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INTERVIEW: Howard Cruse dives into queer comics history & his own career as a cartoonist

INTERVIEW: Howard Cruse dives into queer comics history & his own career as a cartoonist

If you wish to know the historical past of queer comics, who higher to ask than the primary editor of Homosexual Comix? In honor of Satisfaction Month, The Beat caught up with cartoonist Howard Cruse for a telephone chat concerning the historical past of queer comics, the strides the business has taken since he got here up within the underground comics scene within the early ’70s, and the way his profession modified as he embraced his id as a homosexual man.

Though Cruse’s most well-known titles have been out of print for a while, his impression on the business can nonetheless be felt and he’s nonetheless working, although he admits he’s slowed down fairly a bit. Learn on for Cruse’s ideas on the rising LGBTQ comics group and the significance of studying and remembering historical past, along with a lot of tales about his work.


Samantha Puc: You’re thought-about one of many pioneers within the queer comics scene, so for our readers who aren’t acquainted, are you able to clarify how you bought began in comics and the way your profession has progressed as a cartoonist?

Howard Cruse: I broke into the comedian type via underground comix within the early ’70s. I don’t know if all your readers are accustomed to underground comix — they in all probability are; they’re fairly savvy, I’m positive — however this was a really uninhibited and uncensored medium that didn’t hassle to attempt to get the Comics Code Authority seal of approval. Principally, there was virtually no homosexual presence within the early decade or so of underground comedian books. I made a decision, someday round 1972, that I might ultimately introduce a homosexual character into my collection Barefootz, which was my central challenge in the course of the 1970s.

I had a personality named Headrack, who was a homosexual, annoyed artist, which I might determine with. I selected to not convey out the truth that he was homosexual till I had executed the collection for some time, quite a lot of years, as a result of I didn’t need to be type-cast or seen as making an attempt to piggyback on the burgeoning homosexual liberation motion. I needed to determine myself as a cartoonist first. However a time got here in 1976 once I did a Barefootz story through which Headrack type of exploded with anger, as a homosexual individual, towards the homophobia on the earth. He determined to use his artwork to becoming a member of the battle towards homophobia. That was dipping my toe into the waters of the subject material.

I didn’t decide to being homosexual myself instantly, though any smart individual would have figured that no straight individual would have achieved that story. Lastly, when that didn’t destroy my profession, I made a decision that I might settle for Denis Kitchen‘s invitation to edit an underground comedian guide referred to as Homosexual Comix. I assumed, “Nicely, that’s a great way to return out professionally in a method that doesn’t look like I’m confessing to some deep, darkish secret.” As a matter of reality, I simply talked about it within the letter soliciting contributions that I understood that many cartoonists could be afraid of being open about their gayness due to profession implications, and that I used to be accustomed to these emotions as a result of I had them too. I felt that visibility was essential at the moment, as a result of there was a number of anti-gay stuff within the late ’70s and early ’80s, so I challenged cartoonists to hitch me in doing this ebook.

We didn’t know on the time whether or not it will be a one-shot. We weren’t essentially considering forward as to if it might be a collection. Nevertheless, there was a community of homosexual bookstores that embraced the comedian, although numerous the direct market comedian outlets have been cautious of the subject material. We didn’t have plenty of penetration in comedian outlets, apart from the very forward-looking ones, for a lot of years. The homosexual bookstores made up for that.

I hasten to say, as a result of everybody all the time says Homosexual Comix was the primary homosexual underground comedian after which I’ve to right them. Earlier than Homosexual Comix arose, there have been three comedian e-book titles within the underground written and drawn by homosexual individuals. Mary Wings had put out two titles, Come Out Comix and Dyke Shorts; Roberta Gregory had put out Dynamite Damsels; and Larry Fuller had put out Homosexual Coronary heart Throbs. Principally, Mary and Roberta have been position fashions for the very human tales that I hoped to have in Homosexual Comix. Homosexual Coronary heart Throbs didn’t actually attempt to have a lot depth. Larry was breaking floor having a comic book by and about homosexual males. Anyway, Homosexual Comix was pioneering within the sense that, for one factor, it was bi-gender — again within the days once we solely thought there have been two genders — and I didn’t need it to be a boys’ membership like early undergrounds had been. I needed to make certain that homosexual males and lesbians have been there.

