Howard Cruse
Cruse in 2014
Born(1944-05-02)May 2, 1944
Birmingham, Alabama, U.S.
DiedNovember 26, 2019(2019-11-26) (aged 75)
Pittsfield, Massachusetts, U.S.
Notable works
Gay Comix
Stuck Rubber Baby
AwardsInkpot Award, 1989[1]
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.

Early life

Cruse was born on May 2, 1944, in Birmingham, Alabama, and raised in nearby Springville,[2] 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.[3] The couple moved to North Adams, Massachusetts, in 2003, and were married there the following year.[4]


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 depicts himself in the story "Death", from Eclipse Magazine issue 1, May 1981, displaying both his "cutesy" style (the Barefootz cover) and the mid-range cartoony style typical of most of his work before Stuck Rubber Baby.

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.[5] 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".

In 2003, the Leslie-Lohman Museum of Art featured Cruse alongside Bill Schmeling, Michael Kirwan, Rob Clarke, and Adam (Jack Bozzi) in its Deliciously Depraved exhibit.[6]

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.[7] In 2011, Cruse's The Complete Wendel was republished by Rizzoli's Universe Books imprint.[8]

Cruse was chosen as a keynote speaker, alongside Alison Bechdel, for the inaugural Queers & Comics conference in 2015.[9]

Howard Cruse died on November 26, 2019, from lymphoma in Pittsfield, Massachusetts.[10][11] Shortly before, it had been announced that a 25th anniversary edition of Stuck Rubber Baby was scheduled for publication from First Second Books.[12]

Howard Cruse is one of 5 queer cartoonists featured in the award-winning documentary film NO STRAIGHT LINES: The Rise of Queer Comics (released in 2021 at the Tribeca Film Festival and broadcast on national PBS in 2023.)




  1. ^ Inkpot Award
  2. ^ Sandomir, Richard (December 4, 2019). "Howard Cruse Dies at 75; His Cartoons Explored Gay Life". The New York Times. ISSN 0362-4331. Retrieved September 16, 2021.
  3. ^ Andy Humm (January 21, 2010). "The Beat of a Different Dromm – Gay City News". Retrieved January 18, 2022.
  4. ^ Howard Cruse, "Stuff About Me" Archived January 11, 2012, at the Wayback Machine, Howard Cruse website
  5. ^ Hall, Justin (December 2, 2019). "Howard Cruse 1944-2019". Comics Journal. Retrieved December 5, 2019.
  6. ^ Snellen, Wayne (2003). ""DELICIOUSLY DEPRAVED" Featuring THE HUN and MICHAEL KIRWAN, plus HOWARD CRUSE, ADAM, and ROB CLARKE". Fire Island Q News. Retrieved July 13, 2024.
  7. ^ "Nib-Lit". Archived from the original on October 14, 2017. Retrieved June 8, 2010.
  8. ^ Beth Scorzato (February 22, 2011). "Rizzoli To Reprint Howard Cruse's 'The Complete Wendel'". Retrieved January 24, 2020.
  9. ^ "Queers & Comics: The LGBTQ Cartoonists and Comics Conference |". May 18, 2015. Retrieved November 27, 2019.
  10. ^ "Howard Cruse, Pioneering Comic Book Author, Dies at 75". The Hollywood Reporter. November 26, 2019.
  11. ^ "Howard Cruse, Whose Cartoons Explored Gay Life, Dies at 75". The New York Times. December 4, 2019.
  12. ^ Samantha Puc (September 30, 2019). "First Second to publish 25th anniversary edition of Howard Cruse's STUCK RUBBER BABY". Retrieved January 24, 2020.