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LINK 'No Straight Lines' unearths the hidden history of queer comic books

Decades before Iceman came out as gay or Robin first kissed his boyfriend, LGBTQ artists were creating queer comics in the 1970s and ‘80s. They weren’t working for Marvel or DC, though: They were making underground comic books, strips and zines out of their homes, DIY-style.

Premiering Monday on PBS, the documentary “No Straight Lines: The Rise of Queer Comics” shines a spotlight on some of these trailblazers, including Alison Bechdel (“Dykes to Watch Out For&rdquo😉, Howard Cruse (“Wendel,” “Stuck Rubber Baby&rdquo😉, Jennifer Camper (“Rude Girls and Dangerous Women&rdquo😉 and Rupert Kinnard (“B.B. and the Diva,” “Cathartic Comics&rdquo😉.

“No Straight Lines” also profiles Mary Wings, who is credited with publishing the first known queer comic book, “Come Out Comics,” in 1973.

“There’s a history of erotic illustrations, like Tom of Finland, and gag strips in the Advocate, but ‘Come Out Comix’ was the first ‘literary’ queer comic,” said Justin Hall, who produced “No Straight Lines” and is chair of the graduate comics program at California College of the Arts.

“Mary was the first interview we did,” Hall said. “She created ‘Come Out Comix’ in the basement of a radical women’s karate cooperative in Oregon, making this thing on a photocopier and distributing it through mail order.”

The autobiographical book, completed in just a week, chronicles a young woman’s realization of her sexual identity and her first fumbling romantic relationship.

San Francisco, where Wings now lives, was home to many of the earliest LGBTQ comic books and strips — most of which were made by queer women.

After Wings’ book came Roberta Gregory’s “Dynamite Damsels” in 1975, a series of humorous vignettes about the lives of lesbian feminist activists, and then Lee Marrs’ “The Further Fattening Adventures of Pudge, Girl Blimp” in 1977, about a 17-year-old runaway who arrives in San Francisco looking to lose her virginity.

Trina Robbins, a straight ally, arrived in the Bay Area in 1970. Two years later she wrote “Sandy Comes Out,” considered the first comic strip about an out lesbian, in “Wimmen’s Comix” #1.

Hall curated an exhibit of early LGBTQ comics for San Francisco’s Cartoon Art Museum in 2006, then worked on the graphic anthology “No Straight Lines: Four Decades of Queer Comics,” published by Fantagraphics Books in 2012.

He filmed interviews for the book with the idea of creating a documentary and eventually brought in veteran documentary filmmaker Vivian Kleiman (“Families Are Forever,” “Always My Son&rdquo😉 to direct the project.

“I’ve been obsessed with comics since I was a kid; it’s how I learned to read,” said Hall, whose own work includes the comics “True Travel Tales” and “Hard to Swallow.” “I always knew I wanted to be involved somehow in creating comics. It was a phase I never grew out of.”

Graphic storytelling has particular appeal to LGBTQ creators, he added.

“It’s both a storytelling and visual art form, which I think is very powerful,” Hall said. “There’s a great quote from Alison Bechdel, who said she started making comics because she wanted to make lesbians visible.

It’s also an art form that’s more available to marginalized groups, cartoonist Jennifer Camper said, and advances in technology have made creating and distributing comics cheaper than ever.

“You don’t need a lot of resources or buy-in from gatekeepers,” Camper, one of the comic creators featured in the film, added. “For people who want to tackle content that might not be approved by the mainstream, that’s very attractive.”

For queer readers, she said, reading comics “is very intimate.”

“You’re taking words and pictures and combining them in your mind to create things like time and motion — and carving out this universe for yourself,” Camper said. “It’s something you do privately, maybe even in secret.”

snytiger6 9 Jan 24
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