Seen as part of the Mardi Gras Film Festival
The history of Comic books is long and strange and full of fascinating stories. Sure most people think of comics and jump straight to the Superhero genre that has overtaken popular culture lately but there’s also the stories of Horror comics and how the industry tried to regulate them out of existence, or the stories of underground comics that embraced the weird and the drug-induced. Well, in the documentary No Straight Lines: The Rise of Queer Comics, the story being focused on is… well, the history of queer comics, it’s right there in the title.
No Straight Lines: The History of Queer Comics is broadly about the history of queer comics as an artform but focusses itself on 5 specific artists, Alison Bechdel, Jennifer Camper, Howard Cruse, Rupert Kinnard and Mary Wings, who shaped the course of the history of queer comics by either basically starting it, showing the emotional stories that could be told or even being on the forefront of the mass marketing of these comics. Along the way, the importance of this artform is carefully explored and we get to have a great list of queer comic books to look into.
At an obscenely speedy 74 minutes, No Straight Lines is speed running through an absolutely fascinating history that deserves to be documented. Told largely chronologically, we slowly get to see how major turning points in history changed what was happening. From just the desire to see queer people even being represented after the comics code literally demanded they be written out, to the start of the sexual revolution to the AIDS crisis, each moment causes the industry as a whole to take a series of sharp turns and they’re wonderfully documented.
On top of that, No Straight Lines takes the time to let us get to know each of its core five artists and what inspires their work. Their need to see themselves, to explore this element of their humanity or even just to be defiant and say something important. Each interviewee is opening up so much, to the point where some of them have to actually stop an interview to collect themselves because it’s so intense. That rawness makes it so easy to want to know each and every one of them.
There is not much being held back here at all, when No Straight Lines wants to talk about the importance of putting sex in these comics, they’ll show some fairly explicit comics just so everyone knows what’s being talked about. There’s no dancing around awkward or uncomfortable topics, it’s all out there and talked about as openly as can be given the short time frame.
Honestly, it’s that brief 74-minute runtime that hurts No Straight Lines because there is so much content here that you can’t help but want more, want to explore more with the people this film has interviewed or the people brought in for brief talking heads moments at the end of the film to give a glimpse into the modern queer comics space. While there’s a lot here and all of it is fascinating, it feels like there’s a lot more detail that could be explored and it’d be nice to see it… and really, is there a better negative to have than “I want more of this”?
No Straight Lines: The History of Queer Comics is an essential piece of art history for the modern comic lover. It shows this underground network of people who didn’t see themselves as part of a medium so they put themselves in there and made sure people would notice them. Considering that comics today have a noted continued issue regarding queer representation (AKA idiots get upset when two men do kissing in a comic book) it’s important to remember that we’ve come pretty far and if people like this can break down the door, it’s possible for the artists of today to tear that door off its hinges and make sure that nothing blocks the way ever again.