All the Same to Tom?

When I first read today’s strip, it seemed to make sense. (Except for the last panel, of course.) I remembered Cayla’s dad.

His first and last in-the-flesh appearance in Funky Winkerbean.

I remembered that Smokey Williams had been friends with Crankshaft.

The seasoning is piss and vinegar.

And I remembered, from my very earliest comic strip snark fandom days, that Crankshaft had a flashback prestige arc about Cranky befriending his black teammate during the early integration era.

Still, not as hamfisted as this week.

And I chuckled to myself over how it was just PEAK Batiuk to reference by name an obscure character that has only been seen in Funky Winkerbean once, who further references an awards bait arc he wrote in Crankshaft back in 2008. Are any readers, even among the dedicated snarkers on SOSF, CK, Curmudgeon, and elsewhere, going to remember who Smokey Williams was?

I tried to do a little mental math, if it would work if Cayla’s dad was a young man in ’47. But I just chocked it up to time skip weirdness. Then, I went back to the archives for Crankshaft to reread the Diet Jackie Robinson arc.

One of these names….
Is not like the other….

And then I looked at the Crankshaft-meets-Cayla strip from 2011 a little closer.

Any closer and I could’ve counted the blackheads on Cranky’s nose.

Smokey calls Crankshaft an ‘Old-Timer.’ Cranky is a grandfather of adult grandkids at this point, and Cayla is Smokey’s daughter and a college student. Smokey is drawn slightly younger looking than Ed Crankshaft.

Guys. I don’t think that Crankshaft and Smokey Williams played on the same team. I think Smokey Williams is decades younger than Crankshaft. But then, who is he?

In the bedeviled Comics Kingdom hellscape, Crankshaft only goes back to late 2002. When Smokey calls Crankshaft up in 2011, it is the first time he’s mentioned or seen in the archives. But he isn’t treated like a new character. The Toledo Blade didn’t carry Crankshaft. In desperation I started googling madly into the void. And got this little clue from a book review of the Crankshaft baseball collection: Strike Four!

Memorable storylines include the time Ed became a coach and mentor to struggling Aeros pitcher Smokey Williams, and a flashback to Ed’s support for his team’s first black player, who took some harassment from both the public and other players.

Akron Beacon Journal, June 7, 2014

Crankshaft is certainly not a coach or mentor to Jefferson Jacks in the integration arc. And Jefferson Jacks isn’t playing for the Aeros, and doesn’t seem to be a pitcher.

So Jefferson Jacks and Smokey Williams…I think…are two different people. Evidence for this supposition is that Jefferson Jacks shows up at the end of the 2008 arc.

He does look like Cayla’s dad will look…thirteen years in the future.

And this strip from when Crankshaft was inducted into the Centerville Sports Hall of Fame in 2012.

See the cluster of three bald heads to the left? The white one is Dusty Bottoms, Crankshaft’s catcher. Is the tall white haired one Jacks and the shorter one Williams?

So my working hypothesis right now is that some time in the first fourteen years of Crankshaft there is an arc where Smokey Williams was introduced. Was he the victim of racism then? I don’t know yet. But my Ebay order for Strike Four is in the mail.

Because one of two things is happening here. And I absolutely must know which it is.

1.) Smokey Williams, Cayla’s father, was also subjected to racism in the arc I haven’t read yet.

2.) Batiuk got his black baseball players confused, probably because he made the older Smokey at Cayla’s wedding look just like Jefferson.

You may think actually purchasing a Crankshaft book is taking my obsession with Funkyverse lore a little too far. To that I have the following two rebuttals.

1.) I took it too far a long long time ago.

2.) I actually like Crankshaft.

It’s funny about once a week.
The superior protagonist in every way. Even when it comes to conversing with his long dead wife.

You may think this is a sign that I’ve gone mad.

I have no rebuttal for this.



Filed under Son of Stuck Funky

30 responses to “All the Same to Tom?

  1. Epicus Doomus

    There’s that defeatist attitude that’s made FW one of America’s most beloved and treasured obscure comic strips. Life is cruel and unfair and there are no answers. Beautifully put. “We Shall Someday Consider Overcoming But I’m Not Really Sure How, Or Even If It’s Possible”…eat your heart out, Dr. King. Where have you gone, Smokey Williams? Our nation turns its lonely eyes to you. Woo, woo, (zzzzzz).

  2. William Thompson

    Whatever era Smokey played in, I can believe he would have taken a lot of racist crap. And I can believe that Cayla would be too spineless to do anything but resign herself to racism. But I can’t believe that a man like Smokey would have raised a daughter like Cayla.

  3. billytheskink

    If there’s one thing the kids know these days… it’s minor league baseball players from 65 years ago.

    And what on earth is going on with Cayla’s silhouette in panel 2?

