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to Section One | to Arts & Entertainment
posted Friday, November 29, 2019 - Volume 47 Issue 48
R.I.P., Gay Comix pioneer Howard Cruse
Section One
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R.I.P., Gay Comix pioneer Howard Cruse

Remembrance by Vaughn Frick - Special to the SGN

Cartoonist and social activist Howard Cruse has died at the age of 75 from cancer, on November 26, 2019, in North Adams, MA. Howard is considered by many of his peers to be the Godfather of GLBTQ cartooning, enjoying a long professional career which began as a cartoonist for underground newspapers and comic books in the early 1970's. He also was the lead puppeteer for a children's television show in Alabama in the late 1960's. Howard officially came out in 1979 and started editing the ground-breaking Gay Comix series, which provided a forum for a generation of GLBTQ cartoonists to explore themes and stories absent then in the mainstream media. Howard shepherded in the pages of Gay Comix the full diversity of the GLBTQ community at a time when coming out was professional suicide.

Howard's comics and illustrations also appeared in numerous periodicals and publications, including his "Wendel" series which ran in The Advocate magazine through most of the 1980's. "Wendel" featured the life, triumphs, and struggles of it's title Gay character, set during the tribulation and oppressions of the Ronald Reagan era, including the early HIV pandemic. Several book collections of his "Wendel" strips have been published.

As radically political as Howard's work was then, personally he was gracious, sensitive, authentic, informative, and a mentor to many young cartoonists, including the author of this obituary, who Howard first published in Gay Comix in 1981.

Howard's great work is the 210 page graphic novel Stuck Rubber Baby which was first published in 1995. Stuck Rubber Baby is a coming of age/coming out story set in the American South during the struggles of the civil rights era, which Howard had been actively involved with.

From Tony Kushner's introduction for this book: "Its readers will surely find in Stuck Rubber Baby all manner of richness and depth and value, only one aspect of which is political. But as political art this book is timely. It articulates a crying need for solidarity, it performs the crucial function of remembering, for the Queer community, how essential to the birth of our politics of liberation the civil rights movement was. The point, it seems to me, is not that one movement co-opts the energy or the nobility or the history of another; not that one people, rising to an angry knowledge of how it's been abused, competes for the status of 'most abused' with any other; but rather that we need to know the genealogies of our movements, and with that knowledge come to understand the interdependence of all liberation struggles. We must finally accept and practice what we've been saying for decades, for centuries: Freedom is only possible when it's everyone's freedom, and slavery anywhere means slavery everywhere."

This epic has been republished internationally; next year the 25th anniversary edition will be out. Howard received top comic industry awards for Stuck Rubber Baby, and was nominated for both the American Library Association's Lesbian and Gay Book Award and the Lambda Literary Award.

Several other collections of Howard's comics have been published, including Dancing Naked with the Angels, and The Other Side of Howard Cruse.

Howard is survived by his husband and life partner of many years Eddie Sederbaum, his daughter Kimberly Kolze Venter, and his many friends and growing legions of fans internationally.

Tell a friend:

'From Cruse's graphic novel, Stuck Rubber Baby, based on experiences in the civil rights era South.'

'Gay Pride scene from Cruse's long-running strip Wendel from The Advocate.'

'Cruse's underground comic Barefootz (here with Headrack, probably the first gay character in UG comix).'

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R.I.P., Gay Comix pioneer Howard Cruse
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