TRIBECA 2021: ‘No Straight Lines: The Rise Of Queer Comics’ Is a Valuable Tour Through History

Reading Time: 3 minutes

No Straight Lines - But Why Tho

Directed by Vivian Kleiman, the documentary No Straight Lines: The Rise Of Queer Comics is a very basic introduction to the history of queer representation in the comic book industry. In under 80 minutes, this film takes us on a tour through history, stopping on key figures and publications to better understand the evolution of queer representation.

We start with the underground scene in the ‘60s before looking at Mary Wings and her creation of Come Out Comics, the first lesbian comic made by an out lesbian. We then hear about Rupert Kinnard and his inspiration to create Brown Bomber, the first black queer character. His testimonies as a Black queer man are crucial in shaping a portrait of what the artists faced during the early days. Disappointingly, Kleiman forgets about Kinnard’s fascinating knowledge for a large section of the film. 

Kleiman spends a lot of time with Howard Cruse, a key cartoonist whose work in Gay Comix opened many doors and allowed him to touch on issues such as gay rights and the AIDS pandemic. Anchored by the excellent testimonies of Jennifer Camper, the HIV theme provides some highly emotional moments and thoughtful explanations about its impact on the community and how comics grew as an important medium to express pain, loss, and fight for visibility. 

Alison Bechdel provides terrific explanations on the revolutionary aspect of drawing about her queer life. Later in the documentary, we get some good insight into creating her award-winning Fun Home, which will be appreciated by fans of the graphic novel and the musical adaptation.

Besides the main subjects, the film features modern artists such as Breena Nuñez, Gaia WXYZ, Lawrence Lindell, Taneka Stotts, Dylan Edwards, Maia Kobabe, Ivan Velez Jr, and Meggie Ramm. Their screen time and talking opportunities are minimal; they are here to fill in the gaps by meagerly explaining how certain historic elements helped them shape their work and lives. Again, this was a wasted opportunity to expand on the influence that all these pioneers had on them.

Unfortunately, No Straight Lines is disjointed and a little chaotic. We hear many facts, anecdotes, and information that isn’t always connected to other sections of the documentary; even if they are interesting, they are just there to fill the time and don’t add much to fully understanding the issues and challenges of representation. Sometimes I felt like I was watching just a visual depiction of Wikipedia entries instead of a full explanation of the history of queer comics. It’s a complex history, and No Straight Lines barely scrapes the surface.

Near the beginning of the film, we hear about censorship in the ‘60s, but that’s as much as we get. Censorship sounds like a key fact in queer artists expressing themselves,  but Kleiman brushes this issue aside and sporadically mentions it without truly expanding on it. And just like this, we get glimpses of important ideas throughout that are never tackled in any significant way, which makes for a frustrating experience.

Despite the missed opportunities, the documentary does a good job of showing how all these wonderful artists became trailblazers and helped many artists find their voice. Their work inspires and provides food for thought on the industry’s current state while also highlighting the importance of community. As an exquisite bonus, No Straight Lines features a vast and wonderful selection of art (created by the interviewees) to accompany the storytelling. 

No Straight Lines: The Rise Of Queer Comics doesn’t come close to painting a full picture of the issues related to its subject but contains invaluable information on the pioneering heroes that revolutionized the industry. It’s a tremendous starting point to educate yourself about community and diversity in the art world.

No Straight Lines: The Rise Of Queer Comics had its World Premiere at the 2021 Tribeca Film Festival.


'No Straight Lines: The Rise Of Queer Comics
  • 6/10
    Rating - 6/10
6/10

TL;DR

No Straight Lines: The Rise Of Queer Comics doesn’t come close to painting a full picture of the issues related to its subject but contains invaluable information on the pioneering heroes that revolutionized the industry. It’s a tremendous starting point to educate yourself about community and diversity in the art world.