“No Straight Lines: Four Decades of Queer Comics” edited by Justin Hall— The World’s Greatest LGBT Comics in One Book

Hall, Justin. “No Straight Lines: Four Decades of Queer Comics”, Fantagraphics, 2012.

The World’s Greatest LGBT Comics in One Book

Amos Lassen

In the last forty years, cartons have become one of the main ways of expression of LGBT life. They take on the issues of identity and society and look at them with humor, imagination and intelligence. In this book we get to see the artistic underground through some of the best cartoonists in our community. Some of the names here will undoubtedly be familiar—Alison Bechdel (author of “Fun Home”), Howard Cruse (“Rubber Baby”), Ralf Koenig, David Wojnarowicz (whose biography is just out) and Dan Savage among others. There are also several who have remained known to the LGBT community but still remain unknown to the larger world.

In most cases, gay cartoons have not crossed over and have appeared in gay newspapers and magazines and sometimes they could be bought in gay bookstores. It was almost as if an island of gay cartoonists existed that remained isolated from the rest of the world. Gay cartoons were left untouched by censors and are looks at the way we speak to each other so now that it is possible to see so many of them in one book, it is like looking at our community from the outside. We see our “fears and fantasies” as depicted by us during the last forty years.

We are made aware of the influence of the underground cartoonists as well as gay erotica and punk zines. The marginalized drag queens, masculine lesbians and other groups come into their own through comics. These cartoons are analyses of the way we live and love yet they look at the larger society as well and show our relationship to it. I love that humor and depth come together and this book is certainly a welcome addition to the canon of gay literature. Justin Hall is to be commended for what he has brought to us—a historical collection of gay comics and I admire the fact that he did so much research to gather together what is here. He had to plod through a wealth of underground press material and self published works. He says that he had three considerations in mind as he worked on the book— artistic merit, historic merit and representational merit. What we get is not just a good read but a sense of history of who we are and where we have been.

The book is divided 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”.

There are many stories here and this is quite simply a wonderful book and a classic look at one aspect of our community.


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