Of Picnics Past

Autumn arrives today. We’ll soon feel summer receding.

But before today’s bracing briskness here in the Berkshires turns into outright chilliness, I thought I would pay tribute to a nice summer tradition that Eddie and I promulgated for several years during the 1980s.

We were living in New York City back then — in the borough of Queens, to be specific; and in the neighborhood of Jackson Heights, to be even more specific.

Some background: it has often been observed that the population density and fast pace of life in New York City combine to encourage two seemingly contradictory trends. Unless you live the life of a hermit, you can expect meet more and more interesting people with each passing day, some of whom you’ll view as newly minted friends. HOWEVER, with each passing day you’re also likely to find less and less time available for spending relaxed time with the ever-widening circle of friends you’ve been accumulating.

At some point (I don’t remember the exact year), Eddie and I found ourselves frustrated enough by this paradox to contrive a scheme for thwarting it. We decided to try to get as many of our friends as possible together in one place roomier than our own home at least once every summer. It could be formatted as a picnic; that way we wouldn’t incur the cost of providing refreshments for the large number of friends we’d like to assemble, as would be expected had we tried to squeeze all of them into our small Jackson Heights apartment.

But where to locate our projected super-picnic? How about Central Park in Manhattan? With a little scouting, Eddie and I zeroed in on a particularly felicitous meadow. Selecting that as our gathering place would have the added benefit of allowing all comers to bask in the great outdoors instead of trying to squeeze between each other in our home’s smallish rooms.

We picked a date, named our yearly event the "Annual Quasi-Spontaneous Central Park Picnic," and set about inviting people. Below is an adapted version of the invitation I drew and mailed out for the fifth iteration of our tradition. (I’ve rearranged and added color to its elements to make it look better on the web.)

We had apparently hit on a good idea, because our picnics proved popular. Attendance grew every summer. Everyone seemed to have a good time. It would have been nice had we been able to keep the tradition going indefinitely, but that proved impossible, since over time the postage required to send out invitations to our ever-swelling list of potential picnickers became more than we could afford. Remember, back then there was no email.

Still, it was great while it lasted.

Remembering Who Was There

My original impulse when I decided to talk about our picnics and display this invitation on my blog was to rummage through our family scrapbooks for the snapshots we took during our years of Central Park parties. We certainly have no shortage of such photographs, and I thought that all sorts of warm and fuzzy feelings would be generated (at least among those who used to come to these picnics) by seeing the images of so many younger versions of our longtime friends lolling about on the summer grass together.

Once I began sifting through the old photographs, though, I chickened out. I saw that going hog-wild scanning the snapshots for my blog would have a down side.

It’s not that there weren’t plenty of warm, fuzzy feelings to be had. Those snapshots include the youthful faces of many friends with whom we’re still in contact, present day companions on this planet who have shared with Eddie and me the richness of passing decades along with the accumulation of gray hairs and wrinkles that go with time’s passage.

But my pleasure in re-visiting those days was darkened by being reminded of the cloud that hovered over all of us during the 1980s and 1990s. Among the faces in our picnic photos were way too many that never had an opportunity to gather the gray hairs and wrinkles that go with the long arc of life experience. I’m talking about those of our friends whose lives were claimed by the AIDS epidemic while they were still in their twenties. Or thirties. Some were even lucky enough to make it into their forties or fifties before a random opportunistic infection knocked the legs out from under them. But forty or fifty is still too young to be snatched away.

Seeing them and missing them still makes me angry. And anger wasn’t the feeling I wanted to communicate by sharing with you something as pleasant as our Central Park Picnics of yore.

So I’ll just let the happy vibe of my light-hearted invitation speak for itself.

With One Exception

Having said all that, I don’t want to let the moment pass without paying tribute to three particular friends who were among our picnics’ regular attendees back in the day. They’re shown in the three photographs below; they are (from left to right) John Tebbel, Arthur Tebbel, and Martha Thomases.

(Martha, as I’ve often mentioned, is the person who first suggested that I consider writing and drawing a graphic novel for DC Comics. That led to Stuck Rubber Baby; and as you probably know, many good things have flowed from that. Since leaving her post at DC Martha has been most visible to the world as a columnist at ComicMix and Michael Davis World. But right now it’s not Martha I want to write about; it’s her husband John.)

As you know if you clicked on his link above, John died in April. That pisses me off. Losing my friends continues to have that effect on me, even when AIDS isn’t involved, as is the case with John. But at the risk of introducing a dark cloud into my talk of summer picnics, I can’t resist taking note of John’s passing several months ago because he looks so damned sunny in the picnic snapshot of him that I’m showing you.

That image brings back memories of all the good conversations (and occasional friendly arguments) I had with John while he was alive. They force me to surrender to warm and fuzzy feelings about him even though he would definitely look askance at having such maudlin terms applied to any remembrance of him.

Too bad, John; if you’re put off by warm and fuzzy, you shouldn’t have spent so much time becoming an expert on Disney animation.

The pleasures of knowing the three-member Tebbel-Thomases family have been enhancing the Sedarbaum-Cruse family’s quality of life for almost all of the thirty-three years that Eddie and I have spent together. Happily, Arthur and Martha are still within reach (although "Arthur" has become "Art" in adulthood). That helps us deal with John’s physical presence being gone.

Looking at the wry expression on John’s youthful face in the snapshot above generates in me a mixture of pleasure and yearning that mirrors the bittersweetness of life itself. I want all the good parts of being alive to keep on going and going. I don’t want to let go of any of them.
But just as AIDS ripped one valued friend after another out of our lives during the worst of the gay-centric phase of the epidemic, getting older is bringing a fresh wave of losses caused by more conventional ailments, like the cancer that leapt out of nowhere to snag John this spring. That’s the way things go; there’s no getting around it.

It still makes me mad, though, and I’m bad at composing eulogies because my verbal capacities freeze up when I’m pissed. So I’m relieved that I can hand over my virtual microphone to The Beat‘s Heidi Macdonald, who wrote some eloquent words about our mutual friend in her April 18 post.

Also, that tyke named Arthur in the picnic photos above has grown up, moved to Los Angeles, and become comedy screenwriter-improvisational performer-humor columnist Art Tebbel. And it’s in the last of those roles that Art wrote the following down-to-earth tribute to his dad (who as you can see from the photo on the right below, never stopped being able to do wry).

