Monday, September 11, 2023

On the Coffee Table: Alison Bechdel

Title: Fun Home: A Family Tragicomic
Writer and Artist: Alison Bechdel

Many have banned and/or attempted to ban this book.  So, obviously, everyone should read it.

Fun Home is the graphic memoir masterpiece of Alison Bechdel, the queen of queer comics.  Before the book, she was well-established within the industry for the long-running strip Dykes to Watch Out ForFun Home brought her into the mainstream, hitting best-seller lists, earning loads of accolades and eventually being made into a Tony-winning Broadway musical.  

Bechdel tells her story of growing up in a small town in central Pennsylvania.  She clearly had complicated relationships with both parents, though the book is mostly about her father, a high school English teacher, an interior decorating savant and a closeted homosexual.  Alison didn't know the last bit until she came out to her parents herself during college.  Unfortunately, he had a preference for teenage boys, a fact which brought legal troubles.  Not long after these revelations, he committed suicide - quite a lot to absorb for Alison and her younger brothers.  

Intertwined with all of this are Alison's own adventures of sexual discovery.  Even more than the dirt on her father, this is the part that likely gets the conservatives bent out of shape.  There's sex, nudity, masturbation, etc.  It normalizes both female sexual awareness and the gay experience.  I've got what I expect is upsetting news for the MAGA crowd: both of those things are normal.  And healthy.  And far less damaging than the shaming and violence you would rather subject people to.  Indeed, Alison's path was deeply complicated by her own basic insecurities and the social politics of rural Pennsylvania (Pittsburgh and Philadelphia with Alabama in between).  

The story is not all sadness.  The author shares plenty of childhood joy, even in her relationship with her father.  The ultimate lesson: pain is complicated.  It is but one river of many that flows through a life.

Fun Home has been equated by some with Maus and Persepolis as masterpieces of the genre.  I'm not quite ready to put it on that level, though it is truly outstanding.  The intimacy grabs ahold of you from the first panel onwards.  I'm definitely up for more of her work.


  1. Excellent review. Anything that's banned or even annoying to conservatives interests me.