cover image Stuck Rubber Baby -Canc

Stuck Rubber Baby -Canc

Howard Cruse. Pocket Books, $24.95 (0pp) ISBN 978-1-56389-241-7

Cruse (Wendel) has written a touching graphic novel of the civil rights years, adding a carefully wrought layering of interracial gay and lesbian life missing from standard recreations of the period. The son of an uneducated white carpenter, Toland Polk grows up in the small Southern town of Clayfield, where he learns quickly that whites don't mix with the neighboring blacks. Later, he witnesses the demands of local blacks for an end to segregation and begins, too, to struggle with the conflicted realization of his own homosexuality. Polk's personal experience of sexual denial, told in flashback, is tied to the story of his friends Mavis and Riley, and singer/activist Ginger, the object of a hoped-for but unsuccessful heterosexual love. Even as Clayfield's civil rights activists challenge racial segregation, an equally systematic and violent homophobia works surreptitiously to undermine and twist the lives of Polk and Clayfield's citizens, straight, gay, black and white. Cruse, however, can be an overly earnest storyteller, and his methodical, prosaic tabulation of moral righteousness and shameless bigotry sometimes slows the book's pace to a crawl. Nevertheless, he has vividly chronicled a critical American period of social history through the emotional lives of ordinary people on the fringe of social approbation. His drawings are handsomely detailed in the distinctively mannered combination of stippling and crosshatching that distinguishes his formidable graphic style. Angels in America playwright Tony Kushner's introduction evaluates Cruse as ``a pioneer in the field of lesbian and gay comics.'' (Sept.)