Above: Art and John Tebbel.
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Politics & Penance

Above: Eddie prepares to give training to volunteers who’ve gathered to canvass voters in behalf of the Warren campaign.


Knocking On Doors For Elizabeth

A couple of weeks ago Eddie took a leave of absence from this role as the Main Street Stage Board Chair so that he can devote his energy full time to helping elect Elizabeth Warren as the next U. S. Senator from Massachusetts.

Anyone who paid attention to Warren’s dynamic leadership in creating the new Consumer Financial Protection Bureau a year ago will understand why working to replace the incumbent Senator Scott Brown— who was inexplicably elected to succeed the late "Lion of the Senate" Ted Kennedy upon the latter’s death and who has since proven himself a darling of the Wall Street fat cats —with a woman of Warren’s sterling credentials is a top priority for everyone in the Cruse-Sedarbaum household. I’m sure that even Lulu the dalmatian will step up to the plate if summoned.


Below: A group photo of Eddie’s corps of volunteers taken immediately before they hit the sidewalks of North Adams.

The Warren campaign is still in its early stages, by the way, with many additional volunteers being needed as November approaches. So any of you North Berkshire County folks who would like to join with Eddie in propelling Warren into the Senate can email me to say so. I will forward all such emails to Eddie’s inbox forthwith and he will get back to you swiftly with details about how you can help.

Vito Gets His Due

Our DVR is set to record the HBO documentary Vito next Monday (July 23 at 9 PM). If you have a DVR and get HBO, you’ll probably want to, too.

Eddie and I were friends with Vito Russo, the inspirational gay activist who’s the documentary’s subject. He was already a hero to me before we met him, though, first because of his essays that I had been reading in gay publications for years and then because of his landmark book, The Celluloid Closet, which was first published in 1981. Celluloid Closet was the culmination of live presentations Vito had been giving throughout the 1970s that documented the demeaning ways that LGBT people had been portrayed in Hollywood films since the early days of cinema. Eventually Vito’s observations on the subject were translated into an identically titled, Emmy award-nominated documentary. By then Vito’s life had been claimed by AIDS, which meant that his irony-inflected voice was denied to the movie’s audience. But the content of his early talks was still there along with most of the clips he had used to demonstrate his points. His longtime friend Lily Tomlin supplied the narration that Vito himself would have supplied in a more just world.

Freshly attesting to the enduring impact that Vito has had on the LGBT community is the fact that, in addition to the aforementioned documentary, two books drawing on his legacy are also reaching bookstore shelves this summer.

I take personal pleasure in having a modest presence in one of them, the first of a two-volume collection of Vito’s writings called Out Spoken: a Vito Russo Reader. It’s edited by the Vito documentarian Jeffrey Schwarz with the help of Bo Young and Mark Thompson; and along with Vito’s essays, Out Spoken will include a pen-and-ink portrait of Vito that I was invited to contribute (see above).


And while you’re in the bookstore (or browsing online), you can also keep your eye out for Michael Schiavi‘s brand-new biography of our friend. Its title is Celluloid Activist: The Life and Times of Vito Russo.

I haven’t seen a copy of Shiavi’s book yet, but both Eddie and I were interviewed over the phone by the book’s author a few years ago while he was researching his projected account of Vito’s life. So it’s just possible that some anecdote that one or the other of us provided may have made it into the mix.


Calling Dr. Talbot

My comics-creating colleague and long-distance friend Bryan Talbot has just been given his second Honorary Doctorate. This one’s a Doctorate of Letters from Northumbria University; he has previously received a Doctorate of Arts from the University of Sunderland.

This makes Bryan the first British comics creator ever to be awarded doctorates twice. Despite this historic distinction, he declines to make house calls — at least, transatlantically.

Above: Three of the many beautifully written and illustrated titles that Bryan has contributed to the world’s readers of comic-book literature.


Cute Animal Department

Lookee lookee! Here’s a snapshot of the cute squirrel who likes to climb onto the air conditioner that’s in the window next to Eddie’s work station.

As many of you know, I have demonstrated a soft spot for squirrels in many of my past cartoons. I know, I know: a hard-hitting underground satirist like me should be immune to the siren song of wide-eyed cuteness (especially after all the grief I got for creating Barefootz)!

Yet when it comes to squirrels, I yield to its wiles.

Unfortunately, Eddie and I have been advised by friends that wemust identify and remove whichever nearby tree branch is providing this furry fellow with access to Eddie’s air conditioner, since the critter’s next step will assuredly be to vault onto our roof and chew his way into our attic, where much mischief will ensue.

Et tu, Squirly?

News About My "Other Sides"

My advance copy of The Other Sides of Howard Cruse arrived in the mail a few weeks ago. There’s Good News and (very minor) Bad News about that.

The Good News is that Boom! Town, its publisher, has packaged my new book beautifully. Sturdy hard covers! Sumptuous paper stock! Nice page layouts! I couldn’t be more pleased. (Brief aside: For an insider’s look at how my cover art took shape, click here.)

The Bad News is that I committed a small but regrettable typographical error when I submitted my text for the Acknowledgments Page and then failed to notice it when I reviewed the proofs. I misspelled a name. The gaffe was entirely my fault; no way could my editor have been expected to spot my mistake. Bad, bad me!

Thus do I feel compelled to pay public penance to my old friend Larry Shell in the form of the drawing below. And for those of you who are too young to remember the legendary Vice Presidency of a certain Dan Quayle who is alluded to in my drawing, it’s time for you to bone up on History’s Great Misspellings.


Hey, here’s stuff of mine that you can buy!
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Celluloid Closet DVD

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A June Potpourri

Happy LGBT Pride Month

As my contribution to this year’s celebration, I’ve posted online a June 1984 installment of my Wendel comic strip that portrays the thoughts of Wendel, Ollie, and other at that year’s edition of the same annual event.

The strip was actually a repeating panoramic loop (as I’ve emphasized by rearranging the panels end-to-end for this online display) with but one mildly prescient exception to the repetition.

Tenants Needed — Again!

Well, when Eddie and I finally rented the second of our two apartments last December, it looked like we had our Cliff Street tenancy issues resolved for at least the length of a lease. But alas, fate has intervened to make it impossible for the folks who’ve been renting the upstairs space since then to remain in place beyond mid-July.

