The latest installment of the film and media studies department’s Friday Night Film Series, “No Straight Lines: The Rise of Queer Comics” startled, entertained and educated the Golden Auditorium audience on the evening of Feb. 18. The screening was co-sponsored by the LGBTQ studies and writing and rhetoric departments.
Assistant Professor of LGBTQ studies Paul Humphrey introduced the film.
“LGBTQ cartooning has a long … history. Underground comics, like those we will see today, have long offered a means to give voice to the silenced, [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 profiles five artists who pioneered the queer comics movement: Alison Bechdel, Mary Wings, Howard Cruse, Jennifer Camper and Rupert Kinnard. The film is dedicated to Cruse, who passed away in 2019. Also featured in the film are a number of “Next Gen comics” who discuss the influence of the earlier trailblazers on their own work and the comics industry.
The film switches between interview footage, animated graphics of each artist’s comics and old photographs to tell each artist’s story. The Stonewall riots and AIDS crisis have a heavy 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 be out.”
For many of the five artists, the main form of advocacy available to them was fixing the representation issue in the comics world. Bechdel critiques the lack of media representation in a comic which inspired the eponymous “Bechdel Test” (i.e. the piece of media must have two named women who have a conversation about something other than a man). Wings’ 1973 “Come Out Comix” was the first lesbian comic book released by an openly lesbian artist. Kinnard created the first gay African-American comic character with the teenage superhero Brown Bomber.
The other artists were similarly trailblazing. Cruse, referred to by Camper as “the godfather of gay comics,” was the founding editor of the underground comic 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 that I could draw about my own queer life was really revolutionary for me,” Bechdel said in the film.
Alongside the development of their individual careers, the film also showcases the rise of a community. In one poignant scene, Kinnard pulls out a pile of comic squares tied together with string. After a tragic car accident left him paralyzed by the waist down, Bechdel and other artists in the queer comic community assembled a collection of illustrations conveying their well-wishes.
Many students attended the screening for their LGBTQ Studies and Writing and Rhetoric courses. Senior Isabel Lariño, who attended for her upper level writing and rhetoric course, found that the film covered topics from previous classes as well.
“I loved it, especially after taking ‘Queer Caribbean Futures’ my junior year. In that class, we focused on the religious and social meanings behind the comics, but the film highlighted how the community of comics came to be, as well as how important they are for representation of different sexualities and gender identities in popular media.”
Information on upcoming Friday Night Film events can be found on the film and media studies page on the Colgate website.