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The Cartoonist’s Cartoonists: Tom Batiuk

Tom Batiuk began his cartooning career while teaching Jr. High in Elyria Ohio in 1970 when he created a comic panel for the Elyria Chronical-Telegram. The panel was the precursor to what later became his strip Funky Winkerbean that was launched in 1972. In 1979 Tom created a second comic strip called John Darling, which he wrote and Tom Armstrong drew, with one of the infrequent characters of Funky Winkerbean (think comic strip spin-off). The strip ran until 1991 when the lead character was murdered. In 1987, another spin-off, Crankshaft was created involving Funky character Ed Crankshaft which he team creates with Chuck Ayers.

Since its debut in 1972, Funky Winkerbean has been known to delve into sensitive isues such as alcoholism, teen-dating abuse, suicide and rape. The latest issue, the death of the Lisa Moore character again set off a national debate on the appropriateness of such issues on the “funny pages.” For his work with the Lisa Moore story-line, Tom was honored as a finalist by this year’s Pulitzer Board for “a sequence in his cartoon strip “Funky Winkerbean” that portrays a woman’s poignant battle with breast cancer.”

Here now are the 10 cartoonist whom Tom admires or has influenced his career.

Frank King – Frank King’s gentle magic continually amazes me. His work lives and breathes like real life, reflecting the society in which it was created. I wish I knew his trick of aging his characters right before the reader’s eyes.

Stan Lee – I went to Kent State, but while I was there I was attending the college of Stan Lee. Stan’s school of story telling taught me so much about getting readers to invest in your characters and keeping them engaged with masterful story telling.

Milton Caniff – I don’t know what I could say about Caniff that hasn’t been said a hundred times over. Elegant art over elegant story telling. The thing that sometimes gets overlooked is the humanity of his characters. Very emotionally real treatments.

Chet Gould – Allow me to completely contradict myself. Gould’s art on Tracy in the fifties was almost abstract (check out the way he drew trees). The characters were beyond belief and the plots were insane. Totally worked for me.

Roger Bollen – His work on Animal Crackers always made me laugh. Plus Rog was just a really nice guy. I went to him as a young cartoonist and he told me the secret of how to get syndicated.

Jim Childress – Jim’s strip Conchy was a sadly unheralded masterpiece. It was quite possibly the most brilliant humor strip I’ve ever seen. I’d give five hundred Krazy Kats for one Conchy.

Mac Raboy – From captain Marvel Jr., to The Green Lama, to Flash Gordon. Some of the most gorgeous art that’s ever been laid to bristol board. Thank God we live in the age of great reprint books.

Burne Horgarth – Now some folks swear by Hal Foster’s Tarzen, but, for my money, Horgarth takes the gold medal. The sequence where Tarzan is fighting the giant gorilla on the wing of the twin engined plane as it dives through the air pretty much says it all.

Jim Meddic – One of today’s cartoonist’s who consistently amuses me. It reminds me sometimes of things that I used to do in Funky except that Jim does them better.

Charles Schulz – As Stan Lee was wont to say: ’nuff said.

Community Comments

#1 josh shalek
June/16/2008
@ 10:09 am

Always a pleasure to see this feature.

Mr. Batiuk supplies an ironclad list of cartoonist greats. I’m going to have to look up that Tarzan storyline; it sounds intense.

#2 Dan Thompson
June/17/2008
@ 3:21 pm

Great list!!

Dan

#3 John Read
June/17/2008
@ 5:41 pm

So, Tom, what IS the secret to getting syndicated? Or, is it a secret?

#4 ruyayeem
July/26/2009
@ 5:33 pm

Tom,

I have a question for you? On July 18, 2009 in the Crankshaft comic you had Pam and his wife sitting on the porch, and Pam’s husband is asking Pam, where is your dad? She stays he is in the garden working until sundown, and the son in law says “the old man keeps working in the garden to keep going from seed”, then on Monday July 20, you have what appears like Crankshaft with Oxygen sitting in a wheel chair, flash back to him as a youth, and at the end a CNA going to take him to the ball game, and she forgets his hat?

My question, what happen between July 18 and July 20? I am confuse, and I bet a lot of readers of this comic will be confuse. I little explantion would be helpful. Futhermore in the sunday comic of the kenosha news where I live, it shows Crankshaft outside of his garage door trying to start the lawn more, and him yelling, and so on.

What is going on here?

#5 Frank Farnham
July/30/2009
@ 12:34 pm

I’m confused also! Whats with Crankshaft in the wheelchair?

FEF

#6 Frank Farnham
July/30/2009
@ 12:35 pm

Tom:

I’m confused. Whats with Crankshaft in the wheelchair? Is the cartoon all a flashback?