    • Epicus Doomus

      “THE Smokey Williams, who had 14 home runs for the Ames Fightin’ Injuns back in ’52? WOW!”

      Yes, seems unlikely.

      • Banana Jr. 6000

        “THE Dusty Williams, who had a bit part in Phantom Empire and was assistant inker on Amazing Mr. Sponge #7 back in ’52? WOW!”

        Now that seems extremely likely.

  4. Sourbelly

    I’ll just repeat my comment in yesterday’s thread: “Cayla’s whole presence in this arc seems to be adding up to, “Yeah kids, but whaddaya gonna do, right?”

    And CBH, I find your dedication to unraveling the idiocy of this week’s arc both incredibly admirable and incredibly terrifying.

  5. Banana Jr. 6000

    The Jefferson Jacks arc is one of the absolute worst things Tom Batiuk has ever done. It wipes it ass with both the real life Jackie Robinson story, and his own storytelling world. And for what? So Ed fucking Crankshaft, a man whose philosophy is “sucks to be you”, can be a bastion of progressiveness? Give me a break.

  6. J.J. O'Malley

    Well, I’ve got nothin’ today. I’m just shocked to find out that Cayla’s father is black.

  7. Banana Jr. 6000

    Could this arc be any more pointless? Cayla’s been through her father’s pro sports experiences, is married to a white man in small-town America, and doesn’t have one useful thing to say about racism. After the story failed to establish that any racism even occurred.

    I would accuse Batiuk of fishing for awards again, but I don’t think he’s even doing that. He hasn’t called it a “prestige arc” it on his blog like he usually does. He used his only entry of the last two weeks to sell Crankshaft books. Which he calls “a primer on how to start a comic strip and set it up for the long haul.” Yeah, okay, Tom.

  8. Rusty Shackleford

    Batty thinks he has created this rich universe of characters when in reality it’s a jumbled mess of rotting premises. He just creates whatever he needs for his story du jour.

    Crankshaft is more liked than Funky because it’s basically just a gag a day strip. Nobody likes Batty’s prestige arcs and the comic book stuff.

    I commend you CBH for going back and doing research. I started reading the FW collection as it is in our local library but it got too difficult after act 1. I felt like I was wasting my time.

    • Banana Jr. 6000

      Crankshaft at least tries to tell a story. It shares a lot of problems with Funky Winkerbean, but it’s honestly no worse than any other comic strip that gets snarked on. What pushes FW over the top (or below the bottom) are its self-importance and self-indulgence.

      Even when CS tries to do a “serious story”, it’s in more of an Act II style: schmaltzy, overdramatic and ham-handed, but occasionally hits a right note. That “how insensitive of them” strip is genuinely very good. It captures a realistic sentiment, and illustrates its absurdity at the same time. It’s the kind of observation this mall arc doesn’t even try to make.

      • Maxine of Arc

        CS is intermittently funny. I think because it has a much smaller cast of characters, they manage to stay relatively consistent.

        • be ware of eve hill

          Crankshaft does have a smaller cast of characters, but sometimes Batty is guilty of forgetting about them until he needs them, just like in Funky Winkerbean.

          Last fall, Ed was using car batteries to shock a tree into dropping its leaves. Ed recruited some of his neighbors’ vehicles for more power. This included his yuppie next door neighbors, Morgan and Chase Lambert (like the bank, Morgan Chase, haha). I could swear that the Lamberts were M.I.A. for about ten years before that strip.

          Whatever happened to Crankshaft’s dog Homer and Cat Pickles? They must be living on the farm upstate.

  9. robertodobbs

    I wonder if Smokey Williams ever moved inventory from table to table in a department store to taunt an underpaid clerk.

  10. Banana Jr. 6000

    Earlier in the week. sorialpromise said:

    Mr. Batiuk is one of the special guests at the 2022 Comic Con in San Diego

    I mocked the idea, but on second thought, I take it back. I would love to see Tom Batiuk spontaneously have to answer questions, where he can’t control what they’re about. There are so many productive things that could be asked, that are also well within bounds for a creator Q&A at Comic Con. Like: why did Malcolm bait the store clerk? Why did your racism arc not depict any racism? What year is it in both your comic strips? Shouldn’t Les be making some effort to move past the death of his wife after 15+ years? What is Pete’s actual last name? Why is defeatism such a major theme in Funky Winkerbean? Things like that.

    • none

      Lisa Moore’s death is a central pillar to the strip’s narrative. Don’t you think that having Phil Holt fake his death – after his ethereal form was shown communicating with Lisa Moore’s ethereal form, no less – undermines that central pillar and trivializes your entire work?

      If death itself can be retconned at any time, why should anyone care about the strip’s history?
      Nothing will happen, though. Nobody is going to that panel who doesn’t remember reading Act 1 strips when they were in high school band, and nothing else afterwards.

