Stuck Rubber Baby by Howard Cruse
Stuck Rubbery Baby is a coming-of-age tale about a white gay man Toland Polk living in the South during the Civil Rights movement, which he somewhat accidentally becomes involved in. The graphic novel is a great commentary on how the Civil Rights movement affected everyone in Toland’s community. The story is narrated by a future Toland looking back on his life.
Toland starts off as a very young man living in his recently deceased parents’ house with his sister and her husband. Future narrator Toland is out of the closet and living with his long-term partner. And the story proceeds to lay out the path between the two.
Cruse’s art is particularly masterful in what it shows us about people. He tends to draw people’s heads a little larger than their bodies, which helps illustrate their different expressions and emotions clearly. Cruse is also really talented when it comes to what he shows in his scenes and what he doesn’t. He can convey the evils and horrors of a lynching and make it resonate from the characters to the reader without being unnecessarily graphic.
Toland and the rest of the characters pop off the pages beautifully. I was enamored by this book from start to finish. As I’ve stated here before, I’ve read a lot of books about the journey of self-acceptance and coming out as queer (and have, of course, gone through the experience myself), but Cruse does a wonderful job at making Stuck Rubber Baby more than just a coming out story; it’s far more of a Bildungsroman as Toland makes his complete transformation into adulthood.
While Cruse certainly explores the evils of society via racism and homophobia, I never felt that there was a true villain besides these -isms. There are only people: people with biases and people with ignorances and then there are people with love and people with acceptance and people who are learning. Even Orley, who is perhaps ethically the worst character, is not a clear-cut villain. If anything Cruse writes him with sympathy and a man plagued with ignorance and his own shortcomings.
Stuck Rubber Baby is a wonderfully encompassing portrait of a moment and place in history. And I highly recommend this book to anyone wanting to walk along the path as Toland discovers what it is to be human and what it is to love himself.