As a result of it turned out that the collection was a hit in homosexual bookstores, Denis needed to do extra. By the third concern, we had our first trans story by David Kottler. Then after 4 points, I had begun doing my common Wendel cartoon for The Advocate and I felt I didn’t have time to be modifying Homosexual Comix. So, we handed the editorship over to Robert Triptow, who edited a bunch of points after which he handed the title onto Andy Mangels and I point out that as a result of it’s necessary that these guys get credit score for being a part of that course of, too.

That’s how I received began. I additionally had a mainstream cartooning profession, primarily as a magazine illustrator. A humorous illustrator. I had trepidations, as I discussed, about whether or not I might discover it exhausting to get work if everybody knew I used to be homosexual. By that point, I used to be dwelling in New York; I had been in Alabama till 1977. In New York, the artwork administrators basically simply needed good cartoonists. They weren’t involved in the event that they have been homosexual. In fact, one by no means is aware of which artwork administrators may need chosen to not give me work as a result of I used to be homosexual, however I by no means knew about these.

'Leather Baby' by Howard Cruse

“Leather-based Child” by Howard Cruse, 1991, for the Village Voice

Puc: How has your profession progressed since then? You continue to do journal illustrations and issues, proper?

Cruse: Nicely, not a lot, now. I’ve slowed approach down as a result of I’m 75 now and I don’t have the identical power I had as soon as. I get Social Safety cheques that assist with the family prices and I primarily work on tasks that aren’t as a result of somebody is paying me, however as a result of that’s the place my muse takes me. In reality, lately, I’m doing extra writing than cartooning. I’m additionally concerned in some e-book collections of my comics. I type of nonetheless keep a sure visibility within the comics world, despite the fact that I now reside in rural Massachusetts and don’t get out a lot.

Puc: I noticed that there’s an exhibit at present displaying your work in Brussels, is that proper?

Cruse: Proper. Nicely, that was good! These sorts of issues occur as a result of some specific gallery proprietor likes my work and decides to ask if he can do a present. My husband and I received to go; [the owner] introduced us over and paid our approach and put us in a lodge, which was a really fascinating expertise. I do some public talking right here and there, typically at establishments like faculties and typically for homosexual teams. The issues I’m most recognized for are Homosexual Comix, Wendel, and Caught Rubber Child, however I’ve all the time finished different issues alongside the best way, each mainstream and in comics.

Promotional photographs are going up on Frédéric Lorge’s Comedian Artwork Manufacturing unit home windows in anticipation of subsequent week’s opening of my exhibition in Brussels. pic.twitter.com/N3xUwEnNqO

— Howard Cruse (@HowardCruse) Might eight, 2019

Puc: You spoke a bit of bit about how, if you have been first popping out, you have been involved about dropping work from artwork administrators since you have been homosexual — did that worry ever dissipate because the years went on and also you continued to supply work like Wendel and Caught Rubber Child?

Cruse: Truly, Wendel and even moreso Caught Rubber Child expanded my viewers past the homosexual group. So, I used to be truly paid an inexpensive, skilled fee to do Wendel and I didn’t want the journal work as a lot in the course of the interval once I was doing that. However I all the time stored my hand in when alternatives would come alongside. I nonetheless take pleasure in doing cartoons that aren’t associated to being homosexual and I even have plenty of considerations on the planet apart from homosexual points. I’ve achieved issues about numerous social points and evil firms and issues like that.

Puc: So far as representing social and political points in your work, was that one thing that you simply got down to do if you began your profession?

