|Born||May 2, 1944|
Birmingham, Alabama, U.S.
|Died||November 26, 2019 (aged 75)|
Pittsfield, Massachusetts, U.S.
Stuck Rubber Baby
|Awards||Inkpot Award, 1989|
United Kingdom Comic Art Award,
Prix de la critique (France), 2002
Howard Cruse (May 2, 1944 – November 26, 2019) was an American alternative cartoonist known for the exploration of gay themes in his comics. First coming to attention in the 1970s during the underground comix movement with Barefootz, he was the founding editor of Gay Comix in 1980, created the gay-themed strip Wendel during the 1980s, and reached a more mainstream audience in 1995 when an imprint of DC Comics published his graphic novel Stuck Rubber Baby.
Cruse was born on May 2, 1944 in Birmingham, Alabama and raised in nearby Springville, the son of a preacher and a homemaker. His earliest published cartoons were in The Baptist Student when he was in high school. His work later appeared in Fooey and Sick. He attended high school at Indian Springs School in (what is now) Indian Springs, Alabama, and college at Birmingham-Southern College, where he studied drama.
Cruse worked for about a decade in television. In 1977, Cruse moved to New York City, where he met Eddie Sedarbaum, his life partner, in April 1979. Sedarbaum founded the New York activist group Queens Gays and Lesbians United. They married after moving to North Adams, Massachusetts.
Cruse's cartooning first attracted nationwide attention in the 1970s, when he contributed to underground comix publications. His best-known character from this period was Barefootz, the title character of a surreal series about a good-natured, well-dressed young man with large bare feet. Although dismissed by many underground fans as overly "cutesy", others found it a refreshing change of pace from "edgier" comix.
Cruse had been open about his homosexuality throughout the 1970s, but aside from having a gay supporting character (Headrack) in Barefootz, did not acknowledge it in his work. This changed in 1979, when publisher Denis Kitchen asked him to edit Gay Comix, a new anthology featuring comix by openly gay and lesbian cartoonists. For much of the 1980s, he created Wendel, a strip (1–2 pages per episode) about an irrepressible and idealistic gay man, his lover Ollie, and a cast of diverse urban characters. It was published in the gay newsmagazine The Advocate, which allowed Cruse substantial freedom in terms of language and nudity, and to address content such as AIDS, gay rights demonstrations, gay-bashing, closeted celebrities, and same-gender relationships, with a combination of humor and anger. Two collections of these strips have been published, as well as an all-in-one volume.
Cruse spent the first half of the 1990s creating Stuck Rubber Baby, a 210-page graphic novel commissioned by editor Mark Nevelow for his DC Comics imprint Piranha Press but eventually published by DC's Paradox Press. It is the story of Toland Polk, a young man growing up in the American South in the 1960s, and his growing awareness of both his own homosexuality and the racial injustice of American society. The book features Cruse's most detailed and realistic comics art and his most serious and complex storytelling. It received numerous awards and nominations.
Cruse briefly wrote a column in a comic book review magazine, Comics Scene, under the rhyming masthead "Loose Cruse".
Cruse contributed to the queer comics anthology series Juicy Mother, edited by Jennifer Camper, which first appeared in 2005 and then in 2007.
In August 2009, Howard Cruse self-published From Headrack to Claude, a collection of all his gay-themed strips accompanied by commentaries on his career and life, including the never-reprinted 1976 Barefootz story where the character Headrack came out, and some unpublished stories.
On March 17, 2010, an original one-off titled Lubejob penned by Cruse was published in Nib-Lit Comics journal. In 2011, Cruse's The Complete Wendel was republished by Rizzoli's Universe Books imprint.
Cruse was chosen as a keynote speaker, alongside Alison Bechdel, for the inaugural Queers & Comics conference in 2015.
Howard Cruse died on November 26, 2019 from lymphoma in Pittsfield, Massachusetts. Shortly before, it had been announced that a 25th anniversary edition of Stuck Rubber Baby was scheduled for publication from First Second Books.