I left the Gulf Coast in 1968 to attend school in what seemed to be far away Birmingham, Alabama. Birmingham-Southern College is a liberal arts school in every sense of the word. It is liberal and it has a strong arts community. We used to call the local John Birch Society for a laugh because they had a recorded message condemning the school as a hotbed of communists specifically naming some of our favorite professors. The college sits on a hilltop with the kind of ivied brick buildings, Greek revival facades, quads with large old growth trees that could be plunked down in Massachusetts and nobody would blink an eye. It was a godsend to those of us who did not have the extra cash to make it all the way to the northeast. Our professors were graduates of Oxford and Cambridge, Harvard and Yale as well as distinguished southern colleges like Duke and Vanderbilt.
As it was a United Methodist College we had the requisite chaplain. Ours led us in anti-war marches and made sure we understood the significance of living in Birmingham, a town that bears the scars of some of the worst of the civil rights movement. We participated in programs with our sister school run by the Methodists, Miles College which at the time was an all black college. We attended the 6th Avenue Baptist Church to hear Angela Davis speak and sat-in on the campus to mark the bombings in Cambodia. Bobby Seale came to the campus at one point and from the other end of the culture so did Mississippi Fred MacDowell the great blues singer as well as Johnny Shines brought there by our resident cultural anthropologist Jimmy Griffith. It was an amazing time.
I joined the theatre department under the direction of the brilliant Dr. Arnold Powell who exposed us to Peter Brooks, Harold Pinter, Samuel Beckett and Eugene Ionesco and to the concept of striving for the highest and best in all our creative efforts. We were housed in a building designed by Dr. Powell with a split lift revolving stage, cyclorama, movable seats for different configurations from circular to proscenium and an incredible lighting board much of which was used as the template for the Metropolitan Opera in New York City. When I arrived the seniors of the last year were remarked upon and stories were told and Howard Cruse was one of those so noted. I was cast in my very first play—a short play that Howard had written and I was cast as a prostitute. I have no idea how or why because I was hardly seductive still wearing baby fat without a sophisticated bone in my body. Cheryl, what were you thinking?
Cheryl Thacker, a brilliant lighting designer who would go on to a distinguished career in New York under the mentorship of the talented Jules Fisher was the director. I was thrilled to be working with such talented people and upperclassmen at that.
Howard came to the set and worked with us several times and I fell in love with him immediately. I don’t think I know anyone who is such a gentleman in every sense of the word. He has impeccable manners and he is one of the kindest souls I know. I consider myself fortunate to be his friend.
His intellect and artistry are without parallel. I have been saying for a long time that Stuck Rubber Baby is one of the best graphic novels ever and I mean it. It took Howard four years to finish this book and every line drawn and written is from the deep well of his heart and soul.
Howard is incredibly generous and supportive of all our artistic endeavors and always finds time to talk about your work with insight and care. With my own foray into the comics world he has been there for me with advice and information and the open door. I have gained entry by using Howard’s name, by saying that he is my long-time friend. There are people who immediately trust me and respect me simply because I am his friend. What does this say about the other person—that he is so well-respected that anyone among his group of friends carries the mantle of that respect.
Stuck Rubber Baby is probably one of the most beautifully drawn graphic novels I have ever read. Howard’s style is so precise and the story so well-written with such large powerful themes that the combination of all these things makes it a perfect graphic novel and without a doubt one of the best ever written which is exactly what I said at the beginning. It’s not just my opinion but something that you can see for yourself. It is on its simplest level a book about homophobia and racism in the south but as with all sophisticated works it is about so much more. The nuanced characters reveal the south in ways that very few writers are able to do and as both a writer and a southerner I deeply respect Howard’s ability to accomplish this.
It was such fun to be with Howard at San Diego Comic Con this year and see him receive the recognition he well deserves in all the panels and spotlights and signings. DC under their Vertigo Imprint has re-issued Stuck Rubber Baby (thank you DC and Vertigo!) with a beautiful and haunting new cover by Howard and a new introduction by Alison Bechdel, of the award winning comic strip, Dykes To Watch Out For. Alison is a great artist herself and my latest entry for the Jane Austen Irony Award.
I haven’t mentioned Howard’s husband Ed Sedarbaum who deserves his own column and who is Howard’s biggest fan albeit with a spouse’s gimlet eye for the personal. Suffice it to say Ed is every bit as talented and wonderful in his own right. We will all be gathering Saturday, the 16th at 2 pm in Lenox, MA at Matt Tannenbaum’s absolutely fabulous independent bookstore, The Bookstore to hear Howard read and you can buy his book. Here is the link. Come and join Howard and his many friends to help cheer on a lovely man and an artist at the top of his game.