a first-place award for editorial cartoons from the Ohio Associated Press in 1986.

In our recent reader poll about their favorite comics, many mentioned “Crankshaft” as a cartoon they’d like to see regularly.

James Lee of Dayton said that “Crankshaft,” along with “Baby Blues” and “Mutts,” remind him of the good old- fashioned comic strips of his childhood.

“They’re funny, bring warm feelings, and don’t make me work too hard,” Lee said.

Jim Kent of Oakwood also picked “Crankshaft” as a favorite.

He likes it, he said, because it “deals with life and living in today’s world via incidents and events with which we can identify — older folks, families, kids.”