Rare Book & Manuscript Library
 

Howard Cruse Papers, 1941-2019

Summary Information

Abstract

Personal and professional papers of comics artist Howard Cruse (1944-2019). Cruse was author of the graphic novel Stuck Rubber Baby (1995) and the comic strips Wendel (1983-1989) and Barefootz, (1971-1979) and founding editor of the anthology Gay Comix (1980-1991).

At a Glance

Call No.: MS#1799
Bib ID 12053562 View CLIO record
Creator(s) Cruse, Howard
Title Howard Cruse Papers, 1941-2019
Physical Description 145 linear feet (49 record cartons; 8 manuscript boxes; 54 oversize flat boxes; hard drive (321 GB), hard drive (614 GB) )
Language(s) In English, with a small amount of published material in Spanish, French, German, Italian, and Finnish.
Access You will need to make an appointment in advance to use this collection material in the Rare Book and Manuscript Library reading room. You can schedule an appointment once you've submitted your request through your Special Collections Research Account.

The following boxes are located off-site: 1-28, 30-32, 53, 61, 64. You will need to request this material from the Rare Book and Manuscript Library at least seventy-two (72) hours in advance to use the collection in the Rare Book and Manuscript Library reading room.

The collection also includes an extensive amount of digital material which has been preserved but is unprocessed. This material includes correspondence, digital illustrations, and animation by Howard Cruse. Please contact the RBML at rbml@columbia.edu to discuss access options.

All original copies of audio and moving image media are closed until after reformatting. Please contact the RBML at rbml@columbia.edu to discuss access options.

An additional 20 boxes of files and one oversized item not included in this finding aid are closed to researchers until after cleaning to remove mold. They will be processed and added to the finding aid following cleaning. These materials include the entirety of Series I and Subseries III.4, the vast majority of Series V, and a few other boxes from Series IV, VI and VII.

Arrangement

Description

Scope and Contents

The Howard Cruse papers contain extensive documentation of the life and work of comics artist, illustrator, graphic novelist, and playwright Howard Cruse (1944-2019). The collection's physical and digital components include personal and professional correspondence, original artwork, lectures and teaching materials, photographs, manuscript and published theatrical scripts and essays, and freelance illustration and publishing contracts. Cruse's published books, comics/comix, fanzines, apazines, and other printed ephemera related to the comics industry, American LGBTQ+ communities and politics, and their intersections dating from the 1970s through the 2010s are also included. Finally, there is a small amount of analog audiovisual material, such as audio recordings of Cruse's interviews with comix artists related to the Walt Disney Productions v. Air Pirates court case dating from circa 1980.

  • Series I: Correspondence, 1958-2019

  • Series II: Freelance project files, 1967-2010s

    Series II contains materials related to Howard Cruse's freelance illustration and graphic design work for newspapers and magazines, LGBTQ+ community and political advocacy organizations, trade publications, and some small businesses and individuals. The series also contains materials related to comics by Howard Cruse which were commissioned by customers outside of the comics industry, such as Adobe—Cruse's "Mark the Art Guy" marketed the company's Creative Suite software—and Topps, to which Cruse contributed Bazooka Joe bubble gum wrapper comics. Finally, a small amount of pitched but never realized work by Howard Cruse is present in this series, such as concept art for children's television shows called Major Weirdo (1990) and Evey on TV (2003).

  • Series III: Comics, 1956-2018

    Series III is the largest series in the collection. It contains materials related to underground comix and comic strips by Howard Cruse, including correspondence, sketches and original artwork, proofs, and published works. These include the underground comix Barefootz and Gay Comix, as well as the comic strips Tops and Button, Count Fangor, Doctor Duck, and Wendel. The series also documents Cruse's other roles within the comics industry: art directing Starlog, writing a column for Comics Scene, and editing Gay Comix #1-#4. Significant events and controversies within the comics industry documented in the collection include the 1971-1980 Walt Disney Productions v. Air Pirates court case, which Cruse's 1981-1983 Comics Scene column addressed, and the 2000-2004 Little Sisters Book and Art Emporium v. Canada censorship case, for which Cruse provided expert testimony (Subseries III.4).

    Records of sales and exhibitions of Cruse's work are located in Subseries III.2 and III.3, respectively. Cruse's appearances at events including San Diego Comic Con International, readings and guest lectures at universities and community organizations, and press coverage of Cruse's work and career are documented in subseries III.5. Subseries III.6 contains files from courses in comic arts and cartooning taught by Howard Cruse at the School of Visual Arts, Massachusetts College of Liberal Arts, and Mildred Elley College. Cruse's teaching drew on his own past work, and some materials throughout Series II, III, and IV show evidence of having been used in classes at a later date.

