Instalment 3 of my guest post series where people I know, and friends of mine, recommend 5 things! Karl has recommended a selection of media and added a couple of honorary mentions as well! If you’re into queer crip media, this post is for you! I’ve recommended Karl’s work on the blog before in my masterpost collaboration on Disabled, Chronically ill and Neurodivergent Authors.
Karl Knights (he/him) is a freelance journalist. His poetry and prose has appeared in The Guardian, The Poetry Review, Poetry London and elsewhere. He was a winner of the 2021 New Poets Prize. His debut pamphlet, Kin, is out now with the Poetry Business. He tweets.
Photo credit to Thom Bartley.
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Howard Cruse, Stuck Rubber Baby (Graphic Novel)
Sometimes an absolutely brilliant book doesn’t get the attention that it deserves. Stuck Rubber Baby is one of those books. Howard Cruse was a pioneer of queer comics. I was lucky enough to interview Cruse shortly before he died. We Skyped, and I was so nervous. American queer comics as they exist today simply wouldn’t exist without Howard Cruse. On several occasions I’ve had the misfortune of meeting people whose work I admire enormously, and they’ve been such nasty people that I couldn’t engage with their work anymore. I didn’t have that problem with Howard. He was so kind. There’s so much now that I wish I had asked him more about.
Before Stuck Rubber Baby, Cruse was perhaps best known for a comic strip called Wendel, which you can now find in book form. As it was a regular strip, Cruse could respond to things that were happening in the gay community at the time. I often return to his tender and perfectly poised strips about the AIDS epidemic. Wendel is drawn in a simple but expressive style, Stuck Rubber Baby was a massive progression. The novel is drawn in an extremely detailed, cross hatched style. What’s the book about? Well, I don’t want to say too much, but it centres on Toland Polk, a gay man in the South, who finds himself involved in the burgeoning Civil Rights Movement of the Sixties.
The original printing quickly fell out of print, and the now sadly defunct Vertigo imprint of DC Comics reprinted the book back in 2010. That’s when I stumbled across it. In the introduction to that edition, Alison Bechdel wrote about she visited Cruse when the novel was in progress, and Cruse was drawing a scene that involved a very large crowd. Instead of duplicating the same face over and over or sacrificing any detail, Cruse painstakingly drew every single distinct face. That print run fell out of print, too. Just a year or two ago, Stuck Rubber Baby got reissued again, this time in a 25th anniversary edition. Stuck Rubber Baby is absolutely up there with the defining graphic novels of the genre, like Maus and Watchmen for me. If you come across a copy, buy it, buy it, buy it.
P.S. If you’d like to know more about the early days of American queer comics, there’s an anthology called No Straight Lines: Forty Years of Queer Comics that’s a great overview. Cruse was also interviewed for a documentary of the same name, which was on Kickstarter a while back. Hopefully the film will see the light of day soon.
P.S.S. As a general aside, the format of comics is particularly great if your concentration isn’t reliable, or if you struggle to read generally. There’s something about taking in a visual image that’s a lot quicker than digesting a page of words. There’s been years where the only books I could read were graphic novels. Give the form a whirl if, like me, you struggle to read a lot of the time! (Note from Artie: highly agree!! I find reading comics or graphic novels really helpful for getting out of reading slumps or when I’m struggling to sit down and read a book with ADHD!)
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Sore Loser: a chronic pain and illness zine on queer disabled grief
(CW: eugenics, death, austerity, grief)
Truth be told, I have read very little in the pandemic. The one thing I have read more than anything else is this zine, Sore Loser: a chronic pain and illness zine on queer disabled grief by Sandra Alland and Etzali Hernández. You can order a physical copy, or read the zine for free as a pdf with alt-text, or listen to the audiobook of the zine over at the Disability Arts Online website.
Like so many disabled people, I feel like I’ve almost become an expert in loss and grief. The Tories came into power 12 years ago, just as I was entering adulthood. All my adulthood thus far has been defined by loss. Almost immediately, my friends began to die as a direct result of austerity, and they’ve kept on dying ever since. I quickly found out that traditional ideas of grief simply didn’t apply to me. The grief is uniquely bound up with politics, and the anger that comes from seeing the results of often lethal policy making. This zine was the first piece of writing that I felt was speaking to my reality, my world, my losses.