    • bad wolf

      I hope some bold SOSF readers in the area will re-enact the “Phil Holt Comic Con Panel” via cosplay and LARPing at Batiuk’s panel, see if he (or anyone really) gets the joke.

    • sorialpromise

      Thank you, BJ 6000!

  11. none

    And there we have it.

    Dear black people –

    Tom Batiuk and, by extension, his boss @teaberryblue, have a message for you:

    Anti-black racism is an immutable constant and there is literally nothing that anyone can perceive to change that, so just shut the fuck up and take it like the dogs you all are. All of your protests and social activism are for naught. All progress that has been made in the past centuries have been pointless. You and your children shall be oppressed forever until the end of humanity itself.

    – Love, TB.

    ps: Buy my books.

  12. Charles

    I like how Cayla ended the last strip with “I’ve been there too” and then immediately starts in with a vague story about her father.

    She’s such a non-entity that when Batiuk was inevitably going to reach the “wise elder tells a Remember When story” part of the arc, he had nothing for her. She had to bring up her father instead, because of course nothing like this could ever have happened to a black woman. So now tomorrow’s denouement is going to focus on the wisdom and conclusions of a man who didn’t even appear once in this story.

    Also, in 40 years, when Logan’s retelling this story to a young black kid because it’s the best way to discuss how to deal with racism, she’ll primarily frame it as something that happened to Lumpy Black Guy and not her.

  13. be ware of eve hill

    You may think actually purchasing a Crankshaft book is taking my obsession with Funkyverse lore a little too far.

    Nah. We all make purchases that other people might question. I confess to purchasing an annual Comics Kingdom premier membership for $19.99.

    I noticed the Comics Kingdom has loosened its purse strings somewhat and has gone back to the free 1-month trial. Earlier last month, the trial period was only one week.

    Is the CK still limiting the number of strips a free user can view before pushing the premium subscriber page? Is the archive still only one day for a free user? 🙄

    I noticed the CK is charging new subscribers for $29.99. They better not try to renew me for that price next year, or there will be hell to pay.

    I admit to liking Crankshaft too. How is Crankshaft any worse than Beetle Bailey, Blondie, Hagar the Horrible, Hi and Lois, and The Family Circus? Those strips have also been around for a long time, too. Some are meek in comparison to their past. When was the last time Mr. Dithers dangled Dagwood out of an upper story window by his ankles?

    The only Crankshaft strips I don’t care for are the ones featuring Lillian McKenzie. Whenever she is featured, you know the week will be a slog. She’s a dour, humorless, dull old biddy.

    • ComicBookHarriet

      I would even put Crankshaft a hair above something like Beetle Bailey. Though I agree that the Lillian book strips are becoming very tiresome. But I really like Davis’ artwork. And some people hate how Crankshaft can be simultaneously and asshole in some strips and a tender hearted teddy bear in others, but I’m a sucker for Archie Bunker energy like that.

      Crankshaft is allowed so much more joie de vivre. Real anger and also real joy.

      I will staunchly defend my lukewarm position on it. It’s a B- tier strip. Fight me!

      • bad wolf

        I think CK let me see a whole week the other day! Really generous of them.

        Very few strips have hit the mark for me in terms of snarkbait. Funky, Luann, and the original For Better or Worse. All have a highly calibrated way of being ‘topical’ and ‘current’ and ‘grounded in reality’ that makes them all fall on their faces constantly. I do appreciate Crankshaft in a way but it’s a secondary strip for me as well.

        Is “Strike Four” only findable on eBay now? I remember it coming out, supposedly it was the basis for a Crankshaft movie that never happened either. But tbh the baseball stuff did sound like a good hook to put a real story around. No one’s going to watch 120 minutes of backing over Keisterman’s mailbox.

      • be ware of eve hill

        Fight you? I say thee nay. A Young’n like you can most likely break me over your knee and use me for kindling.

        The best strips, to me, are the Ed Crankshaft as a force of nature strips. Running over mailboxes, exploding grills, flooding Lillian’s house to water her houseplants, etc.

        If I’m being honest, the only CK strips I like better than Crankshaft are Bizarro, Dustin, The Lockhorns, Mother Goose & Grimm, The Pajama Diaries, Rhymes With Orange and Zits.

        Bring back Henry! I miss Retail.

        My dislike of Lillian, aside from being a dour, humorless, dull old biddy, started when she seemingly started taking over Crankshaft for lengthy periods a few years ago. Lillian writing. Lillian going to book conventions. Lillian going to NY to sign with Apple Annie. Lillian finding a publisher. Lillian going to book fairs. I joked about the strip getting renamed to Crankshaft Without Crankshaft.