It’s time for the Tribeca Film Festival! A last-minute invitation from a friend whose roommate couldn’t use her ticket had me trekking into Manhattan to attend the premiere screening of No Straight Lines: The Rise of Queer Comics, a documentary inspired by the anthology of the same name, which traces the history of LGBTQ+ comics over a 40-year period.
No Straight Lines: The Rise of Queer Comics follows the same trajectory as the anthology, diving into the history and evolution of queer comics from the 1960s until present day. This documentary is an illuminating look at queer comic artists as their careers go from underground – in things like self-published zines – to mainstream – like hitting the New York Times best-sellers list. While multiple artists lend their voices to the documentary, it focuses on five in particular: Alison Bechdel (Fun Home), Jennifer Camper (Rude Girls and Dangerous Women), Howard Cruse (Gay Comix), Rupert Kinnard (B.B. And The Diva) and Mary Wings (Come Out Comix).
The narrative is told in little vignettes as each of the five artists tell stories and detail challenges throughout their careers, from the AIDS crisis to racism to workplace discrimination to the rise of chain bookstores, and examples of their work are peppered throughout to help trace the evolution of the medium as well as the community. It’s extremely inspiring to see how many artists were actually out there making queer comics at a time when it was dangerous to do so.
One of the things stressed in the documentary is the importance of understanding your own history. As someone who didn’t fully realize I was queer until my 30s, I am extremely ignorant of things like this. It’s humbling to listen to those who came before. It’s also amazing to realize the effort that people went to in order to reach an audience; when queer artists started to lose their newspaper gigs, anthologies were put together. When chain bookstores started taking over and pushing aside anything outside the mainstream, self-published zines became a big thing. The important thing is to not disappear.
Another aspect of the documentary that was highlighted was the importance of community. Kinnard, who was paralyzed from the waist down in a car accident in 1996, recalls the “get well” card he received from Bechdel, which consisted of panels from multiple artists strung together with twine. At the Q&A after the screening, Kinnard said that he felt that card was the greatest example of community he could provide. But community also exists in things like the Queers and Comics Conference, which was founded by Camper and Justin Hall (producer of the documentary and editor of the anthology of the same name).
In fact, at the Q&A after the film, Camper expressed her pleasure that the community has grown so much that she is now able to not read comics that she doesn’t like. Before, there were so few queer artists that she felt obligated to read everything in support, but now she can just focus on things that she likes because there is so much content to consume.
I highly enjoyed this documentary (even though I missed the beginning because public transit is the devil). It has a lot of heart and humor, even as the featured artists recall some pretty challenging aspects in their lives. I loved getting to see such varied work, especially from decades ago. And it’s so important to listen to the trailblazers who paved the way for the rest of us.
No Straight Lines: The Rise of Queer Comics will be hitting the festival circuit and is still looking for a distributor, but if you’re in the United States, you can still get tickets for the virtual showing of the film through Tribeca at Home starting Sunday, June 13.
Author: Jamie Sugah
Jamie has a BA in English with a focus in creative writing from The Ohio State University. She self-published her first novel, The Perils of Long Hair on a Windy Day, which is available through Amazon. She is currently an archivist and lives in New York City with her demon ninja vampire cat. She covers television, books, movies, anime, and conventions in the NYC area.
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