The cover of the graphic novel Stuck Rubber Baby

The Impact of the Graphic Novel on a Trauma Narrative

The graphic novel, Stuck Rubber Baby by Howard Cruse, tells the story of Toland Polk, as we, the reader, follow him throughout his life as he comes to terms with his sexuality, grapples with religion, and struggles with voicing his discomfort around racism and homophobia.. I think the medium of a graphic novel adds an interesting aspect to a book that deals so heavily with trauma and guilt because the sketches that accompany Toland’s narrative of traumatic events directly parallel his feelings about the trauma and how he is coping, or has coped, with it.

For example, when Toland’s parents die in a car accident, he doesn’t go into too much detail, he just states that it happened and he doesn’t really explain the effect losing both of his parents in the same day had on him emotionally. It is also presented very nonchalantly and we don’t see Toland’s reaction to hearing the news, but instead we get a panel that depicts the car accident. The lettering and bolding of certain words in the panel emphasize the horror of the event without Toland having to go into detail, which leaves the audience with the feeling that he hasn’t fully dealt with losing both of his parents and the direct effect this had on the rest of his life.

This is a panel from Stuck Rubber Baby that shows the car accident where Toland's parents died. It has the text, "MAMA AND DADDY, ON THE OTHER HAND, WERE STONE COLD SOBER WHEN THEY PULLED OUT OF OUR DRIVEWAY FOR THE LAST TIME THE NEXT MORNING." Then in the bottom left it says, "THE MAN WHO SMASHED INTO THEM, HOWEVER, WASN'T."
Stuck Rubber Baby, Page 12.

When Toland is retelling the events of the night Sammy was killed, the trauma is visually represented in an interesting way where the reader never fully sees the body, instead we see it in fragments, which can be suggesting that Toland is not able to fully handle that memory and mental picture, so he is subconsciously erasing it from his memory. It can also signify that he remembers that night in fragments because his brain can’t fully process what happened that night. Something that is added to this page that the audience is unable to get out of a standard novel, is Toland’s facial expressions and body language as he remembers that night. There are three different sketches of him on page 178, and each sketch shows him physically grieving in different ways. This is an added touch from the novel because there might not be any description of his body language, and if there was, it could potentially have a different effect than visibly seeing it. Being able to visually see the impact the guilt Toland is experiencing as a result of that night is very powerful in addition to the text.

from Stuck Rubber Baby that depicts the night Sammy died and when Toland came across his dead body. It also shows an older Toland reflecting on the events of that night.
Stuck Rubber Baby, Page 178.

In conclusion, the medium of the graphic novel presents a new perspective on the trauma narrative. This blog post presents a further analysis on the impact of Stuck Rubber Baby being in black and white and how that affects the trauma presented in the graphic novel. 

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