  • Series IV: Graphic novels and children's books, circa 1940s-2010, bulk 1990-2008

    Series IV contains materials related to drafting, publishing, and promoting graphic novels and children's books by Howard Cruse. Much of the series is devoted to Cruse's 1995 graphic novel Stuck Rubber Baby. It includes extensive material used for background research and visual reference, sketches, some finished original artwork for the book, reviews and publicity, and editions of the book published in several languages. Cruse pre-sold much of the finished original artwork in order to finance its completion, which took five years; there are records of these sales and other fundraising efforts for the book, though much of the finished artwork is not present in the collection. Records of Cruse's next two books, a digitally illustrated fable called The Swimmer With a Rope in His Teeth (2004), and a self-published children's book called Felix's Friends (2008) are also present in this series.

  • Series V: Gay rights movement and other political activism, circa 1960s-2010s

    Series V contains clippings, printed ephemera, and other materials related to LGBTQ+ communities, political activism, and history in the United States dating from the late 1960s through the 2000s.

  • Series VI: Writing, circa 1950s-2016

    Series VI contains written works without graphic components by Howard Cruse, primarily essays and theatrical scripts, dating from the 1960s through the 2010s. Though they are about characters from comic books, Cruse's 1990 essay "Andy, We Hardly Knew You," about the death from AIDS of a character in the Doonesbury comic strip, is located in this series. A 1989 essay about the implied romantic relationship between Batman and Robin, "Batboys in the Band," is also in Series VI. Some of Cruse's original plays were produced: The Sixth Story at Birmingham-Southern College in 1968, Three Clowns on a Journey on Birmingham, Alabama's WBIQ-TV television station in 1970, and About Scott in 1990. Materials related to those productions are located in this series. Cruse also adapted his plays The King's Plot and Stage Kiss (both circa 1960s) into comics. While the theatrical scripts for these works are located in Series VI, the comics are located in Series III.

  • Series VII: Personal and early life, 1941-2019

    Series VII contains material from Howard Cruse's family, personal life, and education. Written work, school publications, and very early comic books produced by Cruse as a student at Indian Springs School are in this series. Cruse was an active member of the Indian Springs School alumni association throughout his life; as a result, the series also contains a significant amount of alumni newsletters and fundraising materials on the school's history dating from the 1970s through the 2010s. Material from Cruse's undergraduate years (1964-1968) at Birmingham-Southern College is also located in Series VII. These include posters he designed for the college's theatrical productions, mechanicals and clippings of the comic he published in the student newspaper, The Cruse Nest, and materials from the satirical newsletter he edited with Julie Brumlik, Granny Takes a Trip. Material from Cruse's years as an employee of the Birmingham, Alabama television station WBMG, as well as a group of drawings and other artworks created under the influence of LSD, is in this series. Finally, the series contains a pair of puppets made by Howard Cruse and his partner Don Higdon in 1971 or 1972.

    Series VII contains the most photographs in the collection. They include a Cruse family photograph album from the 1940s, as well as photographs of Howard Cruse with his friends, family members, and romantic partners dating from the 1960s through the 1990s. Some of these photographs were taken at Pride parades and gay rights demonstrations in New York City in the 1980s and 1990s and at the 1987 March on Washington for Gay and Lesbian Rights.

  • Series VIII: Archived website, circa 2000s-2010s

    Series VIII consists of an archived version of Howard Cruse's website, howardcruse.com. Cruse frequently scanned paper-based works of his and uploaded them to his website with additional commentary. He also shared written work, including personal essays and the script of his play Three Clowns on a Journey, and sold books and art prints from this site.

Using the Collection

Rare Book and Manuscript Library

Conditions Governing Access

You will need to make an appointment in advance to use this collection material in the Rare Book and Manuscript Library reading room. You can schedule an appointment once you've submitted your request through your Special Collections Research Account.

The following boxes are located off-site: 1-28, 30-32, 53, 61, 64. You will need to request this material from the Rare Book and Manuscript Library at least seventy-two (72) hours in advance to use the collection in the Rare Book and Manuscript Library reading room.

The collection also includes an extensive amount of digital material which has been preserved but is unprocessed. This material includes correspondence, digital illustrations, and animation by Howard Cruse. Please contact the RBML at rbml@columbia.edu to discuss access options.

