Art and story combine powerfully in this lyrical tale of a young man caught in the maelstrom of the civil rights movement and the systematic homophobia of small-town America of the 1960s.
Haldun M, London
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."
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.
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