Well, after a very long and drawn out hiatus, I am finally back with a new graphic novel review. Most all of the graphic novels that I talk about this month will be in honor of Black History Month (with maybe a slight veer away from that on a certain holiday). This week we look at a very complex tale that not only puts racial tension and civil rights in the 60's to the forefront, but also addresses how homosexuals in that day and age also dealt with the prejudices of others. This week we review Stuck Rubber Baby by Howard Cruse as published under DC's Vertigo banner.
Stuck Rubber Baby revolves around the fictitious life of Toland Polk in the fictitious town of Clayfield which is in the all too real southern United States in the 1960's. The story is told by a older Toland relating the events of his early manhood in a very divided southern town. Through his steady narrative, Toland gives us a glimpse of the people around him during this time in his life and how he struggled with the feelings and thoughts that he had as he tried to discover his place in the world. The framing story of Toland telling his tales of youth, help to establish how far he has come since those days and shed light on where he is now in his journey of self-discovery. Through a "cracker's eyes" we see how African Americans struggled in this small southern town and also how the homosexual community rallied around them and ultimately became targets themselves by association. Toland is confused about his own feelings of love and belonging and only through great tragedy is he able to come to grips with who he truly is.
Howard Cruse produces a rich story full of interesting and yet flawed individuals that are almost uncomfortably relatible at times. Blacks and gays alike are draw as imperfect people trying their best just to be who they are without giving the bigots and racists more fuel to use against them. Even Toland, who should be the sterling "hero" of the story, has faults like us all and his keen ability to often say the wrong thing at the wrong time hits very close to home. You can identify with him which is both empowering and scary at times.
Oh...and the name of the book. It never gets explained, but if you pay attention, you will figure it out. Enjoy!