The Oshkosh Northwestern dropped Crankshaft’s rape cartoon

The Oshkosh Northwestern quietly dropped last week’s Crankshaft rape cartoon opting to run a replacement without notifying readers of the reasons behind the decision.

It is not generally known but I have a gentleman’s agreement with Crankshaft. If he leaves me alone and behaves himself, I’ll leave him alone. I heard a lifetime of complaints last spring when we gave him a 30-day hiatus for a trial run of the strip “prematurely disappointed,” created by area cartoonist Mark Engel. Never again, I vowed, will I provoke the Crankshaft crowd.

But it turns out that Crankshaft broke his end of the agreement for Wednesday’s paper. He was misbehaving and I needed to make a decision. The strip included a punch line that trivialized rape. The exact “joke” does not bear repeating. In my mind, however, it was tasteless and irresponsible. The fact that two other editors had the same concern was convincing.

While the decision to pull the strip was the correct one, not telling readers why was not. The Northwester had pulled Crankshaft earlier this year to conduct a 30-day trial run of another feature and now readers assumed that the missing Crankshaft signaled its final demise.

Most who called or e-mailed to inquire about Crankshaft were gracious and understood. The response from Faith Robertson was typical. “Thank you for your explanation…I would have agreed with you!”

For those of you who are curious about the strip, just Google “Crankshaft rape” and you can find the cartoon if you must. I look forward to hearing your opinion of our decision.

I’m glad to hear that one paper paused and pulled the strip. I don’t know how many of them did.

31 thoughts on “The Oshkosh Northwestern dropped Crankshaft’s rape cartoon

  1. I can understand why the strip was pulled, but I don’t really agree with the decision. It seems that the readers of today’s comics pages want everything to be clean and sweet. Creators are pretty safe if they stick to puns and wordplays, but deviate from this, and you’re treading in shark-infested waters.

    This example makes a good case for creators to bypass the papers and try to make it online.

    I guess it begs the question: Are we creating art or not? I would argue that many of the ‘strippers’ who are syndicated aren’t interested in art, which is why the comics pages are practically devoid of anything worth reading.

    I seriously doubt that Tom Batiuk really believes that old women are less likely to be assaulted than young, pretty ones. I think it was just a simple case of a writer being honest about who his characters are.

    I wrote a longer piece about this over at my comics blog, if anyone cares to comment.

  2. Mike–

    I’m going to echo your thoughts precisely–while the comment was offensive, it’s perfectly consistent with Ed Crankshaft’s worldview. He’s a benighted, marginally educated guy who would espouse such a point of view. No one will ever confuse him with Phil Donahue, and Batiuk shouldn’t write him any other way.

  3. “I would argue that many of the â??strippersâ?? who are syndicated arenâ??t interested in art, which is why the comics pages are practically devoid of anything worth reading.”

    I don’t really think that syndicated artists are uninterested in art. They are, however, interested in keeping their paying gig. You can’t blame the artist for the fact that their content is under such heavy scrutiny.

  4. “He who dares not offend cannot be honest.” Thomas Paine

    There are honestly people who think like Crankshaft and the fact that it was said in turn created discussion that surely made at least a few people stop and think about what might come out of their own mouths.

    The editor did his job, though it’s hard to believe he didn’t inform his readers why when he knew what kind of reaction he’d get.

    Still, I think it hurts the art form and ultimately hurts the society when cartoonists have to whitewash everything they say for fear of offending this group or that group. It makes comics “safe” but is that what we want comics to be? “Safe” is normally followed by “boring.”

    Censoring Crankshaft’s thoughts isn’t going to censor real men’s thoughts. If comics aren’t there to trigger the discussion, then what will?

  5. If I were the comics editor, I would not want to be responsible for propagating that kind of ignorance. I’ve made this point before, but if it were an equally offensive racist comment NO paper in the country would ever have considered running it, and none of you would have defended its right to run.

    And, again, you’re giving the creators WAY too much credit. Yes, the fact that Crankshaft made the comment is in keeping with his personality, but it was the writer who made the joke. Letting him hide behind his own hateful creation is simply cowardice.

  6. “Censoring Crankshaftâ??s thoughts isnâ??t going to censor real menâ??s thoughts.”

    No, but CONDONING Crankshaft’s thoughts DOES condone real men’s thoughts. “See, look, I’m validated in my ignorance by ‘Crankshaft’ and apparently everyone who helped but this strip together and publish it in the newspaper, and presumably the editor who felt it was a popular enough opinion that the vast majority of the readership is of the same mind! See! I’m right!”

