Tagged: Howard Cruse

Howard Cruse: 1944-2019

Howard Cruse: 1944-2019

Howard Cruse, author of the acclaimed graphic novel Stuck Rubber Baby and founding editor of the anthology Gay Comix, died Tuesday of cancer at the age of 75, Cruse’s daughter Kimberly Kolze Venter announced.

Cruse came to prominence in the 1970s with the strip Barefootz, which appeared in a number of underground magazines and titles, but it was the 1980s title Gay Comix — an anthology created by Cruse to publish work by openly gay creators — that arguably made his reputation. Wendel, his strip about a young gay man in Reagan’s America for The Advocate during the same period, won him even more acclaim.

But he may be best known for Stuck Rubber Baby, which told the story of Toland Polk, a gas station attendant in the American South of the 1960s who gets caught up in the civil rights struggle of the period as he explores his own sexuality. The book, originally published by DC’s Paradox Press imprint, went on to win Eisner and Harvey Awards, and was nominated for both the America Library Association’s Lesbian and Gay Book Award as well as the Lambda Literary Award, and is scheduled for a 25th anniversary release next year from First Second Books.

For those of us in the ComicMix family, it’s personal. We saw Howard often at Martha’s famous holiday party, and were always happy to share donuts and conversation with him. We hope he’s found that great Purchaser’s Clearing House in the sky…

…what, you don’t know about the Purchaser’s Clearing House? Why, let Howard tell you all about it! Maestro?

Joe Corallo: Howard Cruse, American Advocate


Last Thursday, the LGBT Community Center here in Manhattan (a.k.a. The Center) had its opening reception for their exhibit Wendel’s World: Gay Life in the 1980s. For those of you that don’t know, Wendel was a comic that ran in The Advocate throughout the 1980s created and drawn exclusively by the underground comix pioneer, Howard Cruse.

The reception was filled people who have been passionate fans of Howard’s for decades, as well as some newcomers. The walls of the fourth floor of The Center were decked out in framed Wendel pages including one of my favorites where Wendel’s good friend Sterno has fun at his place with Cyril. Other notable LGBT cartoonists such as Ivan Velez and Jennifer Camper were in attendance, as well as Howard’s husband Eddie Sedarbaum. They also had wine and cheese which isn’t a reason to go to these sort out things, but it sure is nice.

bio.curiographicIf you haven’t read Wendel yet, do it. The entire run of the strips from The Advocate published between 1983 through 1989 is available in the still in print The Complete Wendel. Howard Cruse managed to craft a story about a young gay man, Wendel, with a large supporting cast including Ollie, his boyfriend, and his over-the-top friend Sterno – and that’s putting it nicely. The large cast of background and recurring characters brings Wendel to life in a way that many other comics are unable to accomplish and help to suck you into this world.

The other element that brings this strip to life is the variety in the subject matter. Whereas many other attempts to talk about gay life over the years are often too tempted to dwell solely on the sex and scandal aspect, Howard crafts a story about community. More than a few Wendel strips tackle the tedium and egos that populate bureaucracy in any progressive movement and helps to show that the gay community in the 1980s was not a monolith, but a complex web of clashing priorities and ideologies in a way that few people have been able to replicate since then. Certainly in comics.

All of those are reasons that Wendel, and particularly Howard Cruse, should be acknowledged at The Center. Howard’s influence in comics, particularly LGBT comics, extends far beyond the 1980s though. The decade prior saw his comic Barefootz as well as his contributions to Gay Comix after being tapped to edit it by Denis Kitchen at Kitchen Sink Press. The 1990s would see his Eisner award winning graphic novel, Stuck Rubber Bab. Since then, he’s had much of his previous work bought back in print, has had new work in anthologies like Jennifer Camper’s Juicy Mother, Northwest Press’ Qu33r, as well as his own occasional comix that he posts online here.

Throughout all of his work in comics, Howard Cruse has advocated to give the gay community a voice through his work, and later on through Stuck Rubber Baby incorporating the Civil Rights Movement into gay rights in a way that has rarely been done before or since. Howard has managed to create such powerful works in part because he himself is an activist and has been on the front lines of the gay rights movement for decades and his cartooning in many ways has been more a tool for his activism than just a profession.

