Written by: Adam Vaughn | June 17th, 2021
No Straight Lines: The Rise of Queer Comics (Vivian Kleiman, 2021) 3 out of 4 stars.
Tribeca 2021 showcases a documentary that brings to light the fascinating, seemingly untold story of the queer community within the comic book world. Introducing the vast achievements, as well as obstacles faced by, the queer comic-book artists featured in Justin Hall’s eponymous anthology – including Alison Bechdel, Jennifer Camper, Howard Cruse, Rupert Kinnard and Mary Wings – director Vivian Kleiman, in her first feature-length documentary, reveals the inspirations, creations and adversities unique to LGBQT+ writers. The story not only covers modern-day artists and illustrators, but the earlier “golden age” of comic books, and what issues and images were pushed to the shadows at that time.
No Straight Lines fully captures the queer comic-book experience, though it follows a fairly formulaic structure, moving between the five main featured artists and delving into their unique writing/illustrating styles. We also see their personal viewpoints of the comic world, taking a look at how the mainstream comic franchises (Marvel, DC, newspaper comics, etc.) played an integral part in inspiring each writer, even as they forced queer writers underground at their humble beginnings.
Outside of its personal reflections, No Straight Lines tackles major world events as they pertain to those in the LGBQT+ community, including the discrimination they face, overlapping themes with the “hippie” era, the AIDS epidemic, Stonewall, and many other relevant experiences. All of this content mixes together well with the informational elements of the film, as we see the emotional (even traumatic) effect the world and its historical content had on the writers profiled.
While No Straight Lines is otherwise strong, as a documentary I found it often quite repetitive. By its conclusion, the film struggles to introduce new ideas, and the freshness of the topic dwindles towards the second half. Without affecting the overall impact for the viewer, No Straight Lines starts to recycle ideas and information as it wraps up its narrative. All the same, the story is a must-see look at representation, and fits in perfectly with our modern-day push for greater inclusion.