    If the creators gave the slightest hint that they DID NOT APPROVE of this mindset, all of you defenders would have a point. But so far no one has satisfactorily shown that what Ed Crankshaft said differs in any way from what the writer thought was a funny comment. Which means you’re all defending the idea that old women are too ugly to be raped.

    Again, if it were as blatant a racist comment, I doubt anyone would be crying censorship or claiming it’s the character or anything else. Of course, it also would never have seen newsprint, so you’d never have gotten the chance.

  7. There used to be a television program that aired in the early 1970’s that had a character who used blatant sexist and racist words like “broads” dames” coons” “spics ” ‘Kikes” coloreds” queers etc.

    It was brilliant ground breaking comedy yet no one ever accused Norman Lear of being a sexist or racist based on what his character Archie Bunker said on a weekly basis. In fact, Norman Lear was the exact opposite, a card carrying liberal of the leftist of the left.

    Dave and Tom’s critics are way off base here. If we used his logic, anyone who tuned in every saturday night to watch, sympathized with everything Archie stood for, seperation of the races, the subjugation of women, religious bigotry and fear and loathing of homosexuals. It’s getting ridiculous how even the casual reader gets a dibillitating case of the vapors at the mere mention of something politically incorrect taken out of it’s context.

  8. Mike S: “I would argue that many of the â??strippersâ?? who are syndicated arenâ??t interested in art, which is why the comics pages are practically devoid of anything worth reading.”

    As someone who has spent the last four months scouring out-of-town newspaper funny pages (and the internet sites featuring comic strips) looking for strips I wasn’t familiar with, and talking to scores of cartoonists themselves, I would argue, passionately, that syndicated cartoonists ARE interested in their artform, and that there are plenty of strips worth reading. Look beyond your local paper, Mike – mine has a sorry selection of comics, too – and you’ll find a wealth of interesting, if not funny, offerings.

  9. Rick, I don’t think Dave or anybody on, where this was first pointed out online, has a “debilitating case of the vapors” because they point out that this kind of humor perpetuates violence against women.

    Here’s an example from that blog (Alan, I believe this falls under “fair use”):

    “My grandmother was raped and beaten in her home. Thankfully, she survived.

    Rape *is* about power, not sexuality, and cartoons like this perpetrate the myth that older women are “safe” from rape and assault because they’re perceived as unattractive. Heinous.”

    Women have enough trouble even getting protection or justice when it comes to sexual abuse, assault an harassment. I’m glad some people are making a stink about this.

  10. I’m glad people are making a stink too, because it means people care what the comics say. These days, that doesn’t often seem a safe assumption. But Rick is absolutely right: a character can behave in a way that is antithetical to what the creator believes, and that behavior cannot be assumed to represent the creator’s own attitude. When Ed Crankshaft wantonly destroys property with his bus, does anyone believe that Tom Batiuk is advocating vandalism? In Ed Crankshaft, he has created a character that in many ways is loathsome and unlovable. The misogyny he espouses in this strip is another example of a general misanthropy.

  11. Frankly, it’s hard for me to believe readers even care about that comic. Anyway, Dawn Douglass, you quoted Thomas Paine, â??He who dares not offend cannot be honest.â?

    I love that quote and hate censorship of all kinds. But please don’t trivialize the quote. Remember, the second part speaks about honesty. Just because something offends doesn’t mean there is any substance or truth behind it.

    Is Crankshaft being “honest” in his criticism of the woman carrying the pepper spray? Is he elevating art to speak truth to the PC crowd about how old women shouldn’t worry about a rape or mugging? Of course not. Its a stupid punchline. That doesn’t mean I’m in favor of “censoring” it or even raising a stink about it because I think Crankshaft is irrelevant.

    Unless there are groups rallying to get him canceled from papers because if it (in which case I would defend him), there doesn’t seem much to be worked up over.

  12. “The misogyny he espouses in this strip is another example of a general misanthropy.”

    Yes, a general misanthropy that is served up as folksy Pluggers-style small-town color. You can defend most of what he does or says because it’s always intended to be harmlessly comic. When he crashes his bus, he does it into a mailbox, not into a gas tanker, killing all the children on board.

    Here, his misanthropy is simply stopping him from filtering out the rude opinion that Lois is too old and ugly to attract enough sexual attention to need to “fight ’em off.”