It’s great to see Howard’s comics like Wendel being recognized today. Maybe soon we’ll see Stuck Rubber Baby get more recognition for being the groundbreaking work that it was as well. If you haven’t gotten around to these works, it’s not too late to pick them up. And if you have, Howard’s still cranking out comics so make sure you check out his site from time to time to see if a new one has popped up. And hey, if you really like his comics you can drop him a note on his site. He’ll appreciate it.

Glenn Hauman: Why You Damn Well Better Be Charlie Hedbo

censorshipSadly, I’ve started seeing the backlash. You probably have too. A lot of people are being contrarian and saying “I’m Not Charlie Hedbo” in response to this week’s shootings. The most prominent example is David Brooks in the New York Times, but I’m beginning to see similar comments from people I actually respect.

To which my response will be muted, because I’d rather not make this into a not-safe-for-work rant.

If you’re an advocate for free speech, you don’t always get the luxury of advocating pretty things that you approve of. You know – the nice stuff. Freedom of expression is not just limited to Michelangelo’s David and the pope who insisted loincloths be painted onto the Sistine Chapel. Sometimes you end up defending the words of pornographers. Or Nazis. Or Islamic fundamentalists. Or even Republicans.

And it’s the same with comics.

You don’t just get to defend Watchmen, Doonesbury, and Mad magazine. It’s not all Elektra: Assassin, Love & Rockets, Ms. Tree, Elfquest, and those issues where Green Arrow’s sidekick does drugs. If you’re committed to free speech, you have to defend Zap Comics and Mike Diana and Omaha The Cat Dancer and Howard Cruse and Urotsukidoji: Legend of the Overfiend and Swamp Thing meeting Jesus.

And yes, that means defending Charlie Helbo when they publish cartoons that tick some people off.

To say that the creators at Charlie Hedbo had it coming beggars belief. They courted controversy, they offended people. But they certainly didn’t commit capital offenses, and neither did the civilians caught in the crossfire, nor did the Muslim police officer who was shot doing his job to serve and protect the citizens of Paris. It’s bad enough when censorship is done with a marker, it’s horrific when done with a bullet.

The correct response to offensive speech is more speech, hopefully better speech, and perhaps even better behavior. And defending the right to speak of those who speak out even when they offend you, as you would want them to defend your right to speak when you offend them. Criticize their speech, but don’t censor it.

Because as we all know, the worst part of censorship is



Dennis O’Neil: Make Room, Make Room!

The room was large and dim, the food tasty, the entire evening pleasant. We were at this year’s Eisner Awards Banquet, held annually at the San Diego Comic Con International as a venue for presenting the Eisner Awards, named for the man who probably deserves to be called comic books’s greatest practitioner and used to honor people who have made outstanding contributions to Will Eisner’s chosen province. We saw and were glad to see some folk we hadn’t seen in years – decades? – and that was nice.

And I learned something about this quirky enterprise that has kept me fed and clothed for…what? – close to 50 years now?

I won’t keep you in suspense. What I learned was how diverse comic book publishing has become. Oh, back in my younger days I occasionally read what some termed underground comix and way back in 1995 I was honored to be mentioned in the thank-you section of Howard Cruse’s superb graphic novel Stuck Rubber Baby. So yeah, I knew you didn’t have to wear a costume, have a double identity and devote your waking hours vanquishing evildoers to get your picture in a comic book.

But I didn’t realize, until the Eisners, how much comics had diversified. I’m guessing that because the direct sales market provided a place for interested parties to go and buy comics creators who saw the form as hospitable to much, much more than tales of fantasy-adventure realized that their work could be seen and even sold and sat down and did that work. And readers did see it and did buy it and all that helped comics to be recognized for what they had always been, a communications medium and – whisper this – an art form.

So there I sat, back to the dining table, looking at a stage flanked by two large screens on which were projected images of comic book covers. The fantasy-melodrama writers and artists were well-represented: no surprise and maybe cause for belief in a just universe – people should get what they deserve – but not the only game in town. All those storytellers with their pencils and inks and computers, not interested in derring-do as subject matter, but attracted to panel art as a narrative form, a means to do what has been done for tens of centuries by those with a need to shout and sing and scrawl and tell their stories,

For comics, it’s been a long climb from trash lit to respectability, from flimsy magazines a kid with a whiff of rebel bout him read behind geography books to the mainstream and – ye gods! – respectability. I’m not sure how I feel about that respectability, but my fellow celebrants at the Eisner Awards seemed to be handling it just fine.


