Tag Archives: Alison Bechdel

Fun Home now a Broadway musical

Seriously.  I reviewed Alison Bechdel‘s  Fun Home here, and all in all, enjoyed this graphic novel about the coming of age of a lesbian cartoonist, her unusual family and the likely suicide of her almost certainly gay father.  And while it was darkly comic in tone, it was not a laugh riot.  Now it’s an Broadway musical.  Well, strictly speaking, off-Broadway, at the Public Theater.

So what’s that like?  I wondered.  Alison Bechdel says “It’s really, really good.”  Through the magic of Youtube, I have a little preview.

Would I go?  Heck, yes!

The New York Times calls it “a beautiful heartbreaker of a musical.”   Sadly, the extended run is only through December 29.  If you go, feel free to post a comment for the purposes of rubbing it in.

Fun Home not, strictly speaking, all that fun

Alison Bechdel’s graphic memoir Are You My Mother was a great read – I blogged about it here.  And immediately put her previous book, Fun Home, on hold at the library.   It came, I read, and I don’t know.  I liked the Mother one better.

Fun Home is Bechdel’s reflection on her childhood, growing up in the family business (a funeral home), to an amazingly mismatched pair of parents.  Her mother is a smart, talented actress and musician.  Her smart, handsome father was an English teacher into home decorating and a yen for teenage boys.  Together, the couple raised Alison and her brothers, and this memoir is filtered through the lens of her father’s probable suicide.

It has much in common with Are You My Mother?, not the least being the author’s voice.  Bechdel is smart, wryly funny, with an undercurrent of frustrated detachment.  She has a strong desire to connect, but it never seems to quite work.  Or at least, not easily and not consistently.

Of course, much of this story relates to Alison’s recognition that she’s not like other kids and her growing attraction to women.  With pretty much zero sexual experience, she explores her lesbianism through books.  Literature is one interest she shares with her father, and after coming out, she alludes to her father’s reading recommendation as they are traveling together.  Not surprisingly, most of the conversation goes unsaid.

Ultimately, Bechdel comes to grips with the critical role her father played in her life, while acknowledging his imperfections.  It was a satisfying ending, and felt true.

As with Mother, Fun Home was engaging and the visual style was interesting without being distracting.  The themes of the books are similar.   In discussing the book with a friend and trying to pin down just what it was that I preferred about Mother, he wondered if perhaps it was simply the order that I read them in – the first book of a type always being fresher and perhaps more compelling.  I think there is something to that.

More important, I think, is that I could totally relate to Bechdel’s issues with her mom.  What woman can’t relate to trying to please her mother and not measuring up?  To wanting to be the center of her mother’s universe instead of a side story? To being too critical or feeling too criticized?  These issues are pretty universal.  On the other hand, the issues with her father were pretty much out of my experience.  Her father was not like other dads.  In reading Fun Home, I empathized with her experience, but I didn’t relate as strongly.

Still, comparing two good books to the detriment of one of them is not, strictly speaking, all that fair.  It’s like chocolate toffee vs. English toffee.  Why criticize?  I personally prefer the chocolate, but they’re both well worth eating.

Are You My Mother? – Comic is way better than Betty & Veronica

When I was a kid, I had a stack of comic books.  Not the Spiderman/Superman/Green Lantern kind, but the kind that portrayed the amusing and romantic antics of teenage Archie and his crew, the lovable Jughead, Betty, Veronica, and oh-so-smooth Reggie.  There were others of that type, and I swapped them back and forth with my girlfriends, sitting upstairs in their dusty bedrooms all summer long.

Flashforward 50 years.  My exposure to storytelling  via drawings shrank to the newspaper cartoons.  Calvin & Hobbes, Dilbert, Get Fuzzy, Sylvia and other favorites – even Doonesbury – all had a pretty short story arc.  Graphic novels heated up, particularly noir, and I slogged my way through Sin City (loved the movie, though).  Never got into manga and didn’t see how anybody could.  Therefore, it was with some trepidation that I put Are You My Mother? by Alison Bechdel on hold at the library.  She’s the cartoonist who pens the strip Dykes To Watch Out For.  But the reviews had been great and I’m all about saying yes.

OMG.  It’s great.  The NYT reviewer found it dismal and complained that the tone was flat.  It is true that Alison comes across as awfully self-involved.  She also comes across and insightful, interesting, and smart as a whip.  Add in the mother-focused psychodrama (Mom always liked Alison’s brothers best), Alison’s fixations on her various motherly female therapists (whom Alison adores and one of whom finds Alison adorable), and her difficulty in making a romantic commitment and you realize that she’s like a lesbian Woody Allen.

Poor Mom.  She’s not that great a mother, and she never quite measures up.  Luckily, Alison matures, Mom mellows, and the next thing you know, they’re accepting each other for who they actually are, taking the good and letting go of the angst.  Yay, Alison!  Yay, Mom!

As a psychology undergrad (just enough knowledge to be dangerous), I loved that Bechdel wove the writings of psychologist Alice Miller and pediatrician Donald Winnicott into her graphic memoir.  Not only was it interesting, it moved the story from the particular (what happened to Alison) to the universal.  The way she handled it added a little irony, in that Winnicott himself seems like quite the nut job.

Now, about the “graphic” part of “graphic memoir.”  I liked the visuals.  Her drawing style is clean and easy to follow, there is a lot of visual interest in how the pages are laid out, and there are interesting details (reference fanny packs in chapter 7).  I got into the flow of reading and lost my awareness that I was simultaneously reading and looking at pictures.  Kind of like the way your brain accommodates when you are watching a movie with subtitles and you realize that you brain is making it all mesh together.

So overall, thumbs up on my first comic book since Betty and Veronica!   Bechdel’s previous book is also a graphic memoir – Fun Home – and I suspect it is at least as good, if not better.  In describing Fun Home, the publisher says:

Meet Alison’s father, a historic preservation expert and obsessive restorer of the family’s Victorian home, a third-generation funeral home director, a high school English teacher, an icily distant parent, and a closeted homosexual who, as it turns out, is involved with his male students and a family babysitter. Through narrative that is alternately heartbreaking and fiercely funny, we are drawn into a daughter’s complex yearning for her father. And yet, apart from assigned stints dusting caskets at the family-owned “fun home,” as Alison and her brothers call it, the relationship achieves its most intimate expression through the shared code of books. When Alison comes out as homosexual herself in late adolescense, the denouement is swift, graphic — and redemptive.

I’m in.