So once again we’re putting out the word to our friends and neighbors in North County: if you know someone who needs living space right away in North Adams, please tell them to take a look at the description below. We’ll place a newspaper ad if we have to, but sometimes word-of-mouth has been an equally effective resource.

Prospective tenants can email me to get the apartment’s address and our phone number.

Third Time’s the Charm
(which doesn’t mean the previous two issues were chopped liver)

The third issue of Robert Kirby‘s anthology comic Three has finally surfaced after much anticipation by fans of this series.

This time there are two featured cartoonists (Ed Luce and Carrie McNinch), with the traditional third slot being occupied not by a single artist but by a whole gaggle of us (I say "us" because I’m one of the seven nutso gagglers involved) who were corralled last year into collaborating in a manic comics jam spearheaded by jam-maven Jennifer Camper of Juicy Mother and Subgurlz fame. Besides Jennifer, Robert, and myself, the participating jammers are Ivan Velez Jr., Diane DiMassa, Ellen Forney, and Joan Hilty. Matt (Runx Tales) Runkle and Mari Naomi add memorable contributions to the mix.

Driveways, Attics, Yards and Machines

As soon as Eddie and I moved into our otherwise wonderful new home in Williamstown last November, it quickly became clear that something was going to have to be done with the driveway, which was largely composed of dirt that turned into a mushy, rutted expanse of mud whenever the weather turned wet. (The dramatic re-enactment below will give you an idea of what we were dealing with.)

It was impractical to try to accomplish anything during the winter months. But with the arrival of warm spring weather, we knew it was time to take matters in hand.

Hence the introduction into of lives for several days this month of formidable trucks and machines that made us feel butch by association overnight.

Above: Eddie consults with the Clarksburg Construction Company crew that’s preparing to make quick work of our rutty old surface.

Above: The excavation commences.
Above: And the new driveway materializes: flatter, firmer, and able to accommodate more than two cars comfortably.

Above: All of this unfolds under Lulu’s watchful eye.

Helping Save the Planet One Drafty Attic At a Time

Berkshire Gas, the company that provides heat for our new home, is one of the energy outfits that co-sponsor a Massachusetts program called Mass Save. The gist of its mission is (1) to provide a free "home energy assessment" to ascertain whether your house is burdened with energy-wasting utilities and/or insulation gaps that are forcing you to overspend to heat the joint and otherwise meet your energy-consumption needs; and (2) arrange with local contractors to remedy any deficiencies at a cost made practical by a substantial rebate while, y’know, reducing your family’s "carbon footprint."

Eddie and I requested the assessment, which was impressively thorough. The upshot was that our most pressing problem was inadequate insulation in our attic.

Thus did it come to pass that, a few weeks later, an amiable team of experts from Beyond Green Construction arrived to repair and replace any wayward vents and spew fluffy insulation foam into our attic via a formidably lengthy hose that could have almost been mistaken for the gigantic, man-eating anaconda serpent from the horror movie of that name.

Above: See the insulation hose snaking its way through our hallways and passages and being guided upwards into the nether-regions of our attic.

Above: See the power with which the throbbing hose propels its foamy matter into the darkness within.

Above: My poorly composed photo in which the very interesting device described below is totally hidden behind the guys who are about to make use of it.


Before they began work and then before leaving the workmen utilized a clever house-wide vacuuming device that was temporarily installed in our front doorway. This created a measurable wind-stream they could use to ascertain that the air throughout our home was now better contained and controlled.

Not only did this super-vacuum send every hidden dust-bunny in the house scurrying into view, but it blew out the pilot flame in our basement water-heater.

Yard Machinery Report

The Good News when Eddie and I moved into our new home in Williamstown last November was that it came with a really expansive back yard for Lulu to play in.

With the arrival of warm spring weather, the Less Good News has been that really expansive yards can take a really big toll on the backs of increasingly elderly gentlemen foolish enough to think they’ll be able to mow such really expansive yards by shoving around conventional lawn mowers.

Fortunately, the day was saved by a neighbor who was willing to sell us a used riding mower cheap.

Personally, I’m a little scared of the machine, having been traumatized as a kid in Alabama by tales of farm boys my age who were killed while at the wheels of tractors that abruptly tipped over. But Eddie is made of sterner stuff and can drive that beast like a demon.

You should see those chipmunks scatter when Mr. Sedarbaum rumbles over the horizon!

Question: What Does a Theatre Group Do
When It Loses Its Theatre?*
*as recounted in this blog entry from a year ago

Answer: It concocts a family-friendly commedia dell’arte show that can be mounted at various outdoor locations in local neighborhoods.

If you’re intrigued by the snapshots you see here, you can find times and places for upcoming presentations of this piece at the Main Street Stage web site. Admission for all the performances is free, too!

The Day Eddie’s Folks Marched
In Their First Gay Pride Parade

It was 1985 in New York. Hesh and Evelyn arrived at the Gay Pride Parade on Fifth Avenue intending to be mere inconspicuous onlookers. But then the PFLAG (Parents and Friends of Lesbians and Gays) contingent came along and Eddie’s folks couldn’t resist stepping out onto 5th Avenue and becoming part of the march.

Evelyn quickly got into the spirit and was soon waving at the adoring crowds as if born to royalty.

Hey, here’s stuff of mine that you can buy!
Click a cover below to learn about my two self-published books.
…and click here to visit my
Cruse Goodies merchandise shop
A Note to Those Who Enjoy This Blog: Given how irregularly I manage to add entries, you may wish to send me email asking to subscribe to my "Blog Alert" list. That way you’ll be among the first to get notified by email whenever I add a new blog post.
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Side-Whiskered With “Gorgeous”

Among the half-dozen photographs that recently re-surfaced in an old box of slides I was burrowing through was this 1971-ish shot of me with "Gorgeous O’Toole" (above). Gorgeous was one of the papier-mâché hand puppets who made occasional cameo appearances alongside Wilbur and Oscar on The Sgt. Jack Show, which was broadcast every weekday afternoon on Birmingham’s Channel 42 while I was the station’s art director.

When Gorgeous appeared on the show she was operated and voiced by my first long-term boyfriend Don Higdon, since my own two hands were both needed to animate the aforementioned groundhog and yellow monkey.

Don performed as Gorgeous for free. It was a lark, and Gorgeous’s appearances on the program were few. Counter-intuitively for a character with the surname "O’Toole," Gorgeous’s vocal style as rendered by Don was basically derived from Barbra Streisand’s, although he would sometimes allow a little Mae West to creep in.