Cruse: Properly, that was in my nature all alongside, however I used to be extra capable of do it after I ended doing the Barefootz collection. The characters have been very stylized with massive heads and little our bodies; they appeared like one thing you may see on a newspaper web page, in order that they seemed very pleasant. That they had subtexts that have been intercourse, medicine and rage underneath the floor, which is what made them underground. Despite the fact that the primary homosexual story, the Headrack story “Gravy On Homosexual,” was completed once I was nonetheless in Birmingham in 1976, it turned obvious that if I used to be going to actually transfer into extra overt political comics, that I couldn’t do it inside the Barefootz universe. The characters have been simply too stylized.

So I started experimenting with drawing characters who have been proportioned extra like actual individuals. As soon as I began doing Homosexual Comix, for the primary time, I might truly delve with some depth into the homosexual expertise and in underground comics, I didn’t need to watch out concerning the sexual elements of it. One in every of my frequently-cited tales from Homosexual Comix #1 was a narrative referred to as “Billy Goes Out,” which was a narrative about making use of the homosexual free-for-all in backroom bars and issues like that, in locations like New York. In Wendel, I couldn’t be fairly as specific however I didn’t need to be too coy.

Caught Rubber Child preview by Howard Cruse

When DC Comics requested me to do Caught Rubber Child, I defined that I must have homosexual content material or else I might be seen as a sell-out. I didn’t thoughts the truth that, for a e-book that was going to be in mainstream bookstores, I didn’t have to point out erections and penetration and stuff like that, which you possibly can do in underground comics. That didn’t hinder me in telling the story, however the reality is that I started getting respect from my comics creating friends when Homosexual Comix got here out and other people noticed that I used to be critical. Loads of the unique underground cartoonists have been skeptical about me as a result of my strip seemed so, on the floor, prefer it was not very underground. When my Wendel comics started being collected in books and have been extra simply obtainable to non-gay readers, I started to get suggestions on the uncommon comics conventions I might go to, from common, well-known comics creators who stated that they actually appreciated the work.

One man, an enormous identify artist, advised me that from taking a look at Wendel, it was a revelation to him that when you might have a homosexual couple and one in every of them comes residence from work, they could hug. He didn’t know that homosexual individuals did that, too, as a result of we have been stereotyped as being completely sexualized individuals who didn’t have actual love relationships.

Puc: Once you advised DC that you simply needed to have homosexual content material in Caught Rubber Child, was that a hindrance or have been they prepared to include that with out placing up an excessive amount of of a fuss?

Cruse: The editor understood the place I used to be coming from. And by the best way, Caught Rubber Child was initially going to be revealed by an imprint that DC had established to be not a part of the DC Universe. It might be creator-owned, non-super-heroish stuff. It was referred to as Piranha Press and the unique editor was a man named Mark Nevelow. He appreciated my work typically and I requested for a gathering with him. I wouldn’t have achieved so if a good friend who labored at DC hadn’t stated, “Hey, you need to take a look at this Piranha Press factor. It is perhaps an excellent factor so that you can do.” That occurred once I had simply ended my Wendel strip.

Mark Nevelow was very open; he stated he was wonderful with a narrative the place the central protagonist was homosexual. He stated he would need there to be straight characters, too, in order that straight readers wouldn’t really feel ignored of the image. That was advantageous with me as a result of the thought I had going was to do a narrative that was set down south in 1963, which was earlier than the Stonewall riots. It will give me a chance to have a variety of characters that weren’t a part of a homosexual village subculture.

Puc: Do you are feeling just like the notion of LGBTQ themes and characters in comics has modified through the years, between once you have been engaged on these titles and the present titles which are popping out from creators who’re working now?

Cruse: After Homosexual Comix — within the decade afterward and principally ever since — there’s been an explosion of expertise, actually fascinating LGBTQ creators coming from all totally different angles. Proper now, the spearhead of LGBTQ comics is within the trans group. The people are all coming from totally different locations and their comics and types differ enormously; the tales have extra depth. It’s been very satisfying to see the youthful era coming alongside and increasing what we tried to start out with Homosexual Comix. Once I was doing Homosexual Comix, I used to be the editor you needed to go to for those who have been a queer cartoonist who needed to be out, however by now, I’m not the gatekeeper. I don’t even know all of those individuals. I meet lots of them once I go to the Queers and Comics Convention. There, you meet a number of these individuals and as an previous codger now, I really feel actually pleased with the youthful era for taking the ball and operating with it.