    And that’s the distinction between author and character. The author thinks that old women needn’t worry about sexual advances. Only Crankshaft is jerky enough to say it their faces!

    You all give the writer way, way too much credit if you think that he possibly believes that what ‘Shaft is saying is patently offensive. Batuik gives him free reign to say it without any editorial recrimination. ‘Shaft doesn’t get set straight, he doesn’t learn a lesson, he doesn’t even HEAR an opposing viewpoint that he can brush off with clearly wrongheaded small-mindedness (as Archie Bunker was routinely treated by his creator Norman Lear.)

    And that’s another thing. The difference between ‘Shaft and Archie in this case is this: in displaying Archie’s intolerance, Archie was always the butt of the joke. Here, it’s Lois who is butt of the joke. Crankshaft is merely the delivery mechanism. That’ll tell you right there what the author thinks of his creation’s opinions.

  13. Once again, I quote from feministing. This poster says it better than I can:

    ‘Unfortunately the punchline that most people will read is “Crankshaft is an asshole for calling Lois old and ugly,” not “Crankshaft is an asshole for implying that old an/or unattractive women wouldn’t be raped.”

    Our culture largely accepts the “rape as compliment” myth (that is, it’s an expression of sexual desire aimed at attractive women), so much so that many people, while maybe recognizing that Crankshaft is being rude for implying Lois is undesirable to her face, would also accept the assumption that she, indeed, is too old and ugly to worry about someone wanting to rape her.’

  14. I volunteered as a child’s advocate at the Tracy Thurman battered womens shelter for 10 years here in CT and my wife worked as a volunteer pregnancy counsellor at Planned Parenthood for about three. I’m pretty familiar with rape as a power versus sexual issue. Is this comic strip insensitive and rather clumsy in it’s execution of a pretty lame joke? Absolutely. Does it warrant this kind of attention? Are you kidding me? C’mon get real and just move on….

  15. Matt, I’m not trivializing the quote at all. The larger issue here is whether or not cartoonists get to create characters that offend people.

    Cartooning DOES does speak to truth, and if cartoonists become fearful of being criticized the same way that newspaper editors have become fearful of them being criticized, then before you know it, cartoonists won’t be able to say anything but how the weather sucks.

    No wait. You can’t say “sucks.” Might offend people.

  16. Regarding the charge that “Our culture largely accepts the â??rape as complimentâ? myth,” — What utter nonsense!! What an exaggerated lie!!! I think every American should be outraged that these people on feministing have such perverted views of them.

    Americans don’t believe that rape is a compliment. If you polled the overall population, almost everybody who responded would say it’s all about violence and control. How many would say it’s a compliment? Probably less than 1% at best.

    It’s this kind stupidity that makes them look hysterical regarding this cartoon. They’re over-reacting because they think the American culture is full of Neanderthals. This is 2007 for Pete’s sake.

    I think they’re the ones with the problem.


  17. Dawn, while your diatribe is certainly impassioned, it managed to say absolutely nothing. And it managed to avoid the actual controversy over this strip and the clear implication that old women are too ugly to be raped. Someone rephrased it to “rape is a compliment” as a rhetorical device, to show the intellectual bankruptcy of the notion, and all of a sudden you’re acting like it’s a different concept.

    Yeah, if you ask people if they think “rape is a compliment” most people will say no. If you ask them “who is at risk of being raped, an attractive young woman or an old bag”, they’ll probably choose the young woman.

    It’s all about how you ask the question. You’re too good at slinging rhetoric yourself to feign ignorance on this one. Sorry.

  18. Dave, I’ve already covered all of that.
    You just keep going round and round for arguings sake.

    Yes, the statement was piggish. I’ve already acknowledged that more than once.

    As for you calling a 60-something female “an old bag,” I think that’s just as piggish.

  19. “Is this comic strip insensitive and rather clumsy in itâ??s execution of a pretty lame joke? Absolutely. Does it warrant this kind of attention? Are you kidding me? Câ??mon get real and just move onâ?¦”

    I agree with Rick. The joke in the comic was pretty lame. That one line in the comic was in the papers for that one day, and then it was gone and the next day Tom Batiuk moved on to another joke. He didn’t dwell on it. he put it out there, then he moved on….

    Like I said before, he probably did it to get people talking about his strip, and that generates a bigger readership.

    Next subject please….

