Last night, Friday, May 2, my family and I had a blast heading to our regional indie bookstore, Main Street Books, in Mansfield, Ohio to meet Tom Batiuk, the writer/illustrator of the nationally syndicated Funky Winkerbean cartoon strips and the writer of the very famous comic strip, Crankshaft! You’ve probably seen them in papers nationwide. He lives in Medina, Ohio, but he graduated back in the day from Kent State University. Published by Kent State University Press, he and the Crankshaft illustrator Chuck Ayers have launched in book form some of the great baseball themed cartoon strips and called it STRIKE FOUR! The Crankshaft Baseball Book.
We listened to him give a presentation on the writing and drawing of Crankshaft, with tidbits included such as how many notepads he has all over his house and car, as well as how he has evolved since he no longer has to rely on napkins, but can use the microphone in his cell phone. We heard about where he gets his ideas from, what inspires him, how many ideas he has per day, and how he writes his copy. He meets at a diner with his illustrator, as Chuck is one of the last few remaining illustrators to still use a template, paper, ink, and does his own coloring by hand! I liked seeing the process. Most artists use computers now for their drawing and layout. I found their process completely interesting, as did my two artistic daughters. Later in talking with him, he had the advice for my daughter to draw using a computer program for the modern times, as they never run out of ink.
With being a Pulitzer Prize Finalist for his story line of Lisa, a character in the strip who dies of cancer, Tom has taken on some important topics and still finds that comics connect to people. I agree, something about the visuals and text together and the stories seeming to resemble real life situations that can either by cried over or laughed about on a daily basis. One thing he says is that he doesn’t even really like baseball, but Crankshaft, the cranky school bus driver from his famous comic, once played baseball for the Toledo Mud Hens (a minor league team in Ohio). The story line is so strong, they’ve formed the book to capture the strips. He even got to throw out a first pitch at a Mud Hens game and will get to do it again this year.
Srike Four! The Crankshaft Baseball Book has a forward by actor Jamie Farr, of M*A*S*H. For those who don’t know Farr is from Toledo and in M*A*S*H he talked a lot about the Mud Hens! Pretty cool tie-in and his forward is terrific. During his talk, Tom also mentioned that in his next volume of Funky Winkerbean strips put into book form, the forward is from none other than the famous STAN LEE!! This is of note to Tom as when he first finished school he had went off to Marvel to try to get a job. After not being successful getting a job there, and coming home to teach and then reach fame with his Funky Winkerbean strip, he never did go back to Marvel, though he still has a love of comics and is a big fan of Stan Lee.
We had an awesome time meeting and talking with Tom and having him personalize our book with a sketch and autograph. There was nothing better than coming home and in preparing things around the home, looking over and seeing my 6-year-old intently reading the book, page by page, strip by strip. She loves her comics and her smile was priceless. Since my mom talks about Crankshaft each time she sees my kids, and cracks up hysterically like the comic is the highlight of her morning, Addie knew the strip quite well. It’s not only endearing and funny, but it’s bringing generations together and creating memories.
Here’s some of our pictures!!
Door of Main Street Books, pretty!
Tom signing and illustrating the autograph
Tom with Emma and Addie at Main Street Books
Our book and personal sketch and autograph
Addie caught intently reading….
About Strike Four, The Crankshaft Baseball Book~
The Toledo Mud Hens a farm team for the Detroit Tigers once had a budding pitcher named Ed Crankshaft. At least that’s how partners in cartooning, writer Tom Batiuk and artist Chuck Ayers, scripted the main character in Crankshaft. This enjoyable volume collects all of Crankshaft’s baseball-themed exploits. Fans will enjoy revisiting Crankshaft’s reminisces about his minor league pitching career and his comic attempts to recapture his youthful successes on the diamond.
Strike Four! portrays Crankshaft’s greatest triumph when, on a sultry summer night in 1940, the Tigers came to town for an exhibition game against the Mud Hens. Pitching for the Mud Hens, Ed faced the top of the Tigers lineup Hank Greenberg, Charlie Gehringer, and Rudy York and struck out all three. The next year, the Tigers called Ed up to the major leagues, but unfortunately, so did Uncle Sam. After his service, Crankshaft returned home, but not to play baseball. He married and had two daughters. His grandson Max was his last chance to reprise his baseball career, but it was not meant to be.
Strike Four! The Crankshaft Baseball Book allows Batiuk and Ayers to explore a man s life and humorously and touchingly to examine how only barely touching the brass ring shaped it and left him a little cranky.
About the Author/Artist~
Tom Batiuk is a graduate of Kent State University. His Funky Winkerbean and Crankshaft comic strips are carried in more than 600 newspapers worldwide and have an audience of more than 60 million readers. Crankshaft was syndicated in 1987.
Chuck Ayers is a graduate of Kent State University. Following graduation, he became the editorial cartoonist for the Akron Beacon Journal. He’s been the artist on Crankshaft since its inception and is a huge fan of the Cleveland Indians and Akron Aeros.