FEF

#7 Henry Clausner
July/30/2009
@ 1:06 pm

The deal with getting syndicated is………

#8 Frank Farnham
August/2/2009
@ 4:35 pm

Is Crankshaft done as a flashback? What’s with his being in a wheelchair?

FEF

#9 Anita Laff
August/5/2009
@ 7:58 am

If anyone understands what is funny about cruelty to animals, could you please explain. In FW having Lisa die was bad, and Wally taken prisoner is tasteless. But Crankshaft killing a dog tops them all. Hey Batiuk, you have extreme anger issues dude. Were you mistreated when you were younger that you get your thrills by killing cartoon characters? Get some therapy. And a writer who will make your comics actually funny.

#10 Henry Clausner
August/5/2009
@ 8:20 am

oooh,dat’s nasty…no throwing rocks in here.

#11 Warren McGowan
October/19/2009
@ 11:29 am

Tom,
A number of years ago when the football coach was addressing the team, I noticed a number of opponents names shown on the chalk board. The names listed were Elmore, Genoa, and several others which no longer come to mind. I recognized the names because I was raised across Sandusky Bay from Elyria in Port Clinton. My thoughts at the time were that you must be associated with Northwestern Ohio.

Today, I googled you and low and behold I found that you were a teacher at Elyria. Small world.

#12 Cathy Shipp
June/18/2010
@ 2:59 pm

Thank you for addressing subjects that aren’t always funny, but manage to touch someone that is going through a similar circumstance.

Specifically, the “putting dad in the nursing home” strips that week are particularly touching. For those readers that might not have been in this position, I hope they are paying attention.

Regarding Crankshaft – my pharmacist husband particularly enjoyed the pharmacy visit strips and says that he has customers exactly like this.

I have been volunteering with Susan G. Komen for the Cure for many years and Lisa’s story hits home with so many of our friends with breast cancer who have survived and who haven’t.

You are appreciated for your insight willingness to address “real” matters.

Cathy Shipp

#13 Dave Stephens
June/18/2010
@ 4:30 pm

In life, people get sick. Sometimes they get better. Sometimes they die. Great to see a cartoonist show the whole spectrum instead of only the safe, non-threatening outcome.

#14 William Anderson
April/21/2011
@ 7:29 am

I just wanted Mr. Batiuk and Mr. Ayers to know that I truly appreciate the strip “Crankshaft”. I get a laugh out of it almost every day.

I didn’t expect to see all of the posts. It looks as thought I’m not the only one who admires their sense of humor.

Congrats and keep giving me that morning laugh !

#15 Jo Ann Crumbly
May/18/2011
@ 12:35 pm

My husband’s & my absolute favorite cartoon is Crankshaft!
That is my nickname for him, as they have common lets say ways..George isn’t a “firebug”, but is crusty at times.
Problem: Today we were crushed when the comic strip hinted heavily of the dreaded e-v-o-l-u-t-i-o-n. Please redeem yourself, Tim, by showing a Creation one to us believers.
Thank you.

#16 Les Tivers
February/4/2012
@ 7:12 am

Once again truth is stranger than fiction. In Crankshaft on 2/4/12, there is a reference to spectacular degeneration. Well, my sister-in-law is famous for her malaprops, including calling macular degeneration immaculate degeneration. Another one of her Pattyisms is talking about tissue taken from cadavers as from Godivas.

#17 Vera Hilliard
April/2/2013
@ 4:12 pm

Tom,

I KNEW IT…I JUST KNEW IT…that while reading Lisa’s story in the strip, that it was written by someone who had to deal with cancer “up close and personal”. My husband was diagnosed with cancer in 2001 and because of that experience (as his care taker), I recognized the accuracy with which you wrote the strip. Thankfully, he is doing quite well–12 years later.

I’m now beginning the journey with you on bullying and so delighted that you’ve chosen to give it additional exposure.

Neither of these topics is “easy”…but, both are very REAL. Thanks for making them “top of mind”; continue taking on these kinds of topics!

#18 Speer Ezzard
July/21/2013
@ 3:38 pm

Tom: You do not remember me, but I knew and worked with your father at Goodrich at Avon Lake. He was my friend. My wife
Nancy knew him as well as we both occasionally visited both
your mother and Martin when they relocated to Dayton.
Anyhow, we both took a trip to my home town in Georgia last week and found Mr. Crankshaft in the Atlanta Journal. Just had
to touch base with you as I was so pleased to see he is indeed still with us. (Your Dad sent me Funky books and several of your
original works which I have mounted in my little “office.”
Your Dad would be so proud of you. We both really were
terribly proud of our kids. I just felt that I just had to contact you
as you’ve done such a good job…..bringing humor to the public!
Thanks a heap,
Speer Ezzard

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