Drawing from Experience: No Straight Lines celebrates the History of Queer Comics

Drawing from Experience: No Straight Lines celebrates the History of Queer Comics

Written by GOOD DOCS intern Emma Kuli


This Pride Month, learn more about the transformative storytelling of trailblazing LGBTQ+ cartoonists. 

From underground artwork to groundbreaking representation, No Straight Lines highlights how queer comics rose as a unique space for the expression of identity, opportunity for advocacy, and documentation of history. 

No Straight Lines tells the stories that shaped queer comic history, centering the artists behind the pioneering panels. 

Whether filled with queer superheroes or personal histories, these powerful comic books championed a call for change. 

In the 1950s, the Comics Code Authority censored what was allowed on newsstands, enforcing rules “that were designed to reinforce the most bland vision of what American life should be like.”

When underground, adult-only comics rose in reaction to this sweeping regulation, it created a space for uncensored, rebellious voices in the medium.

Alongside imagery of “drugs and uncensored sex,” queer stories carved out a defiant niche in the countercultural comic world. 

Early queer comic artists aimed to create work that accurately depicted what it was like to live as a member of the LGBTQ+ community. 

Draw about “people not penises,” Gay Comix founder Howard Cruse requested in his opening statement to the artists of the first issue, wanting Gay Comix “to be an honest comic book about the human experience of being gay.” 

Mary Wings, the first known openly lesbian artist to publish a lesbian comic book, was disappointed by the minimal, stereotypical sapphic representation she saw in comics. So, Wings created Come Out Comix, “I really wanted to do something that showed all the emotion, all the [...] worry and trauma that you have about coming out…all those things about really being a queer.”

Many artists share the transformative moment when they finally see their identity in print or on-screen.

“I remember so clearly when I discovered gay comics. All of a sudden there was this permission…And a roadmap for exactly what I felt like I wanted to do in my life,” says Alison Bechdel, author of Dykes to Watch Out For and Fun Home

Creating iconic characters like Superbad, Brown Bomber, and Diva Touché Flambé, Rupert Kinnard’s groundbreaking work depicted intersectional identity, telling stories of Black queerness and Black womanhood. Kinnard talks about the impact of growing up watching his hero, Muhammad Ali on television, “I looked at these characters I was drawing and thought, my god, why the hell am I drawing white superheroes.” 

Being published in larger newspapers like SF Weekly, Kinnard used his voice and platform to speak about his experiences of racism within the queer community, “I experienced a lot in the gay community as an African American. So I’m like, I’m using this as an opportunity to talk about these things that we should be addressing.”

The personal nature and openness of the medium allowed visual artists to document silenced histories. 

Comic panels showing the protest recount the historic Stonewall uprising. Howard Cruse discusses witnessing Stonewall’s powerful influence, “it became clear that a fuse had been lit.” 

As the nation failed those suffering from AIDS and promoted fear-filled narratives, queer comics were able to tell real stories of queer people and people with AIDS at this time, from powerful personal anecdotes to work satirizing public fear-mongering. 

Rude Girls and Dangerous Women creator Jennifer Camper talks about the experience of living during the AIDS epidemic, “AIDs was this huge part of our lives, and our friends were getting sick and dying, and we were helpless to stop it.” 

No Straight Lines also hands the mic to the next generation of artists, the young creatives who grew up admiring the first queer comics. 

“If it hadn't been for people who came out before me in a time when it was much more dangerous to do so and been willing to make work, then my work wouldn't be received the way that it is now,” says artist Emeric Kennard. 

Multimedia creator Gaia Wxyz reflects on the differences between Rupert Kinnard’s work and their own, “Rupert’s characters were very much directly interfacing with white characters that didn’t get it. And, here and now, as artists we don’t necessarily have to put a white character at the center of the narrative anymore.”

Near the end of the film, Rupert Kinnard shows a get-well card a group of cartoonists sent him after he was in a car accident that paralyzed him. Every artist has sent a different work of art, each card connected by a string. “This was the first time I so immediately felt a part of the cartoonist community,” says Kinnard. Rupert Kinnard’s partner hangs the cards on their wall. “Love from all of us” read the final card panels.

In this film, the story of queer comics is told by the artists who made history. No Straight Lines shows the fight for LGBTQ+ visibility and societal change that unfolded across the beautifully illustrated pages of queer comics.


Bring the documentary No Straight Lines and the featured speakers, Vivian Kleiman & Justin Hall, to your campus + community