All original copies of audio and moving image media are closed until after reformatting. Please contact the RBML at rbml@columbia.edu to discuss access options.

An additional 20 boxes of files and one oversized item not included in this finding aid are closed to researchers until after cleaning to remove mold. They will be processed and added to the finding aid following cleaning. These materials include the entirety of Series I and Subseries III.4, the vast majority of Series V, and a few other boxes from Series IV, VI and VII.

Terms Governing Use and Reproduction

Single photocopies may be made for research purposes. The RBML maintains ownership of the physical material only. Copyright remains with the creator and his/her heirs. The responsibility to secure copyright permission rests with the patron.

Photographs must be handled with gloves.

Preferred Citation

Identification of specific item; Date (if known); Howard Cruse Papers; Box and Folder; Rare Book and Manuscript Library, Columbia University Library.

Related Materials

Kitchen Sink Press Records: Denis Kitchen published Cruse's Barefootz in various underground titles, and invited him to edit Gay Comix in 1980. Kitchen's correspondence with Cruse is located in boxes 2 and 11 of the Kitchen Sink Press Records.

Tony Kushner papers: Kushner wrote the introduction to Cruse's 1995 graphic novel Stuck Rubber Baby and purchased a page of artwork from the graphic novel to assist with financing its completion.

Accruals

614 gigabytes of interview footage with Howard Cruse and husband Ed Sedarbaum, for an abandoned documentary on long-term gay couples, was added to the collection by Robert Weingarten in 2019.

Seven more boxes of pencil roughs and inked (or partially inked) original art, unpublished scripts, correspondence, journals, and other materials were added to the collection by Ed Sedarbaum in 2022.

Immediate Source of Acquisition

Purchased from Howard Cruse, July 15, 2016.

About the Finding Aid / Processing Information

Columbia University Libraries, Rare Book and Manuscript Library

Processing Information

Collection-level record describing unprocessed material made public in summer 2018 as part of the Hidden Collections initiative.

This collection was surveyed by Carolyn Smith in 2018 and processed by Celeste Brewer in 2022. Finding aid written by Celeste Brewer in August-September 2022.

Folder titles assigned by Howard Cruse were retained whenever possible, though sometimes they were slightly altered for the purposes of clarity. Original folders were also retained when they were present and in good condition. Loose materials were placed in folders, and damaged folders were replaced with acid free archival folders. Original artwork and oversized materials such as posters were physically separated and stored according to size.

Howard Cruse appears to have thought of his work as a series of projects, and filed materials related to it accordingly. Sometimes he made a distinction between freelance projects done primarily for financial reasons—the bulk of which were illustration and graphic design—and projects he pursued based on his own interest—the bulk of which were comics and graphic novels—but this was not done consistently. The division of materials into Series II and Series III is based on this distinction, though it sometimes required the archivist to make judgment calls for individual projects that did not fit neatly into either category.

Separated Materials

Sketches and original artwork were removed from some files in Series II, III, and VII and housed with other materials of the same format. A box of credit card statements and some graded assignments in Box 16, Folder 36 were discarded.

Subject Headings

The subject headings listed below are found in this collection. Links below allow searches at Columbia University through the Archival Collections Portal and through CLIO, the catalog for Columbia University Libraries, as well as ArchiveGRID, a catalog that allows users to search the holdings of multiple research libraries and archives.

All links open new windows.

Genre/Form

Heading "CUL Archives:"
"Portal"
"CUL Collections:"
"CLIO"
"Nat'l / Int'l Archives:"
"ArchivedGRID"
Clippings (Information Artifacts) Portal CLIO ArchiveGRID
Comics (Graphic works) Portal CLIO ArchiveGRID
Illustrations Portal CLIO ArchiveGRID
Photographs Portal CLIO ArchiveGRID
Scripts (documents) Portal CLIO ArchiveGRID
Underground comics Portal CLIO ArchiveGRID
Zines Portal CLIO ArchiveGRID

Subject

Heading "CUL Archives:"
"Portal"
"CUL Collections:"
"CLIO"
"Nat'l / Int'l Archives:"
"ArchivedGRID"
Cartoonists Portal CLIO ArchiveGRID
Cruse, Howard Portal CLIO ArchiveGRID
Gay men -- Comic books, strips, etc Portal CLIO ArchiveGRID
Gay rights Portal CLIO ArchiveGRID
Graphic novels Portal CLIO ArchiveGRID
Illustrators Portal CLIO ArchiveGRID
Indian Springs School (Indian Springs, Ala.) Portal CLIO ArchiveGRID
Obscenity (Law) Portal CLIO ArchiveGRID
Piracy (Copyright) Portal CLIO ArchiveGRID

History / Biographical Note

Biographical Note

Howard Cruse (1944-2019) was the first openly gay cartoonist of the 1970s and 1980s, and the first to introduce realistic gay themes into his work. He is best known from his 1995 graphic novel Stuck Rubber Baby; the comic strip Wendel, published in The Advocate from 1983 to 1989; and his work as the founding editor of Kitchen Sink Press's Gay Comix (1980-1984).