Sgt. Jack himself, by the way, was animated by — I mean, played by — Birmingham’s popular radio deejay, the late Neal Miller.


Below: A makeshift puppet stage was hurriedly carved into the original set for Sarge’s show when I joined the station staff in 1969 and Wilbur the Groundhog joined the show’s cast.

Below: We had time to create a more spruced-up environment for the puppets when Channel built a new station for itself in a year or two later.

Introducing My Introducer
With the release date of my new collection The Other Sides of Howard Cruse drawing nearer, let me inject an appreciative shout-out to my fellow underground comix veteran Jay Lynch. As you may gather from the credit line on the book’s cover, Jay has contributed a perceptive introductory essay that covers not only the book’s contents but also our shared professional history, which started with underground comix but expanded thereafter.

During the early 1970s, long before Jay and I met, I began following Jay’s work in Bijou Funnies, the Chicago-based comix series he co-founded. His approach to comix back in the day encouraged this Birmingham boy to believe that there was a place for straight-out funny cartooning in the often fiercely (and sometimes self-importantly) taboo-shattering underground field.

I found myself under the same roof as Jay for the first time when I attended the 1976 Berkeley Con, a convention organized by UG chronicler and cheerleader Clay Geerdes and geared specifically toward the underground comix movement.


Below: The flier Jay designs for the Berkeley Con the year I was there.

Jay’s and my first substantive conversation, though, happened sometime after my move from Birmingham to New York City in 1977, when Jay telephoned me at the behest of the Topps Chewing Gum company, whose creative director, Len Brown, regularly trolled the underground comix netherworld in those days looking for cartoonists with an oddball edge who could add punch to the company’s trading cards and stickers, not to mention their teeny-tiny Bazooka Joe comic strips. Art Spiegelman, the celebrated author of Maus, famously contributed to both the Wacky Packages and Garbage Pail Kids series, as did Jay and numerous other underground and punk cartooning luminaries (all of whom went un-credited at the time).

Maybe Jay or Len had been paying attention to my early UG comix all along, or may it was my inclusion, along with other undergrounders, in Playboy magazine’s "Playboy Funnies" section in 1978 that propelled me into their radar range. But however the impulse was generated, Jay’s unexpected phone invitation precipitated my initiation into the Topps circle of freelancers.

My early contributions to the Topps line were not ones likely to linger in most people’s minds. Mainly I was enlisted to do cartoon interpretations of the licensed characters that populated the screen of video game arcades.

Above: Three of my Topps video game sticker cards


In time, though, I was enlisted to design remakes of the Bazooka Joe cast of characters, who had been mere tykes as Woody Gelman originally conceived them but who it had been decided should be reinvented as teenagers in the early 1980s. And I have mentioned in a 2006 blog entry my glancing association with the Garbage Pail Kids phenomenon.

But I had never been involved at all with the Wacky Packages series — which is why I found it passing strange when I was asked to participate in a panel discussion on that very topic at the 1999 Philly Non-Sports Trading Card Show. Why was I invited? Who knows? I guess my connection to other Topps projects was enough to qualify me in the organizers’ eyes. Anyway, I got a free limousine ride from Jackson Heights to Philadelphia out of the deal, and the conversation while I traveled was excellent, since three of the four other panelists — including Jay Lynch — were also passengers in the limo. The other two were Bhob Stewart, whose creative career has covered many bases including film and writing along with cartooning; and Zina Saunders, the daughter of the very Norman Saunders who painted the company’s Mars Attacks card series. (Len Brown joined us once we got to the card show.) Zina, by the way, is a marvelously talented illustrator in her own right, and she and I developed an ongoing friendship and mutual admiration society as a result of our Philadelphia sojourn.

Jay and I have indulged in periodic phone conversation over the years. But unless I’m forgetting something I believe that that 1999 excursion to Philly was my last time to visit with him in the flesh. It takes a while to drive to Pennsylvania, fortunately, so as you may imagine, hilarity (and no small amount of professional gossip) ensued. And now, these thirteen years later, we’ve enjoyed a long-distance reunion of sorts as a result of the essay he has written for my new book.


Below: A photograph of me with Bhob and Zina (on my right) and Len and Jay (on my left), taken while we served in a 1999 police line-up. (Just kidding; we were posing for a group shot after our panel at that year’s Philly Non-Sports Trading Card Show.)

Postscript: Fame and Buttons

Here’s a little-known fact of even littler consequence: Jay Lynch and I were "button-mates" in the series of "Famous Cartoonist Buttons" that was marketed under by Krupp Comic Works’ "Pinback Jack" imprint way back in 1975. (Buttons from the series are still available from the Steve Krupp’s Curio Shoppe on Denis Kitchen’s current web site).

My inclusion in Denis’s button series was, in all likelihood, the first time the word "famous" was ever used in the same phrase as "Howard Cruse." It was all I could do to resist expecting red carpets to be rolled out ahead of me whenever I strolled along the sidewalks of Birmingham’s Southside.

I’m happy to report that my giddiness subsided before I could wander absent-mindedly into dangerous traffic at any of the neighborhood’s intersections.

Toland Does Poland

At first glance the book above may look just like the 15th Anniversary edition of Stuck Rubber Baby that was published by Vertigo a couple of years ago. But when you look closely you’ll notice that my graphic novel’s protagonist Toland Polk has gone and mastered Polish since we last saw him.

That’s when you’ll realize that you’re looking at the Polish-language edition of Stuck Rubber Baby that was issued last year by Centrala East Cover. The international rights folks at DC Comics sent me a copy of the new translation a couple of weeks ago, and although I can’t personally read a word of it (too bad Eddie’s mom Evelyn isn’t still around to have a go at it), it feels good to be able to pop this nicely packaged new version of my graphic novel to the bookcase in our living room shelf already holds SRB‘s Italian, Spanish, and French editions — not to mention the handsome new German hardcover that was published recently by CrossCult.

More Toland News

Even as Toland basks in his newly heightened stature in Poland, it was called to my attention this week that my character (in his English-speaking incarnation) made the cut a couple of years ago, while my attention was apparently elsewhere, in a list called "The Seven Best Gay Characters in Comics," which was composed in 2010 by comics creator Ty Templeton for his blog, Ty Templeton’s Art Land!

