The latest installment in the Department of Film and Media Studies’ Friday Night film series, “No Straight Lines: The Rise of Queer Comics,” surprised, entertained, and educated audiences in Golden Auditorium on the evening of February 18. The screening was co-sponsored by the LGBTQ Studies and Writing & Rhetoric Departments.
Assistant Professor of LGBTQ Studies Paul Humphrey introduced the film.
“LGBTQ cartooning has a long…history. Underground comics, like the ones we’ll see today, have long offered a way to give voice to the silent, [those outside of] mainstream popular culture.
The 2021 film, directed by Vivian Kleiman, features LGBTQ+ comic artists and delves into the history of queer comics. The film portrays five pioneering artists in the queer comics movement: Alison Bechdel, Mary Wings, Howard Cruse, Jennifer Camper and Rupert Kinnard. The film is dedicated to Cruse, who died in 2019. The film also features a number of “Next Gen comics” which discuss the early pioneers’ influence on their own work and on the comics industry.
The film alternates between interview footage, animated graphics from each artist’s comics, and old photographs to tell each artist’s story. The Stonewall Riots and the AIDS crisis have a strong presence in the film, presented alongside domestic moments from the artists’ personal lives.
Cruse explained in the film that his decision to come out professionally had a lot to do with the climate at the time.
“Given the onslaught of anti-gay activity, I felt it was important for people to come out.”
For many of the five artists, the primary form of advocacy available to them was to address the issue of representation in the comic world. Bechdel criticizes the lack of media representation in a comic strip that inspired the eponymous “Bechdel test” (i.e., the media must have two named women having a conversation about something other than a man). Wings’ 1973 “Come Out Comix” was the first lesbian comic published by an openly lesbian artist. Kinnard created the first gay African American comic book character with teenage superhero Brown Bomber.
The other artists were also precursors. Cruse, referred to by Camper as “the godfather of gay comics”, was the founding editor of the underground comic book series “Gay Comix” as well as the creator of the 1980s comic strip “Wendel”. Bechdel’s 2006 graphic memoir, “Fun Home,” was adapted into a Tony Award-winning musical. She also received the MacArthur “Genius” award in 2014.
“The thought of me being able to draw on my own queer life was really groundbreaking for me,” Bechdel said in the film.
Along with the development of their individual careers, the film also features the rise of a community. In a poignant scene, Kinnard pulls out a stack of comic squares tied together with string. After a tragic car accident left him paralyzed from the waist down, Bechdel and other artists from the queer comic community put together a collection of illustrations expressing their wishes.
Many students attended the screening of their LGBTQ studies and writing and speaking classes. Senior Isabel Lariño, who took her graduate level writing and rhetoric course, found that the film also covered topics from previous courses.
“I loved it, especially after taking ‘Queer Caribbean Futures’ my freshman year. In this course, we focused on the religious and social meanings behind comics, but the film highlighted how the comics community came to be, as well as their importance for the representation of different sexualities and gender identities in media. popular.
Information about upcoming Friday Night Film events can be found on the Film and Media Studies page on the Colgate website.