Alison Bechdel draws the lesbian life
You might say that cartoonist Alison Bechdel just writes comic strips, having gained renown for her creation,
Dykes To Watch Out For.
But Alison is more than that, writing insightful commentary about her life as a lesbian– and ours.
Alison Bechdel: A life examined
Alison draws a lot of her material– whether her comic strips or her graphic memoirs– from her family and personal life.
Born on September 10, 1960 in Lockhaven, Pennsylvania, Alison was the only daughter in a family of five with parents Helen and Bruce.
After being stationed by the Army in West Germany, father Bruce became a high school English teacher while operating a funeral home.
Alison graduated from Oberlin College with a degree in studio arts and arts history in 1981 and moved to Manhattan after, working for publishing industry.
She began her first cartoon that would later become Dykes To Watch Out For in 1983, and this was picked up by WomaNews, a feminist newspaper. The first collection was published by Firebrand Books in 1986.
Lauded as one of the earliest representation of lesbians in popular culture, Dykes To Watch Out For chronicled the generational life and loves of lesbians in an unnamed city that was both soap-operatic and social commentary.
Alison herself described her cartoons as “half op-ed column and half endless, serialized Victorian novel.”
It was through her cartoons that the concept of the Bechdel test (a criteria to determine gender bias in popular culture) was first introduced.
The series, which was published in a number of gay and lesbian newspapers, ran from 1983 to 2007, when Alison put it into indefinite hiatus to concentrate on her second graphic memoir, Are You My Mother.
Alison Bechdel: Going home again
Alison made a name for herself in the mainstream public with her first autobiographical graphic memoir, Fun Home: A Family Tragicomic, which was published in 2006.
Writing about her father’s suicide, Alison details the story of her life as a lesbian– coming out a few months before her father’s death– and Bruce’s secret relationship with a teenaged boy.
“He appeared to be an ideal husband and father. But would an ideal husband and father have sex with teenage boys?” Alison said of Fun Home, which references to the name that the family gave to the funeral home they owned.
Her work took the country by storm, with Time Magazine calling it the Best Book of 2006 and “a masterpiece about two people who live in the same house but different worlds, and their mysterious debts to each other.”
It later became a finalist for a National Book Critics Circle Award.
Alison told The Guardian that memoir’s reception took her by surprise, expecting her LGBT audience to accept her story but not everyone else: “It’s this small, subcultural audience that in many ways feels like a family, so I tell them things I might not tell everyone. I thought this would be the same. But it wasn’t, and it’s freaking me out.”
The memoir was later adapted into a musical by playwright Lisa Kron and composer Jeanine Tesori and opened to positive reviews. This adaptation went on to win five Tony Awards, including “Best Musical.”
In an interview with Goblin Magazine, Alison said: “The secret subversive goal of my work is to show that women, not just lesbians, are regular human beings.”
Alison currently lives in Bolton, Vermont with her partner, Holly Rae Taylor, a painter, whom she married in 2015.