Hernández and Alland have this idea of ‘eugenics grief’ which has informed so many of my thoughts about how it feels to live through this pandemic, where eugenics has become so mainstream. This zine addresses not only the grief of losing someone, but the grief of finding that in the eyes of the government and even your peers, lives like yours are seen as disposable. This zine came when I needed it most, and I suspect it’s a zine that will only grow in power. It’s a soul making piece of work that you won’t want to miss.
Everything’s Gonna Be Okay (TV Show)
One thing I have done in the pandemic is watch a lot of TV. This show was such a breath of fresh air. It’s billed as a comedy, but it’s more a drama with comedy elements, I think. The show is dedicated to authenticity, and it shows. Autistic actors play autistic roles, and autistic writers were in the writers’ room. It really moved me to see two queer autistic people on the screen, stimming around each other.
Spoiler: the show got cancelled. I’m no stranger to loving cancelled shows (I’m still salty about the cancellation of a BBC Three show called In The Flesh). But this felt different. It took me a while to realise that I was so sad because I simply didn’t know when, or even if, I’d see such joyful queer autistic representation on the screen again.
Jeshi – Universal Credit (Album)
I hadn’t come across Jeshi’s work before, but I caught this album thanks to a review. I just love it – the lyrics are brilliantly sharp, and the music is perfectly mixed to let the lyrics shine. In an interview, Jeshi mentioned that Radiohead were an influence on this album, and I can definitely hear it. It’s not an overt influence, but it’s definitely there in how willing the music is to vault over genres and explore. Here’s a lyric from the final track, ‘National Lottery’, ‘
Black mould on my windows
Council ain’t fixed it
Good Morning Britain
Tea cigarettes and biscuits
As a lyricist and a musician, Jeshi has a huge amount of control and economy. At the time of writing, the Tory leadership race is underway, and people on benefits are vilified anew. Jeshi’s debut album is an essential listen about what it’s really like to exist on benefits in Tory Britain.
Weird Medieval Guys (@WeirdMedieval on Twitter)
Good lord, the world is a trash fire. Any levity, however fleeting it may be, is most welcome. This Twitter account is dedicated to tweeting bizarre pictures from medieval manuscripts. A tweet or two pops up on my feed every day, and it makes me chuckle every day. Sometimes the pictures are bizarre, hilarious or inspired, but they’re always interesting (and every image has alt-text – huzzah!)
Sick is an indie magazine by chronically ill and disabled people, and I haven’t been so excited by the appearance of a magazine in years. In the mag, you’ll find essays, art, poems and much more. Issue 4 will be out soon. I’d highly recommend reading Sick. Give them some support so we can get many, many more issues. They also hold back copies of each issue for people who wouldn’t be able to buy a copy, so keep an eye out for that, too.
Very little in life makes me feel as alive as discovering a new artist who is brilliant. Sometimes a poem is so good that you can do nothing but sit in silence afterwards, just looking at these words levitating off the page. I had that sense all the way through this book. ‘About women’s suffering they were always wrong,/the old masters’ writes Betty Doyle, in her debut pamphlet. Throughout this book, there’s a wonderful corrective energy that’s on display. ‘Oxytocin’ is one of the best love poems that I’ve read in a very long time. They’re incredibly hard to get right, but this poem shines, as do all the poems in this book.
Don’t forget to check out Karl on twitter and his debut poetry pamphlet! Again, so many interesting pieces of media for me to check out, something that sings to my crip queer heart. Don’t forget, if any of these intrigue you, check out my two digital zines on my kofi (shameless self plug) I’m Sick and R U Trying To Kill M.E? Both are fundraising efforts for a couple of friends of mine in the UK. Majority of the money earned goes directly to them (unfortunately paypal takes fees I can’t avoid) Karl got a copy of I’m Sick a while back. Drop your zine recommendations in the comments for Karl and I to check out!