This is Universal Love, a month-long spotlight on LGBTQ comic book stories that I have enjoyed over the years. I am trying to keep it from being a “Best of” exactly and trying to explore some lesser-known works, since there are so many great works out there.
I’m making an exception at the start, though, as we begin with Stuck Rubber Baby, the masterpiece of Howard Cruse, who we sadly lost late last year and I figured it wrong not to spotlight him after his passing.
Stuck Rubber Baby came out in 1995, when a mainstream comic book company like DC Comics (through their Paradox Press imprint) doing a comic book about a gay man growing up in the 1950s and 1960s was not at all a typical state of affairs. The comic is having a new edition released by First Second for its 25th Anniversary. You can check that out here.
The fictional tale (based on Cruse’s memories growing up gay in the South during that period) follows Toland Polk on a journey to discovery during a fascinating time in American history. Luckily, the story is ultimately a triumphant one of a now-out middle-age Polk looking back on his life. However, there certainly are some problems along the way…
The work is lush and realistic, and Toland Polk is an engaging protagonist who sort of stands out specifically because he DOESN’T stand out as a hero. In other words, Toland is a realistic portrayal of a person because he often acts out of pure self-interest. That doesn’t mean that he never steps it up, as he does, but for the most part, he is constantly looking to protect himself first and foremost. It causes him to do some rather hurtful things, but Cruse never loses Toland’s humanity in the process. It’s not that Toland is a BAD guy. You still root for him because he ISN’T a bad guy, but nor is he some super noble prince of a person. And that makes the work all the more interesting.
Toland tries to be straight and he even knocks up his girlfriend, but then he has sex with a man for the first time and there’s a striking scene involving Toland and his sister, who is shocked that her gay brother is going to have a kid and she hasn’t gotten pregnant yet!
Cruse mixes reality with fiction beautifully, giving Polk’s story a strong resonance that makes it work so darn well.
If you have a suggestion for an LGBTQ work that you’d like to see me spotlight, feel free to drop me a line at firstname.lastname@example.org.
As an aside about the title of this feature, I normally name features after Bob Dylan lyrics, but Universal Love is an album featuring artists re-working famous songs to make them about a same-sex relationship. Bob Dylan contributed a song to it. Dylan doesn’t have any songs that really lend themselves to a month-long LGBTQ spotlight (some variations of pride was the best I could come up with, and that wasn’t very good), so this was the next best thing.
In the first of a month-long spotlight on awesome LGBTQ stories, CSBG takes a look at Howard Cruse's Stuck Rubber Baby.