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February 24. 2012

Evenings Out

Something old and something new

Blue balls and bare feet set the tone for graphic literature

At weddings, it is traditional to have something old, something new, something borrowed and something blue. In the marriage of literature and graphic art, it could be said that those things should also be present.

Both Rick Worley’s A Waste of Time and From Headrack to Claude: Collected Gay Comix by Howard Cruse present that quartet of elements. Both are available in digital iBook format from Northwest Press, and Cruse’s collection comes with a documentary on the cartoonist called I Must Be Important ’Cause I’m in a Documentary. They can also be purchased in hard copy, although the printed From Headrack to Claude is in black and white, while the electronic version is in full color.

Now, as to the wedding quartet: Cruse’s collected strips are old, while Worley’s are new. Cruse has a few strips which were either spoofs of other strips or done in the style of earlier artists, hence the borrowed, and Worley’s rampagingly horny, angst-ridden pseudo-autobiographical bunny rabbit seems to have an almost terminal case of blue balls.

Worley’s first collection of his webcomic bears a very slight resemblance to Andy Hartzell’s ode to longing and understanding, Fox Bunny Funny. The resemblance is mainly because there’s a bunny and a fox. Worley, however, represents himself with the bunny, and his fox is named Truckstop, a sexually compulsive masochist with a drug problem who, oddly enough, more often than not seems to be the voice of common sense.

Completing the case are Rickets the broken robot, who destroyed his memory chip after a failed romance, and Prester the born-again teddy bear, who gets coked up and engages in piggy sex with Rickets, only to deny his own homosexuality. And, of course, there is the line of boys Rick falls bunny-ears over heels for, only to reach the Marxist conclusion that, if they are into him, there must be something wrong with them. (Yes, Groucho Marx, not Karl.)

Besides being sexy and funny, A Waste of Time shows the depth of Worley’s talent. He can draw cute animals and adorable robots, but he is also quite adept at portraiture, as the almost-pin-up pictures interspersed throughout the book attest. If there is anything wrong with A Waste of Time, it’s the fact that reading it leaves you wanting more, more, more!

Cruse’s From Headrack to Claude takes a generally more political approach; much of the collection, after all, was work he did in the politically-charged underground comix scene in the 1970s, moving on into the age of AIDS in the early 1980s and work for the Village Voice and other publications, as well as Kitchen Sink Press’ Gay Comix.

While the collection doesn’t include Wendel strips, which were already collected in a separate anthology, or his graphic novel Stuck Rubber Baby, available from DC Comics’ Vertigo imprint, it does give a comprehensive overview of his other strips with gay content and themes, along with autobiographical information. It draws a nice road map of his career, and illustrates his struggles at working “straight” jobs while wanting to be true to himself.

Eventually, of course, he became the Howard Cruse we know and love, but it was a long and winding road, filled with characters like Barefootz and Headrack and tribute comics like his incredibly funny Life in Hell spoof and a panel from a Snuffy Smith strip he did.

While creator-owned comics have been an increasing presence in the marketplace over the last few years, Northwest Press is a virtual clearinghouse for queer talent young and old, and it’s nice to see them put out such strong material. Their website is online at www.northwestpress.com.

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