Tagged: Wendel

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.

Martha Thomases: Sex and Comics

Necco ValentineTomorrow is Valentine’s Day. If you are in a romantic relationship, this is either a pleasure or a chore. Some of us like the flowers and the candy, the sexy underwear and the romantic dinner. Some of us resent the commercial pressure to act like the leads in a movie instead of one’s authentic self. Whatever your feelings, you are most likely expecting the evening to end with sex. Beautiful, romantic sex… maybe with candlelight.

Not me. Nope. Valentines Day makes me think about comic books.

Specifically, the way love and/or sex has been portrayed in comics. I’ve come to the conclusion that it’s just as messed up as every other popular medium, except maybe worse.

As a woman in modern America, I’ve been socialized to believe that I must meet certain physical standards to be worthy of attention and love (see The Beauty Myth by Naomi Wolf for a more detailed analysis). Men, too, are expected to be physically attractive, but the range of options for a man to be called “attractive” (Al Pacino, Chris Farley, Eddie Murphy, George Clooney, Vin Diesel, Andy Samburg) is a lot greater than the range available to women.

In mainstream comics, the women are not only long-legged, big-busted, small-waisted and (usually) long-haired, but they all have little noses, nice chins, and can walk in tight skirts or skin-tight pants with high heels. It’s all the pressures of being a woman without the necessity of biological possibility. Amanda Waller, the exception to this rule, has been remade to obey it. If she had a lover, I don’t remember ever seeing that person.

Sex and love in comics (again, as in almost all popular entertainment) is a reward for achieving the right look, or having the right amount of money, power or both. Sex and love in reality is about finding someone with whom you mesh – emotionally, socially and physically.

Monty Python’s John Cleese and shrink Robin Skynner wrote a book  about family dynamics that describes how and why we fall in love with those we do. Usually, there are complementary traits, so that an extrovert pairs off with an introvert, or a Type-A personality with a procrastinator.

These are things we humans are able to pick up from observation. We don’t need conversation. It’s in the way we stand and sit and walk around. It’s attraction, but we aren’t looking at (only) breasts or abs or hair.

We tend to treat sex and love as something separate from the rest of our lives, but just about every adult has sex with someone (even if that person is him or herself). Sex is just as much a part of our normal lives as food and sleep.

When I was a girl and comics were just for kids, I read a lot of stories about Lois Lane trying to be good enough to catch Superman. Either she was a good enough person to be worthy of his love, or a good enough reporter to find his secret identity, or a shrewd enough planner to take down her rivals. We never saw Lois and Superman having a conversation, holding hands, maybe hanging out and watching a movie. No, Superman was the prize Lois had to win.

In comics, the big news a few years ago was Superman and Wonder Woman. We were expected to get all excited about two super-strong, invulnerable people getting it on. It hasn’t been very sexy (to me) because it hasn’t been relatable. What do they see in each other? The scenes of them alone, doing “normal” stuff are stiff and unrealistic, even allowing for the superhero genre.

To my mind, the best, most realistic relationships in comics are often in newspaper strips, especially alternative newspaper strips. Dykes to Watch Out For showed all kinds of people having all kinds of different relationships. So did Wendel. Because these ran weekly (or bi-weekly) for years and years, the relationships had a sense of time passing. People got laid, but they got groceries, and car repairs, and job interviews.

Sex Criminals00The closest thing I see to this in the books I read is in my new fave, Sex Criminals. The characters are attractive but not impossibly so. They have sex, but they have coffee, too. I believe their relationship, and not just because they get each other off, but because they have conversations and dinners and phone calls.

Thinking of sex and love as a prize is not healthy for us. For one thing, it encourages us to treat sex as a competition and this, in turn, encourages cheating. By that, I don’t mean infidelity, but treating another person as an object to be conquered. This is one of the ways we get date rape and domestic violence and a slew of other social ills.

A lot of our problem with the depiction of sex in popular media is the poor quality of sex education in this country. We tend to teach the biology (if anything) but not the way that sexuality fits into a healthy life.

Comics can contribute to this problem, or offer a solution. I was very interested to read about this project, aimed at straight adolescent boys, which encourages them to think about girls as if they are actually (gasp!) people. If you think that’s a good idea, you can help make it happen here.

Now, if you’ll excuse me, I desperately need some chocolate.