Howard Russell Cruse was born in Birmingham, Alabama, on May 2, 1944 to Clyde and Irma Russell Cruse. He attended Indian Springs School and Birmingham-Southern College, where he studied art and theater. After graduating from Birmingham-Southern in 1968, Cruse studied playwriting at Pennsylvania State University for a semester. He then returned to Alabama, where he worked as an art director and puppeteer at a television station in Birmingham and drew the comic strip Tops and Button for the Birmingham Post-Herald. Cruse's Barefootz was also published in underground comix by Kitchen Sink Press beginning in 1972. Barefootz was the first of Cruse's comics to include a gay character, Headrack; the 1976 strip "Gravy on Gay," in which Headrack vents about his experiences with homophobia, was the beginning of Cruse's career as an openly gay comics artist.

Cruse moved to New York City in 1977. He art directed Starlog magazine until 1978, when he became a full time freelance cartoonist and illustrator. Denis Kitchen, of Kitchen Sink Press, asked Cruse to edit Gay Comix in 1980. Cruse agreed on the condition that Gay Comix be evenly divided between gay and lesbian artists. In addition to editing the series' first four issues, Cruse's contributions to Gay Comix included "Billy Goes Out" (1980) and "Jerry Mack" (1981). In 1983, he began to draw the comic strip Wendel, which was published in The Advocate from 1983 until 1989. He was a friend and mentor to the comics artists Alison Bechdel and Jennifer Camper, among others.

Cruse's comic strips and humorous illustrations appeared in Playboy, The Village Voice, Artforum International, Harpoon, Heavy Metal, The Advocate, Starlog, and numerous other national magazines. Five books were published compiling Cruse's own comic strips and stories from underground comix and elsewhere during his lifetime: Wendel (1986); Dancin' Nekkid With The Angels (1987); Wendel on the Rebound (1989); Early Barefootz (1990); and Wendel All Together (2001).

Cruse's graphic novel Stuck Rubber Baby was published in 1995 by Paradox Press, a division of DC Comics. Stuck Rubber Baby won Eisner and Harvey Awards as well as a United Kingdom Comic Art Award and a British Comics Creators Guild Award. Andreas Knigge's translation, Am Rande des Himmels, won a Luchs literary award in Germany, and Jean-Paul Jennequin's French translation won the 2002 Prix de la Critique at the Angouleme International Comics Festival. Cruse's seventh book, The Swimmer With a Rope In His Teeth, a collaboration with Jeanne E. Shaffer, was published by Prometheus Books in April 2004. Cruse also self-published a children's book, Felix's Friends, in 2008.

Cruse was a committed advocate for LGBTQ+ rights—for which he and his partner, Ed Sedarbaum, shared the 1993 Stonewall Award—as well as issues related to freedom of expression and parody. His 1981-1983 Comics Scene column "Loose Cruse" addressed the Walt Disney Productions v. Air Pirates legal battle. He also contributed to the 2000-2004 Little Sisters Book and Art Emporium v. Canada censorship case: a Vancouver, British Columbia Commission of Customs and Revenue official refused to import two comics which Little Sisters bookstore had ordered from the United States, Meatmen #18 and Meatmen #24, on the grounds that the works' contents were obscene. The bookstore filed suit in Canadian court. Cruse provided expert witness testimony in his capacity as a comics artist on the bookstore's behalf.

Don Higdon (1950-1993), an actor, was Howard Cruse's first long term partner. They lived together in Birmingham, Alabama, and Atlanta, Georgia, from 1969 until the end of their relationship in 1973. Higdon died in 1993 in Los Angeles, California. In 1979, Cruse met and began a relationship with the community organizer Ed Sedarbaum in New York City. Cruse and Sedarbaum lived together in Jackson Heights, Queens, for 25 years. They then moved to Williamstown, Massachusetts, where they were married in 2004.

Howard Cruse died of lymphoma in Pittsfield, Massachusetts, on November 26, 2019.