Puc: If you do get an opportunity to satisfy these youthful creators, are a whole lot of them conversant in your work?

Cruse: Most of them are accustomed to Caught Rubber Child. That’s the ebook of mine that stayed in print for the longest time and was talked about probably the most, so it’s fairly well-known within the queer group. Quite a lot of them are sufficiently old to recollect Wendel, which, I haven’t executed a brand new Wendel strip since 1989 so loads of individuals have been born now who by no means noticed it. And it’s very particularly set within the ’80s when homophobia was at its peak and Ronald Reagan was president and stuff like that. It was an entire totally different time from now, the place you’ve gotten brazenly homosexual individuals in films and tv and homosexual themes in all places and it’s no huge deal. I feel everybody has type of relaxed into that new actuality, which is sweet; the one drawback is, it helps if individuals know the historical past and respect the work — together with life and dying incidents — that went into bringing homosexuality out of the stereotyped shadows.

Puc: How do you are feeling the comics panorama has modified as these creators take the bull by the horns and attempt to inform the tales they need to inform, particularly on the Huge Two, who’ve very particular concepts of what their characters are purported to appear to be and characterize?

Cruse: I used to be by no means that a lot into the entire Marvel/DC/superhero type. It appeared synthetic to me to fake that you simply have been partaking in real-world, critical points when everyone’s sporting costumes and flying by means of the air and knocking buildings down. I recognize the truth that lots of my pals are huge followers of it and naturally, the films are massively profitable now. If individuals are actually into motion and fantasy, go for it. I respect that a whole lot of the films are finished nicely now, even when I don’t go to a whole lot of them as a result of I get tired of super-fist-fights.

The factor is, it was the entire unbiased comics motion accomplished by creators who needed to do all their very own stuff, who didn’t need to should comply with the template of the Huge Two. The homosexual comics explosion was all a part of that bigger, unbiased comics explosion. And naturally, now you could have webcomics, that are an entire new, wide-open area the place you may be as gifted as potential and also you not often make any cash.

Puc: Should you have been creating comics as we speak, are there titles or groups you’d need to work with? Is there something you’ve learn just lately that has you actually excited?

Cruse: I’m a fan of numerous different cartoonists. I are likely to see extra of those homosexual works, as a result of I’ve so many associates in that group they usually ship me copies of their new books, however I’ve all the time been a loner. In underground comics, I wrote and drew every thing and lettered. Denis often gave me complete freedom. I by no means developed the behavior of working as a collaborator in comics. I’ve achieved it a pair occasions; I did a collection for an in-house journal at DC that Lee Marrs wrote and I drew.

I additionally did some comics for Bananas journal; that was considered one of my mainstream jobs within the ’80s and it was sort of a hybrid MAD Journal and teenage fan journal. It had a lot of comics in it and it was put out by Scholastic. The editor was a man whose identify within the journal was Jovial Bob Stein — he later turned well-known and fabulously wealthy as R.L. Stein writing the Goosebumps collection — and he was a terrific man, a really terrific man to work with. He scripted strips for a collection referred to as Physician Duck, which was about this physician who was a duck and he was type of a Groucho Marx, anarchy character who put his sufferers via all types of ringers. Bob Stein would do the scripts, however he additionally was very informal about saying, “Right here’s the script. In case you have concepts for modifications, simply go for it. Don’t fear about adhering to my strips when you consider alternative ways to do issues.” So, he was an easy collaborator to work with. And I’m good associates with Lee Marrs, so it was nice working together with her too.

Principally, I are likely to identical to to work on my own and do issues my approach.

Puc: Do you’ve any predictions or theories for a way LGBTQ themes, characters and creators will proceed to develop or change in the way forward for comics?

