Review: Stuck Rubber Baby

Artist(s): Howard Cruse.

Toland feels alone in an animated bar

The beginning of the sixties, or Kennedytime, as Howard Cruse calls it.
In these times, Toland Polk, a young white guy struggling with his desire for men, finds himself living among more socially aware people, those fighting for Civil Rights in the South of the USA.
There’s Ginger Raines, the young woman singer whom Toland thinks might be his way out of homosexuality; Sammy Noone, an ex-sailor who long ago found his own way into homosexuality and who’s quite comfortable there; the reverend Harland Pepper, using words and the Bible against the racists trying to deny his people basic rights; his son, Les, finding his path between being a reverend’s son and being a young black gay man. There are dozens of other characters, all of them woven in a realistic tale of human hate and love, as corny as that may seem.

A full-page showing the dense layouts of the book

After having decided to stop chronicling the funny life of Wendel Trupstock, Cruse worked for a number of years on Stuck Rubber Baby1, and it shows. The writing is as dense as the art, not one panel is wasted, and most characters get their chance to shine at one time or another. The only regret I had was with the framing device, where a present day Toland Polk tells the story: unfortunately, we don’t get to know him very well. But after all, this is his young self’s story, not his own.
Cruse manages to recreate a bygone era, thanks to meticulous visual research, and probably aided by having lived that time, in a town very much like Clayfield, the fictional southern town he has created, where some of the dramatic events described in Stuck Rubber Baby happened for real.
But this book is not a slightly-disguised documentary on life in the South during the sixties. This is a full-blooded story, whose characters are not mouthpieces for Cruse’s social views. They have their own life, their own loves, and unfortunately for some of them, their own death.
This is definitely not a sitcom, nor a light comedy of manners. This is a book with social value beyond anything Cruse had done previously. This is an important and serious book which never forgets to tell a good tale. If I had a top five books list, it would definitely belong there. Read it and dare to tell me I’m wrong.

Howard Cruse with his creation, Toland Polk

  1. This 210-page book was published in 1995 by Paradox Press, an imprint of DC Comics. You’ll find the 2010 reprint at Amazon.
    For an in-depth look at this book and his author, I recommend The Comics Journal #182.

1 comment to Stuck Rubber Baby

  • Talyseon

    A literary masterpiece, it combines history and biography, and gives a real picture of the times. A must read for gays, blacks, and anyone interested in Civil Rights. Check out my full review: