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Howard Cruse, pioneering gay cartoonist, dies at 75

Howard Cruse

Howard Cruse, a trailblazing gay cartoonist and author of the acclaimed graphic novel “Stuck Rubber Baby” has died. Photo: Facebook.

Howard Cruse, a trailblazing gay cartoonist and author of the acclaimed graphic novel “Stuck Rubber Baby,” has died.

Cruss died November 26 after a short battle with cancer at the Berkshire Medical Center in Pittsfield Ma., near his home in Williamstown, Ma. Cruse was 75.

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Howard Cruse dies

Cruse’s daughter, Kimberly Kolze Venter, posted about her father’s passing on her Facebook page.

“With sadness I share that my birth father passed this afternoon after a too short battle with cancer, with his dear friend Pam and loving husband Eddie by his side, among other friends,” she wrote.

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“He is one of the kindest person(s) that I know. May God bless and take care of Eddie, his lifelong partner, Allan Cruse, his brother and all their extended family and friends in Williamstown and North Adams, MA.

‘He was a trailblazer’

“He left a legacy with his artwork and was a trailblazer in this time,” she said. “I’m so proud of him and so blessed he was in my life. Rest in Peace Howard and I’ll see you again one day.”

Cruse is also hailed as “the godfather of queer cartoonists” because he came out as gay in the 1970s and was a pioneer in the industry.

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Howard Cruse

This recent photo shows Howard Cruse, center, with his daughter, Kimberly Kolze Venter, left, and his husband, Eddie Sedarbaum. Photo: Juliana Haubrich.

Howard Cruse early days

Cruse was born in Birmingham, Alabama, on May 2, 1944, the son of Clyde and Irma Cruse. He began his cartooning career in college and local newspapers.

“Gay Comix,” “Wendel”

In 1979, after moving to New York City, Cruse began editing “Gay Comix,” which he used to enlist a generation of queer cartoonists, comic book authors, and characters.

As the LGBTQ movement and AIDS crisis began to grow in the 1980s, Cruse also created “Wendel,” an ongoing humorous comic strip about an idealistic gay man and his friends that ran in the gay news magazine The Advocate.

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Love of his life

In 1979, Cruse met Eddie Sedarbaum, and shortly thereafter, they moved in together.

Cruse and Sedarbaum left New York City in 2003 and moved to Western Massachusetts, settling first in North Adams and then in Williamstown. The couple married in 2004.

‘Stuck Rubber Baby’

In 1995, Cruse released “Stuck Rubber Baby,” his groundbreaking, semi-autobiographical graphic novel about racism and growing up gay in the South during the 1960s and the Civil Rights Movement.

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In the book, Toland Polk, a gas-station attendant, is rejected from the U.S. Army draft for admitting “homosexual tendencies,” and becomes friends with a group of young locals who fight for racial and social justice.

A 25th anniversary hardcover edition of “Stuck Rubber Baby” will be published in 2020.

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About the author

Phillip Zonkel

Award-winning journalist Phillip Zonkel spent 17 years at Long Beach's Press-Telegram, where he was the first reporter in the paper's history to have a beat covering the city's vibrant LGBTQ. He also created and ran the popular and innovative LGBTQ news blog, Out in the 562.

He won two awards and received a nomination for his reporting on the local LGBTQ community, including a two-part investigation that exposed anti-gay bullying of local high school students and the school districts' failure to implement state mandated protections for LGBTQ students.

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