1 Getting the Itch

After years spent drawing a comic strip like Wendel, set as it was in the post-Stonewall gay subculture of Gay Pride Parades and lesbian softball, it seemed likely to be a refreshing change of pace to venture back to the complicated social currents that created so much turmoil down in Alabama during my high school and college years. I had loads of stored-up emotions about those "Bombingham" days that had never found expression in my comics. In particular I never addressed racism directly in Wendel because I feared trivializing the many issues that swirled around the central skin-color bugaboo. Racial bigotry's complexity as a subject called for a larger canvas than my double-page spreads in The Advocate provided. And what would a graphic novel be, if not a really large canvas?

And of course, there was always that homophobic self-hatred of mine to shine a light on.

JOURNAL ENTRY (Early March, 1990)

Strolling around the neighborhood I was seized with a dangerous impulse that I’ve learned to keep at bay. It’s the impulse to behave as if the world was going to permit me to be an artist and follow my muse despite the fact that I have very little means of support. I found myself thinking about doing a graphic novel based on my [youthful strggles] to be heterosexual, including the events that led up to Kim’s birth. For thirty minutes or so my mind was a tangle. My "muse" was charging me up with creative inspiration; my practical side was screaming, "Are you crazy? Do you realize how long it would take you to draw all those pages? You’re already in debt and you have almost no money coming in. How could you support yourself?"

Then I became truly disconnected from reality and began to concoct fanciful schemes for acquiring financial support. I would sell shares in my future, find people who would serve as the "producers" (or "angels") or a Howard Cruse graphic novel. They would bankroll me so that I could create a great work of art, the income from which they could share at a later point when –

There my ability to sustain the fantasy began to crumble. How much would it take to support me in New York City for the time it would take to draw a graphic novel? How much had I drawn in royalties from Dancin’ Nekkid or Wendel on the Rebound? Was this a deal likely to excite potential investors? Earth to Cruse! Earth to Cruse!