Stuck Rubber Baby
Mature YA/Adult Graphic Novel
Howard Cruse's Stuck Rubber Baby came out in 1995. I just got
my hands on it, thinking it would be a one night read. Boy, was I
wrong! The depth of this coming of age narrative shows the powerful
potential for combining words and pictures into something much larger
than the sum of the two. I was engaged for several evenings.
On the first page the narrator, Toland, (now older) says
"Looking back, I didn't see all that many dead bodies when I was a kid
growing up down south...". In the top corners two images are
juxtaposed to give the reader an idea when that growing up took
place. On the left President Kennedy and his wife stroll in front of
the White House. On the right police and people with segregationist
signs stand in front of a burning bus. Yep, a lot of the plot
revolves around the struggle for racial justice.
And there is yet another pivotal issue. Toland, though
seriously attracted to other guys, is convinced that with just a
little more effort he can be a socially acceptable heterosexual. At
one point he gets the girl through whom he sees himself getting
redeemed, Ginger, pregnant. She doesn't want motherhood (married or
unmarried) to thwart a musical career. Neither is sure what the right
thing to do is.
The political events and ideas are never strident or stage
stealing. A large cast of complex, individual characters keeps their
feelings and actions pivotal as they deal with the events life hurls
their way...just as we do now.
Toland's sister, Melanie, is a character who would have been
reduced to stereotype in lesser hands. She was married right out of
high school to a guy, Orley, with more conservative views than hers.
But she has a mind of her own. At one point when Toland calls to say
he and a buddy have been arrested she tells Orley to go back to sleep
and heads off to the police station to do whatever it takes to get the
guys out. In one very poignant set of pictures she reacts the news of
Ginger's pregnancy. We learn that after years of desperately trying
to conceive she and Orley are still striking out.
For a target audience I would highly recommend the college and
grad school set, adults, and only the most mature high school
students, not sixth graders. At one point Toland has been assaulted.
Regaining consciousness, stumbling around, he bumps into the feet of
his friend Sammy who has been lynched. I can't imagine 11-year-olds
being ready to deal with that or the ensuing police cover up.
On a personal note, after a stretch of bizarrely warm temps for Maine
in winter we are back to seasonable weather which, coming on the heels
of the tantalizing taste of spring, has people kvetching.
A great big shout out goes out to the UMaine students and faculty who
are now hopefully enjoying spring break.
Sent from my iPod