The remaining six characters who rub shoulders with Toland in Templeton’s list of LGBT honorees is the Marvel Comics universe’s Wiccan, The DC Comics universe’s Batwoman, text Mark Slackmeyer in Garry Trudeau‘s Doonesbury; Midnighter in Warren Ellis‘s Stormwatch; Lawrence Poirier in Lynn Johnston’s For Better or For Worse; and "Hopey" from Jaime Hernandez‘s Love and Rockets.

There are honorable mentions, too, like Bitchy Butch from my friend Roberta Gregory‘s Naughty Bits.

Where is Alison Bechdel‘s Mo from Dykes To Watch Out For, you might ask? Well, that seems a particularly conspicuous omission, but winnowing down today’s multitude of exceptional LGBT characters to a list of seven was doomed to be an impossible task, anyway, and the choices were Templeton’s to make — this being his blog, after all. Meanwhile, honorary dyke status is bestowed (with plausible deniability) on both Peppermint Patty and Marcie, who don’t reveal any girl-crushes in Peanuts but who most knowledgeable readers are confident will figure out that they’re lesbians by the time they reach middle-age.

Not that there’s anything wrong with that.

Hey, here’s stuff of mine that you can buy!
Click a cover below to learn about my two self-published books.
…and click here to visit my
Cruse Goodies merchandise shop
A Note to Those Who Enjoy This Blog: Given how irregularly I manage to add entries, you may wish to send me email asking to subscribe to my "Blog Alert" list. That way you’ll be among the first to get notified by email whenever I add a new blog post.
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Saturday in Northampton

Hey, I’m being censored!
(And it’s being done with my full cooperation)

There they are — a dozen pages of my underground comix material printed with all the dirty words, drug references, and selected body parts blacked out with little black boxes!

What I’m talking about is a slim but nicely packaged comic book called The Censored Howard Cruse, which has been issued by Boom! Town, the publisher of my soon-to-be-released book The Other Sides of Howard Cruse, in cooperation with the Comic Book Legal Defense Fund.

Other Sides will have 228 pages of my stuff and will cost money, I should note. But you can probably get a copy of Censored Howard Cruse **for free** next Saturday (May 5) if you show up at a comic book store in your locality that is participating in this year’s Free Comic Book Day giveaway extravaganza.

In fact, if you show up at Modern Myths at 34 Bridge Street in Northampton between 2 and 5 PM that day, you can not only get the comic for free but I’ll be there in the flesh ready to sign it for you.

Now, sifting through annoying little censorship boxes is actually no way to enjoy my comics. For that you’ll have to go to Other Sides (which is for adult readers, by the way, so tread with caution), in which nothing is too outrageous to be fully viewable.

The boxes in the comic book are there to make a point about how fortunate we are to live in a culture that doesn’t try to control what we say, write, read, or draw.

Which isn’t to say there aren’t forces in our society that would like to change that, as we all know. All the more reason to support civil liberties guardians like the ACLU, PFAW, and if you’d like to make sure that comic books stay free, too, the CBLDF.

Let’s Take a Pie Break!

David Bordelon’s Take on SRB

When Associate Professor David Bordelon brought me to Ocean County College in New Jersey to talk about Stuck Rubber Baby a couple of years, he described a projected essay about my graphic novel that he was already in the early stages of composing.

College teaching takes a lot of time, so it’s taken a while. But lo and behold, David told me recently that his essay has finally been completed. In fact, it is included in Crossing Boundaries in Graphic Narrative, a new collection of essays edited by Jake Jakaitis and James F. Wurtz.

David’s insightful essay isn’t available in its entirety online, so to read the whole thing you’ll have to chase down the book. Meanwhile, if you’re curious to know what angle David has taken in writing about SRB, fhe has granted me permission to share his official academic abstract for the essay, which will give you the gist of his analysis.

Picturing Books:
Southern Print Culture in Howard Cruse’s
Stuck Rubber Baby

Widely recognized for exploring racial, sexual, and political emancipation in the Civil Rights era South, Howard Cruse’s graphic novel Stuck Rubber Baby provides a visual and textual map of the period. Through the gradual awakening of the narrator, Toland Polk, it also describes the emancipation of a Southerner learning to question the prevailing cultural attitudes and actions of his community.

Key to this awakening, both for the South and more specifically for Toland, is reading. From the Jet Magazine on page two to Toland’s book filled apartment at the end of the novel, images of reading, periodicals, and books act as metaphors, talismans of a world beyond the narrow prejudices of the South, or in the case of the fictional newspaper The Dixie Patriot, a grim reminder of the “silent majority” that agreed with its segregationist stance. Indeed, the Patriot becomes a central plot device, providing the impetus that leads to the murder of the openly gay Sammy Noone, and eventually leads Toland to openly acknowledge his own homosexuality.

The chapter explores how images of books, serials, and reading in the novel either amplify the prejudices of the period or offer an alternative way of thinking. I argue that they reveal the duality of reading and knowledge in the South; in the hands of Toland and others, they provide a way out of the social restrictions and limitations of the Jim Crow South. In the hands of the prejudiced majority, they serve to legitimatize and reify the prevailing segregationist social codes.

More broadly, my essay illustrates how graphic texts work. Less intrusive than blocks of descriptive text in a novel or short story, the images of books and reading function similar to the background set in a film or props in a play, adding a layer of meaning beyond the action or dialogue on the film or stage. Moving them to the center of discussion illustrates how “things” in a graphic text – in this case, a neatly ordered book case, a newspaper headline, a book cover – provide contextual information to understanding the story as well as a window into the medium itself; they show how picturing books can be more effective than describing them.

Meanwhile, In a Galaxy Far Away…

This one was drawn way back for Starlog. I’m not sure what year.

Hey, here’s stuff of mine that you can buy!
Click a cover below to learn about my two self-published books.

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Posted in A Tip o' the Hat, Life & Art, Me, Me, Me!, Pure Toontime, Soapbox Break, Yesterday & Today | Comments Off on Saturday in Northampton

Meanwhile, Fifty Years Later…

And Who Might These Gentlemen-of-a-Certain-Age Be?

Above: My fellow grads from the ISS Class of ’62, seen swapping memories and health updates over cocktails at our official reunion party.


Why, that’s my Indian Springs compatriots from the Class of 1962 (and a few of their spouses), who converged on the high school’s Alabama campus a couple of weekends ago to celebrate our graduation’s 50th anniversary. We weren’t all there, but an impressive percentage of us showed up.

