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Thursday, 13 October 2016

Stuck Rubber Baby

Writer and Artist: Howard Cruse
Publisher: Vertigo Comics

Stuck Rubber Baby is a fiction that reads like an autobiography. Toland is a young closeted man growing up in the 1960s American South. He makes friends with a group of liberal folk and finds himself socialising in the black and LGBT clubs of his town. He is drawn into the local civil rights movement and is forced to confront the truth of his sexuality, whilst racist and homophobic attacks are regular occurrences.

It’s quite an intense read, partly for the subject matter but also for the story style. The art is detailed with a lot happening on each page and the method of shading to provide depth to the page (I’m not sure if it’s inking here or just pencils) is the same for both for the people depicted and the backgrounds (furniture, gardens, vehicles etc).

The art feels very direct, very full on. Cruse puts a lot of information into each page and so it takes a long time to read the story through the art.  Despite the sadness and anger forming the backdrop of Toland’s youth (and Toland’s own mindset), it seems that most of the pages in this book show smiling people. The characters enjoy life, they experience the highs and the lows but they generally get on with the everyday stuff and they have plenty of things they are happy about. So it’s not a miserable book, although it is serious.

His style of cartooning is heavy on the inks, focusing on people’s faces and caricaturing each one. To my layman’s eye he seems to have depicted the fashions of the times pretty well too.

I found this a very enlightening read, it feels important and the snapshot it provides of the 1960s South should be more widely understood. However, it is not something I would turn to for entertainment purposes. It’s necessary, and serious, but not jolly (although there are jolly, humorous aspects to it).

Warning: includes violent (but not gory) attacks on black and queer people and a subplot about an unwed mother giving a child up for adoption.

ISBN: 1401227139
Price: £22.99 (hardback)

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