|Rare Book & Manuscript Library|
Table of Contents
Using the Collection
Note: some material may be restricted or offsite
Container ListView All
Series III: Comics, 1956-2018
At a Glance
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.
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 email@example.com to discuss access options.
All original copies of audio and moving image media are closed until after reformatting. Please contact the RBML at firstname.lastname@example.org 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.
Identification of specific item; Date (if known); Howard Cruse Papers; Box and Folder; Rare Book and Manuscript Library, Columbia University Library.
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.
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
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.
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.
History / 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.