Wow! Those half-centuries certainly do fly by!


Below: Our class photo, taken in 1959 when we were freshmen.

Below: Those of us who could make it back for the party.
Below: Glee Club Director Tim Thomas led the Indian Springs Choir and Ensemble performed in a warm-up number performed in dining hall, followed by a continuation of their concert in the beautiful John Badham Theatre.

Above and below: The weather was perfect for leisurely catch-up conversations by the lake and a student’s outdoor musical performance in a lakeside gazebo. School was in session, so there were lots of opportunities for graduates from past days to mingle and compare notes with present-day students.

Above: Eddie and I had our pictures snapped while picking up our nametags at the Teachers and Alumni Reception.

Below: The school’s Alumni Weekend provided a rare opportunity for Eddie and me (Massachusetts-based as we now are) to visit with my San Francisco-based brother Allan, who graduated from ISS in 1959.

Above: Eddie and I enjoyed chatting with our pal Lem Coley, with whom I’ve maintained contact since we graduated and whose dry humor and deadpan delivery as a teenager condemned him to be depicted as a cartoon character in a comic strip I drew for the student newspaper.

Below: Librarian Jessica Smith provided a warm introduction as I prepared to deliver the slideshow about Stuck Rubber Baby that Ms. Smith and her colleague, English teacher Douglas Ray, had invited me to present as part of the school’s Visiting Writers Series.

Above: And of course, I signed copies of my graphic novel afterwards, as visiting writers are wont to do.

Postscript: I’m grateful to Sharon Samford for allowing me to include here some of the photos she took during Alumni Weekend along with those taken by the school’s official photographer.

Two Gifts

After my talk, Ms. Smith presented me with a most ingenious and meaningful gift: a worn copy of Dick Spencer’s Pulitzer Prize Cartoons that had been checked out repeatedly between 1960 and 1962 by a certain fledgling cartoonist. (Note that the book’s checkout slip, still tucked in its pocket, bears my name not once but three times).

As great as that gift was, however, it was topped by the fact that, for the first time ever, my daughter Kim and her two children, Ethan and Emily, were able to attend one of my slideshows. Naturally, audience members were fascinated to meet the real-life embodiment of the now-grown-up "baby" (to allude to but one among my title’s multiple meanings) in the book’s title.

Above: Eddie and I pose with grandson Ethan, daughter Kim, and granddaughter Emily.

Below: Before leaving to return home, Ethan, Kim, and Emily took time to assume a less formal pose for my camera.

Finally, A Pair of Drawings Before I Close For The Day
I call these my "Baby Bottle Quickies"
Hey, here’s stuff of mine that you can buy!
Click a cover below to learn about my two self-published books.
…and click here to visit my
Cruse Goodies merchandise shop
A Note to Those Who Enjoy This Blog: Given how irregularly I manage to add entries, you may wish to send me email asking to subscribe to my "Blog Alert" list. That way you’ll be among the first to get notified by email whenever I add a new blog post.
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Alabama Bound

Above: Me presenting my slideshow to Emerson College students in Boston last week.

As I mentioned in my last blog post, I’ve been putting Photoshop through its paces more heavily than usual lately in preparation for two back-to-back slideshows this April. Last Tuesday I received gratifying responses from attendees at the slide presentation I gave at Emerson College. Then on Wednesday Eddie and I enjoyed stimulating exchanges about life in the ’50s and ’60s with Students in Dr. Bradford Verter‘s United States History class.

So that’s one slideshow down and one to go. Since returning from Boston I’ve been working hard on an entirely different illustrated talk I’ll be offering this Friday during Alumni Weekend festivities at my Alabama high school alma mater, Indian Springs.

All this on top of making final corrections on The Other Sides of Howard Cruse! Whew! This marathon multi-tasking has made the last couple of months an unnerving whirlwind. But things should calm down soon, hopefully. Maybe I’ll even be able to blog more frequently. And oh yes, Eddie has some yard work he’s been patiently waiting for me to help him with now that the days are getting warmer.

The Drury Drama Mascot Rides Again!

A few years ago Len ("Doc") Radin, the director and guiding force of the Drury Drama Team at Drury High School in North Adams, asked me to create an actorly-appearing cartoon mascot for his theatre troupe. Since then I’ve occasionally augmented the initial set of drawings I provided with new poses. Here’s my latest (see above), posed this time around as a superhero in accordance with the super-excitement they’re feeling over at Drury about the Drama Team’s arrival at their 25th season of existence.

"We Are All Trayvon" . . .

…Even If We’re Old Enough For Social Security
And Don’t Own a Hoodie

There’s not a lot one can do to encourage justice in Florida from a street corner in Pittsfield, Massachusetts, but one does what one can.

A Different Take on the South

I feel a special connection to Lila Quintero Weaver‘s winning new graphic memoir Darkroom because of the sneak peek I was given when it was still at an early stage of development.

It’s the University of Alabama Press‘s first venture into graphic novel territory, and I guess the book’s editor must have thought of seeking my input during its creation because Ms. Weaver’s personal history, as recounted in her book, had a lot in common with my own and with the world I depicted in Stuck Rubber Baby. So the editor wrote and asked if I would be willing to look at Darkroom while it was still a work-in-progress and offer any criticisms and suggestions I thought might be helpful.

Ms. Weaver spent her formative childhood years in Alabama, as I did, and witnessed first hand what a frightening grip racial animus could have on a change-resistant culture. Like mine, the author’s family life was suffused with artistic impulses and a conflicted relationship with religion. Her dad intended to live his life as a minister, a plan that was thwarted when his personal moral compass ran afoul of local white churchgoers’ commitment to segregation. This resonated for me since my own dad was ordained as a Methodist pastor until a moral dispute with his deacons (albeit over less lofty concerns than racial prejudice) abruptly led us to become Baptists. Weaver’s mother was both a homemaker and portrait painter; my mother was a businesswoman, part-time writer, and perpetual student.

But despite such commonalities there were really big ways in which Weaver’s experience was drastically different from mine. She immigrated to Alabama from Argentina with her family in 1961 and grew up straddling cultures in a way that I never had to, which allows her to bring a fresh outsider’s perspective to Darkroom‘s account of family dynamics amid civil turmoil that is gratifyingly distinctive.It’s a very different take on the 1960s South from Stuck Rubber Baby‘s, despite some thematic particulars the two books have in common.

