Tuesday, March 20, 2007

A different kind of fun: Alison Bechdel's Fun Home

The minute I heard that Alison Bechdel had written a graphic novel about her childhood, I couldn't wait to read it.

As you may know, Alison Bechdel is the artist who draws the comic strip Dykes To Watch Out For, which is something of a political soap opera following the lives of a community of lesbians through their romantic relationships and political struggles. I love this comic strip because Bechdel creates so many different characters with such depth that you can't help but care about them and their lives and wonder what they'll do next. Also impressive is the way Bechdel handles complex political questions: instead of picking the "right" answer and banging you over the head with it, she has different characters hold different views and shows them discussing their opinions in a believable way as issues arise in their daily lives. Nowhere else have I seen such an effective weaving of the personal with the political as in the work of Alison Bechdel.

As much as I love "Dykes To Watch Out For," however, I almost feel like I like her memoir The Indelible Alison Bechdel even more. I love her portrait of growing up and coming out as a lesbian, and her description of how she was formed and influenced by the culture around her.

I wish I could show you all the stuff I love from this book (you have to get your own copy for that, and it isn't even the book I'm reviewing today ;-) ) but here's a little taste:

As you might guess, this book was a big influence for me when writing the story Young Women's.

Fun Home has a few darker notes compared to Bechdel's other works. The tone is set in the dark humor of the title, "Fun Home" being the family's term for the funeral home that they ran.

This book adds a whole new dimension to Bechdel's self-portrait. It's the same lovable character...

...in context:

More than a portrait of Bechdel herself, however, Fun Home is her portrait of her father, obsessively restoring and decorating a grand Victorian mansion and raising a traditional Catholic family despite the fact that he was gay.

Bechdel's memoir hits some of the same notes found in Jennifer Lee's memoir of raising children with a gay husband (My Ex is Having Sex with Rex), especially the idea that while there was something fundamentally not working about the relationship, at the same time they really were a family.


AnnM said...

Father obsessively renovating a Victorian house...hmmm...sounds familiar.

Yup, just looked it up. I read an article about her in the NYTimes last summer. But somehow I missed that it was a graphic novel.

I laughed the first time I heard that French adults read comic books, but the Cartoon History of the Universe has made a convert of me. I'll check it out.

Hellmut said...

Sounds like a little Huguenot snuck into that Catholic family.

Sister Mary Lisa said...

That sounds like a fabulously interesting read. I love reading memoirs and auto-biographies because they are fascinating. I think people in general are fascinating.

C. L. Hanson said...

Hey Sam-I-Am!!!

Oh, yeah, comics are a big part of the culture here -- although it's more popular with kids than adults.

Hey Hellmut!!!


Hey SML!!!

I love memoirs too!!! :D

Anonymous said...

I didn't mean a literal Huguenot, by the way, just an aesthetic mindset.

I actually had an uncle who lived that kind of life and was very much into an ornamental way of life. He was a difficult person who made life difficult for everyone around him, including his wife and children.

His straight brothers were not far behind him in that respect although they definitely did not pursue an ornamental way of life.

I am bringing this up while I am wondering about the mindset of the protagonist. How does she relate to her father?

I guess that I will have to have the novel now.

Anonymous said...

Ever read any Lynda Barry? She did a great comic strip called Ernie Pook's Comeek. My favorite thing she did, though, was a novella, with lots of illustrations (though not a true graphic novel), called The Good Times Are Killing Me.

C. L. Hanson said...

Hey Hellmut!!!

Thanks for the clarification. I actually wasn't quite sure what you meant. I wasn't thinking "No, Hellmut, they're not Huguenots, they're gay..." lol

Hey Robert!!!

I've heard of her, but I haven't really read her stuff. Thanks for the recommendation!!!

Kalv1n said...

That does look really fascinating. There's actually a book about gay men as preservers of culture. http://www.amazon.com/Passion-Preserve-Gay-Keepers-Culture/dp/0299196801

I can't help but think of Ayn Rand when she wants everything to be so functional. I also like how she points out how complex relationships can be and that sexuality is only one facet of our intimate relationships. Sounds wonderful.

C. L. Hanson said...

Hey Kalvin!!!

It's interesting, it's true this may be some sort of common phenomenon...

Anonymous said...


Just thought you'd find this review interesting - Alison talks on Slate about how her mom reacted to the book.

C. L. Hanson said...

Thanks Aerin!!!

True, it's an interesting article!!! :D

Anonymous said...

You know, I didn't even know she had an earlier memoir, so I'm so going to be trying to get my hands on a copy of that!!

Also I totally went to the store and bought myself GQs when I was a teen.

C. L. Hanson said...

Hey Kim!!!

Yeah, I really liked her earlier memoir -- I totally recommend it. That's so funny that you can relate to the part about GQ! ;^)