on February 21, 2001
The briefness of this review does not do justice to its importance in the history of graphic literature, but I find it difficult to talk about without divulging crucial plot elements. I will say however that it won the Eisner Award (the comic book equivalent of the Oscar) for best Graphic Album, and was nominated for both the American Library Association's Gay and Lesbian Book Award and the Lambda Literary Award.
This story is set in Alabama during the early Sixties, and follows the life of Toland Polk, a white gay man who "comes out" to himself and others at the same time that he is becoming involved in the civil rights movement. Although based on the real life experiences of creator Howard Cruse (and others), he has embellished it enough to classify it as a work of "fiction."
One of the greatest aspects of the book, for me, was the two words on the cover that described "Stuck Rubber Baby" as simply "a novel." Of all the "graphic" novels I have read, no matter how well they were crafted or how much I enjoyed them, none left me feeling so much as though I had just finished a "real" book as this one did. Besides the obvious factor of Cruse's artistic and literary talent, I think this was due to the fact that "Stuck Rubber Baby" was written as a novel instead of being released in installments which were later collected in a book, and that it was rendered in black and white, lending it the same air of authority as more highly regarded works that make use solely of the written word. Ultimately, however, the personal insights into a seldom seen aspect of the civil rights movement's history shared in this work are most effecting precisely because of their presentation through the unique and powerful medium of "comics."
on October 22, 2005
I expected to enjoy this graphic novel; I am squarely in the middle of the intended reader demographic, a 40 year old gay man that enjoys comics.
I did NOT expect to find such real characters, real people, better developed and better realized than in any recent "regular" novel I have read.
The clincher that this is a five star story? I passed it to my (heterosexual) brother to read, and he enjoyed it immensely. I believe the measure of a story should be that an unintended audience finds it as interesting or entertaining as the intended one, and in this circumstance, that was certainly the case. Well done, Mr. Cruse.
on August 6, 2001
The average snoot wouldn't come within a mile of this book, for reasons which seem perfectly reasonable to snoots and are therefore entirely stupid.
Some might react with horror to the curviness of the characters, which is in fact a strength of the story. The people who populate _Stuck Rubber Baby_ do not share the perfection (or carefully controlled imperfection) of characters from other graphic novels. They are pudgy, fat, even unattractive. This is not a defect of the artwork; it is an essential feature. Real people do not have perfect bodies or souls, and this story is, above all else, very real -- almost distressingly so.
Cruse does not fall into the too-easy trap of sanctifying his protagonists. The modern trend of antihero storytelling might make this sound less significant, but given the topics Cruse is handling, this is truly an accomplishment. All of them are ordinary people, who can (and do) make significant mistakes. Some of them recover from their errors, others do not... but everyone emerges significantly changed. _Stuck Rubber Baby_ puts a convincing human face on an era that transformed America, and deserves a place on any well-stocked shelf.
Not all graphic novels live up to the "novel" part of that label, but "Stuck Rubber Baby" is an exception. Its tale of a young gay man coming of age in the 1960s South, while also becoming involved in the civil rights movement, has all the richness & detail of a good novel. Even better, it never succumbs to preachiness, never becomes heavy-handed. Everyone has foibles & flaws, and even the more benighted, bigoted characters are three-dimensional human beings. So the regrettable accusation of a previous reviewer that this is nothing more than "gay rights propaganda" falls flat.
I don't know how much of this story is autobiographical in nature, but it certainly feels that way. [Edit: And I see that Richard De Angelis' fine review confirms this.] Memory plays an important part here, recreating & exploring another time & place, one that's gone by in many ways. Yet as William Faulkner once said, "The past is not dead. It's not even past." The sense of living with the ghosts of previous decades is very strong. Impulsive actions have consequences, some of which live on & shape the unwritten course of the characters' adult lives.
The art may not be for everyone, but it works beautifully for me. The cheerful, slightly exaggerated cartooniness really brings these people to life as individuals, rather than as stock figures. No impossibly idealized bodies & faces to be found here! Which is all to the good, as the emphasis is on ordinary people ... well, like us. In fact it's very easy to identify with young Toland Polk, whether you're gay or straight. He's a likeable, sympathetic guy - not overly noble, not entirely sure of himself, prone to make stupid mistakes at times -- in other words, quite embracingly human.