Martha Thomases on Neil Gaiman and Alison Bechdel

As if to offer a bookend to last week’s column about Neil Gaiman and creativity, Amazon delivered Alison Bechdel’s new book, Are You My Mother? A Comic Drama. A companion to her harrowing and brilliant previous book, Fun Home: A Family Tragicomic, which was about her father’s life in the closet and eventual suicide, Are You My Mother is about her relationship with her mother, and the life of an artist.

I’ve been a huge fan of Bechdel’s work since I first saw her strip, Dykes to Watch Out For. The sense of humor on display here, making fun of the challenges facing those who aspire to change the world with their passion, fervor, and political correctness, mirrors my own. (If you, too, like Bechdel’s series, I can’t recommend The Complete Wendel enough because Howard Cruse is incredibly funny.) I know the people in the strip. I identified with these characters so closely that I would sometimes question my sexual orientation.

Are You My Mother isn’t funny. I mean, there are some laughs, but the story is about the struggle the artist faces when she tries to make art that is honest and meaningful and, with luck, lucrative enough to make a living. The struggle involves the women she loves, including her mother and her therapists. I’ve read some criticism of this book that centers on the sections about psychiatry, saying they are too literal, too heavy-handed. I didn’t find that to be true. I thought they reflected the artist’s zeal to find answers, to find ways to heal her pain.

Gaiman discussed the nuts-and-bolts of an artist’s life. He talked about what to do, what kind of jobs to take, how to deal with discouragement, and how to carry on. Bechdel describes the work, the really hard parts, where you have to dig and be honest, no matter what the consequences.

I don’t think these two perspectives are in conflict, nor do I think one is superior to the other. I think, in fact, both are saying the same thing: that to be an artist, one has to find one’s unique gift, and then one has to present it to the world. No one else has the same gift, so no one else can do your work for you.

For example, this week, I’ve been mesmerized by a begonia I planted on my terrace. It is red, with an orange undertone and a blush of rose. There is a gray spot on it, one that is probably the first bit of mortality. I cannot stop staring at it. Even when the sky is overcast, the petals seem to glow. I can’t tell you why this moves me so much. Perhaps, in a previous life, I was a queen in India, and my king presented me a jewel with the same tones. Perhaps I lost a beloved baby blanket with that color. It looks a bit like blood, thinned with lemon juice. I know that every writer I enjoy would find a different story to explain it.

As should I.

Gaiman and Bechdel are describing the same thing, but inside out from each other. Either way, it still fits.

SATURDAY: Marc Alan Fishman


MARTHA THOMASES: Black Friday Is Not A Superhero

Today is Black Friday, the day when it is our patriotic duty as Americans to go into a spending frenzy. For all our talk about family values, we think it is more important to forgo the conviviality of the Thanksgiving table so that we can stand in line to buy things.

Originally I had thought to write a column full of gift suggestions for those of you who want to introduce your family and friends to the joys of graphic storytelling. There are terrific books for a variety or ages and tastes and interests. I have my favorites, but I don’t know the people on your list, so my recommendations may not apply. That’s what the comments section is for.

Instead, I want to talk about you, Constant Reader. You and your needs.

Some people like to shop. Some people like to shop in crowded chain stores, the kind you find in your local mall. I am not one of those people. I don’t like walking around with a list of names, trying to figure out what to get. I’d rather sit at home, and imagine people getting things for me.

Here are some things you, as a fan of comics, might not yet know you want. Feel free to print this up and leave it where your loved ones can find it.

For example, do you know that your love for the combination of words and images on paper makes you a connoisseur of fine art? This book showcases the career of Barbara Kruger, one of the most influential (and entertaining) of late twentieth century feminist artists. This book provokes me and makes me feel exalted, all at the same time. Would that all gifts were so accomplished.

Do you think you have the most embarrassing family in the world? Would you like to be shown otherwise? If so, I can’t recommend enough My Favorite Year, a fictional account of what it must have felt like to be Mel Brooks working as a writer for Sid Caesar. I love everything about this movie, including Bill Macy and, especially, Joseph Bologna.

You know how everyone says the best holiday gift is peace on earth? If you say this and you mean it, you should let everyone know you want this calendar from the War Resisters League. Bold graphics, good politics, and amusing history trivia make this a great deal for an even more great cause.

You’re welcome.

SATURDAY: Marc Alan Fishman

MARTHA THOMASES: Dragon Tattoo – Why A Graphic Novel?

