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Somebody needed to do this: compile a knowledgeable, historical collection of queer comics. But the task was daunting in more ways than one. There’s the difficulty of curating any historical collection to include the most representative art works and artists of the era. But queer comics pose an added challenge, as many were published by underground, indie and non-mainstream publishers, or were self-published. It would be almost impossible to pull together a collection like this without an insider’s knowledge of LGBTQ comics, and contact information for their creators.
Thank God Justin Hall took the task on, mountainous though it was, and Fantagraphics realized the importance of making this book happen. Hall explains in his intro,
In collecting the material for the book I had three considerations, in this hierarchy of importance: artistic merit, historic merit and representational merit. First and foremost, No Straight Lines should be a tremendously good read. After that, it should leave the reader with a better understanding of the complex history and diversity of LGBTQ comics.
So readability counts, and along that line Hall tried whenever possible to include complete comics. Hall has honored readers first, and the result is a book both comic fanatics and new readers of the genre are guaranteed to enjoy.
He divides the collection into three sections. The first is called “Comics Come Out: Gay Gag Strips, Underground Comix, and Lesbian Literati. “Here we find the pioneers of the genre including Trina Robbins, Howard Cruse, Lee Mars, Roberta Gregory, Burton Clarke, Mary Wings and Robert Triptow. These creators took the crusades of the time and the freedoms expressed in underground comics like Zap, and stretched them to include queer expression. Politics, coming out, and visualization of queer identity are big themes from these comics of the sixties and seventies.
The second section is called “File Under Queer: Comix to Comics, Punk Zines, and Art During the Plague.” This second wave of comics is reflective of the eighties and nineties. It includes creators such as Alison Bechdel, Robert Kirby, Jennifer Camper, Craig Bostick, Ivan Velez, Jr, Ruppert Kinnard, Joan Hilty, David Kelly and Eric Orner, among others. These artists’ styles were influenced by punk aesthetic and the new freedoms of self publishing that cheap photocopying instigated via zines and mini-comics. They funneled the LGBTQ community’s anger, fear, and sadness about AIDS into visceral reactions and fueled their comics with the powerful punch of political groups like Act Up.
The third section, “A New Millennium: Trans Creators, Webcomics, and Stepping out of the Ghetto” includes more recent creators, like Joey Alison Sayers, Jon Macy, Annie Murphy, Edie Fake, Ellen Forney, Tim Fish, Justin Hall, Ed Luce, Erika Moen, Paige Braddock and others. Their comics examine gender itself, and move LGBTQ stories more into the mainstream, using tools and social media made available by computer technology and the Internet.
Obviously, each story captures the history of its time, reflected both in the style of drawing and the issues the comic takes on. But reading through these I also marveled at all the subtle nuances these comics resurrected from past decades. Take Jerry Mills’ Poppers comic “Love,” where the entire dialog is made up of love song lyrics. “Love is a stranger in an open car!” – younger readers already probably won’t recognize that iconic Eurythmics’ line, so endemic of the eighties. Or how about Andrea Natalie’s wordless cartoon, which shows two flamingoes sun bathing, their back yard decorated with small leather boy lawn ornaments? How long before that joke is no longer intelligible?
There are too many stories here to do justice to the riches this book holds in one short review. I loved revisiting the Michigan Womyn’s Music Fest with Alison Bechdel, sneaking into the back room of the porn store with D. Travers Scott and Rob Kirby, and traveling abroad to Israel with Eric Orner. I relished going wild again with Diane Dimassa’s Hothead Paisan, and Roberta Gregory’s Bitchy Butch. I relived all the hell of an unknown plague in Ivan Velez Jr.’s comic about AIDS anxiety and laughed myself silly rereading Ed Luce’s worst dates ever. There wasn’t a story here I left unread.
Some other things to note: Hall also has done a great job of recognizing artists deserving of way more attention than they’ve received, folks like Rupart Kinnard and Michael Fahy. I appreciated that he includes some seminal examples of non-cartoonists using the comics’ format as platforms of self expression, for example David Wojnarowicz, James Romberger and Marguerite Van Cook’s piece, 7 Miles a Second. Hall did a masterful job of winnowing down the many works of prolific artists like Alison Bechdel, Howard Cruse, and Robert Kirby to a few seminal examples. And just as he promised, he had delivered a classic compilation of stories that promises readers of comics everywhere something wonderful to read.
No Straight Lines: Four Decades of Queer Comics
Edited by Justin Hall, introduction by Lana Wachowski
Hardcover, 9781606995068, 328 pp.