Queer representation has always been around in all media. But admittedly, even some people within the community need a guiding hand to help them find what they’re looking for. No Straight Lines: The Rise of Queer Comics is that guiding hand, taking a straightforward look at queer comic history with trailblazers like Rupert Kinnard and the late Howard Cruse. The documentary show that inspiration for queer art comes from different sources. Kinnard, for instance, looked at Joe Louis and Muhammad Ali to create The Brown Bomber and Superbad. Both might just be the first Black queer superheroes/ vigilantes. Cruse, on the other hand, started out creating comics as a kid. His father then telling him that he can turn his art into an income stream.
Cruse follows his father’s advice to leave the farmlands of Alabama. He moves to New York, and the rest is queer history. The film gets to race and other concerns that intersect with queerness. But before it does that, it gives enough of a spotlight to queer comics’ biggest star, Alison Bechdel. Bechdel has interesting insights about the artists’ gaze in general. She talks about how she drew men before she drew women, and viewers can interpret that comment whatever they will. Either way, her shift in gaze feels like something’s in the air as queer artists eventually pivot to themselves. This was necessary when the community needed that art. Art to make a contemporaneous depiction of the AIDS crisis and its victims.
No Straight Lines eventually follows those three artists and their contemporaries as they explore other characters and move on to other projects. Highlighting some of those projects work, like it does with Bechdel’s Fun Home. Others, like Cruse’s series of graphic novels about his character Wendel don’t work as much. The Wendel series is understandably influential, as it explores a character who has no coming out scars but dates characters who do. The film spends one minute on that series. One half is Cruse discussing the series while other interview subjects sing Wendel‘s praises. The film then, feels like it explores that series and others like it through half measures, as if we’re getting a Coles Notes version of history.
No Straight Lines also conflates three decades of recent history in its third act like most documentaries or series do nowadays, but in fairness, that’s when the film gets more inventive in its storytelling and thus, gets less linear. It also brushes on what seems like the Golden Age of queer comics in the nineties. And it does this without exaggerating the windfall that that age created. Financial stability isn’t a mountain of money, it’s simply financial stability. It also depicts that age in other ways where it deserves such a depiction. Such moments in art history deserve meticulous coverage, especially with the multiple aesthetics that a time can produce. A community, after all, needs to champion its many voices cheering each other on and helping each other in their own times of need.
To those of you who live in the Greater LA Area: No Straight Lines is playing at the Laemmle in Glendale, CA. You can hopefully find the film at a festival near you.