Vertigo is slated to publish the graphic novel adaptation of Stieg Larsson’s [[[The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo]]]. The Swedish series has sold tens of millions of copies in dozens of languages. There are already Swedish movies based on the books, and the first of the American films is to be released later this year.

Why do we need a graphic novel?

The books are terrific. They take you inside the lives of computer hackers, crusading journalists and evil authority figures, with a glimpse of Swedish social mores and political intrigue. Larsson is an ardent feminist, a refreshing perspective on the bestseller lists.

I haven’t seen the movies, but people whose opinions I respect like them a lot. The American version is directed by David Fincher, of Fight Club and The Social Network.

Why do we need a graphic novel? What will it show us that we didn’t see in these other media?

There are stories I would like to see adapted. Bunches.

  • Angels in America, by Tony Kushner, with its leaps across times and across realities, is a natural. I have always imagined Phil Jimenez and Howard Cruse doing the art.
  • Norman Mailer’s Ancient Evenings, for the battle scene where the Pharaoh walks across the field, accompanied by lions who snatch gory snacks from the dead and wounded.
  • The Ghost of Tom Joad by Bruce Springsteen, as a series of inter-connected short stories, each with a different artist.

There are writers I would like to see work in comics because their prose suggests they know how to work with visual artists: Will Self, Patti Smith, Don Dellilo. They may not actually be any good at the form – they may need their words – but I would like to see them try.

But a book that has already been a great movie? That I don’t so much need. Gone With the Wind? The Maltese Falcon? What are they going to show me that I haven’t already seen?

That’s the challenge Vertigo has ahead of themselves. I hope they prove me wrong.

SATURDAY: Marc Alan Fishman

The Sweetest Gift, by Martha Thomases

The Sweetest Gift, by Martha Thomases

Over a month ago, I was assigned to find out each presidential candidate’s favorite super-hero or heroine.  It seemed like it would be a fun assignment, a chance to find a bit of insight into how pop culture affects politics and vice versa.

Alas, only Ron Paul felt self-confident enough to answer our question.  I was impressed that not only did Dr. Paul know one super-hero from another, but he also knew one creator from another, specifically citing Paul Pope’s version of Batman. 

Why didn’t the other candidates respond?  John Tebbel thinks it’s because the race is so close that no one wants to risk saying something stupid that will alienate a segment of voters needed to gain percentages in the early primaries and caucuses.  Can the Marvel vs. DC split be so wide?  Do indy fans resent superhero fans this much?  I don’t think so.

Or maybe the question is considered too goofy for a future President of the most powerful country in the world.  However, in the last few days, I’ve heard how the candidates like their coffee and what their least favorite food is. 

I’ve had to conclude that these candidates simply don’t read comics, or graphic novels, or the funny pages.  Therefore, in the Spirit of the Season, I’ve decided to recommend the following:

Mike Huckabee:  This Baptist minister turned Governor of Arkansas seems like a personable guy.  His story about losing 100 pounds is inspirational, and he seems, in interviews, to be a friendly sort.  However, as he’s climbed in the polls, he’s become disturbingly more evangelical about the role of religion in public life, especially the federal government.  It would do him good to read Garth Ennis’ and Steve Dillon’s Preacher: Gone to Texas. 


Secret newsletter gets you cheap original art

Secret newsletter gets you cheap original art

If you’ve always wanted to buy original comic art, but can’t get to a convention or don’t trust EBay, here’s your chance.  Howard Cruse is starting a newletter with information on how to buy his work, including original pages from the Eisner-winning Stuck Rubber Baby.  Just go here and sign up.

If you’re one of the first, Howard will send you a signed certificate that heralds your good taste.

Howard Cruse launches local rag

Howard Cruse launches local rag

Famous underground cartoonist (and friend of ComicMix) Howard Cruse will launch his newest project, The North County Perp, a new magazine covering the art scene in his hometown, on Wednesday, August 1.  If you’re in the neighborhood, there’s a party at the MCLA Gallery 51 (51 Main Street) from 6 PM to 8 PM.

The Perp is 24 pages of "humorous writing, home-grown cartoons, and essays on topics too off the beaten path to claim space in our local dailies and weeklies," Cruse says.  

Cruse shares his personal account of the Perp’s origins in a recent entry of his blog: http://www.howardcruse.com/loosecruse/


Additional information may be found at the Perp’s own web site: http://www.northcountyperp.com