  20. “Cartooning DOES does speak to truth, and if cartoonists become fearful of being criticized the same way that newspaper editors have become fearful of them being criticized, then before you know it, cartoonists wonâ??t be able to say anything but how the weather sucks.”

    Cartooning as a medium doesn’t “speak to the truth.” The artists using that medium can speak to the truth if they so choose and are creatively and intellectually equipped to do so.

    Just because it was a cartoon and some people were offended doesn’t mean it should be automatically defended, any more than it should be automatically banned. It should stand on its own merits, and based on those merits, you yourself have said “itâ??s a stupid remark and itâ??s reasonable for people to point that out.”

    Well people have been pointing that out consistently and intelligently for days now and you’ve done nothing but argue with us over it.

  21. >>Cartooning as a medium doesnâ??t â??speak to the truth.â?

    Of course, it does. Ever hear “it’s funny because it’s true”?

    Cartoonists, esp. these days, have very little room to work. They must capture big ideas extremely efficiently and effectively. You can only do that when there is truth behind what you’re saying.

    Why is Dilbert a blockbuster? Because for all of it’s exaggeration, it speaks truth regarding cubicle life.

    Zits = truth about teenagers

    Pearls before Swine = truth about society and friendship.

    You can’t separate an artist from his medium. Cartooning is a medium about truth. If you want to say that some people who try to use this medium do it poorly, but fine, I agree with that. But no syndicated cartoonist fits into that category, whether you like his or her cartoon or not.

  22. “As for you calling a 60-something female â??an old bag,â? I think thatâ??s just as piggish.”

    See? You’ve got the rhetoric down!! The way you ignored the fact that I had it in quotes as part of the whole “it’s how you ask the question” concept that I was talking about. They way you cleverly took it out of the context of the idea that if one were to refer to an older woman as “an old bag” (much as ‘Shaft himself implied) the person answering the question would subconsciously not associate that person with sex, and therefore likely assume that the “attractive young woman” would be the likelier target for a sexual assault.

    But you tried to make it sound like I was sincerely applying that phrase to a woman of a certain age. Wow, I left the door wide open on that one and you nailed me for it! Good work!!

    (Or am I giving you way too much credit?)

  23. “If you want to say that some people who try to use this medium do it poorly, but fine, I agree with that. But no syndicated cartoonist fits into that category, whether you like his or her cartoon or not.”

    NO syndicated cartoonist is a talentless hack?? They’ll ALL funny (and therefore “truthful”)?? Man, I don’t even know how to respond to something that broad and unproveable.

    I’m not sure how many people who have heretofore agreed with you are gonna back you up on that one, sister.

  24. “You just keep going round and round for arguings sake.”

    Hey Dave – it looks like you just like to argue! Let it go Dave.

  25. No, this issue doesn’t warrant this kind of attention…other than logging on to tell everybody to move on.

    I get it. The “kind” of attention this issue warrants is JUST ENOUGH to tell everyone to get over themselves. That’s exactly the right amount of attention.

  26. Dave, why do you keep calling me “sister”? Since I’m not a nun and I’m not your sibling, I think that’s also piggish. Maybe it’s not as colorful as b****, but you’re using it in the same derogatory manner, just choosing yet another euphemism.

    My name is Dawn.

    And I’m done with this topic.

  27. Well, Rick…I used sarcasm, and can understand if that put you off.

    But what I said was VERY fair. If you think people are making too much of this, why are you joining in? Just to tell everyone to stop talking about it?

    This is how I read what you’re saying:
    CRANKSHAFT: Can make a joke about rape
    ANYONE WHO WANTS TO CALL HIM ON IT: Should just get over it.

    Where’s the free speech there?

    At this point, I’d urge anyone to read the comments on this over at, if you haven’t already. I have no reason to plug the site — I’d never heard of it until this. But the debate there is articulate, informed, nuanced and interesting.

  28. “Dave, why do you keep calling me â??sisterâ?? Since Iâ??m not a nun and Iâ??m not your sibling, I think thatâ??s also piggish. Maybe itâ??s not as colorful as b****, but youâ??re using it in the same derogatory manner, just choosing yet another euphemism.”

    While I admit I was using it in a dismissive way, it’s really the feminized equivalent of saying “buddy” or “pal”: “Sure, pal. Whatever you say.” I don’t think anybody in their right mind would ever equate it with “the b-word” in any context. It’s not that it’s not as “colorful” â?? it’s not as insulting, loaded or hateful.

    That being said, I apologize if I offended you.

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