by Dave Wheeler
When you’re an avid reader, it can be hard not to horde. I think we’ve all walked through the bookstore and seen handfuls of books we want to hold and keep and own. There’s that gorgeous Catalan novel Death In Spring (Rodoreda). The slender and elegant Attempt at Exhausting a Place In Paris (Perec). Maira Kalman’s peculiar art, especially Principles of Uncertainty.
Our home libraries beg of us to invest in Modernist Cuisine. Even if we’re not foodies. Even if we don’t cook. Even if we don’t own a spatula to our names. Even if it takes us years to finally get around to actually reading them, we’re driven toward these cornerstone, seminal works, for the most well-rounded, complete archive of knowledge we can amass before we, or they, pass away.
Recently, I made a small deposit into my own literary archive when I purchased last year’s No Straight Lines: Four Decades of Queer Comics. Edited by Justin Hall and published by Seattle’s own Fantagraphics, this anthology is the first of its kind, campily covered and ambitiously deep.
Film artist Lana Wachowski (The Matrix trilogy) gives a wholly vulnerable and excited introduction to the book, describing moments in her life when mainstream film and books could not satisfy this indescribable element of herself. That when she found comics, as a form, some of that mystery unraveled; furthermore, when she discovered queer identities written in comics. “What I needed,” she writes, “was a book like this: hairy legs and all.”
Familiar names to me — Alison Bechdel, Howard Cruse, and beloved Seattleite Ellen Forney — run alongside cartoonists whose work has until now been lost on me: Joe Johnson, MariNaomi, Annie Murphy. Impossible to be even close to a complete collection of the genre, No Straight Lines instead seeks to trace the parallel trajectories toward visibility for both comics and LGBTQ identities.
Every now and again I open to a random page. I’m transported back to days just shortly after Stonewall. I’m in San Francisco. It’s the Eighties. Or I’m in Seattle, long before I ever knew the place existed. And these are the stories of real people, or they are people transfigured by folklore.
Some books are not simply cover-to-cover experiences. Some will transcend the barriers of time, the limits of the page. And when, invariably, we move and sell away titles that have settled into slough and chaff from our ever-honed library of essentials, some we will keep and protect as though they were vital organs. And as we box them to transport to our new homes, we, likely, will lose time once again, at first flipping through the pages, innocently enough. Then, hours later, discovering we have pored over them all over again.