on August 21, 2012
I'm in this book, so yes, I am biased, but hear me out anyway.
In 1989 Robert Triptow published Gay Comics, a trade paperback with New American Library that featured Triptow along with Tim Barela, Alison Bechdel, Jennifer Camper, Howard Cruse, Gerard Donelan, Kurt Erichsen, Roberta Gregory, Jeffrey Krell, and all the other major LGBT cartoonists from the underground comic book series Gay Comix as well as the gay and lesbian newsweeklies of the day, etc. Gay Comics was an excellent book, one I'd read and reread many times. It also won the Lambda Literary Award for Humor. But let's face facts, as the book had been published over 20 years ago and was long out of print, and as the queer comics scene had grown and changed by leaps and bounds since, an update was badly needed. Obviously one of our own had to step up to the plate to accomplish this and that someone turned out to be the estimable Justin Hall, a fine cartoonist in his own right as well as a teacher of the art of cartooning at the California College of the Arts. Hall grew concerned that much of this older work especially was in danger of being lost to the ravages of time unless it were archived; he also wanted to highlight the panoply of truly world-class queer cartoonists who've been in our midst all along, many of whom to this day do not get the recognition they deserve. In his introduction he states his 3 main criteria for selecting work, in descending order of importance: artistic merit, historical import, and representational.
Naturally for a fanboy like me, much of this work is quite familiar and a joy to see again, including some of my all-time favorites: Burton Clarke's "Cy Ross and the Snow Queen Syndrome," Sina's lovely, whimsical tone poem "Cigarettes," Robert Triptow's classic "I Know You Are But What Am I" (now in color!), Howard Cruse's brilliant "Billy Goes Out" (one of his real career highlights), a selection of Jerry Mills's "Poppers" strips (when is someone going to finally release a collection of this great cartoonist's work?), and the hilarious "My Darling Deadly Dyke" by Lee Marrs.
There is also great work here that I'd never seen before (Joyce Farmer's "Slice of Life") and some tremendously talented creators I'd never even heard of (namely, Nazario and Fabrice Neaud). So happily I still have other worlds to explore in this not-as-small-as-I- thought niche of the larger alt-comics niche.
Anyone who edited this book would have switched some things around, picked different stories by some of the artists here, or tossed some artists in favor of others. That much is a given; I certainly would have done some things differently. But Hall did an overall superlative job with a mammoth, very difficult task. And to my mind he could not have chosen better, non-Fun Home or "Dykes to Watch Out For" short pieces by Alison Bechdel than "My Own Private Michigan Hell" and her pointed, too-true "Oppressed Minority Cartoonist," nor funnier, loopier stories to represent Ed Luce's Wuvable Oaf and co. than "Worst Dates" or "Straight Street" starring Oaf's buddy, Smusherrr. Other cartoonists I felt were perfectly represented in No Straight Lines include Craig Bostick, Michael Fahy, Edie Fake, Andy Hartzell, David Kelly, Kris Dresen, Erika Moen (her "So Much Pussy" is one of the true laugh out loud moments of the book), Roxxie, and Joey Alison Sayers. And these are just the ones off the top of my head.
Let's hope this collection isn't simply an endpoint but more a harbinger of more such books to come and for more work and better visibility for non-straight type alt-comics creators. Only time will tell. Some readers and publishers still feel that gay subject matter is not something that non-gays can be interested in or relate to, to which I say nonsense: good storytelling is universal. This book gets the full five stars from me, no question.