Weaver has told me that my comments on her early manuscript were helpful, which I’m happy to hear. But the richness of her story was evident from the first and would have manifested itself with or without my involvement. Aside from the tale she has to tell, her beautiful pencil-shaded drawings bring her memories into sharp relief; and I’m pleased to see that Publishers Weekly holds the finished work in as high esteem as I do.

And speaking of the South
that Weaver and I experienced in our youth…

…here’s a political cartoon I drew for a local weekly newspaper in 1964, when Darkroom‘s author and I were both residing in Alabama without knowing that each other existed.

Hey, here’s stuff of mine that you can buy!
Click a cover below to learn about my two self-published books.
…and click here to visit my
Cruse Goodies merchandise shop
A Note to Those Who Enjoy This Blog: Given how irregularly I manage to add entries, you may wish to send me email asking to subscribe to my "Blog Alert" list. That way you’ll be among the first to get notified by email whenever I add a new blog post.
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Getting Back To Where I Once Belonged

Above: Not only will I be seeing a lot of longtime friends in April, but I’ll be presenting a talk about Stuck Rubber Baby.


This year marks the fiftieth anniversary of my class’s graduation from Indian Springs School, a remarkable boarding school located south of Birmingham. In light of this auspicious anniversary a special effort has been underway for quite a while to coax as many of us Class of ’62 folks as possible to converge on the school’s Alabama campus this April for a big class reunion. This gathering will coincide with the school’s annual Alumni Weekend, which lures graduates with an itch to renew old ties from all the classes that have ever spent their high school years there since the place was founded in 1952.

Anyone who has known me for any length of time knows that attending Indian Springs was a life-changing experience for me. Its emphasis was on finding one’s own individual approach to life (the term "search for self" surfaced a lot while I was there) and on committing oneself to a quest for excellence in whatever endeavors one undertook. This approach steered me away from making the acquisition of wealth my main career goal; instead I was encouraged to explore what was most spiritually fulfilling to me and to spend my adulthood nurturing my creativity even if doing so left my bank account leaner. In other words, Indian Springs was obviously tailor-made for a life in the arts.

The school strove from the first to be a laboratory for democracy. School-wide town meetings were held to discuss rules and school-community problems, and in many areas the elected student body played a concrete role in determining policies. I gained important technical skills from working on the school newspaper, which was produced in an on-campus print shop, and involvement in student government helped hone leadership skills that have proved useful in many ways in the intervening years.

And oh, yes — did I mention that the teaching of conventional high school courses was top-notch?

Besides seeing old friends I’ve been asked to present a talk and slideshow about my work while I’m there as part of the school’s Visiting Writers Series. That’s one of two such presentations I’ve been preparing for lately, the other being a talk I’ll be offering to students at Emerson College in Boston on April 3.


Below left: My seventeen-year-old self reviewing the campaign speech I’m preparing to give in my run for a student government office at Indian Springs. Next to me is my roommate Ben Thomas, a candidate for a different office.

Below right: Another photograph of me, taken a few minutes after the one on the left, captures me in glorious mid-oratory.

Above: John Green, author of the Printz Award-winning novel Looking For Alaska, is also a graduate of Indian Springs (although by the time he entered his high school years I was already well advanced into my decades of adult dissolution. But the fact that I have never met John didn’t stop me from enjoying his amusing YouTube video, which documents a recent return visit he paid to our shared alma mater— complete with an unwelcome bee sting. If you’d like to get a glimpse of my youthful stomping grounds (and a taste of John’s humor), you may enjoy his video as well.

What Else Have I Been Up To?

If you’re a regular reader you may have noticed that my recent pace of blog posts, a leisurely pace in the best of times, has slowed to a crawl lately. That’s because of the time that’s been consumed by a cluster of projects, two of which (my slideshows at Emerson and Indian Springs) I’ve already mentioned.

Looming even larger in my crowded schedule than the aforementioned slideshows have been the final preparations for my next book, which heads off to be printed today and which is due for publication in June. Boom! Town is the publisher. Between the collection’s elaborate cover art (see below) and a number of short essays I was asked to write for inclusion along with the book’s dozens of comic strips and stories from 1972 onward, it’s all been pretty darned time-consuming — especially coming as it did on top of our move to the new house.

The book’s title, as you can see from the cover shot below, will be The Other Sides of Howard Cruse. What are these "other sides" the title is referring to? Well, my last two collections of comics (From Headrack to Claude and The Complete Wendel) plus the new edition of Stuck Rubber Baby, have brought all of my gay-themed comics back into print. But as the new book’s back-cover tagline goes, "He’s known for his gay comics, but that’s not all that’s been on his mind." The mission of this new collection is to remind readers of that.

They may not be gay, but a lot of the comics in Other Sides are pretty adult-oriented, as you can see if you take a glance (proceeding cautiously, ye fainthearted) at the sample 7-pager called "Hell Isn’t All That Bad," which Heidi Macdonald posted as an exclusive preview in her The Beat comics news blog last week. What can I say? A lot of my career was spent drawing underground comic books. You knew that already, didn’t you? In other words, children and easily offended grownups should probably make do with Felix’s Friends.

Wait! There’s More!

Also, during the same time period I was asked to design the cover art for a CD album of the vintage songs that comprise the score for The Seven Little Foys, a new musical by Chip Deffaa.

Chip’s show has already been enjoyed by audiences at the New York International Fringe Festival, but now Chip hopes his musical can gain additional visibility by his use of this recording to demonstrate its merits to new prospective producers.

The Lyre Next Time

I don’t remember when I drew this or what it was for, but maybe it will leave you in a mellow mood.
Hey, here’s stuff of mine that you can buy!
Click a cover below to learn about my two self-published books.
…and click here to visit my
Cruse Goodies merchandise shop
A Note to Those Who Enjoy This Blog: Given how irregularly I manage to add entries, you may wish to send me email asking to subscribe to my "Blog Alert" list. That way you’ll be among the first to get notified by email whenever I add a new blog post.
Posted in Life & Art, Me, Me, Me!, Yesterday & Today | 1 Comment

Marching iPadward

As you may have heard if you haven’t spent the last couple of years as a hermit, Apple’s iPad tablets have taken the world by storm since they first sprang into existence in 2010. I don’t personally own one yet (my piggy bank and I are working on that), but I’ve cast my covetous eyes on a few that belong to friends and can attest that they appear to be a fine way to experience comic book art.

