Crankshaft, a Newspaper Comic strip launched in 1987, is a Spin-Off of Tom Batiuk's Funky Winkerbean that focuses on the day-to-day life of its title character, curmurdgeonly eighty-five-year-old bus driver Ed Crankshaft.
Much like its parent, the strip combines character-based humor (radically different from its parent comic, although this was made at the time before Cerebus Syndrome had kicked in) with story lines about issues that affect average Americans. It should also be noted that, since the title character and many others are over eighty years of age, much use is made of the same flashback device the parent strip does.
Crankshaft provides examples of:
- Abusive Parents: Recent strips have revealed that Jeff's mother, Rose, would hit him and destroy his possessions when he was younger. Luckily the strip also averts There Are No Therapists.
- Acquainted with Emergency Services: Crankshaft tends to go haywire with accelerant during barbecue season. As a result, the town's fire department has learned to check on him as soon as the spring weather turns nice.
- Bad Future: One story arc has Crankshaft delivering poinsettias to a nursing home on Christmas, he enters one room and sees his older self all alone on the holidays, wheelchair bound, and practically a vegetable. He goes to the main office and questions about it only to find out the room was unoccupied all along. When raving at the front desk that he saw someone, a background character states "Maybe Ed just saw the Christmas spirit" which seems to be Batiuk hinting that some sort of "Ghost of Christmas Future" was involved.
- Bad to the Last Drop: Lena's noxious coffee- which is still better than her unspeakable brownies.
- Bland-Name Product: Crankshaft had a collection of old Bean's End mail order catalogs, until he sold them off. Beans's End is a combination of the Real Life L.L. Bean and Land's End catalogs.
- Crossover: With its parent comic on occasion, sometime with the characters passing each other unknowingly.
- Flashback Effects: the same shading effects as used in Funky Winkerbean.
- Foreshadowing: Some strips have had Crankshaft's malapropisms creep into normal speech ("dimensions" instead of "size", "gas store" instead of "gas station"). In real life, this word-salad is a sign of mental illness like dementia or Alzheimer's.
- Grilling Pyrotechnics: A Running Gag.
- The Grim Reaper: Shows up to collect one of the characters. When Crankshaft tells him that he scared him half to death, the personification of death merely states that he gets that a lot.
- Grumpy Old Man: And how!! Most of the characters spend most of their time dealing with his sour outlook on life.
- Heroic Dog: A 2009 strip has Rose's dog, Tinkerbelle, jumping in front of a rattlesnake that was planning to strike at Crankshaft and getting bit herself.
- Iconic Outfit: Crankshaft's usual ensemble of white shirt, black pants, white socks, black shoes, and matching red jacket and baseball cap.
- I Coulda Been a Contender!: Crankshaft was an aspiring baseball player who played for the Toledo Mud Hens and was about to be called up to the Detroit Tigers when he was drafted during World War II.
- Karma Houdini: No matter how late Crankshaft is in delivering his charges to school, how many things he destroys because he's too stubborn and stupid to pay attention to what he's doing and how many people he offends, he's never had to endure any punishment more severe than being frowned at. And of course, in Batiuk's twisted world, the one man who actually deserves cancer will never get it.
- The 2009 "future Crankshaft" storyline may prove that someday, Crankshaft is due for some serious suffering.
- Love Letter Lunacy: For many years, Crankshaft had two elderly neighbors, Lillian and Lucy, sisters that through the course of their life had never married. Just before Lucy passed away, Lillian revealed to a comatose Lucy that she had stolen a letter from her beloved Eugene when he was deployed overseas, in which he mentioned that if Lucy never replied, he would never communicate with her again.
- Malaproper: Most of the punchlines are based on Crankshaft's mangling of proverbs and commonplace sayings. An entire week of Crankshaft in the hospital was even devoted to his daughter and her husband mocking his habit.
- Morality Pet: The plotines with Jefferson Jacks seem to exist almost entirely to show that Crankshaft has a soul - or at least had one in his minor league days.
- Never Learned to Read: One of the first issues-based story lines was the revelation that the title character was illiterate; this led to an examination of literacy classes for the elderly as well as a flashback that depicted the grandfather of Funky Winkerbean's Bull Bushka destroying Ed's dream of playing in the Majors by switching out the line-up card (which Crankshaft had someone else read for him) just long enough to trick Crankshaft into missing a scheduled start with big league scouts in attendance.
- No More for Me: The strip for September 2nd, 2014 has the Running Gag of Crankshaft lighting his barbecue and the resultant explosion because he used too much lighter fluid. One of Crankshaft's neighbors is drinking a can of beer, sees the flaming barbecue flying through the air and says, "That's it! I'm swearing off the sauce for good!"
- O.O.C. Is Serious Business: Crankshaft famously won't wait for kids who are late getting on his bus. The one time he makes an exception is when one of his students is standing on the street corner trying to decide between getting on the bus and walking away with a gang member who's trying to recruit him. It works.
- Protagonist Title
- Take That, Critics!: Batiuk once used a Sunday strip as a means to answer critics who objected to the storyline in Funky Winkerbean that revolved around Lisa's slow, agonizing death from cancer.
- Teen Pregnancy: One storyline involved a student that rides on Crankshaft's bus going through one, she ends up having the baby on the bus after it became stuck in snow. She names the baby boy Ed after Crankshaft and in a flash forward is visiting the man's grave together.
- Wring Every Last Drop out of Him: The slow, agonizing death of Crankshaft's former neighbor from complications of Alzheimer's.