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Cruse, Howard (b. 1944)  

Howard Cruse is one of the most prolific gay cartoonists presently working in the medium. Since coming up in the underground comics scene of the 1970s, he has contributed to general magazines as well as gay and lesbian publications and has also completed an important graphic novel.

A preacher's son raised in Alabama, Cruse was born on May 2, 1944. He attended Birmingham-Southern College, where he earned his B. A., and the University of Pennsylvania, where he enrolled in graduate school. He moved to New York City in 1969 and entered the world of underground comics as a means to, as he put it, "experiment freely while exploring myself without inhibiting editorial constraints."

His cartoons appeared in such publications as Dope Comix, Bizarre Sex, Heavy Metal, Blab!, Crazy, Fangoria, and The Village Voice, among others. One of his best-known early works was the strip Barefootz, whose namesake character reflected late 1960s and early 1970s counterculture.

After coming out as a gay man, he founded and contributed regularly to Gay Comix, an annual publication of gay and lesbian cartoonists that had its first issue in 1980. A collection of Cruse's short comic strips and stories from the 1970s and 1980s was published by St. Martin's Press in 1987 under the title Dancin' Nekkid with the Angels.

Cruse reached a much wider audience when the national gay and lesbian newsmagazine The Advocate began publishing his serial strip Wendel in 1983 on an irregular basis; it eventually became a weekly feature.

At the center of the strip was Wendel, a young gay man, and the plotlines detailed his relationships with his lover Ollie, his gay-positive parents, Ollie's son and ex-wife, and various other friends and family. A funny, often moving strip, Wendel explored a variety of gay and lesbian issues until its end in 1989, when the editors of The Advocate changed formats and eliminated comic strips from the magazine.

With the end of Wendel, Cruse was encouraged by friends in the comics business to approach Paradox Press, an imprint of DC Comics (home of Superman, Batman, and Wonder Woman) about creating a large work for them. This resulted in his largest project to date, a 210-page graphic novel that took him four years to write and draw: Stuck Rubber Baby (1995).

This novel sets a young white man's coming out story against the backdrop of the 1960s civil rights movement in the American South. Cruse's complex narrative, large cast of characters, and sure sense of time and place allow for a serious exploration of issues of identity and prejudice (sexual, racial, and political), as the coming out story is juxtaposed against Ku Klux Klan rallies and murders, freedom marches, and the response of both black and white Southern churches.

The painstakingly conceived and executed Stuck Rubber Baby has been hailed, like its predecessor Art Spiegelman's Pulitzer Prize-winning Maus (1986), as a breakthrough work in establishing the graphic novel as a serious literary and artistic form rather than simply a comic strip.

In the aftermath of the attack on New York City on September 11, 2001, Cruse returned to a project he had thought about for years, an "illustrated fable" based on a story by Alabama composer Jeanne E. Shaffer. The Swimmer with a Rope in His Teeth was published in 2004.

Cruse and his partner Eddie Sedarbaum moved from New York City in 2003 to North Adams, Massachusetts, where they were married in 2004, after celebrating 25 years together as a couple. Cruse continues cartooning, developing web sites, and working in computer graphics.

Robert Kellerman


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Comic strips and cartoons have served for decades as a powerful tool of satire and humor; today numerous queer comic artists create works that are published in both mainstream and alternative media.


"Cruse, Howard." Lambiek Comiclopedia

Ringgenberg, Steve. "Sexual Politics and Comic Art: An Interview with Howard Cruse." The Comics Journal no. 111 (Sept. 1986): 64-96.

Rubinstein, Anne. "Matters of Conscience: A Howard Cruse Interview." The Comics Journal no. 182 (Nov. 1995): 106-118.


    Citation Information
    Author: Kellerman, Robert  
    Entry Title: Cruse, Howard  
    General Editor: Claude J. Summers  
    Publication Name: glbtq: An Encyclopedia of Gay, Lesbian, Bisexual,
Transgender, and Queer Culture
    Publication Date: 2002  
    Date Last Updated August 17, 2005  
    Web Address  
    Publisher glbtq, Inc.
1130 West Adams
Chicago, IL   60607
    Today's Date  
    Encyclopedia Copyright: © 2002-2006, glbtq, Inc.  
    Entry Copyright © 2002, glbtq, Inc.  


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