Wednesday, February 8, 2012

Tradio #27 - Stuck Rubber Baby

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.
Though the work is fictional, there are many, many aspects of the story that ring true to both the times and to the author.  Largely based on stories related to him from others and his own experiences, 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.
It took Howard Cruse four years to complete this over 200 page masterpiece and it shows on every page.  The loving detail that he puts into every drawing and his use of language make for an easy read about very hard subjects.  If the book as a whole has a flaw, it is the ending that uses some powerful imagery, but doesn't really wrap up anything as much as I would have liked.  All in all though, it is a powerful piece of graphic storytelling that sheds light on two aspects of our culture that are not represented as much as they should be in the medium.  It will either make you very happy in the end or very uncomfortable and if it does make you uncomfortable, I hope you take time to figure out just why that is and take steps to do some changes in the way that you see the world. I highly recommend it.

Oh...and the name of the book.  It never gets explained, but if you pay attention, you will figure it out.  Enjoy!

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