In her wonderful introduction to our new edition of Howard Cruse’s Eisner-winning graphic novel STUCK RUBBER BABY, originally published in 1995, Alison Bechdel (Fun Home) writes: “Howard recreates the details of life in the South during ‘Kennedytime’ with a staggering archival fidelity…accomplished long before there was such a thing as Google Image Search. Howard gathered references not with a few mouse clicks, but by digging around in library picture files, hitting the street with a camera and sketchbook, and by engaging in god knows what other time-consuming analog practices.”
Howard’s one of those “analog”-generation artists who later embraced the digital age without a blink, which is why you can learn about this book’s creation in astonishing detail on his eponymous website. Just for GRAPHIC CONTENT readers, I thought I’d pull out one of those details and get another tidbit about it from him.
Several of the book’s semi-autobiographical events take place at the Alleysax, a nightclub Howard based on a black jazz club just outside his hometown of Birmingham, where gays of both races mingled freely and easily with straight patrons in the late hours. He clearly remembered going there — but would readers believe such a place could exist in early 1960s Alabama, even in fiction? He had to be sure, so in 1990, he placed an ad in Alabama’s largest gay newspaper asking if anyone else remembered the club. Someone did, and wrote to him.
Howard’s pen pal confirmed the existence of Sand Ridge Country Club — as you can see here — and ultimately much more. In a later visit to Birmingham, Howard spent hours with the writer’s friends, who told remarkable stories of lesbian & gay life from that era and then directed him to local black Civil Rights Movement veterans with equally remarkable stories. One of those activists, a straight local doctor, fondly remembered the area’s actual gay bars as “the only bars in town that had decent music.” The doctor later drove Howard to the location of Sand Ridge. It had burned down years before, but its foundation still stood — then and now, in the pages of STUCK RUBBER BABY.