Cruse: I feel most individuals really feel that the times of the 32-page, pamphlet-style, saddle-stapled books are on their final legs, apart from ones revealed by big publishers. Proper now, square-back graphic novels and anthologies are the place probably the most artistic work is occurring. I feel that may proceed, now that LGBTQ individuals are extra built-in in society usually. There are hundreds of thousands of us and we’re extra seen. It’s a unique surroundings, so queer comics creators don’t essentially have to only do tales concerning the homosexual factor. Most of the political comics I’ve executed in recent times, as I stated, have been about issues that concern me politically or are merely human curiosity tales that weren’t about being homosexual. The liberty to vary far afield, regardless that you’re homosexual, is an actual advantage of the legacy of the homosexual liberation motion. However it’s a completely totally different artistic surroundings.

I don’t assume you would predict something, besides that the sequential panel format of comics — the combination of phrases and footage — appears to be going robust. I don’t assume that’s going to go away any time quickly.

Puc: As regards to political cartooning, clearly, there are numerous politics inherent in comedian tales, even when it’s a superhero story. Do you are feeling that elevated participation of queer individuals within the business and elevated visibility has an impact on politics at giant, particularly for non-queer readers who’re partaking with this content material?

Cruse: One of many causes we began Homosexual Comix was due to the essential want for homosexual visibility in all fields, not simply comics. You already know, homosexual docs, homosexual legal professionals, homosexual rubbish collectors, homosexual no matter. I feel that has begun to occur in superhero comics; there was a interval when Marvel stated there are not any homosexual individuals within the Marvel universe, however that has modified. I feel it has an impact of normalizing the thought for straight readers of the presence of homosexual individuals of their lives. I feel that has a political impact in the long term, as a result of a lot of politics — notably homophobic and transphobic politics — is constructed round the concept LGBTQ individuals are virtually a separate species, a Satanic individuals or one thing. Whereas, when individuals know that their neighbor is homosexual or that some characters within the DC or Marvel universes are homosexual, it simply stops being such an enormous factor.

There was a time when straight actors have been terrified to play homosexual characters in films, as a result of they thought they might all the time be typecast as homosexual. Clearly, that’s not true now. There are many massive stars who do homosexual roles with none unfavourable repercussions of their careers; you even have individuals like Sir Ian McKellan, who got here out within the theater and confirmed you could nonetheless play straight roles, even when everybody is aware of the actor is homosexual. Normally, I simply assume there’s been a creating sense of normality about being homosexual, which is an effective factor. Proper now, we have now the rise of varied types of bigotry beneath the present administration and so there’s a hazard of backsliding. I feel that it’s much more essential now than it was earlier than for LGBTQ individuals to be assertive about their place on the earth and within the artwork that they create. In any other case, they might be pushed again right into a sort of cultural closet.


To maintain up with Howard Cruse and discover his work, comply with him on Twitter, pledge to his Patreon or go to his web site. In case you are in Brussels earlier than July 6, it’s also possible to go to the Homosexual Love – Howard Cruse comedian artwork present at Galerie Comedian Artwork Manufacturing unit, Chaussée de Wavre, 237 Ixelles, 1050.

Plus, you possibly can catch a brand new Howard Cruse comedian in Theater of Terror: Revenge of the Queers, a queer horror comics anthology from Northwest Press. The challenge is presently on Kickstarter and the marketing campaign ends Sunday, June 16 at 1:16 p.m. EST.

Samantha Puc is an essayist and tradition critic whose work has been featured on Bitch Media, The Mary Sue, Bustle, and elsewhere. She principally writes intersectional popular culture evaluation with a specific concentrate on illustration of LGBTQ and fats characters in fiction. Samantha is the managing editor at The Beat, in addition to the co-creator and editor-in-chief of Fatventure Magazine, an outdoor zine for fats creators who’re into being lively, however not into poisonous weight-loss tradition. She lives in Montana together with her companion and cats.

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