I'm glad to see that this story is coming back into print, and in a hardcover edition, no less. Graphic novels like "Maus" & "Blankets" (for instance) are deservedly praised, but "Stuck Rubber Baby" seems to have flown under the radar of a lot of readers & critics. Maybe this new printing will help correct that at last. For me, it's a story that holds up over many re-readings -- most highly recommended!
on December 21, 2011
purchased for our daughter who is completing her 2nd. Bachelor's Degree. She wants very much to help young people learn the wonders of not only English, but of the educational advantages of being involved in performing arts while in school. It helps young people in all walks of life.It helps then learning to inbteract in this world of technology. Most importantly reading books, and getting involved with the arts is something all young people should be exposed too.
on September 19, 2001
A sweeping and delicately-etched coming-of-age story set against the backdrop of the civil rights movement in the Deep South, "Stuck Rubber Baby" raised the bar for what the graphic novel could do. Howard Cruse's short-form comics ("Barefootz," "Wendel") were smart, funny, and often thought-provoking, but barely prepared readers for the depths and daring of this richly fascinating work. Don't let the whole "comic book" thing scare you off, this is a smart, three-dimensional semi-memoir. Very highly recommended.
on June 22, 2000
Stuck Rubber Baby by Howard Cruse is one of the best comics stories ever written -- no hyperbole intended. It is on the list of "The 100 best Comics of the Century" by The Comics Journal. But, instead of writing more about it myself, I just want to direct your attention to the fact that the book is back in stock, according to the author's website: [...] . There you will also find a number of reviews and blurbs which do a better job of describing the experience of reading this classic of a comics novel than I can. If you've never read long-form comics as an adult, and have ever wondered what it would be like to read comics that put 99% of the best-seller list to shame, read Stuck Rubber Baby. -- Bill Realman Stella
on August 13, 2010
I have never been a fan of graphic novels but was more than pleasantly surprised with this book. Not only was the story compelling in itself, this fresh look at the convergence of civil rights, both racial and sexual, in the Southern US during the age of Aquarius is an important addition to the literature of that era. Reading the dialog in air bubbles was not the problem I thought it might be and the uniform excellence of the drawing brought the narrative alive in what you come to believe is the only way it could have been done. I am a believer and recommend this work to anyone who is interested in the continuing development of uniquely American artistic expression.
on June 18, 1997
Howard Cruse has achieved something few
storytellers do: he has spun a tale of right versus
wrong without losing his powerful message to
righteous anger. He explores the central issues
of racism and homophobia from an unsettling, yet fresh, viewpoint.
Young adults today can too easily forget that 30
years ago in the South, acceptance of non-
whites as equals was largely viewed as optional,
and public acceptance of homosexuals was rare
indeed. Cruse confronts the reader with these
former realities, the indignities visited on blacks
and gays, to remind us of how far we've come
and to stand firm against the complacency
that could allow a backslide.
The characters in _Stuck Rubber Baby_ are
well-developed, including those who do not, by
their actions, earn kinship with the reader. Even
though Cruse introduces legions of characters, none of them seem extraneous; in fact, they
serve to lend insight into the town's warring
Through the telling of his story, the protagonist
reveals numerous slights and outright acts of
violence that could have soured him on
humanity for a lifetime. He retains a message of
hope, though, and doesn't overlook the good
times. That seems to be Cruse's message: one
of inspiration, not bitterness
on April 24, 2011
This is one of those books that you want to be able to describe the power and emotion that you felt when you read it, because you want everyone to appreciate those qualities. But when you sit down to write the review its so hard to find the right words to describe it. That's the trouble I'm having right now, but I'm going to do my best.
This book is set in the 1950's and 1960's in the deep south. Although the story is told through other characters it appears to be autobiographical. In this time the world is entrenched in the Civil Rights movement. Blacks and whites are taking a stand on one side or the other. Friendships and relationships are torn asunder, and jobs are lost over the battle. And at the same time another battle is brewing. A battle over sexual preference. And sometimes the two worlds combine together, sometimes they stand apart, and sometimes they fight together for rights. The book follows Toland Polk as he fights on the side of the Civil Rights movement and as he comes to terms with his own sexuality. And every once in a while we jump forward to the present as Toland tells his tale and fills in some of the gaps.
The writing is superb throughout the book. As a reader you feel like you're really there riding along in the backseat with Toland as he watches the world change drastically and sometimes violently around him. Friends die and are hurt, not just because of the color of their skin, but because of whom they love. And Howard takes us through it all with powerfully written story. The artwork is evocative and gives a full range of human expression through pen and ink, most noticeably with pointillism (using dots to create shadows.) My biggest issue with the book, is that in some places the words and images blur a bit together making it difficult to read (or at least it was for me.) But you should power on through that.
I'd highly recommend this book for anyone, regardless of sexuality or race or anything else that you think matters. If you're a human being, or heck even if you're an alien from Pluto, you should pick up and read this book. This powerful story will not leave you unmoved.