So I was delighted when Charles "Zan" Christensen, my friend and cartooning colleague from Seattle, liked the idea of adding my 2009 self-published book From Headrack to Claude to the line of gay-themed iBooks he has been issuing under his Northwest Press publishing venture.

Northwest’s From Headrack to Claude app has now been launched and is available for purchase from Apple’s iTunes store. Zan has done a great job of adapting my original, self-published Lulu.com book to this new medium, making use of the special options iPads allow that weren’t practical when I was preparing my book for print. For one thing, he was able to restore full color to those strips that were originally created to be in color but that, for budgetary reasons, I was forced to convert to black-&-white for display on the book’s paper pages. Also, Zan has arranged to incorporate Sean Wheeler’s video documentary about me called I Must Be Important ‘Cause I’m In a Documentary!! (about which I wrote a couple of blog entries ago) into the package as a free "special feature" — like they do on movie DVDs.

Talking To Myself

Not long ago I received my pre-publication galley proofs of an anthology that will be officially released on May 1 by Arthur A. Levine Books, which is an imprint of Scholastic Inc. I hesitated to mention it yet since no matter how intriguing my description may be, it’ll be more than two months before anyone will be able to purchase it (although it can be already be pre-ordered at Amazon.com). But since it’s on my mind I guess I might as well let anyone who is interested know that it’s in the pipeline. I’ll mention it again when the pub date arrives.

For now I’ll just tell you that the anthology is called The Letter Q: Queer Writers’ Notes to Their Younger Selves. I’m one of the book’s several dozen contributors, and in case you haven’t guessed, the photo above and on the right is the younger version of myself to whom my own letter is directed — and boy, could I have used my sage perspective at the time that photo was taken!

Sarah Moon is the book’s editor, and James Lecesne, who founded the hugely important Trevor Project, is credited as Contributing Editor. Among the dozens of contributors to the volume are a few personal friends and cartooning colleagues of mine (Jennifer Camper; Dianne DiMassa; Paige Braddock; Eric Orner), but most are literary notables whose work I’ve admired, like most folks, from afar (Armistead Maupin; Paul Rudnick; Jewell Gomez; Michael Cunningham; etc.). A few of the cartoonists fashioned their letters in comic-strip form instead of text, although I didn’t take that route myself. Half of the book’s royalties will go toward supporting the Trevor Project’s mission of reaching out to LGBTQ kids who are in crisis and at risk for suicide.

This one will be a must-shelve for high school libraries (and libraries in general) once it comes out, folks. Trust me. You don’t want emerging LGBTQ teenagers getting their information about gayness from the God Hates Fags website.

Above: My older brother discovering chickens at a tender age.

Hey, here’s stuff of mine that you can buy!
Click a cover below to learn about my latest books.
…and click here to visit my
Cruse Goodies merchandise shop
(which despite my misgivings, I haven’t quite killed yet)
A Note to Those Who Enjoy This Blog: Given how irregularly I manage to add entries, you may wish to send me email asking to subscribe to my "Blog Alert" list. That way you’ll be among the first to get notified by email whenever I add a new blog post.
Posted in A Tip o' the Hat, Books in my Bookcase, Family & Friends, Life & Art, Me, Me, Me!, Yesterday & Today | Comments Off on Marching iPadward

Past Puppetry Persists

Kim and Corky Meet Wilbur and Oscar

When I was a kid in the 1950s I used to watch a cheery television personality named "Cousin Cliff" Holman (who was barely more than a kid himself at the time) perform magic tricks and puppetry for an audience of eager Alabama children who turned in daily to his after-school show, Tip-Top Clubhouse, which was broadcast every afternoon on WAPI, a Birmingham-based TV station with a wide regional reach. Kim and Corky were his puppets’ names. They were shiny and plastic and their mouths moved. A little.

As fate would have it, come 1964 I found myself working just up the hall from that very same Cousin Cliff when I was employed for a while as an assistant to WAPI’s art director. Kim and Corky had been retired by then, and the Tip-Top Clubhouse kiddie show had changed its name twice — first to Cliff’s Clubhouse after Tip-Top Bread dropped its sponsorship, then to The Popeye Show in honor of the animated cartoons that were eventually added to the program’s daily fare.

The art director whom I was assisting, by the way, was Cousin Cliff’s father, who was also named Cliff Holman and from whom I picked up all sorts of graphic design tips, most memorably about hand lettering. Walls of some buildings around Birmingham were still emblazoned at the time with giant, if fading, commercial signs that had been painted during Cliff Sr.’s former career as a sign-painter during the Great Depression.

Cliff Jr. died in 2008, but his early-career puppet co-stars Kim and Corky are now on display at the Tim Hollis Museum, a private memorabilia showcase in Dora, AL, maintained by author Tim Hollis, who chronicled Cliff Jr. in his 1991 book Cousin Cliff: 40 Magical Years in Television.

And whaddaya know! As of last month Kim and Corky have been joined at Tim’s museum by my very own afternoon-television papier-mâché colleagues Wilbur and Oscar from The Sgt. Jack Show (below left), about whom I wrote in last year’s Groundhog’s Day installment of this blog. Unlike Kim and Corky, Wilbur and Oscar’s mouths didn’t move at all, but they had personality.

So if you plan to be hanging out in Alabama and would like to get your own first hand look at the vintage goodies that Tim has amassed for your nostalgic entertainment, you can email Tim the next time you anticipate a swing through Dora. Tim says he’ll be happy to set up an appointment for your tour of his collection.

Stray Drawings From the Past

Above: Back in 2002 I crossed paths with actor Tommy Dewey while I was doing design work for the Chip Deffaa Invitational Theatre Festival in New York and he asked me to draw a portrait to use for display on tee-shirts. (His hair was longer then than it is in this photo.)
Above: Ooooooh! My cat looked strange when I used to draw her while tripping on acid in the ’70s!
Hey, here’s stuff of mine that you can buy!
Click a cover below to learn about my latest books.
…and click here to visit my
Cruse Goodies merchandise shop
A Note to Those Who Enjoy This Blog: Given how irregularly I manage to add entries, you may wish to send me email asking to subscribe to my "Blog Alert" list. That way you’ll be among the first to get notified by email whenever I add a new blog post.
Posted in Artifacts, Life & Art, Yesterday & Today | Comments Off on Past Puppetry Persists