The PBS documentary “No Straight Lines” gives an in-depth look at the evolution of queer comic books.
It captures the beginnings of queer comics in the early 1970s as an underground art form and culminates with its long-awaited mainstream acceptance into comic books, newspaper strips, and graphic novels.
“‘No Straight Lines’ is the story of a DIY art form — often considered junk food for kids — that over the past 50 years has been used by queer artists as a powerful medium to represent our lives,” director Vivian Kleiman said in a statement.
“More than a chronology of milestone events, I wanted to create an intergenerational story of our emergence from rejection to acceptance, and help LGBTQI youth feel safe,” said Kleiman, a Peabody Award-winning filmmaker.
“No Straight Lines” spotlights the careers of five scrappy and pioneering cartoonists who depicted everything from the AIDS crisis and “coming out” to same-sex marriage:
- Alison Bechdel (“Fun Home”)
- Jennifer Camper (“Rude Girls and Dangerous Women”)
- Howard Cruse (“WENDEL,” “Stuck Rubber Baby”)
- Rupert Kinnard (“B.B. and the Diva,” “Cathartic Comics)
- Mary Wings (“Come Out Comix”)
Wings is credited with publishing the first known queer comic book, “Come Out Comics,” in 1973. The autobiographical book chronicles a young woman’s realization of her sexual identity and her first fumbling romantic relationship.
These pioneering queer artists use comics as a tool for social change and queer acceptance. They brought the queer experience to life in a changing world, showcasing the everyday pursuits of love, sex, and community through a humorous and artful lens, and pushing what was once a marginalized underground scene into the mainstream.
In the past 10 years, queer comics and their creators have had more visibility:
- A 25th anniversary edition of Cruse’s “Stuck Rubber Baby” was released in 2020
- Bechdel received a MacArthur “genius grant” in 2014, and then her bestselling graphic memoir, “Fun Home,” was turned into a Tony-winning musical the following year.
- Earlier this year, Edmund White’s gay classic “A Boy’s Own Story” was released as a graphic novel.